Del Valle descendant pursues her roots
By Marci Wormser
Signal Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 1, 1999
hen Newhall resident Marisa Hanson drives through the Santa Clarita Valley, she drives down the same roadways and canyons that her ancestors once owned and helped to cultivate more than 100 years ago.
Hanson is a direct descendent of Antonio del Valle, a Mexican-born missionary who owned 48,000 acres of land in the SCV from 1839 until his death two years later in 1841.
In her family tree, Hanson can trace back about 200 years of her heritage, from the life of Antonio to his descendants, who farmed and ranched on much of the land in the SCV.
Hanson is Antonio's great-great-great-great-granddaughter, a heritage that she inherited through her mother, Colleen Clark Markey, who is a direct descendent of the del Valle clan.
Much of the heritage of both the SCV and of the many famous missions that were built throughout California is also embedded in the family history of Antonio and his family.
"A lot of people think the Santa Clarita Valley started with the Newhalls, the Lyons and the Mentrys, but it started way before that," Hanson said.
"I think it's important for all of us to understand what the original purpose of the land was," she said. "I think it's important for all of us to know the history of where you live. I wish I knew more about it."
The del Valle family history in California began with Antonio, born in Mexico in 1788. He served as a lieutenant in the Mexican war of independence against Spain in the 1820s and 1830s.
He was the great-grandson of Juan del Valle, who came from Valencia, Spain, and settled in Columbia in 1642. Juan eventually moved to Mexico, where he became quite wealthy and influential, according to the late SCV historian Jerry Reynolds.
While serving as a lieutenant, Antonio was sent to Monterey, Calif., which had just been raided by Argentine pirates, Reynolds writes. Antonio and his men were sent to defend the coast of Monterey.
In February 1824, the American Indians at Santa Ynez revolted, and Antonio and his troops were sent to the San Joaquin Valley to round up the protesters.
In June, Antonio arrived at the Santa Clara del Sur with the protesters, who were incarcerated. Although he was hailed as a hero, he was later involved in political controversies and convicted of insubordination. He spent about half of 1825 in jail, according to Reynolds.
He wrote to his 17-year-old son, Ygnacio, whom he had not seen in six years, to join him in Monterey.
Ygnacio del Valle was born in Mexico in 1808. He served as a second lieutenant and rose to the rank of captain in command of a presidio in San Diego.
In 1832, Antonio and Ygnacio faced each other on the battlefield and Ygnacio won. They never spoke to each other again.
During this period, Antonio, a widower, remarried and had several more children. To provide a home for his new family, he petitioned Gov. Juan B. Alvarado for a grant of land encompassing about 48,000 acres in the Santa Clara River Valley. Named the "Rancho San Francisco," it extended from modern-day Piru to Saugus and from Newhall north to Castaic Junction.
Despite protests from a citizen who claimed the land should go to the American Indians, Alvarado put Antonio in charge of the upper Santa Clara River Valley, according to Reynolds.
Antonio and his family moved into the Asistencia de San Francisco Xavier, located on a bluff overlooking the junction of the Castaic Creek and the Santa Clara River. It had been built by Spanish missionaries in 1804 as an outpost of the Mission San Fernando Rey de España.
Hanson said her great-great-great-great-grandfather raised avocados, oranges and cattle on the land.
Antonio also did missionary work, Hanson said, converting American Indians to Catholicism, and he helped to build the missions in San Fernando and Santa Barbara as well as the chapel and adobe home once occupied by his descendants at Rancho Camulos, a hacienda along today's State Route 126. Camulos— believed by many to have been the impetus for Helen Hunt Jackson's "Ramona," a best-selling novel of the era— is being restored and may open to the public next year.
When Antonio fell ill and lay on his deathbed, he decided finally to reconcile with his son, Ygnacio.
According to Reynolds, Antonio sent his son a message saying that if he would settle down and marry, Antonio would leave him a half-interest in a house he owned in Santa Barbara, 300 cattle and the land between Piru Creek and Blue Point on the Ventura County line. However, by the time the physician sent the message of Antonio's impending death to Ygnacio, who was residing in Santa Barbara, Antonio had died.
Following his father's death on June 21, 1841, Ygnacio came to the Santa Clarita Valley and helped maintain the Rancho San Francisco.
When drought struck in the 1860s, the del Valles lost much of their cattle herd, which once numbered some 4,000 head. Over-leveraged with bank loans, the family had to sell off much of the 48,000-acre ranch to pay debts.
