No one knows when the Luiseño Indians first settled at Temecula, although it is thought to have been around 1000 A.D., and there is disagreement as to the exact location of the Indian Village. In the legends of their origin the Luiseño say they came down from the north in a group to Temecula, called by them “Ekva Temeko,” said to mean “the place where the sun breaks through and shines on the white mist.” From Temecula the Luiseño dispersed southward and west ward.
The Temecula valley had several features which attracted the Luiseño. Until perhaps eighty years ago there was a small lake and an abundance of springs. Nearby, on the mountains to the south and west, are extensive stands of oak trees, producing acorns which were a staple of the Luiseño diet. The valley is located at the conjunction of three distinct regions. The first is the coastal, being cooler than the others and well supplied with acorns and game. The second is the interior plains which stretch from the Santa Ana-Santa Rosa Mountains to the San Jacinto Mountains. This region is drier than the others, being mostly grassland. The last region is the mountains which run southeasterly, dominated by Palomar Mountain.
Temecula is also at the intersection of two major trails. One runs from the Imperial Valley through Warner’s Ranch, Temecula, Elsinore, and Corona, and lies in a series of valleys formed by fault lines. This was the Emigrant’s Road and the route of the Butterfield Overland Mail. The other trail runs through the pass at Temecula, the easiest crossing of the coast ranges south of Santa Ana Canyon, providing a connection between coastal San Diego County and the interior valleys to the northeast, and from there to Cajon and San Gorgonio passes.
Temecula Valley became a rancho of the Mission San Luis Rey in the early 1800’s. The diary of Fr. Jose Sanchez contains an entry of Sept. 25, 1821 describing his trek from Pala to Temecula: “. . . we turned towards the north through a beautiful canada until we reached Temecula . . . distant about three leagues from Pala.” Apparently during the Mission period “Temecula” meant the rancho, but more specifically the large building known as “El Trojo,” or “The Granary,” which was excavated by the Archaeological Survey Association of Southern California in 1953 and described in its publication, Temeku, by B. E. McCown. El Trojo was situated at the northern end of Wolf Valley about one and a half miles southwest of Pauba Ranch headquarters (Wolf’s Store). El Trojo was deserted and in ruins in February, 1853 when seen by Henry Washington, who described it as “a large delapidated (sic) Adobe Building” in his field notes for the establishment of the San Bernardino Meridian.
In Ramona, Helen Hunt Jackson’s classic novel of old California, the village is placed between the old Indian graveyard and Wolf’s Store. The notes of an 1859 governmental survey of the Vignes Rancho mention eight adobe houses at that location, and a plat prepared by George Pendleton in 1859 identifies them as an “Indian Village,” while another governmental survey in 1872 describes them as “the ruins of 8 ‘adobes’.” The Indians were evicted from the village of Temecula in 1879, so it is doubtful that there was anything more than a few pieces of adobe wall sticking out of mounds of earth at the time Jackson visited Temecula. It may be that she thought the site near Wolf’s Store to have been the original village or perhaps she used those adobe ruins because she was better able to bring the desecration of the graveyard into the story. Ramona is a combination of many persons and places and cannot be presumed to convey historical accuracy in all things, although it is probably in part responsible for the long-held popular belief that the village of Temecula was near Wolf’s Store.
B. E. McCown, in his publication, Temeku, erroneously borrows the name “Temecula” and bestows it upon a site consisting of one adobe house, three ramadas, and one pit house, which lies more than two miles westerly of Temecula. This is despite the fact that when Judge Benjamin Hayes rode down into the Temecula Valley from the pass that comes from San Luis Rey he stated that “. . . the smoke of the Indian Village rising to our right [i.e., northeast] some four miles off . . .” His description written in January, 1850 records “thirty or more thatch wigwams; . . . There are some . . . adobe houses in the village.” The point where Temecula Creek enters Temecula Canyon is the excavated site erroneously labeled “Temecula” by McCown. Obviously such a small group of buildings on a very steep and restricted site could hardly support a village of 300 inhabitants and forty adobes as reported in the 1860 census. The Rancho California Corporation, present land developer of the Temecula ranchos, arbitrarily follows the claim of McCown and publicizes that site.
Great confusion has been caused by the fact that the present-day town of Temecula is three and one half miles northwest of the Indian village and is a product of the now defunct railroad built in the 1880’s which once ran from San Bernardino to San Diego.
Horace Parker errs in his publication entitled The Treaty of Temecula, one of a series of publications on the historic valley Temecula, when he states that “the village site was at the wide mouth of a shallow canyon through which the trail to Pechanga and Pala undoubtedly passed.” The village was not in the shallow canyon but on the hill to its west. There, on the hill, the low mounds which are the remnants of the adobe houses can still be seen, and there can be found Indian pottery and even chinaware. Further, based on early plats and maps, the road to Pechanga and Pala was not through that canyon but branched off the road to San Luis Rey in Wolf Valley.
There are a number of early surveys, maps, first hand accounts, and an illustration which aid in determining the correct location for the village of Temecula which is on a high bluff on the south bank of Temecula Creek opposite Wolf’s Store.
Harry Bergman of Aguanga, California, who first traveled through Temecula about seventy years ago, knows the village site by an old local name, “Punta de las Lomas,” or “Point of the Hills.” He says that in those days it was still a camping place of the Indians. It has long been known that a village site was there, but the erroneous popular opinion had been that the main village was near Wolf’s Store on the north side of Temecula Creek.
