Before 1795, the Cupeño Indians of Southern California occupied a roughly circular valley about ten miles in diameter at the headwaters of the San Luis Rey River. A narrow range of mountains separated the valley from the desert. The valley, located about 90 miles northeast of the city of San Diego, was called Hakupin and Ephi by the Indians, the Valley of San José by the Spaniards and Mexicans, and Warner’s Ranch after the American takeover. The Cupeños resided in two villages: Cupa or Agua Caliente, near today’s Warner Springs, and Wilakalpa at San Ysidro. The villages were politically independent although they were united by marriage and social intercourse.
The Cupeños are one of the smallest distinct Indian groups in California. The population in 1795 was between 500 and 750 persons. At the time of their eviction, there were only about 150 Cupeños living at Warner Springs and about 51 in other settlements on the ranch.
The Cupeños spoke a separate language of Uto-Aztecan stock belonging to the Takic branch. While having more words in common with Cahuilla than with Luiseño-Juaneño, the language is not a dialect of either of the others.
Mythology and religion were similar to the Cahuilla. Brother creator gods Tumayowitt (“earth”) and Mukat led Cahuillas and Cupeños down from the north. The Cupeños settled at the hot springs (Agua Caliente), where a green water plant they had with them made the water boil. After making the imperfect first people, Tumayowitt descended into the earth. The people Mukat made were better formed, but they distrusted their creator because he had brought death into the world. To get rid of him, Mukat’s remains were cremated, but Coyote stole his heart. Blood dripping from the heart as Coyote ran northward formed the gold in San Diego s hills.
Enemy clans annihilated the Cupeños except for Hoboyak, who had a Diegueño mother. Hoboyak possessed a magical bearskin, which became a real bear whenever he desired. Hoboyak returned to Cupa, where with the aid of his bearskin, he killed the destroyers of his people. He married two Luiseño girls and became the father of all succeeding Cupeños.
Cupeños were under the jurisdiction of Mission San Diego and Mission San Luis Rey and under the control of the asistencias (satellite branches) of Mission Santa Ysabel, ten miles south, and of Mission San Antonio de Pala, 30 miles west. Under Spanish and Mexican law, Mission Indians were citizens who had possessory right to the land they inhabited. Mission Fathers taught the Indians to herd cattle, sheep, and goats and to grow crops. After secularization of the missions in 1834, Cupeño servitude to the Fathers was replaced by servitude to Mexican and American “overlords.”
In 1836, acting Governor Nicolás Gutierrez granted Silvestre de la Portilla title to the Valley of San José. Portilla intended to use the land for grazing cattle, horses, and mules. On June 8, 1840, Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado gave Jose Antonio Pico ownership of the northern half of the valley, which became known as the Rancho San José del Valle. This land was considered to be part of Mission San Luis Rey. The grant stated Pico was not to molest (prejudicor") the Indians established there. Four years later, after securing a release from Mission San Diego, Governor Manuel Micheltorena gave six square leagues (about 18 square miles) of the Valley of San José to Juan Jose Warner, a Connecticut Yankee born Jonathan Trumbull Warner. At that time, the land was unoccupied except by Indians.
On May 21, 1845, the California assembly approved the grant. This grant did not include the prejudicor wording contained in the 1840 grant to Pico. In 1846, Governor Pio Pico gave Warner four square leagues of lands bordering Rancho San Jose del Valle on the west and consisting of hills and canyons.
While all this land was being granted, the Cupeños remained in possession of the springs.
On September 20, 1850, Congress appointed three Indians agents for California and authorized President Millard Fillmore to make treaties with the California tribes. In a related move in 1851, Congress passed an act to settle land claims of former Mexican citizens in California. The act was meant to comply with provisions of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (signed February 2. 1848). Property of former Mexican citizens in the ceded territory would be protected. Unclaimed or improperly claimed property would become the property of the U.S. Government. In 1852, Warner filed a claim with the government-appointed land commission for the entire Valley of San José.
In 1850, the chief of the Cupeños, Juan Antonio Garra, who had been educated at Mission San Luis Rey, attempted to organize a revolt of Southern California Indians. Garra was incensed by the attempt of the sheriff of San Diego County, Agoston Haraszthy, to collect taxes on Indian cattle. Though state and local officials had refused to recognize Indians as citizens, they still expected them to pay taxes.
Beginning on November 21, 1851, the Indians burned Warner’s buildings; stole his cattle, horses, and sheep; and killed nine Americans. The revolt was soon put down, Cupa was burned, and the leaders of the insurrection were executed. After this hostile incident, Warner left his ranch to the supervision of his servants.
