Chowchilla is a city in Madera County, California, United States. Chowchilla is located 15 miles (24 km) northwest of Madera, at an elevation of 240 feet (73 m). It is a principal city of the Madera–Chowchilla Metropolitan Statistical Area. The population was 18,720 at the 2010 census, up from 11,127 at the 2000 census. The city is the location of two California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation women's facilities, the Central California Women's Facility and Valley State Prison for Women. The name "Chowchilla" is derived from the Native American tribe of Chauchila (the spelling is inconsistent in reference guides) Yokut Indians which once lived in the area. The name itself evidently translates as "Murderers" and is apparently a reference to the warlike nature of the Chauchila tribe. The Chauchila Indians were inadvertently responsible for the first white men "discovering" Yosemite Valley, which occurred when the Chauchila Indians were being pursued by a band of whites. References to the Indian tribe still abound in Chowchilla, and the town's high school still retains the moniker of "Redskins" as their local mascot.
The first post office at Chowchilla opened in 1912. Chowchilla incorporated in 1923. The population includes that of both prisons and that should be included in the population information.
Chowchilla was launched into national headlines on July 15, 1976 when an entire school bus of children was kidnapped. Twenty-six children and the adult bus driver were taken from the bus, which the kidnappers concealed in a drainage slough, and driven around in two vans for 11 hours before being forced, one by one, to climb into a hole in the ground. After passing through the hole the children and their driver found themselves trapped in the interior of a buried moving van. Although they did not know it, their place of confinement was in a quarry located in Livermore, California.