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Pala Tribe regaining tribal lands at Warner Springs Ranch

Putting Warner Springs back in Native hands.  More than 100 years after government agents marched the tribe out of its ancestral village, San Diego County California Pala Indian band is getting it back.  Using $20 million in profits from its casino to buy what is now known as Warner Springs Ranch.

On state Route 79, 65 miles from downtown San Diego, the 2,522-acre resort features its namesake hot springs, horse trails, a golf course, a landing strip, tennis courts, a dining hall and 250 bungalows, including 17 adobe casitas in which the Pala’s ancestors lived. Located next to the tribe’s old cemetery and a small church built in 1830 by missionaries to the Indians.

Purchasing the ranch seemed out of reach for years. Pala began to set money aside for the purchase in 2001, after opening the casino on state Route 76, hoping to regain what it lost at gunpoint following a U.S. Supreme Court decision.  “We’re going to keep it the way it is and run it like a business, make it successful,” said Pala Chairman Robert Smith. The Pala tribe plans to continue operating Warner Springs as a resort, noting that the tribe is already in the hospitality business through its casino.

The vast majority of the 900 or so Pala tribal members consider themselves Cupeños, meaning they trace their history to the place they know as “Cupa,” where their ancestors lived for centuries near a bubbling hot spring northwest of Julian. Many recall relatives who, in 1903, were uprooted and marched 39 miles in three days with all their belongings to the Pala Indian Reservation. By order of the federal government, they joined the Luiseño Indians living there.  The Pala consider that federal action their own “Trail of Tears,” a reference to the removal of about 16,000 Cherokee from the Southeast to what is now Oklahoma in 1838. Thousands died during the trip and as a result of the relocation. In the Cupeños’ case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1901 that they didn’t have title to the land they had long occupied. The court ruled the title belonged to John G. Downey, a former California governor and successor to a 48,000-acre Mexican land grant given to an Easterner named Jonathan Turnbull Warner.  In the 1980s, San Francisco hotelier and developer A. Cal Rossi turned the ranch into an ownership resort, with those who bought having the ability to stay and the responsibility for part of the upkeep.

In the ensuing years, the stagecoach stop became a Hollywood hangout, with celebrities such as writer F. Scott Fitzgerald and actors and directors including Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy and John Wayne spending time in the resort’s adobe casitas and near pools filled with water from the natural sulfur springs.

  Congratulations to the Pala tribe for regaining their homeland.

Pala Tribe website

Pala Tribe on Facebook

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