Tribal oral historical accounts indicate that Pauma Valley, in North San Diego, and the surrounding area has been home to our ancestors since time immemorial. Our ancestors who inhabited this area spent much of their time moving between the inland waterways and the foothills of Palomar Mountain.

They were not unlike any other group of people - they had religion, families, stories, wars, games and customs. Like other cultures, they laughed and cried, ate and drank, sang and danced, defended their families when needed and extended hospitality as well.

Before contact with Europeans, life had its social norms just like modern life. For example, children were taught that elders ate first out of respect. A boy was allowed to eat deer meat only after he had grown shoulder-high to his father. He was urged to eat sparingly and stay healthy, become a good runner and live to raise his own children and grandchildren.

The river that flows through the Pauma Valley out to the Pacific Ocean is called the San Luis Rey River - we called it Keish - and the mild climate along the San Luis Rey provided our ancestors with an ideal environment for thousands of years.


In April of 1769, a Spanish ship named the San Antonio sailed into San Diego Bay, and two Spaniards became the first to meet and interact with the indigenous people of the area, known today as the Kumeyaay.

Father Junipero Serra and military commander Gaspar de Portola encountered indigenous populations with complex and diverse cultures.

The indigenous people, many of whom called themselves “‘atàaxum,” which means “people” or “human beings,” had their own systems of governance, religion and economic trade. The indigenous people of Southern California could not have anticipated that their brief interaction with this Spanish priest and military explorer would be the hallmark of centuries of drastic irrevocable change.

Mission Era

European interaction with the indigenous people of Southern California was limited until the mid 1700s. The Spanish set up the Mission system to protect their claim to California land, economic prosperity and religious conversion.

The Mission San Luis Rey was built in 1798 and brought many changes to our ancestors. The general designation “Luiseño” was used by the Spanish in reference to the indigenous people as a result of their proximity to the Mission. Localized small villages were further identified, for example the “Pauma” band, the “place where there is water,” known so because of their location near the San Luis Rey River. The Pauma name predates Spanish arrival.

Since Pauma was located inland, initially its people were not extensively drawn into the Mission environment. With the establishment of the Pala Assistancia in the early 1800s, the presence of the Church and the Spanish soldiers became more prevalent. Most Pauma people lived in their villages and worked as laborers for the missions.

Father Junipero Serra eventually established twenty-one Missions up the California coastline from San Diego to San Francisco. The Mexican government secularized the Missions, and the era ended in 1834. Unscrupulous ranchers quickly moved in and took rich, fertile land from the Luiseño people.

Boarding School Era

Indian boarding schools were the brainchild of Captain Richard H. Pratt, a former military officer. He opened the first boarding school, the Carlisle Indian School, located on an abandoned military post in Carlisle, Pennsylvania in 1878.

The San Luis Rey Mission, founded in 1798, established supporting ranchos in the Temecula and Pauma valleys. These ranchos encompassed property boundaries of dozens of native villages that became the forced labor of the mission system. Because these native villages were within territory claimed for Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, they became known as San Luiseños, later shortened to Luiseño.

Pratt’s stated goal was to “kill the Indian, to save the man.” In order to carry out his plan, Pratt subjected Indian children to extremely strict, often harsh discipline. According to Pratt’s model, schools were set up far away from the reservations making it almost impossible for students to see family during the school year. In many cases, visitations were forbidden and children were not allowed to return home during the summer break.

Students wore military uniforms and were forced to march. Disobeying any rule often resulted in harsh physical punishment. Students were forbidden to speak their native languages or practice traditional customs of any kind. They were forced to read the bible and memorize the Lord’s Prayer. Students were taught that their traditional Indian ways were savage and inferior to whites. Students were expected to spy on one another and were often pitted against each other. Classes focused primarily on learning manual labor skills, which were then used to operate the institutions. The education of Indian children was for the purpose of preparing them for servitude, effectively creating a “slave” labor environment where the students provided the free labor that was necessary to operate the schools.

After years of separation, many students found it very difficult to fit into their reservation communities when they tried to return. Tragically, thousands of Indian children never returned, and their small graves can still be found on the premises of many former Indian boarding schools.

Pauma children, along with children from neighboring Luiseño bands, were generally sent to the Sherman Indian School in Riverside, CA. The school was originally built in Perris, California but was moved to Riverside, California, due to inadequate water supply. The new school was opened in Riverside in May 1902 and consisted of nine original buildings set on approximately 100 acres.

After years of separation, many students found it very difficult to fit into their reservation communities when they tried to return. Tragically, thousands of Indian children never returned, and their small graves can still be found on the premises of many former Indian boarding schools.

The school was named after Dr. James Schoolcraft Sherman. By 1909, 43 tribes were represented. Students raised their own food in the nearby fields. By 1926, a complete elementary and high school curriculum was offered. It had digressed to an ungraded five-year program by 1948. (Carol Ray) Pauma elders resisted sending their children to the Sherman Indian School. During the early 20th century, they fought to have the right to send their children to the Pauma Elementary School. It took a courtorder to gain admission to the school, and older children had to translate for the younger ones during the early years. Other government schools existed during this time; there were day schools at Pala and Rincon, and the Sherman Indian Institute eventually offered a day program in Riverside County. Pauma people preferred to keep their children close to home but officials from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and churches sometimes took children away and placed them in boarding schools across the country.

The early 20th century brought extreme hardship for many Indian families. The 1928 Merriam report to Congress found that Indian people suffered from poverty, disease and mortality at disproportionate rates. While boarding schools were not the desired alternative, proponents argued that the boarding school provided food and shelter for children and protection from instability.

