When Jose Antonio Aguirre and Ygnacio del Valle were granted the original 2,000-acre Rancho El Tejon in 1843, Mexican law provided for the continued occupancy by Indians of their ancestral lands. The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo between the United States and Mexico extended this provision, and it carried through to subsequent United States law.
In 1855, the California Land Commission confirmed Aguirre and Del Valle's ownership of Rancho El Tejon under the 1851 U.S. Land Act, which was "conclusive as between the United States and the claimants but shall not affect the interests of third persons" — i.e., Indians with prior possessory rights. (See letter from U.S. Office of Indian Affairs dated Oct. 21, 1916, seeking litigation to protect the interests of El Tejon Indians.)
All was relatively fine until about 1880 when then-owner Edward F. Beale, who expanded the ranch to some 300,000 acres, initiated through his ranch manager Jose Jesus Lopez "a policy of restriction and repression which has been continued and intensified down to the present time" (memo from Special Assistant U.S. Attorney General George A.H. Fraser, dated June 29, 1921).
By 1915, the ranch was owned by "some of the largest and wealthiest land owners in Southern California" (ibid.) — a syndicate headed by Harry Chandler of the Los Angeles Times. Lopez was still majordomo. In that year, the home of Chief Juan Lozada was burned to the ground when Lozada and his wife were away in Bakersfield, prompting friends to seek federal intervention. On Dec. 12, 1915, Special Indian Agent John J. Terrell reported to his superiors that the Indians had been reduced to small patches of land totaling no more than 15 acres; that Lopez, acting on the syndicate's orders, barred them from owning cattle or erecting new buildings; and that their "present condition is little short of a peonage." Terrell's report also accused the aging ranch manager of defiling young teenage Indian girls.
Less than a year later, on Nov. 7, 1916, the Secretary of the Interior set aside 880 acres of public-domain land south of Tehachapi for exclusive use by the El Tejon Indians. But they never used it; it was accessible only by foot, and federal officials later acknowledged it was "unfit for habitation." The land returned to the public domain in 1962.
From 1920 to 1924, the Interior and Justice Departments fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to secure the tribe's rights to land on the Tejon Ranch, only to lose by reason of the statute of limitations for the 1851 California Claims Act running out. In the 1930s, the Chandler group consented to the Indians living on the land in exchange for nominal rent. Further federal intervention ceased, although the government continued to monitor the tribe's welfare.
In 1979, the Bureau of Indian Affairs published a list of federally recognized tribes and excluded the Tejon Indians in what it later termed a "bureaucratic error." The tribe petitioned in 2006 for confirmation of its status, which came in 2012 when the Interior Department acknowledged the longstanding political relationship between the United States and the tribe, and determined that its current members descended from people Special Agent Terrell listed in a census when he first looked into the troubles nearly 100 years earlier.
Some of those people living at Tejon during Terrell's visit were blood relatives of Tataviam and Kitanemuk Indians living elsewhere in the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys.
— Leon Worden 2016