Historical photo of Yuhaaviat, the indigenous name of Big Bear Lake.

Yuhaaviatam - The Original Mountain Men

Posted: 07/07/22

Today, Big Bear Lake is a top vacation destination in Southern California made popular by its extensive outdoor activities, natural environment, and leisurely pace of life. Surrounded by the San Bernardino National Forest, avid hikers and mountain bikers trek hundreds of miles of trails through changing landscapes with breathtaking views and untouched terrain.

In town, Big Bear reflects a cozy mountain vibe with log cabin and alpine architectures. You can even catch some subtle Wild West features that represent the Valley's rich gold mining and ranching history. Other areas like Serrano Campground reflect an even earlier time when the Yuhaaviatam clan, part of the Maara’yam people - called Serrano by Spanish explorers - inhabited the Valley. Meaning “People of the Pines”, the Yuhaaviatam inhabited Yuhaaviat, an area near present day Big Bear Lake. Today they are the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians.

For some 2,000 years, the Yuhaaviatam thrived in the Valley as a self-sustaining community. The land they lived on and the resources it provided were sacred. Acorns, pinion nuts, beans, berries and game like deer, birds, and fish were staple food sources and shelters were constructed from natural materials.

Kü̱ktac, created the People. After falling ill, Kü̱ktac journeyed to the mountains where he lay dying in a bear cave. Tended by the First People, he was taken to Maktsuk, today called Pan Hot Springs, where he was bathed by human caretakers. Knowing he was dying, Kü̱ktac instructed the People to cremate him and protect his body from Coyote, who eats dead things. Kü̱ktac died near present-day Baldwin Lake. During the cremation the eye of Kruktut flew out and became the a giant snow quartz megalith known as Aapahunane’t, or God's Eye. Coyote snuck through the bowed legs of bear and snatched Kü̱ktac's heart in his mouth. The people hit Coyote, and as he ran into the mountains above Baldwin Lake, the dripping blood turned the rocky soil red. When the creator died the people mourned and their tears turned into pine trees, the area called Yuhaaviat. The nuts from the trees became food for the Yuhaaviatam, or People of the Pines. The Creation Story

In the 1700 and 1800s, the combination of the California Mission System, the expanding agricultural industry, and the start of the gold rush caused drastic changes in the Southern California landscape. New settlers created ranches, farms, and mines wanted to establish ownership over the land. As a result, indigenous people who remained on their ancestral lands were viewed as a nuisance and were often the victim of harsh treatment and violence.

The Yuhaaviatam remained in the Big Bear area until the mid-1800s. A series of violent conflicts between settlers and the natives drove the remaining natives from the Valley. The Kiika’ - or tribal leader - Santos Manuel, led them into the San Bernardino Valley before the establishment of the San Manuel Reservation in 1891. Since then, the community has established a new way of life on the Reservation that not only led to their survival but also honored their culture and traditions.

Still a sacred site of the Yuhaaviatam, God's Eye was dynamited by miners in search for gold. Photo Cred: Tom Core