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 in 1924. 
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 women! 
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 no  further." 
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).