26 November 2018

Surprising New Twist to Tres Hermanos Saga

As reported in yesterday's San Gabriel Valley Tribune, an unexpected left-field turn of events concerning the Tres Hermanos Ranch in Tonner Canyon, directly north of Carbon Canyon, emerged recently when the City of Commerce made overtures to purchase the ranch for $42 million.

The story is convoluted and complex, but seems to involve an effort from a utility firm, San Gabriel Valley Water and Power, formed to develop a solar farm at Tres Hermanos by contract with the City of Industry until that plan wetn awry, to work with Commerce on acquiring the ranch and revive the project.  So far, officials in Commerce have been tight-lipped about its discussions concerning the property, basically saying that they are simply exploring options.

Industry was given approval by the successor agency to its former redevelopment agency to buy the ranch but whose purchase has been stalled by litigation involving the cities of Chino Hills and Diamond Bar.  A key condition was that the ranch had to be developed for public use and there was talk about preserving portions of the nearly 2,500-acre property for open space and recreation.  That public use, for a time, was the scuttled solar farm project, though it looks like Commerce is aiming to bring it back.

Chino Hills City Manager Rad Bartlam was blunt in stating that the city would sue Commerce if it was to acquire the land and pursue the solar farm, adding that officials in Commerce would be "completely crazy" to assume otherwise.  Industry's city attorney Jamie Casso noted that the state's Department of Finance has approved the sale of the ranch to the city, noting "it's mind-boggling that anybody would think that this is possible."

An aerial photograph of Tres Hermanos from the north, taken in March 2018.
Industry, Chino Hills and Diamond Bar have recently undertaken settlement negotiation talks concerning joint control of Tres Hermanos, but Commerce claims Industry has not satisfied the terms of the sale from the successor agency and requested consideration for purchase, even though its own city council has not formally acted and two members of the council said they knew nothing about the issue.

Moreover, any sale would have to be approved by the successor agency and would also have to go out to bid, including to developers who've already made offers of up to $125 million for the ranch.  There are also other legal issues, including whether Commerce's closed door meetings are a violation of the Brown Act, requiring public transparency for certain discussions by government agencies. 

Officials from Chino Hills and Industry appeared at a Commerce council meeting just before Thanksgiving, at which officials there were poised to have a closed-door confab about Tres Hermanos, and threatened, including by letter, to sue Commerce over its proceedings.  Two Los Angeles County supervisors, Janice Hahn and Hilda Solis, have indicated they want as much preserved open space as possible in addition to raising concerns about the legality of Commerce's actions to date.

A view of the 2,500-acre ranch from the east.
As for Commerce, which gets a significant revenue stream from casinos in the city but is facing a significant loss of funds due to new state actions on gaming, it apparently is looking to utility services as a potential generation of income.  Its two months of closed doors meetings and hiring of an attorney formerly employed by Industry to work on the solar farm project have raised eyebrows, with the Tribune reporting that Anthony Bouza may have broken the law by not getting informed written consent by Industry about his possibly using confidential information that would harm a previous client (Industry) to benefit a new one (Commerce,) a point echoed by Casso.

Check back for updates as new information is forthcoming.

14 November 2018

10 Year Freeway Complex Fire Commemoration Event This Weekend

Marking the ten-year anniversary of the Freeway Complex Fire, which roared through much of Carbon Canyon and nearby areas in November 2008 and particularly timely given the massive wildfires that have burned throughout the state this month, Hills for Everyone, the Carbon Canyon Fire Safe Council and the Chino Hills State Park Interpretive Association are sponsoring a commemoration event of the fire this weekend.

Held Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Chino Hills State Park Discovery Center at 4500 Carbon Canyon Road in Brea, the free event includes exhibits of photos, videos, memorabilia, posters and other materials documenting and discussing the fire.  Fire fighting vehicles will be displayed by the Chino Valley and Brea-Fullerton fire departments.

On Saturday from 1-2 p.m., there will be a special presentation by Nature of Wildworks, which will bring native wildlife to vividly show first-hand the impacts the fire, which burned more than 30,000 acres (including 95% of the state park) in four counties and destroyed over 280 houses, had on wildlife.

Sadly, devastating wildfires are becoming a normal feature of life in California as climate change, rapid population growth, and expansion of housing in wildland areas continue.  Carbon Canyon is a microcosm of the risks the interplay of these three facets pose, especially as a new 107-unit project, Hidden Oaks, is expected to be brought before the City of Chino Hills in 2019.  This event will bring needed attention to what wildfires mean, not just in looking back, but in seeing forward.

