Richard W. Amero


Before 1795 the Cupeno Indians of Southern California occupied a roughly circular valley about ten miles in diameter at the headquarters of the San Luis Rey River. A narrow range of mountains separated the valley from the desert. Cupenos called the valley Hakupin and Ephi, Spaniards and Mexicans the Valley of San Jose, and Americans Warner's Ranch. Cupenos resided in two villages, Cupa or Agua Caliente, near today's Warner Springs, and Wilakalpa at San Ysidro. Although Cupenos went from one village to the other and married between villages, the villages were politically independent.

Cupeno Indians are one of the smallest distinct Indian groups in California. In 1795, the population was between 500 and 750 persons. When they were evicted, there were only about 128 Cupenos living at Warner Springs, and about 51 in other settlements at Warner's Ranch. Cupenos spoke a separate language of Uto-Aztecan stock belonging to the Takic branch. While having more words in common with Cahuilla than with Luiseno-Juaneno, the language is not a dialect of the others.

Mythology and religion resemble the Cahuilla. Brother creator gods Tumayowitt("earth") and Mukat led Cahuillas and Cupenos down from the north. The Cupenos 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. People made by Mukat were better formed, but they distrusted their creator because he brought death into the world. To get rid of him, Mukat's people persuaded Frog to eat his excrement. Mukat's remains were cremated, but Coyote stole his heart. Blood dripping from the heart as Coyote ran northward formed the gold in the hills of San Diego County.

Enemy clans annihilated the Cupenos, except for Hoboyak, who had a Diegueno(also known as Kumeyaay) mother. Hoboyak possessed a magical bear skin which became a real bear whenever he desired. With the aid of his bear skin, Hoboyak killed the destroyers of his people. He married two Luiseno girls and became the father of succeeding Cupenos.

Missions San Diego de Alcala (founded 1769) and San Luis Rey de Francia (founded 1798) exercised jurisdiction over the Cupenos through the asistencias of Santa Ysabel (founded 1818), ten miles south of Cupa, and San Antonio de Padua (founded 1816), 30 miles west. Under Spanish and Mexican law, Mission Indians were citizens who had possessory rights to the lands they inhabited. Mission fathers taught the Cupenos to herd cattle, sheep and goats and to grow crops. After secularization of the missions in 1834, Mexican and American "overlords" replaced the "fathers" as masters of the Cupenos.

On April 16, 1836, acting Governor Nicolas Gutierrez granted Silvestre de la Portilla title to the Valley of San Jose. 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 Rancho San Jose del Valle. The land, its buildings, planted fields, and orchards had been part of a rancho belonging to Mission San Luis Rey. The grant stated Pico was not to molest ("prejudicor")Indians living there.

Being unoccupied, except by Indians, Governor Manuel Micheltorena, November 28, 1844, gave six square leagues of the Valley of San Jose to Juan Jose Warner, a Connecticut Yankee born Jonathan Trumbull Warner. Mission San Diego had forfeited its claim to the land in 1834 when Governor Jose Figueroa secularized its properties. On May 21, 1845, the California Assembly approved the grant to Juan Jose Warner. The grant did not include the "prejudicor" wording in the 1840 grant to Pico.

On August 1, 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. Unaware that the land on which they lived had been given to Warner, Cupenos continued to live at the hot springs.

On September 20, 1850, the United States Congress appointed three Indian agents for California and authorized President Millard Fillmore to make treaties with the California tribes. In a related move, on March 3, 1851, the U.S. Congress passed an act to settle lands 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. On May 31, 1852, Warner filed a claim with the Government Land Commission for the entire Valley of San Jose.

In 1850, William Marshall, a renegade United States sailor living with the Cupenos, and Juan Antonio Garra, a Cupeno chief 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 expected them to pay taxes.

Beginning November 21, 1851, Cupeno Indians burned Warner's buildings, stole his cattle, horses and sheep and killed nine Americans. U.S. Army soldiers put down the revolt and burned Cupa. After being condemned by court martials in San Diego, Marshall and Garra were executed. Following this hostile episode, Warner moved to Los Angeles,leaving the supervision of the ranch to his servants.

Though Warner had informed Lieutenant-Colonel Phillip St. George Cooke, commander of the "Mormon Battalion," that he wanted to remove Cupenos from the Valley of San Jose, he did not do so. He needed Cupenos to run his ranch. Captain A. R. Johnson, U.S. Army, who was killed at the Battle of San Pasqual, wrote that Warner hired Cupenos individually, rather than as a group, and paid them "three dollars per month and repeated floggings."

