The ancestors of the San Pasqual Indians lived for thousands of years in the valley carved by the Santa Ysabel Creek, where modern Highway 78 now winds, near the present site of the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park. After the arrival of the Spaniards and the establishment of Mission San Diego de Alcala in 1769, many Kumeyaay either left or were forced out of their ancestral homes, and were converted to Christianity. For most San Pasqual Indians, adopting parts of European culture did not mean the abandonment of Kumeyaay ways. Spanish religion, customs and language were merely added to the Kumeyaay traditions developed over thousands of years.
In 1821 the people of Mexico successfully concluded their revolution against Spain, gaining independence and proclaiming the Republic of Mexico. The Spanish outpost of Alta California became a Mexican territory, and the new government supported the breakup of the California missions. Arguments over the disposition of church lands however, delayed the closure of most missions for decades.
The Kumeyaay returned to the San Pasqual Valley when, in 1833, territorial governor Jose Figueroa finally declared the closing of the missions of Alta California. As part of the breakup of missions San Diego de Alcala and San Luis Rey de Francia, Figueroa planned to create Indian pueblos to resettle displaced Kumeyaay. Three such pueblos were established around Missions San Diego and San Luis Rey: San Dieguito, Las Flores, and San Pasqual. Of the three, only San Pasqual survived.
The pueblo of San Pasqual was established on November 16, 1835. Mexican officials chose Kumeyaay from Mission San Diego to settle the new community, sited in the same valley along the Santa Ysabel Creek where Indians lived prior to the Spanish conquest.
The Kumeyaay San Pasqual Indians who re-settled the San Pasqual Valley numbered 81 men, women, and children. Twenty-four male adults, their wives, 1 single male, 9 widowers, 1 widow and her daughter, and 21 children made up the original community. More importantly for the survival of San Pasqual, the Kumeyaay who were to develop the pueblo were chosen because of their impressive array of skills and diligent nature. The 1835 census of the pueblo listed the trade of the male settlers as:
6 vaqueros, 10 arrieros (muleteers), 2 carpinteros, 1 herrero (blacksmith), 2 tejedores (weavers), 1 carbonero (charcoal maker), 2 molenderos (Millers), 1 cardador (carder of wool), 5 labradores (farmers/plowmen), 2 gamuseros (leatherworkers), and 1 quesero (cheese maker), for a total of 34.
Although Mission San Diego de Alcala provided the original population, over time other Kumeyaay, possibly from Mission San Luis Rey, as well as unconverted people, joined them. A report by Mexican provincial officers in 1845 noted that San Pasqual comprised “sixty-one Christian souls, and forty-four unconverted Indians, with dwellings after their manner, huts of tule forming a kind of irregular Plazuela”
San Pasqual prospered as a Kumeyaay agricultural village for almost thirty years, and much of the credit must go to the leadership of Panto, the “capitan” of the band. The San Pasqual Indians made a cooperative stock raising agreement with neighboring Californio ranches, provided labor in exchange for cattle and horses, and were also recorded building a dam for a local rancher.
San Pasqual also served as a barrier against attacks by hostile bands. When men from neighboring ranches were absent from their homes, the women “at San Bernardo and at the Rancho of Jose Maria Alvarado remained due to the confidence they reposed in the Indians of San Pasqual,” and “whenever they felt any fear called upon Panto for the services of three or four Indians” to protect them. In 1837 a group of interior Indians led by a man named Claudio began raiding San Diego settlements, killing whites and Christianized Indians. In response, San Pasqual warriors under Panto found and attacked Claudio’s force, killing nine of his followers and capturing Claudio himself.
When the United States declared war on Mexico in 1846, forces under General Stephen Watts Kearny were sent across the desert to capture San Diego. He arrived with 100 men outside the village of San Pasqual in a driving rainstorm, hoping to eventually link up with U.S. naval forces arriving in southern California. Kearny found and attacked a similarly sized Californio force under Andres Pico. Chief Panto’s daughter, Felicita, recalled that “Early one rainy morning we saw soldiers that were not Mexicans come riding down the mountain side. They looked like ghosts coming through the mist and then the fighting began.” Witnessing the engagement, the San Pasqual Indians “fled in fear to the mountains on the north side of the Valley from where they looked down and watched the battle. All day long they fought. We saw some Americans killed and knew they were in a bad way”.
