Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Ontiveros Family

The following is from a work-in-progress called The Town I Live In: a History of Fullerton.


Any history of a human settlement must begin with "first families."  In the history of Fullerton, this "first family" is often considered to be the Ameriges, the brothers George and Edward, two commodities merchants from Boston who "founded" Fullerton in the year 1887.  But this was not really the first family here.  The landscape they found was not empty or devoid of people or history.  In fact, the Amerige brothers were relative latecomers to this region.  Before they arrived, there was another lengthy history, involving pioneers, great expeditions, wars, and conquest.

The true "first families" in this region were Native Americans, specifically the Kizh tribe, who had many settlements in the landscapes that would become Los Angeles and Orange Counties.   In 1769, the first Europeans passed through what would become Orange County--it was the expedition of Gaspar de Portola, the Spanish soldier sent to make the first explorations and settlements of California, which was then a part of New Spain.  Twelve years later, in 1781, another group of settlers arrived to found the town of Los Angeles.  That's right, Los Angeles was founded in 1781!

Among the settlers on this expedition was a farmer from the Sinaloa region of Mexico named Josef Antonio Ontiveros.  Josef's grandson, Juan Pacifico Ontiveros, would in time become a very important landowner and rancher in the area that would become Orange County.  His Rancho San Juan Cajon de Santa Ana included the land that would become Fullerton.  And so, in the interest in telling the complete history of this region, I've decided to tell some of the story of this first family--the Ontiveros family.  The source of this information is a well-researched book called The Ranchos of Don Pacifico Ontiveros by a woman named Virginia Carpenter, who is quickly becoming my favorite Orange County historian.  Here's the story of the Ontiveros family...

The Founding of Los Angeles

Los Angeles was founded in the year 1781 by a group of settlers from Mexico.  At this time, Spanish settlement in California was pretty sparse, and so the government financed pioneer parties to populate the region, sort of like how the United States would later create Homestead Acts to encourage settlement of its western regions.  An important early settlement party of this type was led by Fernando de Rivera y Moncada, Lieutenant Governor of Baja (lower) California.  He was commissioned by the government to recruit soldiers and settlers to found a pueblo (town) near Mission San Gabriel.

One of the settlers recruited was a farmer from the Sinaloa region named Josef Antonio Ontiveros, who was 36 years old at the time.  Ontiveros was born in Pueblo San Pedro de Chametla (in Sinaloa) in the year 1744.  At age 22, he married Ana Maria Carrasco y Birviescas.  Of their children, we know they had a boy named Juan Patricio and a girl named Juana de Dios.  His wife and children would accompany him on the difficult expedition into California.

Thankfully, the Spanish were pretty good record-keepers, and in the files from this expedition we find a cool description of Josef Ontiveros: "His stature 5 feet 4 inches and 9 lines, his age 36 years, his religion Roman Catholic Apostolic. His characteristics were chestnut colored hair, blue eyes, brown skin, reddish thick eyebrows, curved or hooked nose, a gash in the eyebrow of the right eye, another one above the chin, or beard and another one on the left side of the forehead, a thin beard."

The expedition to Los Angeles consisted of two parties: one traveling overland, and the other by boat.  The Ontiveros family traveled by boat.  It took them six months.  Along the way, two soldiers deserted and three people died of smallpox.  Meanwhile, most of the overland party was massascred by Yuma Indians, including the expedition leader Rivera.  This was some hard-core Oregon Trail-type pioneer shit.

Amazingly, by the grace of God, all of the Ontiveros family made it safely to their destination.  On September 4, 1781, with the blessing of Governor Felipe de Neve, the settlers officially founded the town of Los Angeles.  The full, original name of the town was El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reyna de Los Angeles (The Town of Our Lady, the Queen of the Angels).  For a time, Los Angeles was the only town between San Diego and Santa Barbara.  Interestingly, however, Josef Ontiveros would not stay there long.  The following year, 1782, he was transferred to the Presidio (military fort) of Santa Barbara.