Rancho Era

“The center of activity in Pauma Valley in 1846 was Rancho Pauma, owned by Jose Antonio Serrano,” wrote Hugh Crumpler in an 1887 San Diego Union article. Serrano was the grandson of Francisco Serrano, who came to California with Father Junipero Serra in 1769. The rancho was granted to Serrano in November 1844 by then Alta California Governor Manuel Micheltorena.

Crumpler noted that the Pauma Indians “provided much of the labor needed to operate Pauma Rancho.” He added “relations between the Indians and the Californios had been strained from the time the Mexican government secularized the missions in 1834.”

The Pauma, like many other California Indians, were reduced to being tenants in their own land. Some of the displaced Luiseños worked on the ranches as cowboys, servants or laborers. Others attempted to return to their native way of life. Ranch owners and their overseers often treated those who stayed on the ranchos worse than slaves. Even Eurocentric 20th-century historians couldn’t avoid mentioning, “the harsh treatment the Indians received from the settlers, ranch owners and padres…” (Phillip Rush, 1865). The Mexican-American War further complicated the relationship between Serrano and his indigenous residents/laborers when the United States entered the struggle for control of the land. The war triggered the Pauma Massacre, the event most often associated with Rancho Pauma.

After the Mexican American War in 1846, and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, the Luiseños came under the rule of the United States. The Luiseños had few rights and many were homeless. American settlers, especially after the Civil War, encroached on Luiseño lands from 1848 to 1875.

Again, it is important to note that Pauma and the other Luiseño reservations today were intact throughout this process. Many individuals did leave but the villages and reservation lands were never fully deserted. Some Luiseños remained in small settlements near the missions, while others returned to old villages in the mountains. The Anglo-American settlers took the best farm and grazing lands in the valleys. In the mountains, mining speculation attracted other Anglo-Americans to areas like Palomar Mountain.

Jose Antonio Serrano filed a claim with the land commission in 1852. The land claim was approved in 1871 to Serrano, his brother in law, Blas Aguilar and Jose Antonio Aguilar. Over the next two decades, parts of the ranch were sold to American landowners. In 1851-52 three commissioners negotiated 18 treaties between the United States and California Indians. The negotiators proposed gathering all the Luiseño into a large “Mission Indian” reservation. In this proposal, Pechanga was to be the home for all these “Mission Indians.” While Pauma was a signatory of one of these treaties, the Treaty with the San Louis Rey, Etc. 1852, they did not agree to relocate to the Pechanga site, and this proposal was never fulfilled. Fearing the loss of resources from the 7.5 million acres of land set aside in the treaties for California Indians, the California state legislature lobbied congress to deny federal ratification of the treaties. The treaties were subsequently placed under an injunction of secrecy, leaving California Indians vulnerable to homesteaders seeking to lay claim to tribal lands.

In 1875 an executive order by President Grant set aside reservation land for Luiseños at Rincon, Pala and La Jolla. Later, beginning in 1891, reservation land was set-aside for Luiseños at Pauma-Yuima, Pechanga and Soboba with the Act for Relief of Mission Indians. In effect, Luiseño political structure was forced to become encapsulated under these reservation structures. Some Luiseño families in the coastal areas, near the original Luiseño missions, were not included and remained federally unrecognized. Today, they are organized as the San Luis Rey Band of Mission Indians.

In 1892, the Serrano ranch site was designated as part of the Pauma-Yuima Reservation. It is important to note that the Bishop of Los Angeles, Francisco Mora, played a significant role in our keeping part of our traditional homeland. “In Pauma, a small amount of land was purchased from the Catholic Bishop of the Diocese, the owner of the rancho grant. This purchase included three plots of land and water rights. The largest, known as Pauma, contained 250 acres, with the right to thirty inches of water from Pauma Creek” (PITR 43). The Pauma, like other Luiseño bands, had little choice and moved from their larger traditional land base and re-settled on the less desirable, rocky terrain of their newly established reservation.

Modern Era

Land and Self-Determination

The California Indians’ Jurisdictional Act of 1928, and organizations like the Mission Indians Federation, led to litigation for compensation of lands lost due to the un-ratified treaties. The Great Depression brought hard times, loss of land and disruption to claims. The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 added a new layer of red tape. World War II also disrupted litigation, but after the war the Indian Claims Commission Act of 1946 provided a forum for land and resource claims.

Attempts at termination in the 1950s were blocked and Public Law 280 allowed for some self-determination with increased state jurisdiction. The 1970s brought in greater self-determination and Pauma-Yuima became part of a number of coalitions with other federal bands/tribes in securing water rights, health service and education and resource preservation. The Indian Self-Determination Act (PL. 93-638) provided Pauma the resources to install irrigation lines for avocado and citrus groves.

Since the advent of the Indian Self-Determination Act, Pauma has routinely and systematically pursued education, social services, and economic development as duties and responsibilities of a sovereign nation. Cash revenue, while always limited, necessitated that we engage in partnerships and memberships in various coalitions and consortiums. The Indian Child Welfare Consortium, the Intertribal Court Consortium and the Indian Health Council Consortium are a few examples.

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  • Town Hall

  • 1010 Pauma Reservation Rd,

  • Pauma Valley,CA 92061

  • (760) 742-1289

  • Police Department

  • 1010 Pauma Reservation Rd,

  • Pauma Valley, CA 92061

  • (760) 742-1289

  • Town Library

  • 1010 Pauma Reservation Rd,

  • Pauma Valley, CA 92061

  • (760) 742-1289

  • Fire Department

  • 1010 Pauma Reservation Rd,

  • Pauma Valley, CA 92061

  • (760) 742-1289