The history of the Mesa Grande Band of Diegueno Mission Indians was traditionally passed down orally for generations until the westernization of California began. The first contact between Spanish explorers and the Native people in the San Diego area occurred in 1542. The Spaniards referred to the area’s inhabitants as Diegueno because of their proximity to the San Diego mission. Other American Indian groups also lived in the area at the time, including the Luiseno (named after the San Luis Rey mission), Cahuilla, Cupeno and Northern Diegueno peoples. By 1769, the first Franciscan mission had been established by Father Juniper Serra near the area known today as Old Town, San Diego, California.
The Mexican Era
The building of Catholic missions across the region continued until 1810, when Mexico began its war for independence against Spain. During that eleven-year war, the Mexican government began making grants of “unoccupied” lands to key supporters of the revolution. In 1821, when Mexico won its independence, Mexico took possession of California, and more Diegueno homelands were taken for distribution to friends of the Mexican government.
Deteriorating relations between Mexico and the United States led to war in 1846. After the U.S. defeat of Mexico in 1848, the two nations signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which established the current U.S.-Mexican border and bisected the tribes’ ancestral homelands. The area north of the border became what is now Southern California; the area south of the border became Baja California, a Mexican state.
Just a few days before Mexico ceded the California territory to the U.S. in 1848, gold was discovered near Sacramento. Before the Gold Rush, California had a non-Native population of fewer than 7,000. The discovery of gold attracted hordes of people to the region, and the population soon exceeded 60,000, the threshold for U.S. statehood. California officially became a state on September 7, 1850.
The years between 1850 and 1875 were traumatic for the Mesa Grande people. Settlers flooded into Southern California, taking possession of Native homelands. One 1869 newspaper article reported that 22,000 California Indians had died from disease and deprivation in less than 20 years. Native dwellings were removed if they were located within a half-mile of any non-Native San Diego residence. Native children were excluded from California public schools.
The Creation of Diegueno Reservations
In 1875, U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant issued an executive order establishing reservations for several Diegueno bands, including Mesa Grande. The establishment of reservation boundaries was not easy, since most Native people had been forced out of the areas they considered home. Subsequent executive orders in 1883 and 1891 expanded the Mesa Grande reservation to its present area.
Many mistakes were made as the U.S. federal government somewhat arbitrarily decided how land would be allocated among the Native peoples. The Mesa Grande Band is still engaged in a land dispute with the United States Department of the Interior (DOI) to reclaim improperly allocated land that has always been occupied by Mesa Grande families.
We are pleased to be able to provide a detailed Mesa Grande history complete with links to the documents and publications from each time period. As you read, you can visit where each piece has taken the content and record of our history.
PART 1 – The Reservations (MAP)
PART 1 – The Diegueno Indians
PART 1 – Clans and Villages
A detailed report of the history concerning the creation and subsequent dispute is found here:
Tribute to Mesa Grande Veterans
The Mesa Grande Band of Diegueno Mission Indians is proud to salute our warriors, past and present. Our Tribal citizens have served the U.S. with courage, honor, distinction, in all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces and served in every war since the 20th century began. These brave men and women deserve our appreciation and respect, and we are proud to honor them.
As part of our tribute to veterans, we invite Mesa Grande Tribal citizens to upload photos and brief descriptions of their family members in service. We share your pride in our warriors, and we are honored to share their stories with visitors to this website.