04 October 2018

Carbon Canyon Fire Safe Council Brush Drop-Off This Saturday

This Saturday the 6th from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., the Carbon Canyon Fire Safe Council will be holding its twice-annual brush drop-off. 

Residents of the Chino Hills portion of Carbon Canyon can bring cut brush to the drop-off location on Canon Lane, north of Carbon Canyon Road adjacent to Fire Station 4.  Council volunteers will be there to assist.

For years, the Council, with the financial support of the City of Chino Hills and coordination with Chino Hills (Republic) Disposal, has offered this program in the spring and fall, to give residents the opportunity to dispose of brush that won't fit in the trash cans at their residences.

The deadline for having brush cut back on canyon properties is mid-October, so this is the perfect time to comply with applicable ordinances.

20 September 2018

California Conservation Corps Carbon Creek Cleanup Continuing

This week, crews from the California Conservation Corps have been busy clearing out plant material from Carbon Creek to ensure that the water flow is smooth and that fire risk and other concerns are minimized.

With coordination from the Carbon Canyon Fire Safe Council working with the Santa Ana Watershed Authority and funding obtained by a grant secured by the City of Brea, the work will move down the creek into the Brea/Orange County portion of the canyon. 

This includes further treatment of the arundo, which was once rampant in the canyon, but has been largely mitigated after the Freeway Complex Fire of November 2008.  Despite all the destruction of that wildfire, a silver lining was that the existing arundo was burned to the ground providing an opportunity to treat the extremely aggressive invasive at the root level. 

Several treatments since then, all coordinated by the Fire Safe Council, with the invaluable cooperation of SAWA and the cities of Chino Hills and Brea, local fire agencies and others, have kept the arundo mostly in check and it's an ongoing effort a decade later.

18 September 2018

Summary of a Talk on the Williams Sisters of Rancho Santa Ana del Chino

Last night's presentation, sponsored by the Chino Hills Historical Society and attended by about 70 people, on the sisters Merced and Francisca Williams of Rancho Santa Ana del Chino looked to put a little different perspective on a story that may be familiar to those interested in this region in the late 1850s and early 1860s.

The violent ends of their husbands, John Rains (who was murdered in November 1862), and Robert S. Carlisle (who was killed in a Los Angeles gunbattle in July 1865) have been given a fair amount of coverage over the years.  This is generally because history is usually the story of men, while the lives of women typically get very little coverage in comparison.

As noted in the talk, Merced was only 17 and Francisca 15 when their father, Isaac Williams, owner of the Chino ranch since the early 1840s, died on 16 September 1856.  Their mother, Maria de Jesús Lugo died fourteen years earlier.  Isaac Williams' death left the two teen sisters as sole legal heirs to the 37,000-acre ranch and there was no likelihood that they could run their ranch on their own.

Three days after Isaac's passing, Merced married John Rains, who'd been employed by Isaac for a couple of years.  A native of Alabama who'd lived in Texas and engaged in cattle and sheep driving in northern Mexico and the American Southwest for a few years in the early 1850s (interspersed with a short stay in Los Angeles in 1851-52), Rains was ambitious and his marriage brought him access to wealth not otherwise possible for him.

Merced Williams Rains (1839-1907).
Several months later, in May 1857, another Chino ranch employee, Robert Carlisle, wedded Francisca, and he was also eager to take a controlling interest in the ranch.  Carlisle was from Kentucky, though nothing is known about him until he showed up in northern California during the Gold Rush period and then migrated south and found work with Isaac Williams.

These brothers-in-law, both from the South and equally driven to utilize their wives' substantial inheritance and equally quick to lose their tempers in conflict, quickly decided, once the Williams estate was settled in early 1858, to make a deal.  Rains sold Merced's interest in the ranch to her sister (well, Carlisle) for $25,000 and used the proceeds to buy Rancho Cucamonga.

Over the next four years, he plowed considerable sums to add vineyards to the existing ones there, built a fine brick house (which still stands and can be visited as a county historic site), took interests in a pair of San Diego County ranches, bought the Bella Union Hotel in Los Angeles (which he'd co-owned in 1851), and so on.  Carlisle also expanded his development at Chino, though it is uncertain if his spending was anywhere near as pronounced as that of Rains.