On January 6, 1852, U.S. Commissioner Oliver M. Wozencraft, U.S. Army Lieutenant Hamilton, and ranch owner Warner, meeting at Santa Ysabel, made a treaty with Diegueno Indians, which gave them a territory bounded on the north by the Cahuilla and Luiseno 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 thence northwest to the Valley of San Jose. The Commissioners did not seem to know that the Cupenos existed. That Warner was not looking out for their welfare in the Valley of San Jose is shown by an addendum to the treaty confirming his right to one square league of Cupa so he could "improve" the hot springs.

The U.S. District Court of Claims, on October 10, 1850, confirmed Governor Alvarado's 1840 grant to Jose Antonio Pico of Rancho San Jose del Valle and Governor Micheltorena's 1844 grant of the Valley of San Jose to Warner. If the Cupenos had presented a claim to the Land Commission of 1851, they might have been able to prove ownership of their native lands. They did not do so, did not even know a Land Commission existed, and, as a result, they lost their claim to land their people had occupied long before 1795 when white men first appeared.

On February 23, 1857, the U.S. District Court for Southern California confirmed Portilla's 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 consisted of 17,634 acres. Warner's portion to the north, encompassing Rancho San Jose del Valle, consisted of 26,689 acres.

Warner's section passed to Henry Hancock in 1856 and Portilla's section to Cinventa Sepulveda de Carrillo in 1858.

On September 16, 1858, John Butterfield opened the Grant Overland Mail Route from Tipton, Missouri to San Francisco, California, with stage coach stops at Carrizo Springs, Vallecito, San Felipe Valley, and Warner's Ranch. J. Mora Moss in 1859 and John Rains in 1861 bought portions of Warner's Ranch from the Sheriff of San Diego County.

In 1878, Louis Phillips and John G. Downey, ex-governor of California, obtained possession of Rancho San Jose del Valle and Rancho Valle de San Jose, or the north and south sections of the Valley. In April 1880, Downey assumed title to the property. In August, he decided to give up sheep and stock raising, to remove the Cupenos, and to sell the ranch.

In 1888, Cupenos still lived at the springs. They used the water to irrigate about 200 acres, to do their laundry, to prepare food, and to soften fibers. White people in Southern California thought the mineral water in the spring had medicinal properties. The water had a temperature of 120 to 124 degrees Fahrenheit. To cool it, the Cupenos diverted it into pools by way of troughs. Visitors in the 1880's paid 25 cents for a single bath in the pools and $1.00 for a week's use of the waters. While at the springs, visitors lodged in the Indians' homes. The industrious Cupenos sold their guests baskets made from plant fibers. Unlike other California Indians, the Cupenos were self-supporting.

President Ulysses S. Grant, on December 27, 1875, set aside about 1,120 acres of the Cupeno settlement at Agua Caliente as a reservation. After the Warner and Portilla grants had been patented, President Rutherford B. Hayes, on January 17, 1880, rescinded Grant's order. The Cupenos were now at the mercy of their masters.

On August 11, 1892, ex-Governor Downey filed a complaint in the Superior Court of San Diego County (Downey vs. Barker), seeking to oust Cupenos from 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 Cupenos. Judge George Puterbaugh took evidence from plaintiffs and defendants in July 1893, but he delayed announcing a decision.

After ex-Governor Downey's death, March 1, 1894, his heir and part-owner of the ranch, J. Downey Harvey, on April 21, revived the complaint against Barker. On August 3, he filed a second complaint (Harvey vs. Quevas), seeking to oust the Cupenos from the southern half of the Valley of San Jose. Judge Puterbaugh, November 5, 1895, authorized transfer of the two suits to Judge W. L. Pierce.

On August 21, 1896, Judge Pierce took depositions from the Cupenos 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 Merchants' Bank of San Francisco, which held an interest in the property. Judge Pierce ruled that the ancestors of the defendant Cupenos were not Mission or Pueblo Indians and that a United States patent of ownership was conclusive against the Cupeno claim of possessory rights.

Counsel for the Cupenos filed an appeal for a new trail, January 8, 1897, which Judge E. S. Torrance denied May 1.

On June 14, 1897, 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 that the hot springs were worth $100,000 and would be worth more if the Cupenos were not living there.