Trouble in the Army

My source for all this material, Virginia Carpenter, does not say why Josef Ontiveros was transferred to Santa Barbara shortly after he arrived in Los Angeles, for which he was recruited as a settler/soldier.  Perhaps he was just transferred there because he was needed.  It also appears that his wife and children may have stayed behind, in Los Angeles and San Gabriel, while the father was away on military duty.

While at Santa Barbara, Ontiveros was arrested as part of a desertion plot, and sent further north, to Monterey, as punishment.  Why would Ontiveros desert?  Carpenter provides a possible explanation: "In the 1780s desertion became a problem for the army.  Because conditions were so miserable (food, clothing, and other rations were sparse), many soldiers made the attempt to return to their homes in Mexico (there was no place else to go), in spite of the fact that it was almost impossible for a man to go alone.  Even if he was lucky enough to steal a mule, there were the hundreds of miles of desert to cross and Indians to dodge or fight.  If a man did reach Mexico, he had to live in hiding, for to be found was to be returned to the army--and California."  I can't help but wonder if Josef wanted to return to Sinaloa or to Los Angeles, where his family was.

In either 1787 or 1788, Josef was discharged from military duty and rejoined his family in Los Angeles, where he was given a plot of land and became a shoemaker.  Ten years later, in 1798, he died at age 54, which was probably about the average life span of the time.

Rise of the Ranchos

In 1784, the governor of California, Pedro Fages, received petitions from three soldiers for land grants for the purpose of raising cattle.  These were the first of the famous Spanish Land Grants, the largest of which went to Manuel Nieto, who received the land that would eventually contain the Ontiveros Rancho.

When his father Josef was transferred to Santa Barbara in 1782, nine-year-old Juan Patricio Ontiveros was left with the padres at the San Gabriel Mission.  He was confirmed that same year.  As soon as he was old enough, he joined the army, and reached the rank of corporal.  In 1794, he married Antonia Rodriguez y Noriega, who was 14.  This was considered a proper age to marry at the time.  Antonia's parents were both Indians from Sinaloa.  The couple had eight children for whom we have records.  The eldest son was Juan Pacifico, who will become the most important person in this narrative.

In 1814, when he was 42, Patricio was Mayordomo of the San Juan Capistrano Mission.  I'm not sure what a mayordomo did--it sounds like a leadership position of some sort.  Then, in 1825, he moved to Rancho Santa Gertruedes, which was owned by the Nieto family.  There, he held the position of Encargador de Justicia, which was sort of like the Justice of the Peace.  Shortly before he died, in the mid-1830s, Patricio petitioned governor Figueroa numerous times for a land grant, but was ultimately unsuccessful.  That task would fall to his son, Juan Pacifico Ontiveros.

Juan Pacifico Ontiveros Becomes a Ranchero

Juan Pacifico Ontiveros, son of Juan Patricio Ontiveros, was born in Los Angeles on September 24th, 1795.  In 1814, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, he enlisted in the army, and served for 20 years.  In 1825, he married Maria Martina Osuna of Santa Barbara.  He was 30 and she was 19.  The couple had an astonishing thirteen children in their fertile marriage.

In 1835, after his father's death, Juan Pacifico took up the matter of applying for a land grant.  After two years of legal negotiations between Ontiveros, the Nietos family, and the Mexican government, Juan Pacifico was granted the 36,000-acre Rancho San Juan Cajon de Santa Ana, wbose boundaries contained the present-day cities of Anaheim, Fullerton, Brea, and Placentia.

I'd like to include Carpenter's description of the landscape in those days of the Rancho San Juan Cajon de Santa Ana, as this landscape is almost completely lost in my day.  The last remnant of it in my town is a former oil field now called Coyote Hills, which the Fullerton city council recently approved a massive development project on.  But these words evoke something wild:

"The ocean, 20 miles away, could be seen and occasionally heard.  Fairly level, there were hills on the northern part and in the east where it included part of Brea Canyon.  The soil varied from sandy, the diseno (map) shows a large sand wash through the center, to red clay near the Brea end.  It was covered with chapparal (low bushes), mustard and large patches of cactus.  The wildlife included snakes, gophers, ground squirrels, rabbits, coyotes, wild cats and mountain lions, quail, ducks and geese during their migrations.  Bears and deer stayed in the canyons.  There were many, many insects from fleas to ants.  Trees were so few that they were used as landmarks, there were sycamores and poplar where there was water, and live oaks in the canyons."