The timing could not have been worse for ranchers generally in greater Los Angeles.  The Gold Rush ended by the mid-Fifities.  A national depression broke out in 1857.  Floods ravaged the region in the winter of 1861-62.   That was followed the next couple of years by the decimation by drought of the local cattle economy.  So, as Rains, especially, spent exorbitantly, debts were amassed.

Merced Williams Rains living with her second husband, Jose Clemente Carrillo, and children by Rains and Carrillo, in the 1870 census at Cucamonga (Chino Township.)  Note, though, that her hsuband claimed the assets of $100,000 in real property and $10,000 in personal property, when most of that was hers by inheritance.  Rancho Cucamonga, though, was soon lost to foreclosure so those assets largely vanished.
By late 1862, Rains and Carlisle were sued by local authorities for taxes owed.  Rains borrowed heavily and mortgaged Cucamonga in the process.  In November, he rode from his home towards Los Angeles to transact more business and vanished.  Carlisle took a lead in searching for his brother-in-law, but it was eleven days before Rains' mangled body was found near the road in what was called Mud Springs (now San Dimas.)

Over the next couple of years, several suspects were accused of involvement in the murder.  One, Ramon Carrillo, was a close friend of Merced Rains, and was twice questioned and released.  He was then ambushed and shot to death after leaving the Rains house. Another, Manuel Cerradel, allegedly confessed and then recanted, but was convicted on an unrelated matter and sentenced to San Quentin.  On ship ready to be transported, Cerradel was seized by masked men and lynched from the craft and his body dumped in the water.  Edward Newman, out in early 1864 to inspect his new property, the ranch that became Pomona, was ambushed and killed with a rumor that he was thought to be someone else involved in the Rains murder.  Santiago Sanchez, executed for another crime, claimed he was being hung because he was accused in the Rains matter, but pointedly said the killer was an American and that he did not know Carlisle.

Carlisle confronted Merced with several friends and associated and badgered her into giving him her power of attorney, which she yielded.  After accusations of mismanagement and fraud, a court revoked Carlisle's power of attorney and handed it over to Los Angeles County Under-Sheriff Andrew Jackson King, who'd also been in charge of investigating Rains' murder, which went unsolved.

Enraged by the turn of events, Carlisle saw King at the Bella Union Hotel in Los Angeles during a wedding celebration and attacked him with a knife, inflicting a serious wound.  King was laid up, but this two brothers, Frank and [Samuel] Houston, showed up the next morning.  Experienced at revenge, including a decade before in El Monte when the three King brothers avenged their father's slaying by killing the murderer, Frank and Houston spotted Carlisle at the hotel bar and confronted him, guns drawn.

By contrast to her sister, Francisca Williams Carlisle, married in 1868 to Dr. Frederick MacDougall (who had his own decent-sized fortune) had her assets from Rancho Santa del Chino not only listed for her at $50,000 and $20,000, but divided portions to her four (three on this sheet) children at $15,000 and $3,000 each.  She sold Chino to Arizona mining magnate Richard Gird in 1881.
In the aftermath of the battle, Frank King was killed by Carlisle and Houston, after firing all his rounds at a remarkably durable Carlisle, pummeled his adversary with the gun until the handle broke.  Carlisle used his last remaining strength after taking several bullets to shoot and severely wound Houston, who, however, survived.  Placed on a pool table, Carlisle lived several hours before dying in writhing agony.

All exciting stuff, but nearly forgotten was what happened to the sisters and widows.   Merced, whose life was documented in a fine book by Esther Boulton Black, lost Cucamonga to foreclosure and sold one of the San Diego County ranches to pay legal fees, leaving her with very little of her once-substantial fortune.  She married Jose Clemente Carrillo, who may have been related to Ramon Carrillo, rumored beau of Merced before his murder.  Carrillo, however, left her or died after several years.  She lived 45 years after her husband's death, dying in 1907 at the home of her daughter, Fanny, who was married to former California governor Henry T. Gage.

Francisca, however, was able to retain ownership of Chino.  She hired an able manager, Joseph Bridger, and moved with her children to Los Angeles.  In 1868, she married Dr. Frederick MacDougall, who was mayor of Los Angeles when he died in office a decade later.  Francisca soon sold Chino to Arizona mining magnate Richard Gird and expanded her wealth.  In her mid-forties she married Edward Jesurun, who was nearly twenty years younger, to a good deal of gossip and a failed attempt to derail the marriage by one of her sons.  The marriage lasted, however, and Francisca continued to live with ample means until she died in 1926, a half-century after Carlisle's grisly end.

