If you know your Spanish, you know the word viejas means “old lady” or something close to that. So, then, how did the name “Viejas” become so prominent in San Diego County? Where did the name come from? There’s the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, the sacred Viejas Mountain off of I-8, and Viejas Grade Road, to name just a few instances where the name “Viejas” is used in our area. According to Virginia M. Christman, a Kumeyaay Indian and member of the Viejas Band, the name dates back to the 1700s, when Spanish soldiers took occasional excursions from San Diego’s coastal areas east into the mountains toward what is now the areas of Alpine, Pine Valley and beyond. The Kumeyaay, or Tipay name for the Viejas Valley was Matarreway, meaning “open valley.” Often, the Spanish soldiers traveled through the valleys in search of young, healthy Native Americans whom they would take and conscript for work on the missions or other projects. These young Native Americans were often never seen again by their families. Richard Carrico, professor of American Indian Studies at San Diego State University, concurs with Christman’s understanding of the origins of the name “Viejas,” and adds that over time, the various Native American bands who lived in these valleys and mountains established a “messenger” system, positioning themselves in the mountains where they could see the intruders coming. Through this messenger system, they’d get word out that the soldiers were coming. This would give Native American families time to move out of their villages and go higher into Viejas Mountain, where they could not be found. After a while, Spanish soldiers would report back that by the time they got to the valley in eastern San Diego (near the Viejas Band’s original reservation), all the younger, healthy family members were nowhere to be found. Only the older women remained. Hence the name Valle dela Viejas or “Valley of the Old Ladies.” In the early 1930s, tribal villages located on the Capitan Grande Indian Reservation in eastern San Diego County were forced to move from their historic reservation land. Members of one of those villages purchased land in the Viejas Valley and are known today as the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians.
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