The Kuymeyaay nation extended just south on Ensenada to Santa Thomas, North to Oceanside and East across the desert to Yuma and the Colorado River. The Kuymeyaay north of the San Diego River were referred to as Ipia and the Kumeyaay south of the San Diego River were called the Tipai. Descanso Kuymeyaay were part of the Tipai and considered rebellious. Kumeyaay Indians have lived in this regain for about 11,000 years. At the time of the Spanish contact in the 1700s the population of Indians from Tecate to northern San Diego County was approximately 20,000 people. Within 60 years that number had fallen to less than 8,000 and by 1860 may have been as low as 3,000.
As a whole the Kuymeyaay were strong and healthy. They are best classified as Collectors/Gatherers. This means they hunted, fished and gathered nuts and seeds. The most important plant foods for this area were acorns and pinon nut followed by buckwheat and chia. Significant sources of animal food included rabbits, hares, deer and rodents. Trips were made to the coast on a regular basis to fish and to collect a variety of shell fish including lobster, abalone, mussels and scallops. They did not cultivate corn or squash like many other Indian tribes.
Anthropologist and archeologist agree the Kumeyaay lived quite well, therefore, famines and food shortages were rare. There is strong evidence that the Kumeyaay planted or transplanted vegetation that was of particular importance or value to them. Examples of this include elderberry plants at village sites in settings that would not normally contain or sustain elderberries. Medicinal plants and other specialized plants were grown or maintained in garden plots easily accessible to villages, a pattern that still continues in Baja California. The Indians lived in closed brush huts during the winter and open armadas during the summer. Typically they had a late fall/winter village and a spring/summer village and moved back and forth between the two.
The Indian name for Descanso was "Na-Wa-T-ie" (rendered in Spanish as "Guatay") meaning "Council House" or "Big Chief's House." The greater valley spreading southwest from the current racetrack was called "Big Guatay Valley" and the smaller valley through which the Sweetwater River flows, was known as "Little Guatay." There were, in Old Guatay Valley, two well-populated Indian Villages, Hun-poo-Arrup-ma (Whip of the Wind), located at the northeastern end of the valley and Pilch-oom-wa (White a Ashes) just west of the Sweetwater River, across from Perkins Corner. The the valley was renamed Descanso by Ysadora Ellis around 1879.
Information for this article was extracted from "Descanso Place of Rest" published by the Friends of Descanso Library and "Strangers in a Stolen Land" by Richard Carrico.