The San Manuel Reservation appears to have been designated as an Indian Village in 1876 by special Executive Order. In 1891, the San Manuel Indian Village was established as a reservation. The village had eight families, totaling 40 persons who had been "in occupancy of these lands about thirty years" Prior to the Gold Rush of 1849 the Serrano population numbered in the tens of thousands. By the time the San Manuel Reservation appeared in the 1900s, there were less than two-hundred native peoples remaining. Today there are approximately 150 members of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians.
For the survivors and their children, the last 100 years on the reservation have been marked by cultural and economic struggle. Prior to the advent of Indian Gaming, the people of the San Manuel Reservation lived in abject poverty, far removed from modern society. The houses were made of mud, with thatched roofs. There was almost no electricity, no running water nor indoor plumbing. The "waterworks system" consisted of a series of outhouses while water came from wells and streams. Because of its location the land could not be farmed and there were no job opportunities for the people. All that was left was pride in their heritage and a dim hope for the future.