Pala Band of Mission Indians

12196 Pala Mission Road
Pala, CA 92059
(760) 891-3500


Golden sunlight and clouds above a mountain range in silhouette

Morning sun in Pala.

Statement from Chris Nejo, Pala Band of Mission Indians: Since time immemorial, Pala has been home to a band of Luiseño (Payomkawichum) people.  In 1875, President Ulysses S. Grant signed an Executive Order that established the Pala Reservation for the Pala Luiseño band. In 1891, the Mission Indian Relief Act made Pala a permanent reservation. In 1902, lands adjacent to Pala were purchased to expand the reservation. Additional lands were purchased because the Cupeño (Kuupangaxwichem), as well as other smaller Indian bands around Warner Ranch, were ordered to be removed from their homelands and relocated to Pala. The Cupeño people have always called their villages of Cupa and Wilakal home. They knew every plant, rock, animal, and physical feature in their homeland.  It is where their ancestors are buried and home to sacred sites where religious ceremonies were performed. The Cupeño people did not want to leave their ancestral lands. They took their case all their way to the U.S. Supreme Court and even attempted to secure a reprieve from President Theodore Roosevelt.  Their legal challenge was unsuccessful. The Court ruled that the Cupeño had no rights to their ancestral lands and ordered their removal. On May 12, 1903, Indian Bureau agents and 44 armed teamsters arrived to oversee the Cupeños’ eviction.  The forced removal is known as the Cupeño trail of tears.  In September 1903, the San Felipe Indians suffered the same fate and were forced to relocate to Pala. After the removal, the Cupeño people made up the majority of the population at the Pala Indian Reservation, followed by the Luiseño and then a much smaller number of Kumeyaay. Today, the majority of Tribal citizens are of Cupeño and Luiseño ancestry and consider themselves to be one proud people – Pala Band of Mission Indians. (Chris Nejo, 2019)

Sepia-toned photograph of a man with crossed arms in feathered headdress and body decorations

Cupeño man in regalia, 19th century.

Young men and boys dancing and shaking gourd rattles in a mix of traditional regalia and modern dress

Kupa Song and Dance Group, 21st century.

A lightly wooded valley surrounded by desert mountains with houses, roads, and agricultural fields

The Pala Reservation in the 21st century.

The Cupeño Removal

Sepia-toned photograph of log framework supporting beehive-shaped storage container made of sticks

Acorn cache at Warner Springs prior to removal.

Old photograph of rocky landscape with traditional and 19th-century structures

Warner’s Ranch before the removal of the Cupeño.

Old photograph of a neat row of houses with adobe walls and thatched roofs along a dirt road

Agua Caliente Village (later Warner Springs), 1900.

Color photograph of 19th-century adobe chapel with stone belfry and red tile roof

Saint Francis of Assisi Chapel, Warner Springs, in the 21st century.

Color photograph of desert resort landscape with palm trees, stone walkways and water feature

The Hot Springs at Warner’s Ranch in the 21st century.


External link: “In The Name of The Law: The Cupeño Removal of 1903,” Phil Brigandi, 2018.

Article: “The Exiles of San Felipe,” Constance Goddard DuBois, 1903.


Old photograph of a line of horse- or mule-drawn wagons with shade tree, barn and farmhouse in background

Exiles of Cupa at Oak Grove Camp, 1903.

Old photograph of families waiting in and around unhitched wagons in an overgrown field with mountains in background

The arrival at Pala, 1903. (Huntington Library)

A shared history

Old photograph of men, women and children sitting and standing in front of an adobe building with handwritten text that reads: “1901: Group of San Felipe Indians dressed in their best clothes to have their picture taken, perhaps the last time they will assemble by the chapel which cost them so much in gifts and labor. The greedy white men have coveted their few miserable acres to add to heir own rich valley land, and the Indians are to be driven out away from their houses, chapel and all the improvements their hard labor has made in this barren spot.”

Chapel at Kumeyaay village of San Felipe before relocation to Pala Reservation, 1901.

Old photograph of wooden building on piles with sign reading “Pala Mission Hall”

Mission hall on the Pala Reservation, 1900s.

Old photograph of people in white dresses and other finery in front of tile-roofed adobe surrounded by agave plants with belfry in background

Fiesta day at Pala chapel, 1900s.

Black-and-white photograph of young men in U.S. Army uniforms with elders, children and other relatives sitting down to eat at long tables in a dining hall; printed text that reads: “ARMY RESERVE: CALLED TO ACTION IN KOREA: GOING AWAY DINNER AT PALA SCHOOL HALL”

Pala Army Reserve members at going-away dinner before service in Korean War.

A living tradition

Women and girls in colorful dresses dancing in a circle surrounded by traditional ramadas (awnings made of foliage) and modern festival booths

Bird Dancing at Pala, 21st century.

On a sporting field with bleachers, young men and boys in modern dress dance with gourd rattles while women in a mix of modern dress and traditional regalia stand by and watch

Youth bird dancers at Pala, 21st century.

Black-and-white photograph of a collection on baskets with abstract and representational designs including stars, frets, spirals, birds, human figures and foliage patterns

Display of baskets at Pala.

Sepia-toned photograph of coiled basketry at different stages of development from raw materials to finished product

Exhibit showing traditional basket-making technique.

Black-and-white photograph of woman holding up three patterned baskets in front of a small patch of corn

Pala artist Calisda Welmas displays her baskets.

Old photograph of men wearing a mix of Western clothing and traditional regalia including headdresses and feathered sashes hold up rattles decorated with feathers

Pala elders in regalia, 20th century.

A procession of men in modern dress holding tribal and POW-MIA flags

Cupa Days at Pala, flag procession, 21st century.

A procession of men in jackets and vests representing their tribal and veteran status escorting tribal flags past traditional ramadas (arbors) toward the Pala Youth Center

Cupa Days at Pala, 21st century.