The Journal of San Diego History
July 1956, Volume 2, Number 3
Jerry MacMullen, Editor

By Hero Eugene Rensch

A search for the earliest record of the Indian place-name Cuyamaca, in the mountains of eastern San Diego County, has revealed another name, long forgotten — and with it, the identity of a leader of the revolt at Mission San Diego on the night of November 4, 1775. In developing the story of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, this sifting of old records was important in separating fact from oft-repeated fiction, and stresses the need for basic research on landmarks and place-names. As a writer on the misnomer “Mission San José de Guadalupe” aptly puts it, “If error can continue to flourish among the learned, the time is not far away when even the more thorough scholars will accept this terminology without question.”1

To eliminate errors from place-names, one must get at the root sources. The present study of the confusion of two place-names has led to the discovery that partial blame for the burning of the mission and the death of Father Jayme was placed on an Indian chieftain identified with the wrong rancheria.

In a preliminary study of Indian village sites around Cuyamaca, I compiled some forty Diegueno place-names.2 Of paramount importance was “Ah-ha Kwe-a-mac,” or Cuyamaca in the Spanish orthography; the mountain Indians applied it first to the Middle Peak of the three which we now call, collectively, “The Cuyamacas,” and later to their village in the Cuyamaca Valley.3 What was the earliest mention of this name by the white man? A mission report for 1827 mentions a mountain called “Cuyamat,”4 but this date seemed rather late.

Two years after the first study, intensive research regarding Don Pedro Fages’ trail over the Cuyamacas in 1782 was undertaken, and more Indian place-names were added to my list. My first new “find” was this rewarding entry from the baptismal records for 1782: “Julio 6, Victor Maria de Cuyamac, 12 anos, hombre.”5 More exciting was the entry for 16-year old Pelagia Maria, of Cuyamac, baptised Dec. 18, 1778:6 the elusive “first” had twice been moved back into the Eighteenth Century.

Destruction of the mission at San Diego by Indians on the night of Nov. 4, 1775, is recorded by H. H. Bancroft7 He named several rancherias and leaders, including “Francisco of Cuyamác.”8 This, it seemed, moved the date back another three years. Throughout 1776, Spanish officials investigated the destruction of the mission, interrogating the principal rancherias within a radius of 25 miles.9

Among the rancherias named, Cuyamác did not once appear in the Archives; they referred to Chief Francisco as “Francisco, el capitán de Cullamác.”10 Bancroft seems to have concluded that Cullamác was simply a variant of the more familiar Cuyamác and gave no further thought to the use of “Cullamác” in his source; other writers have perpetuated the confusion. Francisco was again identified with Cuyamaca in a monograph on Cuyamaca Rancho State Park in 1937, using Bancroft as authority.11 On the same authority, Erwin Gudde treated Cullamác as a variant of Cuyamác, and identified both as the same place.12

Stella Risley Clemence’s Indian rancherias connected with the various California Missions goes back, for source material, to the Book of Baptisms, Mission San Diego, 1769-1882, and her Cuyamaca group proved invaluable.13 In this group were some 94 entries with nine different spellings, in which “Cullamác” appeared about 78 times and “Cuyamác” only five times. More significant than mere numerical frequency, however, was her designation: Cullamác alias del Capitán Grande.14 The implication was startling — could it be that the two spellings were not variants, but were the names of two different rancherias? The mists began to clear. I knew the village, Capitan Grande, and I also knew the village of Cuyamác, the Cuyamaca of our present state park. Both had figured many times in San Diego County’s history.

Bancroft stated that the San Diego area was “much better known than the inland regions north.”15 Historical cognizance of both Cuyamaca and Capitán Grande goes back to Fages’ journeys between San Diego and the Colorado River, via the Cuyamacas, 1782-95. In his Diary for Apr. 20, 1782, he noted passing the village “of the Great Captain” as they entered the San Diego River Canyon, which he called “El Arroyo del Valle de San Luis.”16 It was 23 miles east of the Mission San Diego. He had just crossed the Cuyamacas,17 where lay the Indian village “Cuyamác.”