Ultimately they were left only with the Camulos portion of the Rancho San Francisco, where the family resided until Hanson's great-grandfather, Juventino del Valle II, moved to Los Angeles. Camulos was in the family's possession until 1925, Hanson said.
Learning About the Legacy
Carmelita del Valle, Marisa Hanson's grandmother, used to travel by train to visit the ranch from Los Angeles before it was sold, Hanson said.
Henry Mayo Newhall purchased the bulk of the Rancho San Francisco in a sheriff's sale in 1875. It was later named the Newhall Ranch, encompassing what is now Valencia, most of the town of Newhall, and the future Newhall Ranch community.
In honor of the Del Valle clan, one of Valencia's early housing tracts, on Old Orchard Road, was named for the family.
Though she was familiar with some of her family's lore as a youth in the San Fernando Valley, Hanson didn't realize how much her family had contributed to the settlement of the Santa Clarita Valley until she moved here as a teen-ager.
It was Hanson's interest in horses, and not her family tree, however, that brought her to Placerita Canyon in 1975. Her family no longer owned land locally, but her parents purchased a parcel in Newhall so she could raise horses.
It wasn't until she saw a plaque at Six Flags Magic Mountain, shortly after moving to Santa Clarita, which detailed the land the Del Valles once owned that she realized the extent of her family history in the SCV, she said.
She believes that her love of the outdoors and her feeling of "connectedness" to the land in the area comes from her bloodline.
"I always felt part of the land out here to some extent," Hanson said.
After discovering her roots in the Santa Clarita Valley, Hanson began to research the family legend on her own.
Ygnacio's granddaughter, Susanita del Valle, kept a photo album of her ancestors and of Rancho Camulos, which was eventually handed down to Hanson's mother. Many of the photos were taken by Charles Lummis, a well-known photographer and historian during the 1880s, who lived on the ranch for a short time while recovering from an illness.
Many of the photos were copied and placed in an exhibit earlier this year at the Ventura County Museum of History and Art.
"I think anybody that's interested in looking up their own family tree should do it," Hanson said. "What you discover when you look up your family tree is amazing."
Hanson discovered that her great-great-grandfather's half brother was a former senator from California.
She also discovered that the first documented discovery of gold in California was at Live Oak Canyon, which Francisco Lopez, an uncle of Antonio's second wife, leased and ran his own cattle on.
According to local legend, Lopez awoke from a nap under an oak tree on March 9, 1842, dug up some wild onions with a his knife, and discovered gold clinging to their roots.
In fact, Lopez had studied mineralogy at a university in his native Sonora, Mexico, and historians believe he was systematically scouring the local hills for the yellow metal when he made his discovery. Lopez and his associates brought their find to Los Angeles and had it shipped to the United States Mint at Philadelphia, where it was assayed at .926 fine.
It was the first documented discovery of gold in California— six years before James Marshall found his famous nugget at John Sutter's sawmill.
Word of the Lopez discovery reached his friends and associates in Sonora. Hundreds of prospectors descended on Live Oak Canyon, which was renamed Placerita Canyon ("placer" means surface deposits of sand or gravel containing precious metal— like the gold found in the soft stream bed).
It was the first gold rush in California history— albeit a Mexican one rather than an American one, in that it predated the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo by half a dozen years.
Some 1,300 pounds of ore were hauled out of Placerita Canyon before it played out.
Roots of the Family
Hanson believes the value of educating others about the history of the Santa Clarita Valley lies in the fact that not only are many people unaware of the area's history, but many aren't aware of the Mexican and American Indian history in California, either.
"Some people are prejudiced against the Spanish, the (American) Indians and the Mexicans, but they were here first," she said. "Most of Los Angeles is based on Spanish and Mexican history."
Hanson, a mother of three daughters, is proud of her family's role in helping to cultivate the land in the SCV. She hopes that tales of her family will be handed down to her descendants.
"I've always embraced my family history," she said. "It's interesting. I want to keep it going for my three daughters. I want my kids to learn as much as they can."
Hanson finds it ironic that she lives on some of the land that her great-great-great-great-grandfather once owned.
And as a real-estate agent, Hanson is following in her ancestor's footsteps, so to speak, in selling land in the area.
"My husband finds it quite ironic that I'm selling the same land," she said. "Since the del Valles had to sell off the land, I'm probably one of the few to be reaping any of the rewards."
Leon Worden contributed to this story.
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