Richard Carrico in Ocean Beach and His Story of Warner Springs Ranch

by on September 21, 2018 · 2 comments

in History, Ocean Beach

Before a good-sized audience of at least 80 people who had assembled in the old pews of the Water’s Edge Faith Community church, Richard Carrico – the well-known archeologist, writer and lecturer – entertained with his stories of Warner Springs Thursday evening, the 20th of September.

Carrico appears in Ocean Beach once a year to give lectures – mostly about the native peoples of San Diego County – and this time was no different. Accompanied by a slide show, Carrico and his knowledge and wit held the audience for over an hour and half.

The Original Cupeños and Warner Springs Ranch

Carrico explained he was hired 4 years ago by the new owners of the Warner Springs Ranch to begin assembling environmental documents for an on-going archeology study at and around the old Ranch – and two years ago he moved there. The new owners have spent about $22 million “on 2500 acres of heart ache” he said. He took a moment to give props to Katheryn Fletcher’s book on Warner Springs Ranch.

Then he launched into the history of the Springs, the Indian villages, the coming of the whites, first the Spaniards and then the Yankees, a history situated at the foot of Hot Springs Mountain, the highest peak in San Diego County (8 feet taller than Cuyamaca). The ranch and the nearby sprawling valleys and hills have been the scene of what Carrico described as “massacres, insurrections, murder, alleged curses on the land, exploitation of native people, and land development focused on the sulfurous hot springs.”

The original inhabitants of the area were the Cupeño – and they settled the area for thousands of years, he said, and had established a village called Kupa near the hot springs. They called themselves the Cupanawich – which translates into “people of the hot water”. The oldest archeological artifact of the Cupeño found in the area is 4500 years old, and he added there’s probably many older items out there that just haven’t been found. “And these people are still around,” Carrico said, with many of them having moved to locales in Riverside County.

The Cupeños are a unique people, who spoke a different dialect than the surrounding tribes (Kumeyaay, Luiseño and Cahuilla) and their settlement was the meeting point for desert tribes.

Inevitably, the Spanish “discovered” the hot springs and the Indians nearby in 1795. So, in 1818 a small sub-mission was built by Spanish missionaries near the springs – now called “Aqua Caliente”. Some years later St Francis Mission chapel was erected near the settlement.

Then the period called “the secularization of the missions” occurred, the priests left, and land grants became the focal point of Spanish inhabitants. Of course, Mexico had a revolution, then the U.S. fought the “Mexican War” – and took half of that country – and San Diego County became part of the states.

John J Warner Buys In

The Gold Rush in 1848 accelerated the pace of white settlements in California – as 10,000 men  a month moved out to the state. And it was during this period when the ranch obtained its name.

John J Warner moved into the area in 1844; he took on a Spanish name, married a local, upper-class Spaniard and applied for a land grant. And he got one Rancho San Jose del Valle – with 44,000 acres – the size of today’s Camp Pendleton – and brought in cattle – which was what most wealthy Spanish did. The Indians didn’t like the cattle, as they ate the native crops. Warner’s ranch was a failure in the end; he had built a shack, but never lived at the hot springs, as the Cupeño wouldn’t allow him to build a larger building near it. He did later construct some buildings a few miles north.

“The Garra Rebellion”

Carrico’s narrative switched to one of the more controversial incidents at Warner Springs, the so-called Garra Rebellion or “uprising” or “massacre” Around 1850 – 1851, San Diego County began collecting taxes on residents. And then Sheriff Agoston Haraszthy decided local Indians should be taxed. And he and his men began trying to collect those taxes.

One Cupeño leader, Antonio Garra, resisted the tax collection and refused. In Carrico’s version – which goes against the original San Diego Union story and several more recent versions – the Sheriff sent vigilantes to Garra’s village and they seized his cattle and horses, which were then sold. Garra went to get them back. “He just wanted to get his cattle back,” Carrico said. He wasn’t going out to kill Americans – but some were killed in the subsequent gun fight.

Enraged, the Sheriff sent groups of men out to get Garra. One group came upon 3 to 4 people from a different tribe, but they were Indians, and were executed. Garra was arrested, brought to Old Town, tried, convicted – and then executed. His grave is somewhere in today’s Old Town. A white man who was an ally of Garra, William Marshall, was also executed – as was Garra’s son. (Here’s another version from a 1992 LA Times piece.)

