From Cowboys To Marines

Santa MargaritaRanch house and vineyards at Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores, 1887. From the book Picturesque San Diego.

 

“The celebrated Santa Margarita Rancho, of over 150, 000 acres (formerly the estate of the late Don Juan Forster), adjoins the San Luis Rey country on the west and north,” wrote Douglas Gunn in his 1887 book, Picturesque San Diego. “This vast tract is wholly under fence, and is devoted to cattle raising by its present proprietor, Richard O’Neill.”

Gunn described the great rancho as “one of the finest sections in the whole southern country, well watered, with a large proportion of first rate fruit, vine and farming land.”

Formally called Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores, it was the largest of the Mexican land grants, and would continue to function as a working ranch for over fifty years after Gunn described it, until the entry of the United States into World War Two would change it forever.

“Acquisition by the navy of 120,000 acres of rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores in northern San Diego county was announced yesterday by Rear Adm. Ralston S. Holmes, 11th Naval district commandant,” began an article in the San Diego Union on March 14, 1942, a little over three months after Pearl Harbor. The article went on to say that “the property is to be used for housing and complete training facilities for all units and weapons of a marine infantry division plus an infantry regiment.”

In September, 1942, the Union ran a short article describing the feelings of Juan Cerda, a longtime handy man at Santa Margarita, over the changes taking place on the ranch.

“Juan has called the rancho his home for 31 years,” the article stated, “and now finds it hard to speak of his beloved home without tears filling his eyes.”

“Juan did everything on the rancho,” the article went on to state. “He could cut a cowboy’s hair, help the cook prepare a meal, help the cowboys round up cattle, repair a wagon or a plow, doctor a sick cow—almost anything.”

“It is understood the marines have offered Juan a job, but he is not sure he can bear to remain on the old rancho that is being converted into a government reservation.”

“It just isn’t home,” Cerda told a reporter.

It’s not clear whether Juan Cerda stayed at the place he knew as Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores, but thousands of marines and their families have called it home ever since its dedication in September 1942 under a new name: Camp Pendleton.

Sources for this post included historic San Diego newspapers, the books Picturesque San Diego by Douglas Gunn and The History of San Diego County Ranchos by R. W. Brackett, and the history section of the Camp Pendleton website: http://www.pendleton.marines.mil/About/HistoryandMuseums.aspx .

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What’s In A Name? Bear Valley to Valley to….

Picturesque San Diego Bear Valley

Photo titled “View near Entrance to Bear Valley,” from the 1887 book, Picturesque San Diego.

“There will be some lively threshing done in the Bear Valley section this season,” began an item in the San Diego Union on May 7, 1874. “Sam’l Stripling & Co. are going to run a twelve-horse power steam threshing machine out there, and will do a ‘land-office business.’”

Yes, Bear Valley was a busy farming area in 1874, producing grain, hogs, bacon and honey among other things. The Striplings, Davises and Adamses were among a growing community of homesteaders in that section, 40 miles north of San Diego city on the way to Julian.

A little problem arose, though, when John T. Adams applied for a post office to be set up in the store he’d set up at his homestead. The U. S. Post Office Department’s Appointment Office replied to his application with the following statement, underscored: “The name of a post office must not be the name of any other office in the State: and you should aim to select a name not appropriated to any office in the United States.” In the margins of the application they wrote: “There is a Bear Valley in Mariposa County.”

Mr. Adams got his post office, and an appointment as postmaster, in October, 1874. But the name chosen for the office was simply, “Valley”. How much attention got paid to that name, other than on mail delivery days, isn’t clear. In 1876, when a local branch of the Grange was established, it was set up as the “Bear Valley Grange.”

In 1878, the p. o.’s name was changed to Valley Centre, and in 1887 that spelling was amended to the name we’ve known it by ever since, Valley Center.

Sources for this post include historic San Diego newspapers and the books, Picturesque San Diego by Douglas Gunn, and Once Upon A Time in Valley Center, compiled by the Friends of the Valley Center Library and the Valley Center Historical Society.

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Going Over The Grade

 

#165 kent ranch,midland rd 1900Photo of Horace Kent ranch, circa 1900. Courtesy Poway Historical and Memorial Society.

 

The Kents were a pioneering farming family in the Poway Valley in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The “Poway Points” column in the Poway Press newspaper for Saturday, July 28, 1894 included this item: “H. Kent and sons, P.E. Kent, L. E. Kent and W. S. Kent, have been busily engaged in drying apricots. They expect also to have 15 or 20 tons of peaches to dry.”

Further down the same column noted that family patriarch Horace Kent “was in San Diego Wednesday with a load of magnificent peaches of the Alexander and Hale varieties. No place in California produces better peaches than Poway.”

Horace and all his sons, like many ranching families in the valley, made bi-monthly trips over the Poway grade into San Diego to sell their wares.

People who write about “sleepy” farming towns in the rural past should take a closer read of old newspapers and other accounts like the book, San Diego Back Country 1901, by Gordon Stuart. The book was self-published in 1966 by Stuart, a longtime Poway resident and charter member of the Poway Historical and Memorial Society.