The Indians of the Cuyamacas had no close ties with the mission, and their country was called a pagan land. As late as 1870, Judge Benjamin Hayes described the Cuyamaca Indians as pagans, keeping their ancient customs and avoiding contact with the Mission.18 All of the 15 villages named as implicated in the 1775 revolt were well within the 25-mile radius from the Mission, and Chief Francisco’s “Cullamác” was one of them. Christian Indians planned the revolt and most of the neophytes took part. “Francisco, el capitan de Cullamác” was identified in contemporary documents as a neophyte.19

Seven years after the revolt, Fages noted passing the “village which they said was that of the Great Captain.” Did this new name, the alias of Cullamác, pay tribute to the former leading rebel, “Francisco, el capitan de Cullamác?” The name “Cullamác” disappeared early from historical records, replaced by “Capitán Grande,” which figured often from 1782 until the 1890s; it is still preserved in the names of the Capitan Indian Reservation, and El Capitan Dam and reservoir. “Cullamac alias del Capitan Grande” combined the Indian and Spanish names.

The story of the other Indian name, “Cuyamác,” is in sharp contrast with that of “Cullamac;” no Spanish or English name ever superseded it. Spanish pioneers merely added the euphonious ending “a,” and Cuyamaca became the all-pervading place-name of mountainous eastern San Diego County. A variant of the name appeared on the first map of the San Diego region, made by José Velásquez in 1783,20 and Governor Fages’ party camped at the rancheria of Cuyamaca, April 26, 1785, en route from the Colorado to San Diego.21

Behind the Mountain lay Cullamac

Known as Cuyamaca from 1800 to 1875 — the “unfenced” years — the region became free pastureland for both Mission and Presidio, and later for coast ranchos as far north as Los Angeles.22 Agustin Olvera chose the name for his Rancho Sierra de Cuyamaca in 1845. In the bitter legal battle between grant claimants and the Julian miners, 1870-74, the name was stamped forever on the area, for it was this and other Indian placenames on Olvera’s Diseno which fixed rancho boundaries, and won the case for the miners.23 The State of California adopted it, officially, for Cuyamaca Rancho State Park in 1933.

The conclusion is inescapable. Cullamác was the Diegueno name for the village of the “Great Captain,” located just above the bend of the San Diego River where it turns north in the shadow of, or “behind the peak” formerly called El Capitan Grande, now El Cajon Peak. It was not identical with the Cuyamác of the high mountains further east. These were two distinct villages, located in two widely separated mountain valleys.

Confusion in the identity of the two villages, Cullamác and Cuyamác, and hence of the rebel, Chief Francisco, came from simple misinterpretation of Indian phonetics and Spanish orthography; the success of Spanish and English pioneers in spelling, phonetically, the Indian names, was not outstanding. Variations and confusion have been the result. The identity of the two names becomes apparent by study of the two distinct initial combinations, “Culla-” (Koolya) and “Cuy-a” (Kwee-a). When meanings are defined, both identities are finally established.

It is tragic that the late Edward Davis wrote down so little of the result of his exhaustive study of Indian culture; we do have, however, his list of Indian place-names, with their phonetic spelling and their meanings, compiled in 1945.1 He gave the Indian name for El Capitan Grande and its meaning as “E-quílsh-a máhk” and “Behind the mountain.” Davis always heard the sound “sh” after the sound “l” or “ll” and spelled it as he heard it, in English orthography.

Davis did not include Cuyamác in his list. T. T. Waterman spelled it phonetically “Kwee-a-mak” and translated it as “Rain younder.”25 Judge Hayes said the best meaning of the name was “It rains behind.”‘, Note that both in Cullamic and Cuyamic the suffix “mak” means “behind.” The root-word “Cull-a” (or “Quilsh-a”) invariably means “mountain,” while “Cuy-a” (or “Kwee-a”) always means “rain” or its equivalent in “clouds.” When Judge Hayes visited Capitan Grande in 1867 he wrote: “Immediately behind the peak is the Indian village called Capitan Grande . . .”27 He did not use the Indian name Cullamác for the village, but how well his descriptive phrase “immediately behind the peak” fits the translation of “behind the mountain.” This is not the “rain yonder” or “rain behind” of the name Cuyamác.” The two are distinct and separate, geographically, phonetically and historically: Cullamac, behind the mountain — Cuyamac, behind the rain.

