Anthropology Of Potrero Site

Kumeyaay Nation

The Kumeyaay Nation extends from San Diego and Imperial Counties in California to 60 miles south of the Mexican border. The Kumeyaay are members of the Yuman language branch of the Hokan group.

Included with the Kumeyaay in the Yuman branch are the PaiPai, Kiliwa, Cocopa, Mohave, Maricopa, Quechan, Yavapai, Havasupai, Hualapai. The Hokan language group is wide ranging, covering most of the coastal lands of southern California. It includes tribes as far north as the Kurok of Northern California.

The most common and popular modern Kumeyaay names used today are:

  • KUMIAI (Mexico)

Informational Sites:

Contact Information

  • Ewiiaapaayp Tribal Office, Ewiiaapaayp Band of Kumeyaay Indians, 4054 Willows Rd. Alpine, CA 91901; 619-445-6315;

Some tidbits

  • The Kumeyaay Millennium: The story of the original San Diegans -- Excellent history of the Kumeyaay nation by Anthony R. Pico, tribal chairman of the Viejas Bank of Kumeyaay Indians. THIS IS A Must-read, very informative... The Kumeyaay were mistreated throughout history!
    For 10 millennia before the Spanish and other European settlers arrived in California, the Kumeyaay Indian Nation lived in the area now divided into San Diego and Imperial Counties and Baja Norte. Although this nation of original inhabitants has been called Southern Diegueño, Diegueño-Kamia, Ipai-Tipai and Mission Indians, the people prefer to be known as Kumeyaay. More...

Sacred lands were shared. Creation stories and religious rituals were tied to specific locations, or holy lands, just as with the Hebrews, Christians and Muslims. One such place is Kuuchamaa, or Tecate Peak. Another is Wee-ishpa, or Signal Mountain. Burial grounds were sacred, and still are to this day. Each band had worship areas restricted to religious and tribal leaders.


There was no written language. Songs contained the collective wisdom and memories of the Kumeyaay people.


In September 1542, the coastal Kumeyaay encountered the first European, Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo, when his ship sailed into San Diego Bay. Then, in 1769, the Spanish sent a colonizing force into upper California. ... Kumeyaay coastal land was confiscated and the people captured and forced to work for the Spanish. Soldiers scoured the countryside for Indians to be rounded up for conversion and indentured slave labor.


Following the Mexican Revolution and founding of the Republic of Mexico in 1822, the Spanish holdings were secularized. During the Mexican period, the missions became parish churches and mission lands, rancheros. Prior commitments made to Hispanicized Kumeyaay for small plots of land by the Spanish were dismissed. Mexican governors gave the best mission lands to Mexican nationals, and conceded large land grants, absorbing farms of Hispaniized Indians granted by the Spanish, as well as Kumeyaay villages within their boundaries.


California passed the act for the Government and Protection of Indians in 1850. This act assumed state authority over the Indians and empowered county sheriffs to mark boundaries and protect Indians and Indian lands "as needed." The act also legalized the indenturing of Indian children, granting custody for males until age 18 and females until 15 years old. Children often were seen being driven to market, where Indian boys were sold for $50, and girls for $100. Thousands of Native Americans were made legal wards of Anglos who sought a cheap and steady labor supply. An advertisement inviting new settlers to California boasted free land and free Indian labor.


California set itself apart from other states by refusing to approve federal treaties with the Indian tribes for land, and also by establishing an official policy of extermination. As stated by California's first governor, Peter Burnett, in 1851, "that the war of extermination will continue to be waged until the race becomes extinct must be expected."

The Kumeyaay experienced a rich spiritual or religious life. All religions serve to reduce anxiety by explaining the unknown and making it understandable, provide comfort in the belief that supernatural aid is available in times of crisis, sanction a wide range of human conduct by providing notions of right and wrong, maintain social solidarity, and enhance the learning of oral traditions. As hunter-gatherers who saw themselves as being a part of nature rather than superior to it, the Kumeyaay maintained a belief system known as animism. Animism basically involves a belief in spirit beings which are thought to animate nature. Related to this, animals are especially important in mythology, taboos, and ceremonial practices. Specific examples of Kumeyaay supernatural beliefs and characteristics associated with particular animals and birds are provided by Sparkman (1908), Waterman (1910), Spier (1923), and Cuero (1970), but in general little is known about this society's religious beliefs and practices. It is known, however, that their religion was essential to the overall adaptation and well-being of prehistoric and historic Kumeyaay Indians, and that violations of current beliefs, practices, or sites of religious importance could impair the health and well-being of Kumeyaay living today.

The following from about pages 49 and 50:
Like all other Yumans, and indeed nearly all California Indians, the Diegueños cremated the dead... The ashes and bits of bone were placed in a water-jar, which was buried in the pit or concealed among the rocks. Then followed a feast at the bereaved home, the people carried off all the unconsumed food, and the house was burned. But the clothing and other personal possessions of the deceased person were kept for use in the memorial rites.