With the aid of funds from the Indian Rights Association of Washington, D.C. and the Women's National Indian Association of Philadelphia, the Cupenos, June 28, 1897, appealed Judge Torrance's denial to the California Supreme Court. On October 4, 1889, the California Supreme Court affirmed Judge Torrance's order denying a new trail and ruled the land granted to Warner and Portilla, at the time it was granted, was vacant, the Cupenos did not have possessory rights, and the Cupenos were wards of the U.S. Government, whose treatment or lack thereof was solely a Government responsibility.

The Attorney General of the United States, October 26, 1889, directed that Writs of Error be sued out of the Supreme Court of the United States 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, March 20-21, 1901, maintained the Cupenos at Warner's Springs were not Mission Indians, but Coahuillas (Cahuillas?) from the desert who had driven away the prior Indian occupants. If this statement were true, the invading Indians would not have the continuous right of occupancy recognized by Spanish and Mexican law. The statement was, however, a lie.

The U.S. Supreme Court, May 13, 1901, added to the California court's opinion: Cupeno Indians were subject to the political authority of the U.S. Congress, which, by its inaction, had denied their claim to the land. By reason of its prior ownership, Mission San Diego de Alcala had the only adverse claim. The U.S. Supreme Court concurred with the finding of the lower courts that a U.S. Government patent of ownership conferred absolute ownership.

J. Downey Harvey could now legally remove the Cupenos from the Valley. There were five settlements: Agua Caliente, Puerta de la Cruz, Puerta Ignoria, and Mataguay, with 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. Cupeno improvements to their rancherias, consisting of homes, chapel, schoolhouse, 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 Cupenos until the U.S.Congress, then in session, enacted steps for their relief. For this forbearance, "friends of the Indians" had to pay him $2,700. Inspired by Harvey's success, the corporation owning San Felipe ranch, 15 miles from Warner's Ranch, filed for removal of between 30 and 40 Cupenos 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. Lummis named the League after George Guess Sequoyah, a Cherokee scholar who developed a system of transcribing the Cherokee language. The League's motto was "to make better Indians and better-treated ones." Knowing that quick action was necessary to keep the Indians from being expelled to barren wastes, the League petitioned the U.S. Government to appoint a commission to look into 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 Cupenos for $245,000, but Indian Inspector James McLaughlin recommended the Government purchase 2,370 acres of Monserrate Ranch for $70,000. Congress appropriated this sum and another $30,000 for the shelter and sustenance of Cupenos. When the Sequoya League informed the U.S. Congress that Monserrate Ranch lacked water, the Congress authorized the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to appoint three people to find a tract for the displaced Cupenos.

On May 28, 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt chose Charles P. Lummis, Charles Partridge and R. C. Allen to locate a place to which the Cupenos would be moved. The Commission took Agua Caliente Cupenos Salvador Nolasquez and Ambrosio Ortega along on its tour of inspection.

At a March 1902 meeting with Cupeno Indians at Agua Caliente, the Commissioners asked Chief Cecilio Blacktooth where he would like to go. Mrs. Celsa Apapas translated Cecilio's reply: "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 that 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 it 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 what it says. If we cannot live, we want to go into those mountains and die. We do not want any other home."

After they had investigated 106 ranches and traveled 7,040 miles by wagon and 6,829 by rail, and walked hundreds of miles, the Commission recommended the Government purchase 3,438 acres adjacent to Pala, about 30 miles southwest of Warner Springs and within the San Luis Rey watershed for $46,230. Some 2,000 of the acres were arable and 700 irrigable while only 200 acres were arable and 150 irrigable at Warner Springs. The Commission further recommended that the U.S. Government add another 5,000 acres of rocky and hilly public land contiguous to the Pala reservation.

If Lummis was expecting applause for his efforts, he did not receive it. Cupeno Indians did not want to move to Pala. Furthermore, they resented Lummis' overbearing manner and thought his flamboyant clothes were ridiculous. They claimed that Lummis had told them they would be shot if they resisted the move, a statement Lummis denied he had made.

Cecilio Blacktooth advised his fellow clan's people to take refuge with Indians in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties or to flee to the mountains. He said his people would resist the move with their knives and would return to the springs after they had been moved. Cecilio was not a docile Indian. He meant business, and he was mad.

Early in May 1903, Cupeno chief Juan Maria C. D. Moat, Ambrosio Ortega and Salvador Nolasquez went to San Bernardino to beg President Theodore Roosevelt, then on a cross-country tour, to rescind the order to move them. The crowd around the presidential carriage jostled the Cupenos away from the President.

Cupenos refused to move if Charles F. Lummis or Lucius A. Wright, the Mission Indian agent were present. To avoid trouble, the U.S. Department of the Interior sent Inspector James E. Jenkins to oversee the removal. Wisely, Lummis went home and Wright went to Pala to get things ready.

