Arenas Street

Arenas Street

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Lee Arenas

Courtesy of Palm Springs Historical Society.  All Rights Reserved


LIVED: 8/17/1870* – 7/21/1966


In his youth, Lee Arenas was known for his athleticism and was a skilled runner. He is said to have once outrun a horse-drawn buckboard in a race through the desert from the train station to Palm Springs – a distance of eight miles.

As an adult, Arenas became active in both business and tribal politics. His business endeavors included the raising of crops and livestock and operating the Orchard Trailer Camp. He was active in tribal affairs, acting as an interpreter for Cahuilla-speaking tribal members, a liaison to federal officials, and later as leader of the Agua Caliente Band.  

Arenas sought out assistance from Indian advocacy groups in order to mitigate injustices perpetrated against the Agua Caliente people. He brought attention to the theft of traditional water resources and its effects on the community. He also researched and made use of laws that would protect tribal members from land use challenges emanating from the non-Indian community.   By working with Indian rights groups such as the General Federation of Women’s Clubs and the American Indian Defense Association, Arenas developed a legal support network.

Arenas also used these channels to navigate the band through the land allotment process. Although initially against the allotment of tribal lands to individuals, Lee Arenas sued the federal government demanding that the land promised to Agua Caliente members in the 1920s land allotment schedules be granted – land parcels that had been promised but never fully granted. As a result of Arenas vs. United States, the Supreme Court ultimately upheld the U. S. Court of Appeals decision of April 26, 1945 validating land allotments.  

While to some this development was hailed as a success, to others it was considered a setback. At the time of the Arenas Decision, some Agua Caliente members strongly opposed the land allotment system; these members appear to have previously lodged their protest by not requesting allotments, thereby allowing pro-allotment members to select the most valuable parcels.  Leading the movement against allotments was Francisco Patencio, who believed that land should be owned by the tribe rather than by individual members.  Communal ownership would not only serve the tribe more effectively, Patencio believed, but would also prevent the sale (and therefore loss) of additional tribal lands.

* the 1926 Mission Agency Census disagrees and  lists 1878 as the birth year