Stuart was also a nephew of Lewis Kent, and accompanied his uncle on some of those trips over the Poway Grade, hauling produce in a wagon pulled by a team of horses.

The day before the trip, the family worked picking and packing the fresh peaches. Sometimes, they might also “take along a crate of chickens for sale; or a crate of eggs…. “

Over 60 years later, Stuart wrote “I can now hear Aunt Effie and Uncle Lew going through the chicken pens at night, with a lantern, selecting marketable fowls.”

Lewis Kent would awake at one o’clock the next morning, have breakfast “and start out; the horses going at a walking pace,” Stuart wrote, adding, “The horses were not much for the idea of being awakened at 1 a. m. There was nothing the horses could do in the city but sleep and eat. They could do that at home.”

It took seven hours to get up and over the grade before they arrived at “the first delivery stop, a grocery store in the suburbs up on University Heights.”

Stuart wrote that his uncle “always had his load sold before delivery, and that was that. If a dealer asked for a lug more than he had ordered the answer was, ‘Sorry.’ Uncle Lew played hard to get, and got away with it.”

“Most of the other growers peddled out their loads and were at a great disadvantage,” noted Stuart. “If all of their load was not sold, they dumped the remainder at a commission house, where returns were uncertain. On the open market, the grower received one cent per pound for his peaches–$10.00 for the load.”

After the last delivery had been made, Kent and his nephew would eat “a second breakfast” at one of the places around Fifth or Sixth and D Streets. Then they’d corral the wagon in a stable for the evening, sleeping under it or, if they’d done a little better, spending the night in a hotel before setting out the next day for the long journey home.

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The Short But Busy Life of the Town of Barham

Before there was a town of San Marcos in the San Marcos Valley there was the town of Barham.

The town was founded in 1883 by John Barham and his father James. It covered 640 acres around what is today the southeast corner of San Marcos Blvd. and Rancho Santa Fe Road.

A post office opened in May of 1883. By 1884, the town included a blacksmith shop, feed store, and a weekly newspaper. John Barham operated a farm and also ran the feed store and worked to develop the town. His father James, who had his own homestead, also served for a time as an overseer of the local road district for San Diego County.

Here’s a photo of John Barham, his wife Olley and son Thomas circa 1911, courtesy of the San Marcos Historical Society:

Barham family

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another town leader was William Webster Borden. In 1884, he founded a weekly called Our Paper, which subsequently became The Plain Truth. Published every Saturday from “Barham, San Diego Co., California,” Borden’s paper combined local and countywide news and gossip with religious instruction and not a little humor.

In an August, 1884 item Borden explained to readers that he’d received a letter from a reader he referred to as “Kus-T-Mur, which with all respect to the writer, we cannot conscientiously publish, as our salary is limited and we do not feel justified in employing a bodyguard…”

An issue early in the newspaper’s first year enthused that Barham was “on the boom,” reporting that “Mr. John Schmaker of Los Angeles (a carpenter by trade) has put up a house, plowed land and planted some crop since the first of May.” The article went on the report the coming of two other new residents who built houses and planted crops.

Making a living, however, was difficult, with water scarce and transportation limited to a few wagon roads. The fortunes of town founder and namesake John Barham reflected those difficulties.

An item in the February 9, 1884 San Diego Union reported that Barham “desires to sell his stock of goods and rent his building.” Just two weeks later, however, the Union announced that “Johnny Barham has changed his mind in regard to selling out; he has laid in a $2,000 stock of goods and believes that ‘opposition is the life of trade’ and will sell ‘cheap, for cash.’”

By April of 1884, the Union was reporting that Barham had enlarged his store and was making arrangements to put up a “steam flouring mill” and a “whiskey mill.” In July of that year, according to the Union, Barham had “20 big stacks of grain and will commence threshing next week.”

Yet, by 1887 John Barham had sold his land and store and left San Diego County. In a 1980 oral history interview for the San Marcos Historical Society, Barham’s son Thomas said his father “sold out due to the general dry weather conditions in the area.”

Another factor affecting Barham’s fate involved the coming of the railroad. When it arrived in early 1888, the line ran two miles north of Barham, much closer to a townsite set up in 1887 by the San Marcos Development Company. The latter site became a stronger attraction for investors and new settlers than Barham.

Early in 1888 Barham’s post office closed. In December of that year William Webster Borden (who’d also been the postmaster) changed the mailing address of his newspaper from Barham to San Marcos. In 1889 the Barham schoolhouse was moved to the San Marcos townsite. Borden himself would later move to Carlsbad.

The town of Barham faded into history. Today two streets in the City of San Marcos, named Barham and Borden, are all that remain to recall the early settlement. Neither of them happens to be anywhere near the site of the old, lost town.

Sources for this post included historic San Diego newspapers, the book San Marcos: A Brief History by William Carroll, and the archives of the San Marcos Historical Society.

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