Even though Warner had informed Lieutenant-Colonel Philip St. George Cooke, commander of the “Mormon Battalion,” that he wanted to remove the Indians from the valley, Warner made no attempt to do so. He needed the Indians to run his ranch. Captain A.R. Johnson. U.S. Army, who was killed at the Battle of San Pasqual, wrote that Warner hired the Indians individually, rather than as a group, and paid them with “three dollars per month and repeated floggings.”
On January 6, 1852, U.S. Commissioner O.M. Wozencraft, U.S. Army Lieutenant Hamilton, and ranch owner Juan Jose Warner, while meeting at Santa Ysabel, made a treaty with the Diegueños, which gave them a territory bounded on the north by the Cahuilla and Luiseño grant, on the east by the desert, on the south by the border with Mexico, and on the west by a line running north from the border to San Felipe and then northwest to the Valley of San José. The Cupeños were excluded from the treaty negotiation. That Warner was not looking out for the welfare of the Cupeños is evident by an addendum to the treaty, which set aside for Warner one square league of Cupa for the purpose of improving the hot springs.
In late 1854, the U.S. District Court of Claims confirmed Governor Alvarado’s 1840 grant and Governor Micheltorena’s 1844 grant of the Valley of San José to Warner, or both the northern and southern portions. If the Cupeños had presented a claim to the land commission of 1851, they might have been able to prove ownership of their ancestral lands. They did not do so, did not even know such a commission existed, and as a result lost claim to land their people had occupied long before their first contact with white men in 1795.
In early 1857, the U.S. District Court for Southern California confirmed Portilla’s 1834 grant as it applied to the southern half of the valley, and in 1863 the U.S. Supreme Court approved their decision. Portilla’s portion, which became known as Rancho Valle de San José, consisted of 17,634 acres, and Warner’s northern portion, known as Rancho San José del Valle, consisted of 26,689 acres.
Warner’s section passed to Henry Hancock in 1856 and Portilla’s portion to Cinventa Sepulveda de Carillo in 1858. In mid-September of that year, John Butterfield opened the Great Overland Mail Route from Tipton, Missouri, to San Francisco, California, with stagecoach stations at Carrizo Springs, Vallecito, San Felipe Valley, and Warner’s Ranch in San Diego County.
In 1878, the north and south portions passed into the hands of Louis Phillips and John G. Downey, former governor of California. Two years later, Downey acquired all the property, and by August of 1880, he had decided to give up sheep and stock raising, remove the Indians, and sell the ranch.
In 1888, the Indians still occupied the springs. They used the water to irrigate about 200 acres, do their laundry, prepare food, and soften fibers. The springs were known in Southern California for their flow of mineral water, which was thought to have medicinal properties. The water at the springs had a temperature of 120 to 124 degrees Fahrenheit. To cool it, the water was carried by troughs to pools. Visitors in the late 1880s paid 25 cents for a single bath in the pools and $1 for a week’s use of the waters. While at the springs, the visitors resided in the Indians' homes. The industrious Cupeños sold their guests baskets and mats made from vegetable products. Unlike other California Indians, the Cupeños were practically self-supporting.
President Ulysses S. Grant, on December 27, 1875, set aside about 1120 acres of the Indian settlement at Agua Caliente as a reservation. Four years later, after the Warner and Portilla grants were patented. President Rutherford B. Hayes rescinded Grant's order. The Indians were now at the mercy of their “overlords.”
On August 11, 1892, ex-Governor John G. Downey filed a complaint in the Superior Court of San Diego County (Downey vs. Barker) seeking to oust the Indians from land near the hot springs. Downey hired U.S. Senator White to appear as his counsel, and the U.S. Government engaged Shirley C. Ward of Los Angeles to look after the interests of the Indians. Judge George Puterbaugh took evidence from plaintiffs and defendants in July 1893, but he either delayed or was delayed from announcing a decision.
After ex-Governor Downey’s death in 1894, his heir and part-owner of the ranch, J. Downey Harvey, revived the complaint against Barker and later filed a second complaint (Harvey vs. Quevas), seeking to oust the Indians from the southern half of the ranch. On November 5, 1895, Judge Puterbaugh authorized transfer of the two suits to Judge W.L. Pierce. A year later, depositions were taken from the Indians at Warner’s Ranch.
On December 29, 1896, Judge Pierce decided the Harvey vs. Barker and Harvey vs. Quevas suits in favor of Harvey and the Merchant’s Exchange Bank of San Francisco, which held an interest in the property. Judge Pierce ruled that the ancestors of the defendant Indians were not Mission or Pueblo Indians and that a U.S. patent of ownership was conclusive against the Indian claim of possessory rights.
The counsel for the Indians filed an appeal for a new trial in January 1897, which was denied by Judge E.S. Torrance in May of that year. In June, J. Downey Harvey, Henry T. Gage, Don Cunningham, C.W. Gates, D. Desmond, and Walter L. Vail, holders of interests in Warner’s Ranch, filed an affidavit with the Superior Court stating the hot springs were worth $100,000 and would be worth still more if the Indians were not located there.
