According to those who knew him, the March 14 death of Viejas tribal elder Thomas Hyde marked the passing of a founding member of the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians.
Hyde’s adopted nephew and former Chairman of the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, Anthony Pico, described Hyde as a leader who navigated his extended tribal family through decades of major social and economic transition in the Native community. In Hyde’s lifetime— slightly less than one century— the Viejas reservation has transitioned from undeveloped land sold to Native Americans who had farmed a nearby area for approximately 10,000 years of Indian ownership, to its current prominence with billboards advertising Viejas, Barona, and Sycuan mounted along the side of Interstate 8.
To a certain extent, Hyde’s life story is the story of America’s development through the 20th century, albeit with details that are unique to Kumeyaay history in San Diego. For example, there are Veterans of Foreign Wars posts scattered across San Diego, including VFW post 9578 here in Alpine; however after serving in the U.S. Navy, Hyde identified the need for a post that was directly tied to Native American veterans, so he started the first all-Indian post right on the reservation.
Pico talked about the impact of childhood trauma that Hyde experienced as a very young child when his family was forced to move from the El Capitan Grande Reservation to the land now known as the Viejas reservation. The El Capitan land was slated for development into a water reservoir for San Diegans and Hyde’s family was among the last to leave their native land.
“The federal government signed an official agreement with the city of San Diego in 1919 that transferred ownership of 2000 acres of what is now the El Capitan reservoir to the city of San Diego with very little input or authority from the Native Americans here… Congress allocated $422,000 for the people who would get flooded by the building of the El Capitan reservoir. Tom’s uncle, Mr. Paipa, who eventually became the Chairman, would not leave until they were finally convinced to go at the last minute. That was Tom’s first tragic experience. The second one was that Paipa personally dug up the village graves and reburied them in a new cemetery here in Viejas; that was another traumatic event that happened to Tom. Also, when Tom was leaving on a wagon, he was about five or six years old, the last thing he saw leaving El Capitan Grande Indian Reservation was his house on fire— that was the third traumatic event that happened to Tom,” Pico said.
Pico further explained that after the physical move to the new lands, financial challenges affected the band of Indians: there simply wasn’t enough money to house the uprooted families.
“When he finally moved up here, the $422,000 that was allocated for the group… there were actually two villages in El Capitan Grande: there was a group that went to Barona and a second one that is actually half a mile north of Viejas,” Pico said.
The people of the Coapan Band bought Barona valley and the people of the Los Conejos band—Hyde’s family— bought the Viejas valley.
“There really wasn’t enough money to build all those homes, so they lived out in the elements for probably about six years and many people died of exposure and of course there were people who died of heartbreak,” Pico said.
In the following decades, that land in the Viejas valley slowly grew into the reservation that San Diegans recognize today, in part because of Hyde’s leadership.
“Over the past 50 years, Viejas has had five tribal Chair People. Out of those five, four spent a considerable amount of time under his roof. Not only that but many, many people who were elected to the tribal council came out of his household. He raised us to be contributors to our community. I learned, living in his home, how important public service is. Public service is paramount to the community, said Pico.”
Hyde was 92 years old when he died.