It is believed that the soul flies through the air to the place where people were created, that is, the mountain Wikami in southern Nevada.


The Diegueño account of creation is clearly related to the Mohave myth.
From the union of Earth and the superimposed Water were born two brothers, who pushed the water up and thus formed the sky. They created the celestial luminaries and human beings. This occurred at Wikami. A ceremony was planned, and having built the brush enclosure the people sent to the ocean for a monster serpent, in whose body was all knowledge. When the serpent had coiled himself in the enclosure the set fire to it, and his body exploded, scattering among the people languages, songs, institutions, and customs. The elder brother fell sick and died. They burned his body, thus establishing the custom of cremation, and Coyote ran away with his heart. The younger brother, after making many transformations in the earth and its inhabitants, went into the sky. He is identified with the phenomenon of ball-lightning.

  • The Culture of the Luiseño Indians By Philip Stedman Sparkman (1908) -- Not on the Internet, At San Diego Public Library, 970/SPARKMAN San Diego Central Library: History 979.4004/SPARKMAN
    Generally to the north of the Diegueño tribe.
That branch of the family known as Luiseños occupied the coast from above San Juan Capistrano to the mouth of Agua Hedionda, and are thus the most southwesterly tribe of the Shoshonean linguistic family in the United States. We cannot pretend to give the exact boundary of their former habitat, but will do so as nearly as possible. Beginning at the mouth of the Agua Hedionda, it ran so as to include what was afterwards the San Marcos rancho, also most of the Escondido Rancho, one of their villages being situated in the ravine near the gold mine. From here, the boundary ran so as to include the Mendenhall and Maxcy ranches, also most of Guejito; from here to the San Jose valley, part of which it included; from here to hear Cahhuilla valley; from here so as to include Saboba and Temescal; and from there to the sea near San Juan Capistrano.
  • The Religious Practices of the Diegueño Indians Waterman, Thomas T., (1910) -- Not on the Internet, At San Diego Public Library, CAL U 1.6:8/6 San Diego Central Library: Gov Doc Storage CAL U 1.6:8/6 No Reserves
The religious rites of the Diegueño do not to any great extent center in definite localities. Almost all may be executed in any convenient spot. One reason for this may be that the Diegueño country does not present many striking landmarks around which religious beliefs might center. Every village has a circular dance ground, kept always in readiness, where the dances take place. This is sprinkled and packed down hard to keep dust from rising. In former times, these dance circles, hima'k, were surrounded with a wall of brush. This was placed upright in the ground and, being held in place by large rocks, server to keep the wind away. This brush enclosure seems to correspond roughly with the Luiseño wamkisk or ceremonial enclosure. It is not considered sacred, however, as the Luiseño wamkisk is said to have been, nor is it guarded with any secrecy.

  • Southern Diegueño customs / by Leslie Spier. 979.499/SPIER San Diego Central Library: History 979.499/SPIER

    Page 303 Mentions Potrero: Southern Diegueno Customs

This book includes the pioneering research of three anthropologists of the early part of the twentieth century--Thomas T. Waterman, Leslie Spier, and Edward W. Gifford.

  • The autobiography of Delfina Cuero : a Diegueño Indian by Cuero, Delphina, ca. 1900- / as told to Florence C. Shipek. Interpreter: Rosalie Pinto Robertson. San Diego Central Library: History 970.2/CUERO

    This is a really fun book to read, as it talks all about our local area from the view point of a native who lived off the land. They ranged from the Torrey Pines area, where they gathered pine nuts, to the Imperial Valley and to the Colorado River. Mesquite beans make excellent bread flour, she says. She was very good with plants. The book has a section in the back that covers the native plants and what she would use them for.

    She talks a lot about a tribal area south of the border called Ha-ah, where she ended up living as it was out of reach of the evil missionaries and ranchers, who treated the Kumeyaay as slaves. She does not mention Mount Kuchamaa, however.

  • The following picture will be helpful in locating the snake, bird and other features from this remarkable site.

Detail of Snake, Bird, Ground circle, and monolith.

I Attachment Action Size Date Who Comment
Kuuchamaa-The_Kumeyaay_Sacred_Mountain.pdfpdf Kuuchamaa-The_Kumeyaay_Sacred_Mountain.pdf manage 2 MB 26 Jun 2014 - 21:23 Raymond Lutz Kuuchamaa: The Kumeyaay Sacred Mountain by Florence C. Shipek, Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology, Vol 7, No. 1, pp 67-74 (1985)
Snake-BirdDetail.jpgjpg Snake-BirdDetail.jpg manage 283 K 26 Jun 2014 - 21:23 Raymond Lutz Detail of Snake Bird, Circle and monolith
Topic revision: r15 - 11 Mar 2015, RaymondLutz
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