Baristo Road

Baristo Road

View Larger

Baristo Sol Santiago

Gift of Eileen Welmas Miguel


LIVED: Circa 1884 – 1/7/1942


Baristo Sol Santiago took an active role in tribal government and the affairs of the Agua Caliente.  He politically allied himself with the traditional kauisik clan leadership and was in favor of communal (non-allotted) tribal lands.

In traditional times, Cahuilla leadership roles were inherited and these leaders took economic responsibility for the group’s needs.  But by the mid-1930s, the kauisik leadership began to lose influence due to external pressures.  In 1934, the Indian Service began pressuring Indian groups to reorganize the structure of tribal government.  Not wishing to be told how to organize themselves, most Agua Caliente tribal members boycotted a December 18, 1934 meeting organized by the federal government in which a government-approved, non-kauisik spokesman was elected.  This largely unattended meeting resulted in two tribal governments: one recognized by federal authorities and the band’s non-traditional faction, the other recognized by the traditionalist faction and led by the hereditary kauisik clan leaders.

In November 1936, the non-Indian community was angered by the traditional kauisik leadership’s decision to raise entrance fees to the Indian Canyons and to collect horse riding tolls.  Not understanding that the control of tribal assets was the sacred duty of these traditional leaders, this decision incensed non-Indian business owners who demanded that federal authorities take “immediate control of the Indian situation.”   Earl Coffman, son of Desert Inn owner Nellie Coffman, delivered a direct ultimatum to the tribe, stating:

“Unless by 6 o’clock this evening we receive your written agreement that you will make no charge for canyon cars, we shall proceed with our plan of active resistance.”

Baristo Sol at this time found himself in a precarious situation.  Working as a gardener for the Desert Inn, he was one day pulled aside by his employers and pressured to sign a document denouncing tribal advisor Purl Willis and his pro-traditionalist agenda.  If he did not sign the anti-traditionalist document, they threatened, he would lose his job. 

Due in equal parts to the government’s displeasure with Purl Willis for promoting traditionalist tribal governments on southern California reservations, the existence of a hereditary kauisik Tribal Committee despite the establishment of a federally imposed set of leaders, and the growing influence of non-Indian commercial interests in Palm Springs, the federal government took control over the reservation in January, 1937.

In defiance of federal control, an announcement was made in 1937 that “a majority of the adult members of the band” had appointed Willie Marcus as Tribal Spokesman and Albert Patencio, Francisco Patencio, and Baristo Sol as members of a Tribal Committee.  This group in turn demanded the right to hold sovereign tribal elections and the immediate removal of federal control.  Government agents responded by having these Tribal Committee members arrested and tried for treason.