Joseph Francis Saubel, the oldest member of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, died at his home on the reservation, February 20, 2008. He was affectionately known to all as “Uncle Joe.”
Uncle Joe suffered a heart attack on January 29, 2008, and after a short stay in the hospital, returned home, expressing his wish to be there for his final days, trusting always in his deep Roman Catholic faith, and surrounded by his extensive family.
He was the last fluent speaker of his native Pass Cahuilla Indian language, and the last of the full-blooded Cahuilla Indian cowboys. He was a founding member of the Morongo Cattlemen’s Association. Both during his career with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and in his retirement, Uncle Joe kept cattle, horses and other livestock. His brand was a double scorpion, reflective of the astrological sign for his November birthday. The brand has been passed to his great nephew, Midge Necochea, who continues the family tradition of running cattle on Morongo Reservation.
Uncle Joe led an orderly life influenced by the nuns and priests at Saint Boniface Indian School and his military service. All of his life, he was frugal, hard working, and kept his mind active through reading, writing, and interaction with other people.
He enjoyed taking photographs and writing extensively in his personal journal every day, so as to preserve a historical record of his family and the tribe. Uncle Joe’s writing also reflected his observations of his daily world—the weather, the wildlife, current events locally and internationally, including frank and solidly held opinions. He was very politically minded and a huge supporter of Hillary Clinton, with whom he was very much impressed with her ability to speak without notes or a teleprompter, unlike her competitors.
Uncle Joe was respected and held in regard by everyone on the reservation and his opinions were sought by his family, and he was never afraid to comment on tribal and other affairs.
Joseph Francis Saubel was born, November 16, 1912, on Malki Reservation, now Morongo Reservation. He was the son of Jose Alvino Saubel and Candelaria Chino Saubel, both Pass Cahuilla. He was baptized on February 9, 1913, by the Rev. Florian Hahn at Saint Boniface Catholic Church in Banning. The Rev. Hahn founded the Saint Boniface Indian School and in 1898 established the Saint Mary’s Mission, where Uncle Joe worshiped and will be buried on Morongo Reservation.
Uncle Joe was the oldest and last surviving child of his parents. His brothers and sisters were Mariano and Vincent Saubel, Eileen Johnson and Marjorie Martin.
Uncle Joe was raised on the Malki (Morongo) Indian Reservation, graduating from the St. Boniface Indian School. He entered adulthood during the Great Depression. At that time, the reservation was largely agricultural with many fruit orchards. He did various jobs for those tribal members who owned the orchards, later becoming a truck driver. Life was hard. He often told the story of how his father would walk from his home with his tools at daybreak looking for work and arrive home in the evening, sometimes with just change in his pocket for working all day long.
He enlisted in the U.S. Army on February 20, 1941 in Los Angeles, becoming a military truck driver. He saw combat on D-Day, landing, June 6, 1944, at Omaha Beach Normandy, France. He also saw combat in Algeria, French Morocco, Tunisia, Sicily, and in the Rhineland. Upon returning home, and every day for the rest of his life, Uncle Joe prayed for his fallen comrades.
He was wounded in combat on September 7, 1944 in Belgium and awarded the Purple Heart. He also earned the Good Conduct Medal, European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal and the American Defense Service Medal. He was honorably discharged as a Private First Class from the 28th General Hospital at Camp Beale, California on July 14, 1945. He was awarded a life-long Veterans Administration pension for disability sustained from military combat.
Soon after his discharge, he went to work for the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs. For three decades, Uncle Joe worked at the Agua Caliente Reservation.
He married the late Lucy Mike, of the 29 Palms Band of Indians, in Yuma Arizona in 1947.
The couple raised one daughter, Jennifer Estama-Mike. The couple had four grandchildren, twelve great grand children and six great great grand children.
He liked to travel, and during his retirement, he and his wife traveled extensively on vacations, and through his work he also traveled on numerous out of state trips.
Very much a family man, Uncle Joe participated in all family celebrations, barbeques, birthday parties, and anniversaries. He enjoyed accompanying his nephew, Dennis Basquez, to pow wows, rodeos, baseball tournaments, and various functions for tribal elders throughout the region. He especially enjoyed the company of elders from Torres-Martinez and Pala Reservations.
Uncle Joe is dearly missed by all who knew and loved him.