Before the arrival of the Spanish explorers, and long before the establishment of Camp Pendleton, the area was home to thousands of Native Americans who used many of the same resources still present today, including the plants and animals found in the hills and along the Pacific coast.
Evidence from around the region suggests that humans arrived in current-day southern California approximately 13,000 years before present (B.P. [about 11,050 B.C.]). By 8,000 B.P., the coastal and lagoon habitats in the area likely supported a significant coastal population. Archaeological digs of sites dated to this time have uncovered abundant shellfish and fish remains, along with flaked cobble tools, basin metates, manos, discoidals , stone balls, and burials. Some evidence suggests that these people travelled into inland San Diego County on a seasonal basis.
By 3,800 B.P., research suggests that Native Americans had formed increasingly organized villages and specialized resource collection sites in a variety of interior and upland locations. Coastal settings continued to be used as well, but there is some debate as to the stability of some coastal habitations at this time. A number of technological changes took place during this time, most prominently the introduction of the bow and arrow and the widespread use of ceramics.
When first contacted by Spanish explorers, the native groups living at what is now Camp Pendleton spoke a language related to those dialects spoken by people closer to current-day Los Angeles than the language of people spoken in the current-San Diego area to the south. These groups were later known generally as the Juaneño and Luiseño, based on their associations with either Mission San Juan Capistrano or Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, respectively.
The region occupied by the Luiseño and Juaneño extended along the coast roughly between Agua Hedionda to approximately Aliso Creek in present Orange County, and inland approximately to Palomar Mountain. To the north were the linguistically related Gabrielino, who occupied the Los Angeles Basin, and to the south were the Yuman-speaking Kumeyaay. Sources indicate that Luiseño and Juaneño territorial units were fairly small, on the order of 30 square miles. The territorial division between them, such that it existed, is thought to have been somewhere between San Mateo Creek and Las Pulgas Creek.
Europeans first entered the area that is now Camp Pendleton on July 20, 1769, as the members of the Portola expedition descended into the valley of the Santa Margarita River during their journey north to Monterey. The earliest permanent structures on MCB Camp Pendleton are described in an 1827 mission report as a small adobe at what is now the Santa Margarita Ranch House, and a mission estancia at Las Flores. The original Mexican owners of the land that was to become MCB Camp Pendleton were Pio and Andres Pico, who acquired the Rancho San Onofre and Rancho Santa Margarita in 1841.
In 1849, Pio Pico moved to the Los Coyotes Rancho in Los Angeles, leaving the Santa Margarita ranch in the control of his brother Andres. Andres left later that year for the gold fields, however, and the rancho was managed in turn by Pio’s elder brother Jose Antonio. By 1862, the Pico family had fallen into financial difficulties and sold part of the rancho to their brother-in-law, Juan Forster, to avoid losing it to creditors. Forster, after undertaking a number of improvements, died in 1882 and the ranch eventually was transferred to James C. Flood and Richard O’Neill. During this time, the ranch was managed by O’Neill, with assistance from the Magee family who lived at the Las Flores adobe from 1888 to 1968. In 1901, O’Neill was awarded one-half of the ranch by Flood’s heirs, holding the property until it was acquired by the U.S. Marine Corps in 1942.
Since its establishment in 1942, major development at MCB Camp Pendleton has supported its mission as an amphibious training facility. Military development on the installation during World War II involved the development of support facilities for the construction efforts. Placed mainly in the “Mainside” area, these included warehouses, a lumberyard, a mill, a steelyard, a quarry, and barracks for workers. Major military facilities constructed at this time included a rifle qualification range, tent camps at the Mainside area, and construction of a boat basin. Major military operations included the arrival of the 9th, 4th, and 5th Marines, all quartered at Mainside. After World War II, Major General Graves B. Erkstine initiated a number of developments designed to create a more permanent facility at MCB Camp Pendleton. Primary examples include the construction of the beach club at San Onofre, a commissary, a golf course, a library, and the base rodeo grounds.
A major build-up of personnel and facilities took place during the Korean War. For example, the first permanent barracks with mess hall and administration building was constructed in the 22 Area (Chappo), and field training camps were established at the 62 Area (San Mateo), 43 Area (Las Pulgas), 53 Area (Horno), and 33 Area (Margarita). Due to legal disputes over water rights along the Santa Margarita River, relatively limited funding was available for construction on MCB Camp Pendleton during the post-Korean War years. Significant construction took place in 1961, however, with the construction of eight permanent Bachelor’s Enlisted Quarters (BEQs), two mess halls, a training school, two administration buildings, and 400 units of Capehart housing within and near the 21 Area (Del Mar). Development of the Edson rifle range and support facilities was also conducted at this time.
A variety of facilities was constructed during the Vietnam conflict. Training schools for jungle warfare were established near the 43 Area (Las Pulgas), 53 Area (Horno), and 27 Area (Naval Hospital). A new Combat Town in the 52 Area (School of Infantry) was also built. Other facilities constructed at this time included an exchange complex in the 11 Area, regimental headquarters at the 62 Area (San Mateo) and 53 Area (Horno), Bachelor Officer’s Quarters housing in the 17 Area (Headquarters) near the San Luis Rey gate, a new brig, new housing at the 51 Area (San Onofre) and 20 Area, and the 31B Area (Marine Corps Tactical Systems Support Facility) at Stuart Mesa.
Native American Consultation and Outreach
Camp Pendleton maintains an ongoing consultation program with both federally recognized and non-federally recognized Native American tribes affiliated with the land that is now known as Camp Pendleton. The Luiseño tribe consists of seven bands within Riverside and San Diego Counties. Six of these bands are federally recognized: Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians near San Jacinto, Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians near Temecula, Pauma Band of Luiseño Indians in Pauma Valley, Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians near Valley Center, La Jolla Band of Luiseño Indians near Palomar, and Pala Band of Mission Indians in Pala. The San Luis Rey Band of Mission Indians is located in Oceanside and is not federally recognized. The Juaneño Band of Mission Indians – Acjachemen Nation are a non-federally recognized tribe with three groups that are in frequent communication with Camp Pendleton cultural resources program staff. These three Juaneño groups are located in southern Orange County, near the northern border of the base.