|VALLE DE GUATAY The name given
to what is now called Descanso Valley by the early Spanish settlers. It
first appeared on the Diseno of 1846. Although the history of this area
reaches far into the past, it is not until 1879 that the name "Descanso"
appears in county records. It was known to Indians and early non-Indian
settlers by the Indian name "Na-Wa-Ti-e" (rendered in Spanish as
"Guatay"), which means "Council House or "Big Chief's House."
The greater valley spreading southwest from the current racetrack was called
"Big Guatay valley"; the smaller, through which the Sweetwater River flows,
was known as "Little Guatay."
Reported by the late Tom Lucas, member of the Kwaaymii (a sub-band
of the Kumeyaay) Indians, the "Guatay" that the Indians knew was situated
where Descanso is. Tom was born in Laguna in 1903 and attended school here
from 1909 -1913. All that is validly known of those
days before settlement by non-Indians, has been recorded from a handful
of Indians prepared to share their tribal history. Much of the oral history
was preserved in a practice common to tribal cultures and remarkably effective.
"The poetic aid dramatic as well as the realism of these old tales was
interpreted from word-of-mouth narratives of Marie Alto by Johnson in 1914."
Maria Alto was the mother of Tom Lucas and was
a woman skilled in basketry. Today her baskets are greatly prized
by those fortunate enough to have obtained one. Maria, according
to Rensch, was "a wonderful source of information about Indian population
and lore." Max Birkey recalled she lived in a small house on a piece
of land behind the Oak Grove hotel. She was discovered seriously ill in
her home and brought into the San Diego County Hospital where she died
There were, in Old Guatay Valley,
two well-populated Indian villages,
Hun-poo-Arrup-ma (Whip of the Wind), located at the northeastern
end of the valley, and Pilch-oom-wa (White as Ashes)
just west of the Sweetwater River, across from Perkins Corner.
The reason for the latter name is evident to anyone who has seen that valley
under frost in the early morning. A smaller village, east of the
river, was tucked into the oak trees. There is an old burial ground in
the valley, cited by John Mulkins, the Green Valley pioneer, as the only
known exception to the Kumeyaay custom of cremating their dead and burning
their clothes and possessions. Robert Garbani, who was born in Descanso,
recalls seeing, as a child, weekend visitors digging in and sifting the
soil at a site just east of the junction of Manzanita Lane and Guatay Road,
towards Maggio's ranch, and removing artifacts and necklaces and so forth.
This may be the site Mulkins referred to.
The end of the traditional life came reluctantly
for the mountain Indians, and with great resistance. Unlike
their brothers on the coast, they never converted to Christianity, retaining
their custom and tradition they kept their identity intact for seventy-five
years after the coming of the Spanish-an event foretold by their spiritual
leaders. It was not until the American aggression that they were finally
driven from their traditional homes.
Old Guatay was a favorite place for the Indians
who would return there from summer camps in higher elevations as soon as
winter storms began to threaten. Much of what is known about the Spanish
penetration into the mountains of Cuyamaca and the surrounding region has
been gleaned from the diary of Don Pedro Fages.
Fages was at that time a lieutenant colonel in
the Spanish command. He also served as governor of Alto California
in 1770 and again in 1782. He is credited writing the first known
incursion into the region by Europeans, all the way from the desert to
the coast. Early records put Fages at Mission San Diego in 1772 and he
is known to have pursued deserters from the Presidio into what is now Imperial
Valley, shortly after. In 1782 he made his way to the Colorado River in
an attempt, -unsuccessful as it happened - to subdue unrest among the Yuman
Indians there, who had rebelled against the Spaniards at the mission settlements,
killing some of the men and taking women and children captive. A punitive
expedition of 100 soldiers under Fages followed a trail De Anza had forged
to the Colorado where they managed to ransom the women and children and
return them to Mexico. On his return, Fages followed the De Anza
trail at first, but decided later to take an old Indian road over the Cuyamacas,
turning up Carrizo Creek through Vallecito and on into then unexplored
territory. (A part of the trail, from Oriflamme Creek to the
Cuyamacas, was rediscovered by Granville Martin, pioneer rancher,
in l942). "Hearing that the Indians in the mountains about San Diego were
in a state of semi-insurrection, I thought I might observe some movements
and make them feel some respect if I should change my route and pass through
their territory on my way," Fages wrote in his diary. This he did, going
through Mason Valley to Oriflamme Creek into Cuyamaca highlands and then
down into Viejas Valley where "most of us dismounted, but one corporal
of the presidio, who would not dismount, rolled a good way
with horse and all."
Viejas Valley was called by the Indians
Heish-ow-Na-wa "rabbit house"
but came to be known as Viejas Valle (Valley of Old Women)
because when punitive expeditions pursuing Indian deserters from San Diego
Mission arrived, they found no men in the village, only old
The importance of the Fages incursion into the area was major. Not
only did Fages return to San Diego with lyrical descriptions of the large
stands of fir and pine, so accessible to the town -
at that time timber was being shipped in from the north by sea at great
expense - and of the lush pasture land so necessary
for mission livestock, but it too and shorter access
through the mountains, making it possible to open up the area. The Spanish
occupation ended when Mexico proclaimed independence from Spain(1826).
The missions were then secularized and taken over by the government.
In 1837 the Indians rebelled in what came
to be called "The Battle of the Cuyuamaca" and were quelled by a military
force. The Indians thereupon promised to "molest the settlements
Prior to the Mexican Cession or 1848, the Governor
of Alto California, Pio Pico, granted large tracts of land to members of
his family and friends. One of the beneficiaries was Don Augustin
Olvera who was married to Pin Pico's niece. Olvera had come to California
from Mexico city in 1834 with his uncle, Don Ignacio Coronel. He
was prominent in political affairs and became the first county judge of.
Los Angeles and later a superior court judge and school commissioner. Olvera
petitioned for a grant of eight leagues, or 35,501 acres, of land in the
Cuyamacas, which he described as "uninhabited save for several Indian rancherias."
The grant included part of Quatay Valley, subsequently Descanso. Certain
stipulations attached to the land grant we apparently not met, which led
to a long legal wrangle when Olvera tried to get the grant ratified by
the American Government after the end of the Mexican War (1846-48).