The Kumeyaay, Kamia, Luiseño, Cupeno, and Cahuilla people once formed the major population of San Diego County. The Ti'Pai and I'Pai peoples, named the Diegueno by the Spanish in 1776, and today known by the name Kumeyaay, had endured the process of missionization under the Spanish from 1776 to 1820. The Spanish believed they were sent by God to save the souls of the Indians. This was nearly equivalent to extinction.
The Spaniards made extensive use of forced Indian labor. Margaret Langdon published a portion of a 1961 interview with Richard Nejo, a Kumeyaay man, in News from Native California (winter 2000) in which he said:
- At that time there were a lot of Indians down here and they made them work building those churches. And they farmed all that land around the Mission there. Corn and beans, some of that is still there. Those Missions were built by the Indians and the timber was brought from Volcan [north of Julian] on their shoulders. It took about fifty men to bring one down, and those timber were about a hundred feet long; and they brought them down .... Up that canyon they built a canal. They brought the water down in the canal that was about two feet wide, I guess, and about three feet deep. And the bricks were about fourteen inches thick. They built it clear to the Mission to irrigate the crops.
Syphilis, measles, and other contagious diseases ran rampant in the missions, leaving most Indian people who went there dead. Slowly, the Spanish found that the missions could not produce the wealth hoped for by the Crown because they could not establish a stable Indian labor population. State support of the missions was cut off around 1810, but this had little long-term significance because in 1821, subsequent to the War for Independence, California became a territory of the new Mexican republic.
The fledgling Mexican government conferred the rights of citizenship to Indian people. In 1829, the first Mexican governor of California, Josè Maria Echeandia,ordered Indian children removed from servitude in Mexican homes and returned to the home of their parents. It is curious that the Mexican government made Indian people citizens, because Mexican soldiers were murdering Kumeyaay people wholesale. An account of the lives of the Kumeyaay under the rule of Echeandia in the late 1820s is given in a history of San Diego by Clarence Alan McGrew.
- The old governor had some trouble with the Indians, and kept his troops busy much of the time in keeping them scared away from the port. The California soldiers brought in the ears of their victims to show what the day's work had been. On one occasion a lieutenant is said to have brought in twenty pairs of ears from Indians slain in this section.
Another example of Governor Echeandia's schizophrenic attitude came in 1829 when a smallpox epidemic hit Northern California. Svlvester Pattie, his son James Ohio Pattie, and a group of trappers were under arrest in San Diego. They had run the Colorado River escaping from some Yumas who had relieved them of their horses. Starving and penniless, the group of Americans put in at a town in Baja California where they were immediately arrested and sent to the main district jail in San Diego. There they continued to starve, languishing for months until the elder Pattie died of malnutrition and neglect. Then, according to John Walton Caughey in History of the Pacific Coast:
- [J. 0.] Pattie let it be known that he had a supply of [smallpox] vaccine, and the Governor soon contracted with him to vaccinate the Californians, officials, soldiers, settlers, padres, and Mission Indians. He toured California in his capacity as "Surgeon General to his Excellency, the Governor of California" inoculating one thousand in San Diego, four thousand at San Juan Capistrano, two thousand in Los Angeles, and lesser numbers elsewhere to make a grand total of twenty-two thousand.
It is highly unlikely that Pattie had any vaccine, much less 22,000 doses. He had straggled half-dead into Baja California and been in jail for months. Still, Echeandia would have vaccinated the Indian population; they by far outnumbered the Mexicans and were desperately needed for labor, This stands in stark contrast to the who turned a blind eye 40 years later when smallpox epidemics swept through the California Indian and Americanized Mexican populations.
The Mexican reign of terror Was to be short-lived, however; the U.S. declared war against Mexico in 1845, and an occupation force of U.S. Marines seized San Diego. The war provided a bright moment for Indian people, who hoped they might again one day be free. Constance Goddard DuBois, a popular novelist who spent summers in California, wrote:
- While the cannons were booming at the famous battle of San Pasqual old Angela sat weaving the circles in this worn basket. She sat on the mountains overlooking the valley watching the hated white man and the yet more hated Mexicans murder each other. She, said, "They will all be dead and we shall be free. " She was almost a hundred years old when she died and saw her land swallowed up by the gringo.
In the end, the U.S. and Mexico divided themselves Kumeyaay homelands. When Alta California was accessioned by the United States, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo stipulated, first, that the land once comprising the mission system be distributed to Indian people, and, second, that Mexican citizens could choose to become American citizens or to remain citizens of Mexico.
But when the dust settled, the American government stood mute as Americans occupied the mission lands and drove the Indian people east and south. Chairwoman of the Los Coyotes Reservation, elder Katherine Saubel, recollects what she heard about that time:
- ... the Anglos took over. They were just as bad as the Spanish. They were just there to destroy the Indians.
- That's When we really became, you might say, beggars, because we had no place to hunt, no place to gather anymore. We were just held down to the different areas. Sometimes to areas where we didn't even belong -- we were moved around by whoever was in power. It was really a trauma for my people.
- They became so, how would you say...They were always hungry now, they were always in a sad situation. I guess they had to live could get just to survive. But they were really destroyed.