13 April 2015

An 1856 Visit to Rancho Santa Ana del Chino

In late July 1856, Captain Edward O.C. Ord of the Army's Third U.S. Artillery, arrived in the Los Angeles region to scout potential locations for a fort and portions of his diary were published by the Huntington Library in 1978 as the book, The City of the Angels and the City of the Saints or A Trip to Los Angeles and San Bernardino in 1856.  After a brief visit to the small town of Los Angeles, then embroiled in some tension involving the homicide of a local Mexican-American by a deputy constable over a $50 debt and writ of attachment to satisfy that debt, Ord ventured east.

After a visit to "Quicomongo," otherwise known as the Rancho Cucamonga (where Ord noted the owner was building an addition to his adobe house, using Indian labor, and that "these sundried bricks called adobes, pronounced dobys, are pretty good for a lazy people, but great encouragers of dirt & fleas"), the captain wrote, "I left the road here to get information from a wealthy ranchero, Col. W., an old acquaintance at "El Chino," a large cattle estate."

It was common in diaries and travelogues to use shorthand for people, like "Col. W.," who was Isaac Williams, owner of the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino.  A footnote observed that, "Ord had been there in October 1849" to make a survey.  In fact, Ord, who was later a somewhat prominent figure in the Union Army during the Civil War, is best known locally for the survey of Los Angeles he completed in 1849 that was the first "true" (or professional) survey of that community and which established the pattern for the development of the town in subsequent years.

It turned out that, when Ord arrived at the ranch headquarters, located where Boys Republic operates in Chino Hills, "we found the Col. absent from his house, which like all the other houses, is a flat roofed, one-story adobe near a spring or stream, which after spreading fertility over several acres, dries up." Ord went on to record that, "The Cols. Mayor domo [foreman] gave us a welcome and a hearty meal of beef stewed with young pumpkins, maise &c."

The following day, however. "The Col. arrived from the playa [coastal area at the Pacific Ocean] next day, told me all I wanted to know [about potential fort locations near Cajon Pass, where Mormons had, in 1851, established the town of San Bernardino], and gave me an interesting exhibition of how the Indians of this country are managed."

This view, taken on 24 February from a hilltop location east of Peyton Drive and south of Chino Hills Parkway, looks north towards the briefly snowcapped Mount Baldy and the adjacent Ontario and Cucamonga peaks.  At the far left are trees and farm and pasture land on the Boys Republic property, which is where the Williams Adobe stood as the headquarters of the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino, which Captain Edward O.C. Ord visited in late July 1856.  Click on the image to see it in an enlarged view in a separate window.
Williams was, in fact, well-known for his intensive use of native American labor at his ranch, as well as for the fact that he fathered several children from a few native women after his own wife, Maria Lugo died several years before.  Ord went on to state that, "he [Williams] having the principal chief of the nearest band as his head cattle driver, some dozen or two as work hands or vaqueros.  This Indian chief waited at the door after sunset with his hat in hand to report the state of the cattle drive to a distance, for, from little rain, the grazing this year is very thin on this estate."

The band referred to may be the local group of Gabrieleño Indians, whose village ancestrally was at or near the location of the ranch's headquarters, or to Pablo Apis of a tribe from the Temecula area, who was a longtime employee of Williams and whose daughters bore some of Williams' children.  As to the drought problem (which we are experiencing all too well these days, though, obviously, under strikingly different circumstances and conditions), the problem in 1856 would pale in comparison to the mega-drought of 1863-64, which all but finished off the cattle industry in the region.

Ord also commented on the California state government's "singular absurdity" on its Indian policies that effectively meant that natives were "held in bondage by the owners of large estates [like Williams], as the slaves are in the south." He then claimed that slaves were of more value as productive in being "saleable chattle [chattel, or property]" whereas local Indians were "only saleable or buyable for debts due," Ord concluded that this meant that ranchers, having no use for Indians after immediate work was done, "ceases to credit him, drives him off, & he [the Indian] may die . . ."

Ord's views, however, were not sympathetic to natives, as he noted that Indian agents "soon discover that such miserable, servile wretches, who can be made to work, have no business to be fed in idleness."  That is, Indians were convinced by Indian agents to go to government reservations so that they didn't need to work for ranchers as "peons," but could receive food, shelter and other amenities, such as they were, as an entitlement [doesn't this sound familiar today?]

After his lengthy digression about Indian policy, Ord wrote, "but to return to the Rancho del Chino and the peonage system, it works very well at least for the cattle owners & vine growers."  Strikingly, Ord observed that "the institution of labor was established as a punishment [his italics[, and as the whites in California are not fond of being punished, the punishment of labor is inflicted on the stupid Indians, and the law of peonage established by northern men in this free(?) state is not likely to be rescinded for a while."  He continued that, "besides, the Indians are better fed on the ranchos than on government reservations & they prefer to stay there."  His final statement was, "so we might as well let the poor wretches have the choice of masters."

With this somewhat ambivalent indictment of nearly everyone from the state and federal governments, to the Indians, and the ranchers, like Williams, Ord moved on to San Bernardino to finish his inspection tour for a fort location that never materialized.  His description of his stay at the Williams Adobe on Rancho Santa Ana del Chino, however, is an interesting addition to the information about the property and its singular owner from 1841 until his death on 13 September 1856, just under two months after he hosted Ord for the second and final time.


Anonymous said...

YOU, my friend, are a treasure. GREAT post, and fascinating!

A fan from Mountain View Estates

prs said...

Hello "A Fan from Mountain View Estates," many thanks for the kind words and glad you liked this post. Keep checking back for more local history (like tonight's post on the Gaines ranch where Olinda Village is on the Brea side of Carbon Canyon.)