20 July 2010

Carbon Canyon and Rancho Santa Ana del Chino: Merced Williams and John Rains

With the September1856 death of fifteen-year owner Isaac "Don Julian" Williams, the Rancho Santa del Chino passed to his two daughters, María Merced and Francisca.  The older, Merced, was born in 1838 and married John Rains just three days before Issac Williams died. 

Rains' background is sketchy, at best.  He was said to have been born in Alabama in the late 1820s, but where and to whom is not known.  The first documentation of him is his enlistment in a U. S. Army regiment known as the Texas Rangers in November 1848, just after the conclusion of the Mexican-American War.  This was a regiment that was less known for its honorable conduct than for its atrocities against civilians and soldiers in Mexico during the war, although Rains was not in the regiment during that period.

At any rate, in 1849 he made the trip to California and found employment over the next couple of years driving sheep to the new American territory from New Mexico and the Mexican state of Sonora. He then settled in Los Angeles where he ran an unsuccessful campaign, at age twenty-two or so, for Los Angeles County sheriff in 1851 and the same year entered into a partnership to run the Bella Union Hotel, the major hotel in the small town for years and one which figured prominently in the story of Rains' brother-in-law, Robert Carlisle, subject of an upcoming post.  A few years later, however, Rains was back to transporting sheep from Mexico and Texas to southern California and, in October 1854, he signed a contract to watch the sheep of Isaac Williams at the latter's ranch holdings at Temecula.

To early chronicler Horace Bell, whose dramatic tales were not always particularly accurate, "John Raines [sic] was an untamed mustang, full of mischief, and up to all kinds of deviltry."  It has been amply stated that Rains, a Southerner to the core, was passionate, quick to anger, and proud, which made him a fair number of enemies in his dozen or so years in Los Angeles.  Still, he quickly endeared himself as a trusted confidante of Williams, who secured for Rains a position of Indian sub-agent, a federal post, at Temecula.  After Williams' death, Stephen C. Foster, former Los Angeles mayor and a state senator, as well as an in-law married to a Lugo, became executor of the estate and hired Rains as superintendent of the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino, but when the estate was settled Rains was essentially a half-owner through his wife, Merced.

Notably, the inventory of the estate upon settlement in Fall 1858 revealed that the ranch was appraised at a value of a little over $120,000, including land, cattle and other animals, farming equipment, furniture and other property.  There were about 5,000 head of cattle, another 5,000 of sheep, and 400 horses, worth about $86,000.  With Williams' debts amounting to about $60,000, Foster, the executor, sold of property valued at just under $80,000.  He also was careful to note his approval of the marriages of Merced and Francisca to Rains and Carlisle and described the two men as "of ample means in their own right and of sober and industrioushabits, and of good business ability, and fully competent to manage the estates of their respective wives."  As to the minor children of Williams, Rains had the care of Victoria, Concepción, Feliciano and Refugia, all the offspring of Maria Antonia Apis, a Temecula Indian.  Another Apis, Maria Jesus, bore Williams a daughter also named Francisca, and Carlisle had charge over her.  Manuelita, daughter of Maria Jesus Villanueva was raised by her mother in Los Angeles.  John Rains, hwoever, was appointed trustee of these minors while they remained under the age of eighteen.  It is also worth relating that, because of damage done by American soldiers on the rancho during the Mexican-American War, Williams sought over $130,000 in damages from the government, a claim that was rejected according to the estate settlement.

Within months of Isaac Williams' death and Rains' assumption of ranch management, Robert S. Carlisle, a native of Kentucky and recently residing in San Jose, came to southern California.  There must have been a lightning fast courtship, because on 13 May 1857 Carlisle married Francisca Williams.  Almost immediately a rivalry developed between the brothers-in-law about the running of the Chino rancho.

Meantime, Rains moved to acquire more property, including, in 1858, a deal brokered by his attorney, Jonathan R. Scott of Los Angeles, to sell his wife's share of Chino and acquire the 13,000-acre Rancho Cucamonga to the northeast, from which deal Scott would take an ownership stake and invest in expanding the ranch's vineyards.  First granted in the 1830s to Tiburcio Tapia, Cucamonga passed to his daughter, Merced and her husband, French native Leon Prudhomme.  With ample water from the mountains above the rancho and located on the main road east through Cajon Pass to and from Los Angeles, Cucamonga seemed to have more potential for profit than Chino.  In July, the Prudhommes made the deal with Rains for $8,500 after Rains sold the Chino interest for $25,000 to Robert Carlisle.

Just four years later, Rains, experiencing financial trouble due to more land purchases, the construction of a fine home at Cucamonga and the debilitating effects of a depressed economy soon to be compounded by drought after a recent flood, left his rancho for Los Angeles.  While riding in broad daylight along the largely empty main road to town, he was attacked and brutally murdered, his body left in the open for animal scavengers.  The crime was never solved, though many felt Carlisle was involved, while others looked to prominent Californio Ramon Carrillo, who had business dealings with Rains.  In fact, Carlisle claimed that Carrillo paid for Rains' death because of problems between them in business, but the same could well have been said for Carlisle.  Carrillo, exonerated by authorities in Rains' death and who was a close confidant to Merced, was murdered in 1864 and Carlisle was killed the following year in a notorious shootout to be detailed in a coming post.  Merced, in 1864, married Jose Clemente Carrillo, who appears to have been a relative (though to what degree is not known) of Ramon Carrillo.  They had a few children and he appears to have abandoned his wife and family in the 1870s.  In the early 1880s, Merced was married to a man named Fernandez, was again widowed, and lived for twenty years at the ranch of her daughter, Fannie Rains and her husband, Henry T. Gage, a governor of California in the 1890s.  Merced died at the Gage Ranch in present Bell Gardens on the old Lugo ranch, San Antonio, in 1907, at the age of 68.

Most of the information for this post, including the photos of María Merced Williams de Rains and John Rains, came from Rancho Cucamonga and Doña Merced by Esther Boulton Black and published by San Bernardino Couunty Museum Association in 1975.

No comments: