The Spanish explorers who first came upon Big Bear Valley named the Native Americans who lived here the “Serranos”, which means mountaineers. These peace-loving people are thought to be Shoshonean by descent, and they probably gradually migrated to the San Bernardino Mountains from the Wind River country of Wyoming some 3000 years ago.
The Serranos were not extensive travelers, and their range was within an area marked by the Mojave Desert, San Bernardino Valley, and Mt. San Jacinto. They often spent summers in the San Bernardino Mountains.
Their dwellings were made of poles and tulle grass or brush and had a smoke hole at the top. A center fire pit was only for heating, as all cooking was done outside. The floor was covered with tulle mats, and these and animal skins were used for bedding.
Acorn mush was a basic food. It was pounded from nuts gathered in the fall from black oaks near Oak Glen. Pinion nuts were also a favorite, with Big Bear Valley a main source. Other foods were mesquite beans, berries, chia seeds, roots, tubers, bulbs, and sage. Rodents, birds, insects, reptiles, fish, rabbits, and deer were also part of their diet.
The Serrano women were expert pottery makers; their Tizon ware was thin, delicate, and beautifully decorated with freehand patterns in a wide variety of colors. They also made excellent baskets from natural fibers that were decorated with eagle, rattlesnake, sun, moon, and many other designs.
The Serranos held the grizzly bear in deep reverence, and thought of these huge animals as great grandfathers. Bear meat was never eaten, nor was bear fur ever worn. Ravaged by smallpox sometime after 1774, the Serrano population had declined to about 100 when the 1910 census was taken.