Who was Santos Manuel?

Jan 18, 2023 | Mountain History

santos manuel

Santos Manuel was a respected elder who taught his people to live in peace and harmony with the surrounding community. (Stock photo)

Who was Santos Manuel?

Staff Writer

Mountain residents are aware of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians who have recently opened the Yaamava Resort and Casino in Highland. However, many are not aware that the San Manuel people were the Serrano tribe that formerly lived on this mountain.
The tribe was led down the mountain by their leader, Santos Manuel, then known as Paakumá, during a particularly dangerous time for Indians in both Southern California and especially in the mountain areas.
The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians is named after Santos Manuel for his bravery and intelligence in saving his people.
In the beginning, the Yuhaaviatam Indians were told by their creator to care for the land, the trees, plants and animals, and were taught how to live in harmony with them all and with each other. They referred to themselves as the Yuhaaviatam, aka “The People of the Pines.” They lived for thousands of years as a migrating tribe living in the desert areas during the winter and the mountains during the spring, summer and fall.
The Spanish had given the Indian tribe the name Serrano, which meant “Highlander” in Spanish. Santos Manuel, as we now know him, was named Paakumá by his parents when he was born in 1814 in their village in the San Bernardino Mountains.
Paakuma’ was smart and learned well. At a young age, he became an excellent deer hunter and, due to his concern for others, he gave away the first venison he killed, demonstrating his generous spirit. By the time he was 12 years old, the elders expected he would in the future become a leader.
As Paakumá matured, he gained respect within his tribe because of his strong body, attentive mind and his natural skills as a leader and healer. By the mid-1800s, he became the Kiiká (leader) of the Yuhaaviatam band. He used his knowledge and skills to help others. He always made sure his tribe had enough resources and food from his area, while respecting the land and animals. He didn’t allow waste or killing animals without a need.
Paakumá was so respected by the other tribes in Southern California, they would ask before hunting or gathering on his mountain lands. After he was assured his own people had enough, he would share their resources, allowing the other tribes to gather acorns, pinon seeds and allow hunting with the other tribes, such as the Gabrieleno, Chemehuevi, Cahuilla, Luiseño and Mojave. This generous action later led to an unfortunate major conflict, which changed the lives of Paakumá and the Serrano completely.
It was in the early 1800s when the Spanish and then into the mid-1800s that Americans discovered the mountains where the Yuhaaviatam lived and began to claim it for their own. They were beginning to log and mine the land, which polluted the waters and invaded the mountain areas and changed the Serranos’ lifestyle based on the natural plants and animals. This intrusion into the mountains changed the way the tribe could live, but a peaceful co-existence was being attempted by the Yuhaaviatam, led by Paakumá.
In 1866, all that changed when some skirmishes occurred between loggers and Mojave hunters after the murder of two native boys by settlers on the Dunlap Ranch. Then, after the Battle of Indian Hill in what is now the Blue Jay area, between Mojaves and American loggers and their sawmills, the attitude of the Americans changed. The mountain name of “Burnt Mill” comes from this battle against the Mojave Indians.
However, those events led to a 32-day “clean sweep” of Indians from the mountains, approved by the California governor. They accomplished this by killing every Indian man, woman or child they could find, never distinguishing the between the tribes. The Yuhaaviatam people were not to be allowed to remain, but were scheduled for extermination, along with any others.
Paakumá saw the great danger. While he knew how to fight and was brave, he wisely chose to lead his people out of the mountains and down into the San Bernardino Valley, out of the path of the murderous posse. He taught his remaining tribal people, now dwindled down to about 30 members, to not fight the settlers. His actions are heralded as saving many lives, and probably the entire tribe. Once out of the mountains, Paakumá and his people lived a refugee life for over 30 years, being forced to relocate several times, finally settling in the Warm Creek area.
Now Paakumá was known by his Anglo name of Santos Manuel. When it was safe, he would take several tribal members into the mountains to hunt and gather natural items for tools, baskets, houses and weapons, so they could continue to live their lifestyle, always avoiding the settlers.
Finally, after much negative publicity over those killings and other actions, in books and newspapers, the Smiley brothers came to California to attempt to resolve these problems and eventually some reservations were established for the Indians to have land of their own, in Southern California. Santos Manuel was finally permitted to establish a permanent village and the land given to them was in the barren mountain foothills below their former homelands, above the area now known as Highland.
In 1891, the San Manuel Reservation was created by proclamation by President Benjamin Harrison. The tribe liked the location because they had a view of the valley and could see anyone approaching their land. Santos still encouraged his people to respect others, the land and all living things, including Americans.
He retained the culture of his people, taught the tribe to share their traditional skills with each other and teach their culture to their descendants and respect for where they came from. He told them to share their stories with their children to retain their history. He taught his leadership skills to tribal members, showing them how to live in harmony with others and nature. The tribe continues to follow in Santos’ cultural footsteps in this regard.
It was said Santos would dress up in clothing made from an American flag on the Fourth of July, wearing a top hat, each year and greet people on the trains. He seemed to not hold grudges against anyone and was considered a holy man by his people, teaching harmony and peace among all and respect and stewardship for the land.
In his later years, Santos Manuel was a respected elder who lived to be 105 years old, dying in 1919. The San Manuel tribe has followed in Santos’ footsteps and has tried to live in harmony with the surrounding community. Despite several decades living without much, the San Manuel Band is now generous with their fortunes, donating to many worthy ventures, following the lessons taught them by their respected leader Paakumá, known to us today as Santos Manuel.


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