The 1880s – 1890s

Nearer the end of the century the Cupeños moved back to Warner Springs, re-established their village, Kupa, built huts and began bottling the water, which was claimed to have healing powers. The water came out of the ground at 140 degrees but flowed to “curing” ponds which lowers the temperature to around 102 degrees. Some of those homes still remain. Kupa became a thriving village and a stop on the overland Butterfield Stage route.

A former governor of California by the name of John Downey (city of Downey was named after him) bought Warner Springs Ranch around 1897-98 (Wikipedia says 1880) to raise sheep and cattle. He had the deed, but died and his heirs made a move to get all the land and remove the Indians. The Indians believed the land was part of the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation. Long story short, despite being granted the land by President Grant, the Supreme Court ruled the land was not the Cupeños.

Of course, they didn’t want to move – their ancestors were buried there; they had lived there for thousands of years. Finally, the forced move came in 1902, and with wagons filled with their goods, the Cupeños were relocated to the Pala Reservation. It was a slow move, Carrico explained, the Cupeños hated it and it was a sad story, but “it was not a ‘trail of tears'” Carrico added. Today many of their leaders and the people who live on Pala are the descendants of these Cupeños.

When they left, the Cupeños told the whites there’s a curse on them, and that nothing the whites did with the Springs would succeed. Carrico said 4 bankruptcies and 2 suicides later among those who tried to make something there, they may have been right.

Warner Springs Ranch Resort

A series of capitalists came through Warner Springs Ranch and tried to make the place a go as a resort. Men with names like Vail, Fletcher and Henshaw. And from about 1908 into the 1920s, Carrico said, the place became one of the major resorts of Southern California.

From downtown San Diego, it was a 2-day trip by wagon out to the resort. People in San Diego were looking for some relief from the heat, and a respite near the mountains at 3200 feet was appealing. Golfing and horseback riding were added in the Twenties and Olympic-sized pools were added, one with hot water and one not. It cost between $2-3 to stay a night – in the days when the average laborer made $5 a day.

Warner Springs Ranch became a resort for Hollywood, and actors such as John Wayne visited. Also the 1936 movie “Ramona” was filmed in the vicinity, with Loretta Young playing Ramona and Don Ameche playing the Indian male lead. The film makers had hired around a hundred local Indians for the film.

Decades later, the ranch was in bankruptcy  court and the Pala tribes tried to buy it back. There was a fear, Carrico said, an unfounded fear the Pala Indians would open up a casino at the site. But in the end the judge awarded the place to Pacific Hospitality, which had been employing 300 locals.

Today, the springs are still there, the resort is open,there’s golfing, hiking, horseback riding –  one can rent a little casita – and the pools will be open in December.

The Environmental review will be out in 8 months, Carrico said as he wound down his lecture. What’s the future? he asked rhetorically. The present owner has spent $22 million in renewing the place as a resort and wishes to keep it running as one.

Carrico’s ultimate finding, he said, “it’s a sacred site.”

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Richard Carrico October 8, 2018 at 11:04 am

Thanks for the write up in the OB Rag on my talk to the Ocean Beach Historical Society on September 27, 2018. I just wanted to clarify two items from your article.
In reference to Indians believing that the land was part of the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation, that is not what I stated—they believed that their land was part of the Agua Caliente Reservation—not the neighboring Los Coyotes Reservation. Different bands and families lived on the two reservations in the 1870-1903 period.
In closing out the piece you quoted me as saying that my ultimate finding from on-going studies was that “it’s a sacred site.” My reference to the sacredness of the “site” was to the hot springs themselves and the cemetery (which is not part of the Resort itself). The Warner Springs Ranch Resort does contain other places and sites that may or may not be “sacred” to the native people—only further study can address that.


Gail Monaghan November 24, 2019 at 5:16 pm

My husband and I spent some wonderful times at the Ranch, even our 50th wedding anniversary there in 2007. It was the perfect place for all our family.
Is it up and running now ? Please advise.
Gail Monaghan
377 Alpine Ave., Chula Vista, CA 91910

619 420 8513


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