The best sources available to establish the location of the village are several sets of survey notes compiled by government surveyors. In February, 1853 Henry Washington was establishing the San Bernardino Meridian, which is the basis for the subdivision of all public lands in Southern California. As he moved south from Mount San Bernardino he was forced gradually southwestward by mountainous terrain. His survey line ran near the village of Temecula, which he describes as being “on a hill-side, apparently, and elevated above the valley, along a high bluff about 40 feet.” The value of this brief description is compounded by the fact that the surveyors sighted on the extreme limits of the village, thus giving historians and archaeologists a precise area within which to work. Retracement of the line surveyed by Washington could be used to corroborate the verbal description if necessary.
The old Mission rancho of Temecula had been divided after secularization, the larger part being confirmed to Luis Vignes in 1859. The smaller portion was granted to Pablo Apis, a Luiseño Indian of Temecula who had been educated at the Mission San Luis Rey. This grant is one of those rare instances where a rancho was granted to an Indian.
On January 12, 1859 the boundary survey of the Vignes rancho was commenced. In the notes of this survey is the entry: “A large adobe house in the center of the Indian village bears South 32° East, distant about 40.00 chains [one chain = 66 feet. Thus 40 chains is 2640 feet, or a half mile]. This village contains about 40 adobes and as many grass houses.” Although the bearing plots accurately, the distance is obviously an error. From the point on the boundary from which the distance was approximated it is not possible to see a point along the aforementioned bearing 40 chains away because the hill on which the Indian village of Temecula actually was located blocked the view. The village was approximately 20 chains away.
About three months later George Pendleton was appointed commissioner by magistrate Juan Machado to investigate the claim of the Indians of Temecula to their planting lands against the intrusion of two Americans, Holman and Seaman. Pendleton’s report, dated April 23, 1859 estimated “. . . that there are from two hundred and fifty to three hundred Indians belonging to this locality and who cultivate the land yearly . . .” The report includes a plat showing the disputed lands. “Indian Village” is shown on the south bank of Temecula Creek opposite the western end of the small lake. This village is the Indian village of Temecula. [See Pendleton plat.]
A year later, in July, 1860 the U.S. Census was taken for Temecula Township. Included under a heading “Temecula Indian Village” were 308 persons living in 43 dwellings. The closeness of the number of houses estimated in the Vignes Rancho boundary survey, together with the population estimation of Pendleton, would indicate that the same location is the subject in all instances.
An often reproduced sketch by Vischer, made in 1865 and “drawn” in 1871 may be the only extant illustration of the village of Temecula. The sketch is made looking westward. In the right foreground is the house of Pablo Apis. Immediately to the left and beyond that house are several structures which would be the Indian village of Temecula. Easy identification of the location depicted in the illustration is hampered by the fact that the mountains shown in the distance resemble none near Temecula. However, if the peak on the right is extended to the left, making it into a ridge, it is clearly the mountain on the west side of the present Highway 395 (Interstate 15) where it climbs the pass southward. This altering of mountains to situate the sketch may be explained by the elapsed time between Visher’s dates of “sketch” (1865) and the date when it was “drawn” (1871). It would have been easy to alter the skyline after several years.
The “Little Temecula Rancho,” officially called “Land situate in the Valley of Temecula,” was finally confirmed to Maria A. Apis et al (heirs of Pablo Apis) in 1872. Pablo Apis had died nearly twenty years earlier. On the survey notes for this rancho the village of Temecula is not mentioned, nor does the plat of that rancho show the village. Because the north line of the Apis rancho was already established — it is the south line of the Vignes rancho — there was little reason to note culture beyond the boundary line.
Further substantiating the location of the site is a map entitled “Partition Map of the Little Temecula Rancho” prepared in 1891 which contains great topographical detail showing the “Ruins of Indian Village” located on a bluff on the south side of Temecula Creek. (See Partition Map for Little Temecula Rancho, 1891.)
The surveys, maps, Vischer’s sketch and the various early accounts establish the correct location of the Indian village of Temecula. That site is on a high bluff on the south bank of Temecula Creek opposite Wolf’s Store. It has waited many years for the recognition that it deserves.
Jackson, Helen Hunt. Ramona. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1884.
McCown, B. E. Temeku. Archaeological Survey Association of California, 1955.
Parker, Horace. The Early Indians of Temecula. Balboa Island, Calif.: Paisano Press, 1965.
Parker, Horace. The Treaty of Temecula. Balboa Island, Calif.: Paisano Press, 1967.
Shipek, Florence. “A Unique Case: Temecula Indians vs. Holman and Seaman,” The Journal of San Diego History, Spring 1969.
Wolcott, Marjorie Tisdale. Pioneer Notes from the Diaries of Judge Benjamin Hayes, 1849 to 1875. Los Angeles: privately printed, 1929.
Engelhardt, Fr. Zephyrin. Missions and Missionaries of California, (Vol. 3). San Francisco: The James H. Barry Co., 1908-1916.
Office of the County Surveyor of Riverside County. “Henry Washington’s field notes for establishment of San Bernardino Meridian in Township 8 South, Range 2 West in 1853.”
Office of the Count Surveyor of Riverside County. “Partition Map of the Little Temecula Rancho . . . 1891.”
Bureau of Land Management, Sacramento, Calif. “M. G. Wheeler’s field notes of Rancho “Temecula” (Apis Family)” 1872.
Bureau of Land Management, Sacramento, Calif. “Field notes of the final survey . . . of the Temecula Rancho . . . confirmed to Louis Vignes.” 1859.
United States Census Reports. Washington, D.C., Eighth. 1860.
Interview with Harry Bergman, Aguanga, Calif., 1966.
Leland E. Bibb received his A.A. degree from Grossmont College in 1969 and a B.A. in Asian Studies from California State University, San Diego, in 1971, where he is presently doing graduate work in Public Administration. He combines the occupation of civil engineering draftsman with an interest in early Southern California history. Mr. Bibb was associated with Malki Museum in Banning, California during 1963-67. His article published here won an award at the San Diego History Center’s Institute of History in 1971.