San Manuel: the early years
By G. W. Abersold, Ph.D., Special to Highland Community News
Published: Wednesday, November 25, 2009 6:26 PM CST
Editor's Note: The San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians is having a
growing impact on our community, but there are many questions that residents
have about the tribe and its operations. Columnist Dr. G.W. Abersod has been
looking into many of these questions and this is the first of a two-part
report he has written for the Highland Community News.
President Obama has designated today, Nov. 27, as National Native American
The San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians, whose ancestral lands made
up most of San Bernardino County, is alive and well. They are one clan of
the Serrano Indians. Located just north of Highland, very little is known
about them by Highland residents, except for the San Manuel Casino.
The casino started with Bingo in 1986. Following the principles of
capitalism: management, expansion and investments, the band has prospered
considerably in the last 23 years.
In the last two years alone they have built a mixed-use commercial
development at the corner of Boulder and Highland avenues and a restaurant
facility at the Casino.
There are 564 federally recognized tribes in the United States, over 100 of
them in California. Each is an independent sovereign political body.
It was in the 1970s that President Richard Nixon announced a policy of
tribal self-determination and self-reliance. Of great importance to San
Manuel was the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988. This
opened the door for casinos. The San Manuel Casino started in 1994;
previously the tribe offered bingo.
It is impossible to identify the exact origin of the Serranos. Obviously
they are a part of the massive migrations from 50,000 years ago.
Anthropologists are generally in agreement of the migration from Africa,
Siberia, across the Bering land bridge, through Alaska and down through the
Western Hemisphere. The Athabascans were the nomadic Indians that were the
forerunners of all the 564 tribes in the U.S.A., including the Serranos. The
U. S. 2000 census states that there are 2.5 million Native Americans today
in the U.S.
Through the last 240 years, the Serranos have been affected by several major
influences: the Spanish, the Mexican Missions (21 of them from 1769-1823),
the California Gold Rush in 1849, and the 32 day battle of the San
Bernardino militia involving the Serranos, led by Santos Manuel. Pakuma was
his Serrano name.
A casual reading of the historical record is appalling. Carey McWilliams in
his classic book, "Southern California Country," calls the Franciscan
mission program of Father Junipero Serra, a legend or a myth.
According to the myth, "the missions were havens of happiness, places of
song, laughter, good food and adoration of Christ." In truth, the Indians,
including the Serranos, endured forced labor, rape, children separated from
their parents, starvation, imprisonment and other atrocities. So McWilliams
Far more Indians were killed than were ever converted to Christianity.
Why did Santos Manuel lead the Serranos in 1866 out of the mountains?
Because their lands around Big Bear were increasingly valuable. Gold had
been discovered. Logging was big business.
The San Bernardino militia, made up of Mormon ranchers and refugees from the
Civil War, accused the Indians of the mountains of cattle rustling. They
slaughtered hundreds of Indians to get their land.
The plight of the Serranos from 1866 through two World Wars and the Great
Depression was unbelievably difficult.
Residents of the Highland area recall their living conditions during that
time: poverty, rags for clothing, no electricity, no running water, dirt
roads, limited medical care, ethnic discrimination, limited education, and
The saga of the San Manuel tribe can well be described as from "rags to
riches." Their place in the Inland Empire's history will never be equaled.
Next week; Questions about government, beliefs and operations are answered.