The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1983, Volume 29, Number 3
Thomas L. Scharf, Editor

Fintzelberg Award, San Diego History Center 1982 Institute of History

Images from the article

Along San Diego’s County Highway 94, between the communities of Cameron Corners and Manzanita, lie the abandoned ruins of the Campo Indian Agency schoolgrounds: a reminder of an active and briefly significant period of the history of five Indian reservations in southeast San Diego County. Known today as the “Fiesta Grounds” by residents of Campo Indian Reservation, the ruins are situated in a verdant, oak-filled valley south of Campo Creek, an area once termed as barren, isolated or desolate by missionaries and soldiers in San Diego’s early years.

At present, a small stone-and-mortar structure with barred windows, several granite rock or concrete foundations, a rusty tin-covered water reservoir, wood and glass debris, and several rare trees stand at the old Agency grounds. These deserted grounds once played an important role in the daily lives of early twentieth century Indians of the five reservations of Campo, La Posta, Manzanita, Cuyapaipe and La Laguna.

The five southeastern San Diego County reservations were established through trust patent with the United States government in the years 1891 to 1893. 1 At this time, the living conditions of residents of these reservations were considered extremely poor. Reports of starvation among the Indians of the southern reservations were common in the 1890s through the early 1900s. Harsh winters and droughts led to failure of crops and white settlers in the area increasingly blamed the Indians for stealing their livestock in the bad years.2 Inspections of the reservations carried out in these years by government agents recommended that immediate aid be supplied to the indigent residents.3

Progress was slow on the part of the government in alleviating the conditions of the natives in these years, because of lack of funds and numerous land-title disputes with white settlers. Several funds were set up in San Diego and Los Angeles in the early 1900s to relieve financial burdens, such as the “Sequoya League,” the “Mountain Commercial Company” or the “Campo Relief Fund.”4 Food and clothing were distributed amongst the Indians in the early years of the 1900s.5 Schools were also recommended in 1885 and 1900 to educate and train the Mission Indians.6

Prior to 1903, all reservation Indians and Indian Service employees in southern California were under jurisdiction of the Tule Mission Consolidated Agency. Subsequent to the eviction of Warner’s Ranch Indians in San Diego County in the summer of 1903, the Agency was divided into two districts. The southern reservations fell under the jurisdiction of a new agency set up at Pala and known as the Pala Superintendency. In September of 1903, Charles E. Shell was named superintendent and took charge of the southern district comprised of sixteen Indian reservations. In July of 1906, Pala Superintendency was split further into three districts in order to enable more direct supervision of the individual reservations. District No. 3 included Campo, La Posta, Manzanita, Cuyapaipe and La Laguna reservations; however, no supervisor was immediately assigned to the district.7

In the years 1905 through 1906, Mamie Robinson was assigned as field matron to the five southeast San Diego County Indian reservations under the superintendency of Charles E. Shell of Pala Indian Agency Headquarters. Mamie’s extensive and detailed correspondence with Superintendent Shell in these years provides an excellent reflection of life on the southern reservations in the early twentieth century.8

Mamie Robinson’s base of operations was the Campo Indian School, located one and a half miles northeast of the community of Campo, in the southeast quarter of the southeast quarter of Section 4, Township 18 South; Range 5 East, less than a quarter mile from the boundary of Old Campo Indian Reservation.9 It is possible that school classes were held in “Dewey Hall” or “Dewey Barn,” a wood frame house structure located in the same quarter section. Mamie and her two Indian girl helpers (Frances La Chappa and Rosalie Nejo) apparently made weekly visits to the five southern reservations, often covering an amazing amount of territory in a period of three days.10 The field matron’s quarters were located at the Campo Indian School also. Besides teaching, other duties conducted by the matron included sewirtg for the Indians, care of the sick and elderly, dispensing of medicines, and teaching the Indians cleanliness, cooking, games and songs.11

The schoolgrounds and matron’s quarters were usually leased to the government by local residents in these early years at Old Campo Indian Reservation. It was not until 1911 that an official Indian Agency/Schoolgrounds complex was set up on New Campo. The 1905-1908 leases between A. D. Grigsby and the government consisted of a “four-room cottage and barn . . . premises locally known as Dewey . . . also use of the well and grounds.”12 In 1909, Alonzo Warren, who owned property to the north of Old Campo Indian Reservation, obtained the lease to rent field matron’s quarters.13 In January of 1909, Mamie Robinson’s position as field matron for the reservations was discontinued and she took duties as a financial clerk in Yuma.