Thus, from original sources, the story of Francisco and the village of which he was chief is integrated historically and geographically with the events and with the area in which the tragic drama of the San Diego rebellion of 1775 took place. It becomes incredible that Francisco, the rebellious Christian neophyte, “Chief of Cullamác,” could have been the chief of the remote pagan village of Cuyamác in the high mountains to the east. Francisco was the Christian chief of the rancheria known as Cullamác and as El Capitan Grande; he was not the chief of the village known to this day as Cuyamaca. To Bancroft, Francisco was a rebel chief identified with the wrong rancheria. He did not follow the particular spelling of the rancheria given by his source, “Cullamác.”



1. Robert H. Becker, “Mission San José – de Guadalupe?” California Historical Society Quarterly, xxxiv (Sept. 1955), 229.

2. Hero Eugene Rensch, “Indian Place Names of Rancho Cuyamaca,” 1950. (manuscript, Bancroft Library), passim.

3. Mary Elizabeth Johnson, Indian Legends of the Cuyamaca Mountains (San Diego, 1914), p. 9.

4. Fr. Zephyrin Engelhardt, Mission San Diego (San Francisco, 1920), p. 222.

5. San Diego Mission, “Book of Baptisms,” 1778-1882 (manuscript fragment, Bancroft Library).

6. Winifred Davidson, tr., San Diego Mission, “Book of Baptisms,” 1769-1822, (manuscript, Junipero Serra Museum), No. 755.

7. H. H. Bancroft, History of California (San Francisco, 1884), 1, 249-256, 264-266, 300-303.

8. Ibid. 253-254 (and notes).

9. California Archives (Manuscripts, Bancroft Library): a, Ortega, 1-5; b, State Papers, Sacramento, ix, 72; c, Provincial State Papers, 1, 228-232.

10. Prov. St. Pap., 1, 231.

11. Kathleen C. Wade, “Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.” State Park No. 69, of History of State Parks (Berkeley, 1937), pp. 19-22.

12. Erwin C. Gudde, California Place Names, a Geographical Dictionary, Berkeley, 1949.

13. Stella Risley Clemence, compiler, “Book of Baptisms,” Mission San Diego, 1769-1822,” in Indian rancherias connected with the various California missions, Clinton Hart Merriam Collection, Oct. 1920, passim.

14. Ibid., p. 6.

15. Bancroft, Hist. of Calif., 11, 43.

16. Herbert Ingram Priestly, ed. and tr., “The Colorado River Campaign, 1781- 1782, Diary of Pedro Fages,” Acad. Pac. Coast Hist., Publications, III (May, 1913), p. 96.

17. Rensch, “Fages’ Crossing of the Cuyamacas,” Calif. Hist. Soc. Quarterly, xxxiv (Sept. 1955), 193-208.

18. [Benjamin Hayes], Exceptions to the Survey of the Cuyamaca Grant, (San Francisco, 1873), passim.

19. Herbert Eugene Bolton, Anza’s California Expeditions (Berkeley, 1930), 111, 90-91, 183.

20. José Velásquez, “Diario y Mapa de un reconocimiento desde S. Diego, 1783” (manuscript in Spanish, Bancroft Library, Prov. St. Pap., iv, 404-408).

21. Velisquez, “. .. Diario,” San Diego, April 27, 1785, ibid, v, 210.

22. U. S. Land Claim, S. D., No. 124, Sept. 28, 1855, p. 39, deposition of Jose Joaquin Ortega; ibid., Jan. 20, 1857, deposition of Jose Antonio Carrillo.

23. S. St. Clair, Denver, San Diego Union, Sept. 8-16, 1873.

24. Edward Davis, “Diegueno Indian Place Names,” 1945 (manuscript, Junipero Serra Museum.

25. Nellie Van de Grift Sanchez, Spanish and Indian Place Names of California, (San Francisco, 1922), p. 45.

26. Hayes, Scrap Book, quoted by Arthur Woodward, Masterkey, viii (Sept. 1934), 148.

27. Idem., Emigrant Notes, 1867, iv, 777.

Note: The terms Cullamác and Cuyamác are used above with accents but they are listed here without accents for search engines: Cullamac and Cuyamac.