Kumeyaay - History Shadowed by Conflict

By : Vincent Nicholas Rossi
© Copyright 2007 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.,

Warner Springs'
01/28/2007 - WARNER SPRINGS CA

The area known today as Warner Springs Ranch was originally called Kupa, after the indigenous people who first settled it.

Known today as the Cupeños, they came to the region 800 to 1,000 years ago. They would live there in relative isolation until 1795.

The valley's location at the headwaters of the San Luis Rey River, and the hot springs found there, made it “a natural way station on any route from the south or east through the Arizona desert to the coast of California,” according to “Introduction to the Cupeño People,” published by the Cupeño Cultural Center.

The original Mexican land grant for the region was bestowed “without prejudice to the indigenes (native peoples).” The original grantee, Jose Antonio Pico, failed as a rancher. In 1844, the property was turned over to Juan Jose Warner.

Warner's grant didn't mention the Cupeños at all, according to a 1973 history of the Cupeños, “Mulu'wetam: The First People,” by Jane Hill and Rosinda Nolasquez. The grant described the land as “vacant and abandoned,” evidently a reference to the buildings that had been built by the Indians under the supervision of Franciscan fathers from Mission San Luis Rey.

That description of vacant land flies in the face of other contemporary accounts of lands under cultivation for grain and vineyards, and of cattle being herded, with much of the work being done by Indians.

In 1846, Gen. Stephen Watts Kearney passed through the ranch on the expedition that would end in the Battle of San Pasqual. Kearney was tasked with seizing California from Mexico and establishing a government.

John Griffin, an army doctor traveling with Kearney, wrote in his journal of how hard Cupeños worked on the ranch, but also described their treatment by Warner as “worse by far than the worst-treated slaves in the United States.”

Another of Kearney's officers, Captain A. R. Johnston, wrote in his journal that the Cupeños “are stimulated to work by $3 a month and repeated floggings.”

California's entrance into the United States brought no relief to the oppressive conditions suffered by the Cupeños. In fact, they were further humiliated by the imposition of taxes on their land and cattle, leading in 1851 to the Garra Uprising, named for its leader, Kupa chief Antonio Garra.
Warner's ranch buildings were burned down and nine Americans were killed before the revolt was put down by U.S. Army troops.

Garra and William Marshall, a sailor who aided the uprising, were executed.

Warner moved to Los Angeles after the revolt and operated the ranch through intermediaries.

It appears the rebellion did win the Cupeños some rights over the ranch's hot springs. In an 1867 letter to a prospective buyer of the property, Judge Benjamin Hayes noted that on a recent visit, the Cupeños “seemed to regard the immediate vicinity of the spring as their own. I paid them a dollar for my bath, at the rustic bathing establishment they have constructed”

“Cupeños Trail of Tears,” a 2003 commemorative history compiled by the E Clampus Vitus, an organization dedicated to preserving Western history, noted that by the late 1880s, the Cupeños were totally self-supporting through farming and operations of a hot springs resort.

The hot springs' commercial potential, however, proved irresistible to John G. Downey, a former governor of California who had purchased Warner Springs Ranch in 1880. In 1892 he filed a complaint in the Superior Court of San Diego County to have the Cupeños evicted from the ranch. It was the beginning of a legal battle that would go on for more than a decade, culminating in a 1901 U.S. Supreme Court decision against the Cupeños.

An offer was made to purchase the property from the Downey estate but the asking price was too exorbitant for the Cupeños and their supporters.

On May 12, 1903, Bureau of Indian Affairs agent James Jenkins arrived with 44 armed teamsters to carry out the eviction. Rosinda Nolasquez, a Cupeño who was 11 at the time, described it years later in “Mulu'wetam”:

“Many carts stood there by the door. People came from La Mesa, from Santa Ysabel, from Wilakal, from San Ignacio – came to see their relatives. They cried a lot. And they just threw our belongings, our clothes, into the carts, chairs, cups, plates. They piled everything on the carts.”

The government had ordered the Cupeños to be relocated to the Pala Reservation, 40 miles away. The trip took three days.

The Cupeño became part of the Pala Band of Mission Indians. But the relocation was never forgotten. In May 2003, on the 100th anniversary of the eviction, the Pala Band rented a portion of the Warner Springs Resort to allow the descendants of the evictees to return for three days and commemorate the loss of their homeland and celebrate their survival as a people.

The commemoration has become an annual tradition.

Vincent Nicholas Rossi is a freelance writer who lives in Rancho Bernardo.