Chapter 5: San Diego's Mexican Community, 1850-1910
8. What happened to the Native Americans during the American Era?
In 1852 San Diego's regional population numbered about 2,900, most of this, about 2,200 were Indians. Small groups of Kumeyaays who had lost their villages to rancheros or disease, were the first "homeless" population of urban San Diego. They set up their temporarily villages on vacant land near the pueblo and worked as laborers for the Anglo and Mexican population. Throughout the nineteenth century natives lived in Old Town, employed as maids and servants, and they intermarried with the local Mexican population. A temporary Indian ranchería existed at 24th and Imperial Avenues composed of families of Indian railway workers and another sprang up at what is today 5th Avenue and J Street. Other Indians lived in brush houses at 27th and K Street in the present-day Golden Hills area and there were many other temporary settlements that sprang up.
The Kumeyaays who lived near the White settlements continued, as much as possible, with many of their traditional customs of food gathering, preparation and consumption, and preserved their ancient religion especially in mourning ceremonies. Most Indians had Spanish baptismal names as well as names in their native language. Some were trilingual— speaking Spanish, their native language, and English. Often Kumeyaay peoples from Mexico crossed the border to try to find work. In the 1860s, for example a group of Mexican Kumeyaay's lived in Switzer Canyon in a temporary ranchería while the men worked as laborers in building various pubic works.
The native population of San Diego declined due to disease and the corrupting influence of alchohol and sporadic racist murders. Intermarriage with the Mexican population increased over what it had been in the American era so that some of the Californio families acquired relatives who were Kumeyaay or from other native groups.