St. Francis of Assisi Chapel
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For many generations, Warner Springs was the place that the Cupeño Indians called home. Their 200-acre village site is now abandoned but evidence of its historical importance remains.
Spaniards entered Cupeño lands in 1795 and took control of the lands by the 19th century. After Mexico achieved independence, its government granted Juan Jose Warner, a naturalized American-Mexican citizen, nearly 45,000 acres of the land on November 28, 1844. Warner, like most other large landholders in California at the time, depended primarily on Indian labor. The villagers of Kúpa provided most of Warner’s workforce on his cattle ranch. The Cupeño continued to reside at what the Spanish called Agua Caliente after the American occupation of California in 1847 to 1848, during the Mexican-American War. They built an adobe ranch house in 1849 and barn in 1857, which are still standing.
According to Julio Ortega, one of the oldest members of the Cupeño tribe, Warner set aside about 16 miles of land surrounding the hot springs as the private domain of the Indians. Warner encouraged the Cupeño to construct a stone fence around their village and to keep their livestock separated from that of the ranch. Ortega felt that if the village had created its own boundaries, the Cupeño would still live there today. In observing the Cupeño’s living conditions in 1846, W. H. Emory, brevet major with the United States Army Corps of Engineers, described the Indians as being held in a state of serfdom by Warner, and as being ill-treated. In 1849, Warner was arrested by the American forces for consorting with the Mexican government and was taken to Los Angeles.
In 1851, because of several issues of conflict, Antonio Garra, a Cupeño from Warner’s Ranch, tried to organize a coalition of various Southern California Indian tribes to drive out all of the European Americans. His Garra Revolt failed, and settlers executed Garra. The Cupeño had attacked Warner and his ranch, burning some buildings. They lost structures at their settlement of Kúpa, too. Warner sent his family to Los Angeles, but continued to operate the ranch through others.
After European contact and prior to the time of their eviction, the Cupeños sold milk, fodder, and some craftwork to travelers on the Southern Immigrant Trail, as well as to passengers on the stagecoaches of the Butterfield Overland Mail, which stopped at Warner’s Ranch and passed through their valley. The women made lace and took in laundry, which they washed in the hot springs. The men carved wood and manufactured saddle pads for horses. They also raised cattle and cultivated 200 acres of land. In 1880, after numerous suits and countersuits, European-American John G. Downey acquired all titles to the main portion of Warner’s Ranch.
In 1892, John G. Downey, former governor of California and owner since 1880, began proceedings to evict the Cupeño from the ranch property. Legal proceedings continued until 1903, when the court ruled in Barker v. Harvey against the Cupeño. The United States Government offered to buy new land for the Cupeño, but they refused. In 1903, Cecilio Blacktooth, Cupeño chief at Agua Caliente, said: “If you give us the best place in the world, it is not as good as this. This is our home. We cannot live anywhere else; we were born here, and our fathers are buried here.”
On May 13, 1903, the Cupa Indians were forced to move to Pala, California on the San Luis Rey River, 75 miles away. Indians at the present-day reservations of Los Coyotes, San Ygnacio, Santa Ysabel, and Mesa Grande are among descendants of the Warner Springs Cupeño. Many Cupeño believe that their land at Kúpa will be returned to them. They are seeking legal relief to that end. The Cupa site serves as a rallying point for the land claims movement of contemporary Indian people, particularly their effort to regain cultural and religious areas.
About the Chapel
The adobe chapel was built by Cupeños under the supervision of the Verona Fathers from the Santa Ysabel Mission. The wood and adobe was brought in from the hills nearby. The Cupeños had lived on these grounds for centuries and considered the area to be of great medicinal and spiritual value. There is still a mass conducted weekly at the chapel, and the cemetery next door still conducts burials.
This chapel is said to be the beginning grounds from where the Trail of Tears was lead. There is a plaque commemorating this event. The land dispute in 1897 over the Native American residents unfortunately ordered them to leave. Theodore Roosevelt intervened, offering to buy the land from the owners, who were at the time heirs of the former CA Governor John Downey.
Cecille Blacktooth, leader of the Cupeños, refused to move. He replied, “You see that graveyard over there? They are our fathers and grandfathers. You see that eagle nest mountain and 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…this is our home…if Harvey Downey says he owns this place, that is wrong…” In 1903 the Cupeños were relocated to the Pala Indian Reservation.
“We do not know what lies beyond where the sun rises in the morning-
We do not know where the sun goes down at night-
We only know our home.” — Chief of Cupeños
About the Cemetery
The cemetery was established in 1830 as a burial ground for the Cupeño Indians. A total of 62 markers were counted. Most of them are wooden crosses with no inscriptions.
Blacktooth, Susanna A., b. 1892, d. 1962
Hughes, Joseph S. , b. 16 Aug 1927, d. 25 Sep 1996, “Jody”, “US Marine Corps World War II”
Hyde, Ben Joseph , b. 25 Apr 1887, d. 15 May 1961
Keane, Charles F. , b. 25 Mar 1935, d. 30 Aug 1997, “US Navy”
Nolasquez, Roscinda A. , b. 3 Apr 1892, d. 4 Feb 1987, “Gram”, “Last survivor of the original Cupa people in the 1903 eviction from Warner Springs to Pala.”
Taylor, Banning Vail , b. 19 Oct 1905, d. 24 Sep 1998, “The Boss”, “Beloved Husband, Father, Grandpa, and Great Grandpa”
Taylor, Banning Vail Jr. , b. 19 Aug 1936, d. 14 Jun 1986, “Skip”, “Son, Husband, Dad, Brother”
Taylor, Theresa P. , b. 19 Mar 1908, d. 15 Aug 1988, “Beloved wife of Arthur L. Taylor Sr. 55 Years”, “Loving Mother and Grandmother”
Wilson, Hazel E. , b. 25 Oct 1914, d. 22 Aug 1990, “Loving Mother and Grandmother”