ATTRIBUTION: FRANCISCO PATENCIO*
LIVED: 1857 – 8/10/1947
FORMER STREET NAME: West Street
Francisco Patencio was both a net (ceremonial leader) and a political activist for the Agua Caliente people. He was of kauisik
lineage. In 1881, Francisco married Dolores Saubel of the Los Coyotes
reservation. He was a skilled linguist with knowledge of English,
Spanish, French, and several Indian dialects.
Concerned that young Cahuilla people were no longer learning sacred songs, ceremonies, or even the Cahuilla language, Francisco Patencio dictated a book with the help of Margaret Boynton that described and preserved Cahuilla history, oral literature, and cosmology. His book, Stories and Legends of the Palm Springs Indians, represents a unique perspective of Cahuilla knowledge and culture.
Francisco Patencio led the movement against the allotment of reservation lands to individuals. He believed that tribal lands were the communal property of the tribe and that they were best governed as a whole. Allotting parcels of the reservation to individuals, he believed, would lead to further erosion of tribal sovereignty and decrease opportunities for economic self-sufficiency. Because allotted land could be sold by individual owners, he saw the move towards allotments as an organized strategy to take lands away from Indians. It is for this reason that in 1937, Patencio at age 80 traveled to Washington D.C. to vigorously fight allotment.
Francisco Patencio also fought for sovereign tribal government and opposed intrusion in tribal affairs. Unable or unwilling to understand traditional Cahuilla leadership roles, the federal government on January 1, 1937 ceased to recognize the Agua Caliente traditional leaders and placed a federal agent in its place. Following a letter-writing campaign to the Office of Indian Affairs requesting resumption of tribal control of Agua Caliente affairs, Patencio traveled to Washington D.C., obtaining verbal assurances from John Collier (Commissioner of Indian Affairs) that sovereign elections would be permitted. Patencio and other traditionalists pushed forward, reuniting soon after to act as the band’s functional leaders, in line with the hereditary and sacred duties which were their birthright. They further demanded the right to hold elections and called for the immediate removal of federal control. Referred to cynically as the “Unofficial Tribal Committee” by the officials who refused to recognize them, this group was arrested, imprisoned, and tried for “conspiracy to overthrow constituted authorities” in a retaliatory move by federal agents on November 20, 1937. John Collier flew to California and ordered the group released, confirming in writing the rights of tribal members to meet and vote on all matters pertaining to the reservation. Thanks to Patencio’s active resistance against the erosion of tribal sovereignty, a significant victory had been achieved.