Finding the Gopah Indians

While transcribing the Carlisle Indian School records I came across a record for Miguel Mooat (sic), a Gopah Indian.  Having never heard of the Gopah Indians, I set out to find what I could about them, using my normally trusty resources, but with absolutely no luck whatsoever.  The only references I could find were to the Carlisle School and two Indians they recorded as Gopah, Miguel and another student named Nicholas J. Pena.

Searching further for Miguel was fruitless, probably because a variant surname spelling, but maybe Nicholas J. Pena would be more productive.  Not only is it rather unique, he also has a middle initial, but the name isn’t so rare that it would be likely to be misspelled.

My first find was a record of Nicholas J. Pena and his sister, and it tells us that he attended the Carlisle School and provides the name of his tribe, which was not Gopah.

The Juliana Pena Calac Papers, donated to Marquette University in the 1990s tell us the following:

Juliana Peña Calac (1893-1967) and her brother, Nicholas J. Peña, were Cupeño Indians from Pala, California. Nicholas attended Carlisle Indian School (Carlisle, Pennsylvania) and the Sherman Institute (Riverside, California).

Looking at the Census records, we find Nicholas, but it appears that perhaps there was more than one Nicholas J. Pena, although we do find what appears to be his family in California.

Now that we have a location for Nicholas Pena, the other Gopah student, what we can find for Miguel Mooat?

The 1900 census is actually most useful.  Miguel is a resident at the Carlisle School in 1900, and it gives us his middle initials, C. B.  These initials allow us to find him in the Indian census in 1895, 1898, 1900, 1902 and 1903 telling us that he was born about 1877, but ages vary by a few years as they often do in census records, and that he was part of the Agua Caliente “Warner Con” tribe in California.  Agua Caliente is a location within the Cupeno tribe.  So, apparently the students listed as Gopah were actually Cupeno.

The Cupeno traditionally inhabited lands in California about 50 miles north of the Mexico/California border.  By 1905, in total, there were only about 150 tribal members.  The following map shows the Cupeno language region.

Cupeno language

So where did the word Gopah come from?  Perhaps it is slang or a nickname for a small band or part of a tribe.  If it is a misspelling, it is consistently misspelled, and it’s not similar to any other tribal name.  One of the 2 main villages was spelled Kupa or Cupa, so it’s possible that Gopah is how the people at Carlisle understood what was being said to them.  English was likely a third language for these students, their Native language being their first and Spanish, the second.

You can read more about the Cupeno here:

This is a great site written by a historian about their removal:

About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
This entry was posted in Cupeno, Gopah. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.