As typical of previous years, funds for programs to aid the reservations during Mamie Robinson’s stay were strictly limited. Rations for the Indians were provided by store-owners in the Campo or Manzanita area, and they were often only given to the elderly or most destitute Indian families. Mr. Weegar was a store-owner in the area who had a contract with the government for supplying rations for several years. The Sequoya League often contributed monthly funds to provide the Indians with rations from the store, but five reservations under one jurisdiction put a burden on a program of regular funding. The Sequoya League also provided various other supplies, such as tent flies (a piece of fabric serving as an outer or second top on a tent, or as the door of a tent) for the Indian huts to protect them from rains in the winter.14

Conducting school for Indian children of five reservations proved unsuccessful in many cases. Lack of funds from the government not only caused a limitation of educational materials, but also of food rations. Daily lunches for the students were discontinued and Indians often would not send their children to school if they were not to be supplied with three meals a day. As incentive to send their children to school, the government paid a family three dollars per month for each child attending school.15 However, Indian families who had sent their children to Phoenix Indian School (before the establishment of Sherman Institute of Riverside) were warned by other members of the reservations that they would never see their children again and that the white man would take their children forever, thus causing the Indians to be reluctant about sending their children to any school at all.16

After Mamie Robinson’s departure in 1909, her position was not immediately filled. Aid to Campo and the surrounding reservations consisted of an occasional monthly visit from the superintendent at Pala. Oftentimes, the drive to Campo was considered too lengthy, and the reservations went without supplies or a school. In October of 1909, the government advertised an opening for a matron position at Campo and four southern reservations with a population of 135 Indians. Within a three-month period, Mary Seward, Mary E. Ferguson and Clara Warren served as matrons or assistants for the Indian Service.17

During September of 1910, Campo, La Posta, Manzanita, Cuyapaipe and La Laguna reservations were separated from the Pala Superintendency and placed under jurisdiction of Campo Superintendency with plans for a permanent schoolhouse and headquarters on New Campo Indian Reservation. Charles D. Rakestraw was appointed as the first superintendent on March 1 of 1910, but was replaced early in 1911 by Carl B. Boyd, M.D., who served as both superintendent and physician. Ruth E. Boyd, his wife, was the teacher in the day school on Campo, at the newly constructed Agency headquarters complex (see map).18

The new Indian Agency Schoolhouse complex on Campo Indian Reservation was the administrative center for Agency officials and teachers assigned to jurisdiction of the five southeastern San Diego County reservations. The original buildings which included the superintendent’s quarters and day school building, were constructed in 1911.19

A report of inspection for Campo Indian Agency and School was filed with the Office of Indian Affairs in June of 1913, which described in detail structures in the complex and gives researchers an idea of what the presently abandoned ruins may once have looked like:

The school building is of frame with cement foundation, painted on the outside, containing one class room 32 X 22 ft. and one room for kitchen and dining room for pupils. The school building also contains one small room used as a wash room for girls, one small room used as a wash room for boys, and one small cupboard used as a pantry and storeroom for the kitchen supplies. The school room is well lighted and is heated by a box stove burning wood. The school building is in first class condition and is one story high.20

Industrial and practical education at the Indian school for the five southern reservations was emphasized over totally academic training. The seven acres within the school ground and agency boundaries were used as a demonstration garden or farm for instruction in agricultural techniques, as well as to provide the students with their daily meals. Two horses were kept on the school grounds as an aid to instruction. Boys at the school were also taught carpentry, and often constructed “demonstration” houses for residents of Campo Indian Reservation. Girls at the school were taught to “sew, bake bread, cook, wash, iron, and to sweep and clean a room thoroughly” so that they could return to their homes in the summer and “put into daily use the proper mode of housekeeping.”21 Total enrollment for Campo Indian School in 1913 amounted to 21 students.22

Another inspection report of the Campo Indian Agency in 1914 reported that a “stone wall has been erected around the schoolgrounds, and flowers and shrubs have been planted, adding much to the attractiveness of the agency.”23 Remains of the same stone wall are still evident on the grounds today. A new warehouse was also constructed on the schoolgrounds in 1914. The original structures were painted, one cottage was being built, and several other improvements were made in 1914. At this time, the inspection recommended the construction of an additional day school for Indians at Manzanita Indian Reservation, but the suggestion was refused by the assistant commissioner to the Office of Indian Affairs.24

In government field survey notes of 1923, the Campo Indian Agency complex is described as a flourishing entity:

The Campo Indian Agency is situated near the north boundary of the Township in Section 3, and is a very beautiful place being sheltered by large oak trees and surrounded by well kept lawns, gardens and flower beds, which are kept in trim by the Indians on the reservation, under the supervision of the Indian agent, Dr. Boyd. There are six government buildings and probably about 10 or 12 smaller buildings situated on the grounds. The San Diego-Imperial Valley Automobile Highway is about 10 chains (500 feet) north of the Agency buildings, and is connected with them by a road, which passes through the reservation and runs southeasterly . . .25

The Campo schoolhouse reportedly had a capacity of 25 children, but enrollment usually ranged between 14 and 19 students, depending on the weather or disease epidemics.26 In 1923, the school had baths with hot water available to the students.27

An annual report from Campo Indian School to the superintendent of Mission Indian Agency at Riverside related the following information in June of 1925:

Campo Indian School is growing alfalfa and raising some cattle and poultry; bathing facilities are set up for the children at the schools. There is a marked improvement in the Indians’ use of the English language.28

It was recommended that a “first-class missionary” be assigned to the Campo area to reduce the amount of drinking, gambling and association with Mexicans on the other side of the border. It was also recommended that all gifts from the government, except clothing and food, be discontinued to enable the Indian to become more “self-sufficient.” The report also indicated that white ranchers were canvassing the reservations and schoolgrounds for labor during harvest and were willing to pay $2.50 per day plus board.29

Improvements to the Campo Indian Agency Schoolgrounds complex were evident in a 1932 report of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors:

A government day school is located on the Reservation with a resident school teacher and his wife, who is also a housekeeper. The buildings are frame structures. The schoolroom has windows on one side, is painted light color within, well-ventilated, ample closets, storage rooms, flush toilets, shower bath; heated by wood stove. Children’s dining room, kitchen, pantry and storeroom are in a separate building not far from the schoolhouse. A teacherage with ample rooms, two of which are for guests, stands on the opposite side of the school proper. Running water is supplied to these three buildings. A barn, commissary, dispensary and blacksmith shop complete the group of buildings. Each year the children raise a garden, each chld with his own plot to cultivate.30

A 1933 San Diego Union newspaper account states that foreign varieties of trees were located at the schoolgrounds complex, including a weeping willow, an elm, and a maple tree. A maple tree and several elms stand at the complex today.31

The table below indicates the teachers assigned to Campo Indian School during its most productive years, from 1910 to 1932.32


1910 Charles D. Rakestraw, superintendent
1911-1920 Ruth E. Boyd. Husband, Dr. Carl B. Boyd, was Indian agent and physician at the complex.
1921 E.W. Zick
1922-1923 George E. Brunson. A. Genevieve Brunson, wife, was housekeeper at 1923 the grounds.
1923 William W. Burgess
J.R. Purtill
1924 C.G. Lusher
1928-1932 O.B. Fry. Wife – housekeeper. Jose Largo – laborer. Teacher also acted as a sub-agent in issuing rations and clothing from the commissary. The teacher and his wife dispensed rations to the reservation by car.

On November 15, 1920, Campo Superintendency had merged with Soboba and Pala Superintendencies to form the Mission Indian Agency, head-quartered in Riverside. This action reflected a federal movement to administrative centralization and less supervision at the individual reservation level. This Agency was subsequently divided into three districts, including the Pala Subagency comprised of nineteen reservations, of which Campo, La Posta, Manzanita, Cuyapaipe and La Laguna Reservations were a part.33

Until June 30,1933, there were Indian day schools at Campo, La Jolla, Mesa Grande, Pala and Volcan (Santa Ysabel) Indian Reservations within the Pala Subagency. The teachers and housekeepers lived on the reservations and were regular Indian Service employees under supervision of the day school representative. Health care of Indians on the reservations was the responsibility of field nurses, Indian Service physicians and private physicians who provided services according to predetermined fee schedules. A dispensary located at Julian served the needs of Campo Indians for many years. The subagents assigned to each of the three districts were responsible for the supervision of Indian laborers, irrigation pump operators, policemen and judges on the reservations.34

The position of School Social Worker was established in 1933 and activities were closely coordinated with the Education Field Agent and subagent at Pala. The School Social Worker was responsible for social services for Indians of all ages in southern California. Duties included the administration of Mission Indian Agency relief funds, employment opportunities, and New Deal programs in the 1930s such as the Civil Works Administration.35

The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 called for administrative changes within the Mission Indian Agency, primarily directed to a program of self-government by the Indians. The office of the day school representative had been abolished in 1933, and was replaced by the Education Field Agent mentioned above. The agent was a member of the Mission Indian Agency staff and was directly responsible to the Superintendent. Offices were maintained in Riverside and San Diego and duties consisted of compilation of Indian school children census, supervision of enrollment and education funds, visitation of Indian homes and liaison with state and county authorities.36

Subsequent to abolishing use of Campo Indian School in 1933, the Campo Indian Agency Schoolhouse complex began to slowly deteriorate. Reports of misuse of the buildings were often filed by the Indian police for the Reservation in these years.

