Introduction On February 10, 1893, Campo Indian Reservation was created. It was about one square mile (710 acres) near the town of Milguatay (Campo). Many Kumeyaay people still did not have Reservation land to live on and the one square mile of Campo was woefully inadequate for the population. This portion of the Reservation would later be known as "Old Campo". Culture Prior to European contact, the Kumeyaay lived in Sh’mulq (clan) territories with summer and winter village sites. Territory was not defined in the same manner as the Europeans, who viewed all resources on the land as "property" of the landowner. A hunter tracking big game may travel through many Sh’mulq territories without trouble. However, taking up settlement in the territory of another Sh’mulq would result in conflict if not done with the consent of the resident Sh’mulq. Large gatherings were held in strategic locales where Sh’mulqs would gather for singing, gambling games, and spouse seeking. A religious leader or healer may have such a good reputation that people from many other Sh’mulqs, or even other tribes, would seek out such a person for assistance or advice.
From coastal marshes to mountain wetlands, the Kumeyaay practiced a sophisticated form of environmental management. Fire was certainly the greatest tool used by the Kumeyaay and other tribes in California. Fire opened up land covered with the dominant chaparral. This allowed the transitional plants useful for foods and medicines to become available. The opening in the chaparral canopy attracted game animals used for food, clothing and utilities. In the drier areas approaching the desert, drainages were dammed using rocks and brush to trap sediment. This helped to raise the water table and allowed the creation of wetlands. The harvest of resources was done according to rules established from centuries of learning. Methods were taught, from generation to generation, how to properly harvest plants so that the plants would become stronger and more prolific.
The timing of the harvest could be by celestial observation or through the use of an unrelated "indicator" species. Some plants had a wide range of harvest time but were known to be more tasty during certain periods of their development. An example of this type of plant is Yucca, which becomes bitter after blooming. The staple of the Kumeyaay diet was the acorn meal known as Sha-wee.
The importance of the acorn is evident in the locations of the village sites. Accessability to water and acorns are the two most important aspects of site location. The milling holes in granite rock at old village sites is a contemporary legacy of the acorn in Kumeyaay life. In the coastal plains, a grain was grown that was described in Spanish accounts as being half the size of a wheat grain. This grain became extinct after the Kumeyaay management practices were discontinued. The traditional harvest practice involved the burning of the fields after harvest and hand broadcast reseeding. Fish, shellfish, salt, salt marsh plants, and tar were some of the resources provided by the sea.
Shells were traded over trading routes to the desert tribes to the east. Fishing was done useing spears, lines and hooks, dip nets, fish traps and large seines. Kumeyaay regularly fished the kelp beds and near shore ocean, as well as San Diego Bay. Migratory birds were hunted in the salt marshes. Tar was used for waterproofing boats and as an adhesive. Kumeyaay boats were made from bundled reeds. Wetlands provided watercress, nettle, celery and lettuce. Blood analyzed from old Kumeyaay cutting tools showed the presence of trout blood, evidence of a much healthier ecosystem in San Diego County. The bow and arrow was the priciple weapon for hunting and defense. Bows were made of willow, bowstrings from deer ligament. Arrows were willow and used stone arrowheads or detachable wood arrowheads for small game.
The Kumeyaay home was a willow framed structure overlain by brush, tules, or tree branches depending on the avaiability. Willow poles were set into the ground and curved toward the center. Yucca twine tied the poles together and the exterior was thatched. Stones were placed around the base of the house to help deter crawling animals from entering. Shade structures currently known as ramadas were built on willow or cottonwood rectangular frames with brush or willow branches layed across the top. Cottonwood root was carved into many useful utilitarian forms.
Pottery was made from clay and fired in open pits. Large pots were capped and used for long term storage of acorns or acorn flour. Baskets were made from grasses or willows depending on the need. Grass baskets were of such high quality that some were made to be water proof. Others were given a looser weave and used for leaching the tannic acids from acorns. Baskets were also used to make hats for women. Willow bark or reeds were used for womens skirts. Trade routes were used for communication. Runners could relay important information over great distances in relatively short time. When the Quechan at Yuma rebelled against the Spanish in 1780, the news reached the Kumeyaay at the Mission in San Diego that same evening, a distance of 120 miles.
Astronomy was an important tool to time when plants could be harvested or when burns should take place. The calendar was probably used to determine when the Sh’’mulq should move to winter or summer camp. Some of the constellation names were: The Three Mountain Sheep, The Hand and the Buzzard. The solstices were known as Hilyatai. The Milky Way was called Hatotkeur.
Months of the Kumeyaay Calendar Halakwol - September Halakwol - March Halanyimcep - October Halanyimcep - April Halatai - November Halatai - May Halapisu - December Halapisu - June Halamrtinya - January Halamrtinya - July Halanitca - February Halanitca - August Halakwol - September (Kumeyaay New Year)
The names of the months repeat after six months. This is similar to the way we repeat hours on our clocks with twelve hours repeated after noon. The months are not exactly the same as the calendar most of us use today, months would follow the phases of the moon, with adjustments made by the appearance of certain constellations.