The San Pasqual Indians’ estimation was correct, for the Americans were in a “bad way”. Tired after their long trek through the desert, many mounted on mules, and unable to use their rain soaked gunpowder, Kearny’s men were no match against Californios mounted on fresh horses and armed with long lances. Sixteen Americans were killed and 22 wounded. As Felicita remembered:
“That afternoon Pontho, my father, called his men together and asked them if they wished to help the Americanos in their trouble. The men said they did. When darkness was near Pontho sent a messenger to the Mexican chief telling him to trouble the Americans no more that night else the Indians would help the Americans. And the Mexican chief heeded the message and the Americans were left to bury their dead and to rest because of my father’s message. The Americanos do not know of this but my people know of it.”
It is not certain why Panto assisted the Americans. It could have been simple compassion, or perhaps Panto saw the writing on the wall, viewing assistance as a way to solidify an alliance with the newcomers and assure the survival of the people. After Kearny’s men united with US Naval forces at San Diego, Panto lent the Americans desperately needed horses and oxen to pull artillery and supplies in their drive to capture Los Angeles, which was achieved in January, 1847.
In 1852 federal authorities sent three commissioners to negotiate treaties with the California Indians. On January 7, 1852, representatives of a number Kumeyaay clans met with Commissioner Oliver M. Wozencraft and negotiated the Treaty of Santa Ysabel. The agreement was part of the famous “18 Treaties” of California, negotiated to protect Indian land rights. After the 18 Treaties were completed, the documents were sent to the United States Senate for approval. Under pressure from white settlers and the California Senate delegation, the treaties were all rejected.
The rejection of the Treaty of Santa Ysabel marked the beginning of an extremely difficult era for the San Pasqual Indians. Squatters and homesteaders poured into the San Pasqual Valley and surrounding region, the creek making the land highly desirable for farming and cattle rearing. To protect the San Pasqual people, President Ulysses S. Grant created a reservation for them by executive order in 1870, but the order was rescinded in 1871 in response to settler’s demands.
Determined to save the people, Panto, now in his 60s, met with local officials friendly to the pueblo. Armed with documents from the Mexican government showing Indian title to the valley, Panto made arrangements to journey to Washington to plead San Pasqual’s case. Yet Panto never made it to Washington. Just prior to the trip, on April 27, 1874 Panto was thrown by his horse, and was killed.
The death of Panto signaled the end of the Kumeyaay occupation of the San Pasqual Valley. With the people now leaderless and with officials unwilling to take the political risks necessary to bar the valley from new settlers, in 1878 the valley was completely cleared of San Pasqual Indians by County authorities, and the tribe dispersed throughout the region. Some found refuge with other Kumeyaay bands at Mesa Grande and La Jolla, or in the hills surrounding the ancestral valley. Other San Pasqual Indians journeyed to the surrounding towns to earn a living as best they could.
Like their forefathers, the San Pasqual people adapted themselves to the new world they were forced to live in, learning English and developing new skills. Many took Mexican or even Anglo spouses, adding to the cultural heritage of the community. In spite of these adaptations, band members maintained many of their social and cultural ties. Fiestas celebrating the saint’s day of San Pasqual were held at the pueblo’s original chapel or other Indian villages. Some maintained the traditional Kumeyaay language and cultural traditions.
After investigating a number of San Pasqual families who had filed Indian homestead claims on a few small fields, the federal government decided to combine the holdings into a general reservation. Plans were made to survey the site. However, in 1892, surveyor Cave Couts, Jr., accidentally located the reserved land one township north of the proposed reservation, in the rocky hills overlooking Lake Wohlford. The land was officially patented to the band in 1910. Yet it was only in the 1950s, after some 80 years of dispersal, that descendants of the original band began reconstituting the community in fear of losing the small reservation.
Most San Pasqual Indians did not relocate to the reservation. The rocky, arid terrain could not support them, and urban families feared losing the employment that helped place food on the table. But over time, increasing numbers of families established homes on the reservation, and a tribal hall was built to house meetings of the band.
Although the majority of tribal members have spent a significant part of their lives off the reservation, the last few decades has seen an increase in the number of tribal members living on the reservation. Many are tribal elders, seeking to retire in the warmth of the area. The reservation is now the site of the Valley View Casino, the tribe’s most important economic asset.