The Indians held their Christmas and Christmas Eve celebration at the old schoolgrounds and schoolhouse . . . the Indians had their war dances in the schoolhouse, played card games in one of the corners, another in the old washroom; on the south side of the schoolhouse there were three bonfires.37

In 1939, a Dr. Lockman was managing the doctor’s office and dispensary at the Campo schoolgrounds. The schoolhouse was used for community meetings and was otherwise occupied by a niece of Will Coleman, Indian policeman for Campo.38

An educational bill in California in 1940 enabled Indian children to attend white public schools in the school district adjoining the Reservation.39 Previously, Indian children had attended the Sherman Institute of Riverside for their secondary vocational education. After 1940, Campo Indian children attended Boulevard Public School, Hipass Public School, or Campo Public School in the Campo School District.40

A report of Campo Indian Reservation written by the Mission Indian Agency in 1944 related that the teacher’s cottage was still standing at the Schoolgrounds complex and several of the other buildings were in need of repair: “As a Post War project, these buildings should be torn down and new buildings constructed or the old ones repaired . . . “41 Also in 1944, it was reported that the “storeroom at the Old Campo Day School was raided of clothes” which had been stored there for indigents.42 By 1947, most social-welfare, educational and agricultural programs on the reservations were administered by the state, so the Department of the Interior officially terminated the Mission Indian Agency. From 1947 to 1953, Indian affairs were managed by the California Indian Agency at Sacramento.43

As it turned out, none of the Campo Indian Agency Schoolhouse complex buildings were reconstructed or repaired and a fire in the 1950s burned down several of the main buildings in the complex.44 Today, only a stone-and-mortar structure which served various purposes (dispensary, jailhouse, garage, storeroom) remains standing, roofless, at the schoolgrounds. Foundations for thirteen other structures are evident. In the 1960s and 1970s, the complex was used as fiesta grounds and several ramada-type structures of a temporary nature were built.

The Campo Indian Agency Schoolhouse complex represents a period of southern California Indian reservation and Indian Bureau history not well documented. This complex is one of the few remaining in San Diego County. Less than ten schoolhouse complexes were constructed for the County Indian reservations before Indians were allowed to attend public schools in the 1940s. The Campo Indian Agency Schoolhouse complex represents the early 1900s period of development of a southern California group of five Indian reservations (Campo, La Posta, Manzanita, Cuyapaipe and La Laguna) administered under the Campo Superintendency, headquartered at the complex. The complex was not only the center of educational activity for a brief twenty-two years, but also played an important role in health, social, cultural and economic conditions concerning the reservations. The Indian Agency School-house complex itself provides excellent potential for further research and historical archaeology to interpret past lifeways on the southern California reservations, previously undocumented through material evidence.45



1. Philip R. Pryde, editor, San Diego: An Introduction to the Region (Dubuque, lowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co., 1976), p. 54.

2. Hundreds of complaints by local ranchers in the Campo area were printed in the San Diego Union and other newspapers at this time. Union Tribune Publishing Company (San Diego, 1878-1902). The Jacumba Massacre and the McCain Massacre, involving local ranchers and Indians who supposedly stole horses and cattle, are related in such works as: Ella McCain, Memories of the Early Settlements: Dulzura, Potrero and Campo (National City: South Bay Press, 1955); and Peter R. Odens, The Desert’s Edge (Benson, Arizona: Border-Mountain Press, 1977).

3. Helen Hunt Jackson and Abbott Kinney, Report on the Condition of Mission Indians of California (manuscript on file at California Room, San Diego Public Library, 1883); Charles F. Lummis, “Three Grains of Corn,” Out West (XXII, 1905), pp. 1-13; Wayland H. Smith, “The Relief of Campo,” Out West (XXII, 1905), pp. 13-22.