Now I would like to quote some fragments of Carpenter's description of life on the rancho, as this is also a lost way of life in my day: "Families arose about three a.m. prayed and ate breakfast...The boys and young men slept out of doors...As the Indians did all the work, the rancheros had only the management to do...Men talked and gambled and rode over their land--Boys practiced riding and roping skills and played games, while women had much work to do...Older women dressed in black, as there were so many deaths to mourn in the large families...The important things were births and deaths, wedding, everyday and seasonal events and always the church...There were no schools, so few people could read or write...There was hunting, particularly bear hunts; but no fishing, all their sports being on horseback...The father, as head of the family, ruled it.  He often arranged his children's marriages and what they would do...all houses were made of adobe (sun dried bricks)...roofs (were made) of tule reeds and tar until so many were set afire in Indian attacks that the missions began making clay roof tiles, shaping them in wooden molds...everyone, even women, carried their own knives...Juan Pacifico lived quietly on his rancho taking little part in public events."

Damn Yankees!

Alas, this way of life was not to last long, for already American businessmen had set their sights on southern California markets and real estate.  As early as the 1820s, Yankees were immigrating to California.  Carpenter writes: "They came for business, a new market.  The New England clipper ships built to bring tea and spices from the Orient stopped in California and found that the vast herds of cattle were a source of tallow for candles and for the leather needed by the eastern shoe factories.  About the same time a demand for beaver hats in the East brought the trappers, or mountain men, as they were called, overland into the west...Many of the Anglos who came in the late 1820s and 30s stayed and became Mexican citizens so that they could own land; they married Spanish girls and thereby inherited shares in ranchos as well.  They opened stores and loaned money on cattle and land at ruinous rates, foreclosing when payments could not be met.  The easy-living rancheros knew nothing about Anglo business methods, nor compound interest."

One of these immigrants was an Italian named Giovani Batiste Leandri (or, as he was called in Mexican California, Juan Bautista Leandry).  He moved to Los Angeles in 1827 and opened a store in an area with the unfortunate name "Nigger Alley."  He prospered as a businessman, became a citizen in 1839, married a Mexican woman named Francesca Uribe, and bought Rancho Los Coyotes from the Nietos.  Next, Leandry brought suit against Juan Pacifico Ontiveros over the boundary between their ranchos, and managed to get a valuable water spring.  Leandry died in 1843, but more losses were on the horizon for the Ontiveros family.

Between 1846-1848, there was the Mexican American War, which Ulysses S. Grant called "one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.  It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies, in not considering justice in their desire to acquire additional territory."  This war ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, in which Mexico was forced to cede half of her country to the United States.  This included California, which was admitted to the Union as a free (as opposed to slave) state in 1850.

Conquest by Bureaucracy

In 1849, in the intermediary period between the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Statehood of California, Bernardo Yorba (owner of the neighboring Rancho Canon de Santa Ana) bought an area of the Ontiveros rancho called Canada de la Brea (which included modern day Brea Canyon).  Yorba paid $400 for the land, which amounted to about 30 cents per acre.  This sale was actually part of a more complex land deal, in which Yorba then traded Canada de la Brea to an Englishman named Isaac Williams, who'd married into a Mexican rancho family, and been given Rancho Santa Ana del Chino.  If things start to get confusing at this point, I'm sorry.  After the American conquest of California, things got notoriously confusing when it came to land ownership.

