A Shelter By Any Name

Before it was the name of a hotel chain, a ramada was an open-air shelter used by Native American families during the daytime. Below is a replica of a ramada, constructed of natural materials, at the Kumeyaay Ipai Interpretive Center (KIIC) in Poway. (Photo credit V. Rossi) The center, in the heart of Poway, preserves the site of a village inhabited by the Kumeyaay, the original residents of this county going back some 2,000 years.



During the heat of the day, a Kumeyaay mother might do some food preparation or basket-weaving under this shelter while watching her small children.

The name “ramada” was, of course, Spanish in origin. But the Spanish-speaking settlers often affixed their own words to denote Native American places or objects. Or they sometimes tried to express the indigenous words in Spanish, as in “Paguay,” a mispronuniciation of the Kumeyaay word “Pagui,” which meant the meeting place of two creeks, the place we today call “Poway.”

Actually, there may be more of a historical association between the word “ramada,” and the resort idea than most people realize. Here’s what I mean.

Judge Benjamin Hayes, a lawyer originally from Maryland, moved to California in 1850 and began a career that made him a district court judge and general mover and shaker in southern California politics.

In 1867, Hayes wrote a letter to his brother-in-law about a visit he paid between court circuits to the area we now call Warner Springs. This area was originally called Kupa, after the indigenous people who first settled it. That was not what they called themselves, but remember what I said a couple of paragraphs back about that language thing.

Sixteen years before, in 1851, the native people, after enduring decades of oppression and cruelty, first at the hands of the Spaniards, then from their Mexican and Anglo successors, staged an uprising. The revolt ultimately was put down, but it resulted in the recognition of some rights for the indigenous people over the springs area, at least for a time.

“As to the Indian title, some importance,” Hayes wrote in 1867. “I know of no state law or state authority that could dislodge the Indians of the village …..Their planting grounds surround the famous Hot Springs. This is of great value.”

The Indians well recognized that value, as Hayes pointed out.

“I paid them a dollar for my bath, at the rustic bathing establishment they have constructed,” wrote Hayes, “consisting of two goods boxes sunk in the ground, sheltered by a ramada, and communicating with the spring by means of a trough a quarter of a mile long.”

The people we today know as the Cupeños would lose their springs, and their home village. They would eventually regain them, but that’s too much history, sordid and triumphal, to portray in one or two blog posts. I would urge readers interested in the history of San Diego County to visit KIIC and the Cupa Cultural Center.

For more information, including hours, visit the KIIC website at http://www.friendsofthekumeyaay.org/ and the Cupa Cultural Center’s website at http://www.palatribe.com/cupa-cultural-center .

Sources for this post included historic San Diego newspapers and two pamphlets, Introduction to the Cupeño People, published by the Cupa Cultural Center, and Cupeños Trail of Tears, by Milford Wayne Donaldson on behalf of E Clampus Vitus. The latter pamphlet was published to accompany the dedication of a commemorative plaque at Warner Springs Ranch in 2003.


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