4. Lummis, “Three Grains of Corn,” Out West, pp. 12-13.

5. Union Tribune Publishing Company, San Diego Union (November 22, 1900, 8:1-2; November 28, 1900, 5:2).

6. Lummis, “Three Grains of Corn,” Out West, p. 10.

7. United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs Records, Record Group 75 (Laguna Niguel Branch), Files #9160C, A10167C-A10170B, A10186B-A10187B, A10189B (1903-1920).

8. Ibid., File #9160C (1903-1906).

9. Old Campo Indian Reservation is located several miles to the west of Campo Indian Reservation. Both reservations were established in the same year and both are known as Campo Indian Reservation today.

10. The territory was covered either by horseback or horse-and-wagon. Oftentimes, snow and mud in the Laguna Mountains forced the field matron to cancel her trips, or to walk. United States Department of the Interior, File #9160C (1903-1906).

11. Ibid., File #9160C, A10167C-A10170B, A10180C-A10182B, A10183A-A10186A (1903-1920).

12. Ibid., File #A10169A (1903-1920).

13. Ibid., File #A10189B (1906-1916).

14. Ibid., File #A10186B-A10187B (1911-1920).

15. Ibid., File #9160C (1903-1906).

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid., File #A10180C-A10182B (1903-1915).

18. United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs Records, Record Group 75 (National Archives and Records Service, Washington DC), Central Files, 1907-1939.

19. Details concerning the Campo Superintendency and the Agency Headquarters complex for the period 1910 through 1920 are available at the National Archives and Records Service in Washington DC. Since the records for Campo and the associated southern reservations were sent directly to Washington DC during this period, they are currently not available at the Laguna Niguel Branch of the National Archives and Records Service. The Bureau of the Indian Affairs Records at Washington DC include four archival boxes with approximately 2500 items concerning Campo Superintendency. Personal communication with Karen D. Paul, Legislative and Natural Resources Branch, Civil Archives Division, National Archives and Records Service, Washington DC (October 28, 1981).

20. The inspection report was written by Otis B. Goodall, supervisor, and includes sections on the school itself, industries, construction, health, employment for Indians, sale of liquor to Indians and office work. Photographs of the schoolgrounds and associated activities are also included in the report. United States Department of the Interior (National Archives and Records Service, Washington DC), Central Files, 1907-1939.

21. Ibid., p. 6.

22. Ibid., p. 10.

23. This inspection report was also made by Otis B. Goodall, supervisor, United States Indian Service, on May 9, 1914. United States Department of the Interior (National Archives and Records Service, Washington DC), Central Files, 1907-1939.

24. Ibid., pp. 1-2.

25. Survey maps and field notes of 1921-1923. United States Government Printing Office (San Diego County Operations Center, 1921-1923).

26. United States Department of the Interior, File #103598 (1925-1926).

27. Water was piped to several buildings in the schoolgrounds complex from a dam set up on Campo Creek. United States Department of the Interior, File #10359A (1928-1932).

28. Ibid., File #A10195A-A10221A (1920-1950).

29. Ibid.

30. San Diego County Board of Supervisors, “Fact Finding Study of Social and Economic Conditions of Indians of San Diego County, California, and Reports from Specialists in Allied Fields.” (Manuscript on file at California Room, San Diego Public Library, San Diego, 1932).

31. Union Tribune Publishing Company, San Diego Union, 1933. The maple and elm trees surround existing foundations at the northwest corner of the Agency complex.

32. United States Department of the Interior, File #A10167C-A10170B (1903-1920).

33. James R. Young, Dennis Moristo and G. David Tenenbaum, American Indian Treaties Publication: An lnventory of the Pala Indian Agency Records (Los Angeles: University of California, 1976), pp. 3-4.

34. United States Department of the Interior, File #A10195A-A10221A, A10221B-A10240C (1920-1953).

35. Ibid.

36. Ibid.

37. Report made on December 31, 1938. United States Department of the Interior, File #A10164A-A10166A (1933-1940).

38. Ibid., File #A10373 (1922-1947).

39. Young, Moristo and Tenenbaum, American Indian Treaties Publicatíon, p. 5.

40. United States Department of the Interior, File #A10299A-A10303A (1921-1942).

41. Ibid., File #A10397A-A10398B (1942-1946).

42. Ibid.

43. Young, Moristo and Tenenbaum, American Indian Treaties Publication, pp. 4-5.

44. Interview with John Moffett, resident of Campo Indian Reservation, August-September 1981.

45. The Campo Indian Agency Schoolhouse complex was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in December of 1981.