The Journal of San Diego History
Fall 1989, Volume 35, Number 4
Thomas L. Scharf, Editor

Book Review

Raymond Starr, Book Review Editor

Pushed into the Rocks: Southern California Indian Land Tenure, 1769-1986.

By Florence Connolly Shipek. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1987. Appendices. Bibliography. Index. Maps. 230 Pages. $25.95.

Reviewed by Linda S. Parker, Associate Professor of American Indian Studies at San Diego State University, author of the forthcoming Native American Estate: The Struggle Over Indian and Hawaiian Lands, and several articles on Indian History.

Four tribal or national groups of Indians (San Luiseño, Cupeño, Cahuilla, Kumeyaay) have lived in Southern California for thousand of years. Today their land consists of thirty-three small reservations, all that remains of formerly vast aboriginal territories. Some individual Indians own land located outside of reservation boundaries or live in urban areas. Shipek traces the history of Southern California Indian land tenure from the pre-European contact period to the present.

Early Southern California was marked by intensive land use and high population density. The Indians manipulated the environment with extensive plant husbandry and use of fire. Wild onions, cactus, greens, trees, shrubs, corn, beans, and squash were among the plants cultivated. The author dispels the popular notion that these people lived only by hunting and gathering.

Shipek goes further than other anthropologists in claiming that Southern California Indian land tenure was based on individual private ownership of land. Families or individuals owned the main subsistence sources. The property was inherited patrilineally and ownership rights were not lost through nonuse. certain resources such as medicinal plants were owned by shamans. The bands-each ethnic group had several bands-held certain areas such as gathering areas. Territorial boundaries were defended militarily and with sorcery.

Spanish, Mexican, and American expansion greatly impacted Indian land tenure. Extensive land loss and change in land use occurred during the American period prior to 1891. After the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) which guaranteed existing Indian property rights, the United Stated failed to confirm Indian ownership. Although the Indians failed to obtain legal title to their land, they were not physically removed until after 1865. Increasing American settlement led to the divestment of Indian land and the establishment of reservations.

Indian land tenure in Southern California has its legal basis in federal legislation enacted during the last two decades of the nineteenth century. Chapters in the book discuss the laws providing for the establishment of Indian reservations, public domain homesteads, and allotments. They also detail many contemporary problems involving each type of tribal or individual property right.

Significantly, Shipek points out that many Indians in Southern California initially supported the federal policy of allotment. This short-lived advocacy occurred because allotment was consistent with their traditional land use pattern of individual ownership. However, the federal government’s insistence that the allotted parcels must be a uniform rectangular shape did not recognize existing individual and family land ownership rights. As a result, a powerful and successful resistance to allotment developed. An interesting question raised by her research is why was local opposition so effective in stopping allotment whereas Indians in other areas of the United States were unable to halt it.

Indians in Southern California retained trust ownership of more than 70 percent of their allotted lands, and thus fared better than Native Americans in other areas. Shipek suggests that the reason for this lay with the tribes unique and traditional system of individual ownership. However, without documentation dating on the amount of land allotted prior to 1906, her argument loses some of its potency.

The book is an invaluable source for studying Indian history, particularly that of Indians residing in San Diego County and Southern California. It provides a significant contribution since few written studies exist on the Indians of this region during the twentieth century. Somewhat distracting is the stylistic format used in printing the book in which paragraph margins and the standard margins are reversed. Nonetheless, Shipek’s volume is a must for both students and scholars.