Soboba Band Of Luiseno Indians

Soboba Band Of Luiseno Indians

23904 Soboba Road , San Jacinto, CA
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Since time immemorial the descendants of the Soboba people are those whom have lived on and occupied the land that is presently known as the cities of San Jacinto, Hemet, Valle Vista and Winchester.
Today the Soboba Indian Reservation lies in the lower reaches of the San Jacinto Mountains, across the San Jacinto River from the city of San Jacinto.

Soboba’s Tribal members have a rich and diverse Tribal history as members come from both Cahuilla and Luiseño ancestry. Prior to both Mexican and American settlement in the valley the people of Soboba were virtually self-sufficient. The Soboba people farmed land that was irrigated with surface water from the San Jacinto River, two of its tributary streams, Poppet and Indian Creeks, and from more than forty perennial springs. These water sources sustained gardens, animals and orchards.

During the Spanish and Mexican rule in California, the Soboba Indians were recognized as an established Indian community. In approximately 1815, Mission San Luis Rey established Rancho San Jacinto as their furthermost cattle ranch and Luiseño Indians were brought with them as laborers for the ranch. Some of the original Cahuilla inhabitants of the valley who were present in the valley during this time intermarried with the Luiseños.

After the missions were secularized the San Jacinto Rancho Viejo was granted to José Antonio Estudillo in 1842, with a stipulation that the new land owner “shall not in any manner prejudice the Indians who are established on said land.” For as long as he lived Jose Antonio Estudillo and Jose Antonio Estudillo Jr. respected the rights and well-being of Soboba Indians. Starting in 1868 the heirs of the Estudillo family began selling various portions of the Rancho San Jacinto Viejo and by 1880 most of the rancho lands had been sold and the Soboba people were left with no legal claim to their land or water.

It was during this time that Matthew Byrne of San Bernardino was awarded 700 acres on the northeastern side of the San Jacinto Valley, including the village of Soboba, its cultivated fields and all the water. Mr. Byrne planned to graze sheep on his land and at first allowed the Soboba people to remain living there; however a few months later he changed his mind and threatened to evict the Indians unless the U.S. Government paid him for his 700 acres.

On June 19, 1883, President Chester Arthur by Executive Order established the Soboba Indian Reservation, a 3,172-acre tract which included the Soboba village and the adjacent hills. The President had limited authority as he was only able to set aside public land for the establishment of a reservation and had no authority to take private land. Thus the Soboba village; cultivated lands and major springs were part of Rancho San Jacinto Viejo and belonged to Matthew Byrne.

In November 1883, Byrne was granted his eviction order to have the people of Soboba removed by the San Diego Superior Court. An appeal was filed before the California Supreme Court. In the case Byrne v. Alas, it was argued that the people of Soboba had been given the right to remain on their lands by a provision of the original grant to Estudillo in 1842 and that the United States was bound by the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, under which California became part of the United States, to honor the original Spanish and Mexican land grants. It was also argued that the people of Soboba should not be forced to give up their lands because they failed to present their claim to the land Commission within the prescribed years of 1851 to 1853, and that the patent issued to Byrne in 1882 did not preclude the Soboba right of occupancy. In a landmark decision rendered on January 31, 1888, the California Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of the Soboba people. The Court upheld their right of occupancy based on the provisions of the original Rancho San Jacinto land grant and their “continuous use and occupancy” of the land in question. The justices further stated their belief that “Congress did not intend the rights of Indians should be cut off by a failure on their part to present their claims before the Land Commissioners.” For the first time, the state’s high court voted to uphold the land rights of an individual Indian tribal group.

Unfortunately, the California Supreme Court decision was reversed, a year later. In the ruling of Botiller v. Dominquez (1889), the United States Supreme Court upheld the supremacy of the claims confirmed by the Land Commission as opposed to claims based upon provisions of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. “The Court is bound to follow the statutory enactments of its own government,” the majority decision affirmed. Since Native Americans failed to present their land claims before the Land Commission in the prescribed years, they held no valid title to their lands, even if they could prove continuous use and occupancy going back hundreds of years.

The people of Soboba remained on their lands but their ordeal was not over. They did not have legal title; Byrne and later his heirs, the legal owners in the eyes of the San Diego Supreme Court continued to litigate and paid taxes on the property until 1902. In 1903 the State of California seized the Byrne and Soboba lands he claimed, for non-payment of taxes. The California Legislature was persuaded to sell the Soboba part of the seized lands to the federal government for $775. The deed was recorded on September 11, 1911, and, at last legal title was held in trust for the Sobobas by the Department of the Interior.

From 1865 to 1891 upstream diversions of the San Jacinto River and its major tributaries by new settlers eliminated nearly all river surface flow through the Soboba land. Deprived of the river’s perennial water supply, the Tribe’s gravity-flow irrigation system became useless by 1899. In an attempt to improve the Tribe's dire situation, the U.S. Indian Service constructed a well system on our Reservation in 1909, utilizing the waters of an underground aquifer beneath the Reservation. By the early 1930s, however, the wells had become largely unproductive because the Reservation's water table had been drawn down substantially by the upstream diversions of the San Jacinto River and by intensive withdrawals by non-Indians of the groundwater sub-basins lying beneath the Reservation.

Some surface water continued to be available until the 1930s from the many springs and creeks in the upland parts of the Reservation, which supported settlements, vineyards and orchards, stock watering and other domestic uses. But even this meager supply of surface water soon disappeared almost entirely with the construction of the San Jacinto Tunnel.