Carpenter explains the new and unfortunate situation for rancheros like Ontiveros in the early years after California became a part of the United States, an era which I will call Conquest by Bureaucracy: "The greatest difficulty which the rancheros experienced was to be in the matter of their land titles.  The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo guaranteed Mexican citizens possession of their property; but the United States did not consider a declaration of ownership sufficient; there must be official records.  A 'Board of United States Land Commissioners [was] appointed to settle private land claims in California' and every ranchero was ordered to present proof of his ownership and the location and size of his rancho.  This was disastrous for many of them and contributed to the break-up of the rancho system, because of the casual way the grants had been handled and their indefinite boundaries.  Few of the rancheros could read or write, so a man's word had served in business, and as many had lost their papers, most of the claims had to go through the courts, a time-consuming and expensive process...The Land Commission of three men handled over 800 cases between 1852 and 1856."

Local historian Virginia Carpenter does a valiant and detailed job of explaining and summarizing the lengthy and frustrating legal battles that Juan Pacifico Ontiveros faced in an effort to hold onto his rancho.  I will spare you the details and explain it as simply as possible.  In 1854, the United States Land Commission rejected Ontiveros' claim to the rancho he'd owned for 20 years.  He appealed the decision and, in 1856, the Court of Appeals reversed the Land Commission's decision.  But the attorney for the Land Commission didn't give up.  He took the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme court, who in 1857 upheld Ontiveros' claim.  

The End of the Rancho, and the Founding of Anaheim, Placentia, and Fullerton

In 1856, Juan Pacifico Ontiveros purchased another rancho called Tepusquet near Santa Barbara.  Within a few years, he would sell off all of his Rancho San Juan Cajon de Santa Ana and move to his new rancho.  This period is really interesting because, in this era, we see the birth of the present-day towns of Anaheim, Placentia, and Fullerton. 

First, Anaheim.  In 1857, Ontiveros sold 1,165 acres of his rancho to a George Hanson, who was employed by a group of Germans in San Francisco who were interesting in forming a colony to raise grapes.  These Germans formed the town of Anaheim.  

Second, Placentia.  In 1863, Pacifico and his wife deeded 3,900 acres of their rancho to their two sons Patricio and Juanito.  Family tradition says that these brothers lost the land in a gambling debt to their brother-in-law, Augustus Langenberger.  This guy then sold then land to a man named Daniel Kraemer, who was one of the founding members of Placentia.

Third, Fullerton.  In 1863, Juan Pacifico sold the lion's share of his rancho to Abel Stearns, who (at the time) was the largest land owner and cattle baron in Southern California.  He paid $6,000 for 30,672 acres.  In 1868, beset by financial problems, Stearns and his friend Alfred Robinson, along with businessmen in San Francisco, formed a syndicate called the Stearns Rancho Company.  It was from the Stearns Rancho Company that George and Edward Amerige, two merchants from Boston, in conjunction with the Santa Fe Railroad, purchased the land upon which they founded the town of Fullerton in 1887.


For the conclusion of this post, I'd like to quote Virginia Carpenter, local historian extrordinaire: "The orange groves and mainly rural life remained until the 1960s when the boom made Orange County the fastest growing county in America reached the area.  The five towns grew until their borders touched and the trees were pulled out to make way for houses, apartments, condominiums, business and industry.  Stearns Ranchos Company and the Anaheim Union Water Company continued in business until the 1970s.

The price of land has increased ever more than the population which has grown from one family to over 400,000.  Juan Pacifico Ontiveros paid nothing for his land; the first purchasers $2 per acre; Langenberger in 1864 only .95 cents per acre; Daniel Kraemer the next year $1.18; McFadden four years later, $10.  By 1876 the price had risen to $50; orange groves were hundreds, then thousands of dollars an acre and now the price of an acre is in the hundreds of thousands and lots grow smaller."

Juan Pacifico Ontiveros died in 1877 on his Rancho Tepusquet.  According to the existing records, Pacifico had 88 grandchildren and 103 years elapsed between the birth of the first child and the death of the last one.  Thus they lived through California history from its Mexican days to modern times.

Juan Pacifico and Maria Martina Ontiveros

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