If San Diego realtor and owner of property above Warner's Ranch Colonel Ed Fletcher is to be believed, the night before 100 armed teamsters arrived to move them, the spiritual leader of the Cupenos pronounced a curse on the owners of Warner's Ranch.

At 7:00 on the morning of May 12, the first of forty-two wagons carrying 98 Indians and their belongings left Agua Caliente on the 50-mile march to Pala. The last wagon left at about 10:00 A.M. Before they left, many of the Cupenos visited their little adobe chapel and burying ground.

Grant Wallace, reporter for the San Francisco Bulletin, observed a Cupeno woman throwing school books into a fire. In reply to his question, she said the Cupenos now hated white people, their religion and their books.

Cupenos consented to the move only after John Brown of San Bernardino, the attorney they had hired to speak for them, told them that resistance would be useless.

About 25 families went ahead of the wagon train in their own wagons. Some of the younger Indians drove along a small herd of ponies and cattle. Inspector Jenkins said the move was more like an excursion than an eviction. Through tact and firmness, Jenkins managed to control both Cupenos and teamsters, who were nervous enough to provoke the Cupenos into using the rifles they had hidden from the Inspector. After they reached Pala,his proud parents named a baby boy born to them on the march, James Edward Apapas, in honor of the Inspector.

Bearfoot, an old Cupeno woman, escaped from the wagon train at one of the stops and took to the mountains. Her friends reported she had been taken to the asistencia at Pala when a little girl and had been mistreated while there.

The wagons camped the first night at Oak Grove, 15 miles from Warner Springs, and the second at Pauba, a ranch 40 miles from the Springs and 12 miles from Pala. Here Inspector Jenkins authorized the purchase of a beef. Ranch cowboys roped a steer which the Indians dressed and broiled. Parents cautioned children not to eat candy from white people as it might be poisoned, but, being children, they ate the candy anyway.

The caravan arrived at Pala on the morning of May 14, where they were met by almost as many newspaper people as there were Cupenos. About 100 Cupenos, who did not make the move, came on their own a few days later. Some were from other San Jose Valley villages and from Puerta de la Cruz. Early in September, the Government transported 35 Cupenos from San Felipe to Pala.

At Pala, the Cupenos pitched 45 duck tents in front of the old asistencia. Agent Wright put them to work building houses, cutting hay, and digging irrigation ditches for which he paid them $1.50 a day. When the Government announced there would be a cut in the quantity of supplies furnished single men, between 50 and 60 Indians went on strike until the order was canceled.

In an article in Out West, June 1903, Lummis wrote: "The Warner's Ranch episode is closed. It was a tragedy, but that could not be helped after the Supreme Court acted. The one comfort about it is that for the first time in our history, the Indians got more land and better land than that from which they were ousted."

In 1950, the U.S. Government paid the Mission Indians of Southern California $150 each and in 1973 $668.51 each for lands they had been granted but did not receive in the treaties of 1851-52 and for other lands that were taken from them without benefit of treaties. It may seem that the Cupenos by accepting payment for their lands have relinquished claims to lands now occupied by others. But this is by no means certain as the Bureau of Indian Affairs was the defendant in the Indian claim case and also determined the amount of the settlement. In doing so, the Bureau may have corrupted the judicial process.

The 1901 U.S. Supreme Court ruling denying the Cupeno claims to ownership of Agua Caliente violated provisions of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (signed February 2,1848) which recognized Mission Indians as Mexican citizens with legal rights to land. Since Spanish and Mexican governments (until the Ley Lerdo of 1856) held the rights of Indians to communal lands to be "inviolable," the U.S. Supreme Court was legally bound to respect Indian property rights in lands ceded to the United States by Mexico.

The removal of Cupenos from Agua Caliente has had a lasting impact because Indians could now cite a precedent for given them lands in exchange for lands they occupied that would be equal to or better than the lands they were giving up. Indians could inspect and approve or disapprove the lands they were to be given, and Indians had acquired the assurance of the U.S. Government that the lands they were to be given would be processed through escrow and would be protected by the Government from seizure or forfeiture.

Cupenos, along with other California Indians, became United States citizens in 1924. As such, they are now allowed to hire their own attorneys to represent them in cases against the Government and private interests.

Cupenos may be waiting for another Hoboyak to lead them back to the hot springs that they created with their green water plant. Until he appears, they can resort to the courts to obtain redress of their ancient wrongs.


January 1998