Pala Tribe Buys 3,000 Acres of Ancestral Land 2.25.11

The land that was taken from them in the 19th century. They will buy it back for $20 million.


By Stephanie D. Schulte

The Pala Band of Mission Indians are in escrow to purchase 3,000 acres of their ancestral land.

They will pay $20 million for the region, which the Warner Springs Ranch Association currently owns. The swath of land includes The Warner Springs Resort.

“This process has been going on for over a year,"  said Doug Elmets, the tribe's spokesperson. "It is a large transaction with a multitude of title issues. The tribe is ready to close escrow so they can get to work renovating The Warner Springs Resort."

Escrow was opened on December 10th, 2009,  and the transaction has been anything but smooth.

“Escrow is in a state of inanimate suspension due to the title issues,” Elmets explained. He added that all parties are confident the issues will be handled appropriately.

In the late 1800s, Juan Jose Warner was granted the land, but the governor at the time failed to mention the Indians living there. He referred to the land as "vacant and abandoned," refering to buildings which were constructed by the Indians under the supervision of Franciscan fathers from Mission San Luis Rey.

The Indians revolted and Warner eventually abandoned his properties after clearing his title in the courts. The land then became the property of John G. Downey and in 1893 his family sued to have the Indian 'interlopers' removed. The Indians fought the eviction all the way through the Supreme Court but eventually lost in May of 1901.

The Indians were moved to a small reservation at the Luiseno village of Pala in 1903. There was no shelter for them and they suffered greatly in the elements. 

Now, more than a century later, they are buying back their land and, according to Elmets, they are thrilled.

Some of the buildings at The Warner Springs Resort are in disrepair and in need of improvements.

"The tribe has the financial means to do the appropriate renovations to the buildings at the resort and they intend to move forward with that when the transaction is complete," he said. "The tribe does not plan to develop other resorts and plans to leave the land around Warner Springs undeveloped.”

For more information on the Pala Tribe, visit

Pala Band of Mission Indians

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