With the aid of funds from the Indian Rights Association of Washington D.C. and the Women’s National Indian Association with headquarters in Philadelphia, the Indians appealed Judge Torrance’s denial to the California Supreme Court.
On October 4, 1899, the California Supreme Court affirmed Judge Torrance’s order denying a new trial and ruled that the land was vacant at the time it was granted to Warner and Portilla. The Indians, as wards of the U.S. Government, did not have possessory rights, and accordingly, their treatment or lack of treatment was a government responsibility.
In October, the Attorney General of the United States directed the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision of the Supreme Court of California in the Warner Ranch case. Attorney D.W. Withington of San Diego, who argued for the owners before the U.S. Supreme Court in March of 1901, maintained that the Indians at Warner’s Springs were not Mission Indians but Cahuillas from the desert who had driven away the prior Indian occupants. If this statement had been true, the invading Indians would not have the continuous right of occupancy recognized by Spanish and Mexican law. The statement was, however, a bald-faced lie.
On May 13. 1901, the U.S. Supreme Court added to the California court’s opinions: The Indians were subject to the political authority of Congress, which, by its inaction, had in effect denied their legal claim to the land. The Mission of San Diego had the only adverse claim by reason of its prior ownership. The Supreme Court confirmed the finding of the lower courts that a U.S. government patent conferred absolute ownership.
J. Downey Harvey could now legally remove the Indians from the valley. There were five settlements: Agua Caliente, Puerta de la Cruz, San José, Puerta Ignoria, and Mataguay, with a total of about 215 Indians living in them, the largest number (128) at the hot springs. They occupied 900 acres, while the ranch consisted of 42,000 acres. Indian improvements to their rancherias, consisting of homes, chapel, school house, and irrigated and cultivated fields and orchards, were worth at least $10,000. But the springs had the potential of becoming a flourishing health spa, which could make their owners rich, and this was what Harvey and his backers were after.
Harvey agreed to withhold enforcing his decree against the Indians until the U.S. Congress, then in session, enacted steps for their relief. For this forbearance, “Friends of the Indians’’ had to pay him $2700. Inspired by Harvey’s success, the corporation owning the San Felipe Ranch, 15 miles east of Warner’s Ranch, filed for the removal of between 30 and 40 Indians living there.
In June 1901, Charles Lummis formed the Sequoya League to look after the interests of the Warner Ranch Indians and to promote the cause of Indians in the Southwest. The society was named for the Cherokee Indian who invented the Cherokee alphabet. The motto of the league was “to make better Indians and better-treated ones.” The league requested the U.S. Government appoint a commission to recommend changes in the status of Indian tenures in Southern California.
Harvey offered to sell 30,000 acres of Warner’s Ranch to the government as a home for the Cupeños for $245,000, but Indian Inspector James McLaughlin recommended the government purchase 2370 acres of Monserrate Ranch for $70,000. Congress appropriated this sum plus another $30,000 for the shelter and sustenance of the Indians.
The Sequoya League protested the selection of Monserrate Ranch because of its small supply of water. This compelled Congress to authorize the secretary of the interior to appoint a commission to aid in the selection of a tract of land for the displaced Warner’s Ranch Indians.
On May 28, 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Charles Lummis, Charles Partridge, and R.C. Allen to select a location where the Cupeños could be sent. The commission took along Warner’s Ranch Indians Salvador Nolasquez and Ambrosio Ortega on its tour of inspection.
During a meeting with the Warner’s Springs Indians in March 1902, Chief Cecilio Blacktooth was asked where he would like to go. His reply, given in Cupeño, was translated by Mrs. Celsa Apapas:
You ask us to think what place we like next best to this place where we always live.
You see that graveyard out there? There are our fathers and our grandfathers. You see the Eagle-nest mountain and that Rabbit-hole mountain? When God made them he gave us this place. We have always been here. We do not care for any other place. It may be good but is not ours. There is no other place for us. We do not want you to buy us any other place. If you do not buy this place, we will go into the mountains like quail and die there, the old people and the women and the children. Let the government be glad and proud. It can kill us. We do not fight. We do w hat it says. If we cannot live here, we want to go into those mountains and die. We do not want any other home.
After an investigation of 106 ranches — involving 7049 miles’ travel by wagon, 6823 by rail, and no small amount of walking — the commission recommended the government purchase 3438 acres adjacent to Pala, about 30 miles southwest of Warner Springs and within the San Luis Rey watershed, for $46,230. Some 2000 of the acres were arable and 700 irrigable, as compared to the 200 acres that were arable and 150 irrigable at Warner Springs. The commission also recommended the government add about 5000 acres of contiguous rocky and hilly public land to the Pala Reservation.