Sunday, October 16, 2011

On the Los Coyotes Reservation, There's a History of Dispute Resolution akin to the Wild West


By Chet Barfield
Staff Writer

LOS COYOTES INDIAN RESERVATION -- Cattleman Frank Taylor rips hay from a bale, tossing handfuls to a dozen cows & calves that came running like puppies at the toot of his pickup horn.

Cattle, he explains, "are very clannish." If one group strays into another's territory, "those cows will hook them & chase them out."

Taylor, 61, is learning about that firsthand. He & his extended family are the focus of a dispute that's tearing apart this remote reservation in the mountains above Warner Springs, 70 miles northeast of San Diego.

Tribal Chairwoman Catherine Saubel & her followers are trying to banish the Taylors from the tribe. They openly hate the family of 20, whose late patriarch, Banning Taylor, ran the reservation for almost 50 years before his death in 1998 at age 92.

The Taylors refuse to budge. They've hired a lawyer to plead their case to the Sheriff's Department, Congress & the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Tensions that have simmered for years are reaching the breaking point. A brawl erupted at the monthly tribal meeting in March when the Taylors defied an edict not to attend. Sheriff's deputies were called to break up the fight, which caused some cuts & bruises but prompted no arrests.

Many up here fear things could get worse. Hot-tempered foes of the Taylors are brandishing guns & making threats. Frank Taylor keeps a weapon of his own within reach -- "for shooting rattlesnakes," he says.

Each side points fingers at the other: "Two men in a white pickup (like Taylor's) tried to run over our kids." . . . "My dog was shot in the face." . . . "I've had two dogs poisoned in the past year. . . . "

And, from the Taylors: "Our cattle have been shot." . . . "My grandson was almost grabbed out of our car." . . . "My fences & corrals have been vandalized. . . . "

"When a dog gets shot, he (Taylor) gets blamed for it whether there's evidence or not," said sheriff's Deputy Scottie Dawson, who has been patrolling Los Coyotes & other North County reservations since 1991. "It's been going on since before I was a deputy out here."

How did it come to this? Much of the answer dates back to the 1930s, when Banning Taylor was adopted into the tribe.

Born in Warner Springs, Taylor, a cattleman, moved in the early 1900s onto a 157-acre homestead that juts into the southwestern border of the 25,000-acre reservation. He raised his two sons there. (One died in 1986.)

In 1934, Taylor was adopted by tribal vote into the Los Coyotes band, which consisted of a Cahuilla Indian village in the mountains overlooking the Anza-Borrego Desert, & some Cupeños occupying the foothills near Warner Springs.

The tribe now has 290 members, only about 40 of whom live on the reservation. Half of those residents are Taylors.

The late patriarch's Indian blood -- or lack of it -- has been an ongoing issue of contention.

"He's a white man," said the chairwoman's brother, Cahuilla elder Alvino Siva. "And all of his children, if you check their birth certificates, are all white."

Banning Taylor publicly claimed to be of mixed ancestry, Irish & Cupeño. Yet stories persist, passed down for generations, that he tricked his way into the tribe.

Some say he was a bootlegger who got the Indians drunk or did them other favors. Others say tribal members who spoke no English were told the adoption vote was only to grant Taylor a work permit.

"Banning Taylor has lied & lied & lied. He was a smart man, smart crook-wise," said Cupeño elder Ruth Cassell, 73, who left the reservation in her childhood but returned in the 1960s. "He was a white man. He could get jobs for the Indians. He got liquor for the Indians, too.

"He was the only one who had a truck. He used to go someplace & get fresh vegetables -- bananas, celery, sometimes lettuce & tomatoes. . . . He used to bring it, & we'd be glad to see him."

Frank Taylor says he has records proving his Cupeño lineage back to Juan Antonio Garra, leader of a notorious 1851 Indian uprising. He said he brought the documents to a tribal meeting last year, but Saubel wouldn't accept them.

Taylor also has copies of a 1978 U.S. Interior Department administrative ruling in which critics, including Saubel, tried & failed to have Banning Taylor's adoption declared invalid.

The department's Indian affairs bureau sent a letter March 30 to Rep. Ron Packard -- with a copy to Saubel -- stating it still stands by that ruling, & it would be "inappropriate (for the tribe) to raise the issue of the validity of the adoption of Banning Taylor Sr. or to attempt to disenroll his family upon these grounds his long tenure as chairman from the mid-1940s until 1996, when old age & ill health forced his retirement.

Critics say Taylor took care of his own & ignored the tribe's needs. One example was the power & phone lines, which until two years ago stopped at the Taylor ranch. His family lived in comfort while Indians on the other side of the hill lived in trailers & shacks with wood stoves & kerosene lamps.

Power lines were brought to the poor side in 1998; seven months after Saubel took office. But the project was started by Frank Taylor, who had been chairman the previous two years.

Frank Taylor says -- as his father did -- that tribal members themselves voted down the power extension in the 1970s because they distrusted government grants. He says his family members work & bought what they have with their own money.

Throughout Banning Taylor's years as chairman, Saubel & others accused him of taking government funds without putting them to use for the tribe. Now the Taylors are saying the same about Saubel.

The 80-year-old chairwoman dismisses these as white man's lies. She issued an edict -- backed by a vote at the March meeting -- giving the Taylors 60 days to document their enrollment or get out.

"We want them out, out of the reservation, because that reservation is for Indians, not blondes, blue-eyes & redheads," said Saubel, who left Los Coyotes as a youth & lives on the Morongo reservation near Palm Springs. "If I was white like them, I wouldn't want to be stuck in there with the Indians."

Tribal secretary Francine Kupsch said she & many others believe the Taylors are not legally enrolled & should have no rights in the tribe.

"It's all B.S.," she said of the 1978 ruling on Banning Taylor's adoption, "because nobody can decide our membership up here. Only we can."

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