Francisca MacDougall shocked "society circles" and her family by, at age 46, marrying 27-year old Edward Jesurun in an elopement at San Francisco in 1887.  The couple remained together, however, until she died in 1926, a wealthy woman.
The situation for the two sisters was similar after their father's death and completely different after the husbands were killed.  Their story is a remarkable one that has, too often, been underappreciated while more focus has been placed on the actions of Rains and Carlisle.  The fact that women could inherit and own real property in California (and other former Spanish and Mexican domains), when most American women could not, is also little-known.  But, the lives and activities of women generally at the time has been underrepresented, so it was good to give more attention to Merced and Francisca and their remarkable and often tumultuous lives.

16 September 2018

Rancho Santa Ana del Chino Talk Tomorrow Night

Continuing with a series of presentations starting with the granting of Rancho Santa Ana del Chino, the western border of which extends into Carbon Canyon to just east of Sleepy Hollow, to Antonio María Lugo and then its ownership by Lugo's son-in-law, Isaac Williams, there will be a talk, sponsored by the Chino Hills Historical Society, tomorrow night on Williams' daughters, Merced and Francisca, when they inherited the 37,000 acre ranch after his death in September 1856.

The talk discusses the turbulent life of the sisters, who married Southern-born employees of their father and died violent deaths in the first half of the 1860s, and what happened to the Chino ranch during a decade of economic depression, floods, drought and personal turmoil.

Merced Williams Rains (1839-1907)
 Illustrated with photographs, maps, newspaper articles and other items, the presentation revolves around these teenaged girls, whose inheritance meant valuable property in their name, but the reality was that their husbands took control of the estate and it led to a strange tale that left the sisters in distinctly different circumstances later in life.

The talk, "Heirs Apparently: The Tumultuous Lives of Merced and Francisca Williams of Rancho Santa Ana del Chino," is at 7 p.m. at the Chino Hills Community Center, 14250 Peyton Drive (across from Ayala High School.)

25 August 2018

The Gaines and Brown Families of Carbon Canyon, Part 10: Olinda Village Middle School Students, ca. 1913

This coming Monday the 27th marks the first day of school in the Brea-Olinda Unified School District, so this is a good time to highlight another great photograph, courtesy of descendant Joyce Harrington and her collection from the Gaines and Brown families of Carbon Canyon, of students from the original Olinda School.

Dated to 1912 or 1913, the image shows 7th and 8th graders of the school, which served the residents of the Olinda community, largely based around the oil producing areas surrounding the campus.  The view shows 35 students and their teacher Mr. Turley standing (and, in a few cases, seated) at the steps to the open front doors of the school building.

A list of those shown in the photo was also provided and is shown here, including the names of twins Ora and Nora Brown and Aileen Gaines from the two families from which Joyce is descended.  It is interesting to peruse the first names of the students to see how different they are from today's names.  So, we are not likely now to see such examples as Earl, Hattie, Oscar, Herman, Wilfred, Willard, Frances, Myrtle, Bessie, Olive, Edna, Ernest, or Walter!

Reflective of the demographics of the community, only two of the students are Latino with the rest being White.  In 1910, there were just under 1,500 residents of Olinda and 88% were White with 8% being Latino. 

Another demographic point of note is that there were only 14 girls in the class, constituting 40% of the total.  This is a bit lower that the representation of females in the Olinda population at large, which was 44% in the census.  Given that Olinda was an "oil town," this is not that surprising broadly, because many single men worked in the fields, but that doesn't account for the disparity in the student population at the school, so that might just be an anomaly.

It is also interesting to look at how the students were dressed, considering this was probably a very rare "formal" occasion for them.  Note that quite a few of the boys sport ties (one has a natty bow tie) and some have the short pants common for the time.  Yet, a number wear the overalls expected in a working-class and rural community, though some spruced up their look by adding some neckwear.  The young gent at the far right of the top row even thought it good to accessorize his look with his baseball glove on his left hand!

The boys do have some variation in color, but check out the absolute uniformity of the girls, with one notable exception, when it comes to clothing color.  All wear radiant and pure white, while the girl third from the right in the middle row strikes a sartorial note of difference with a long-sleeve dress of a color that is not white.  Hairstyles, though, do vary and a couple of the young ladies did add hair bands to make their appearance distinctive and one girl in the front row set her self apart with her white hose and shoes.

School portraits, from any place in any era, are always interesting to look at in terms of the elements discussed above, but also as comparisons and contrasts to what we see today.