Leon Worden




Latins Invade, Conquer Western SCV
By Leon Worden
Wednesday, August 28, 1996

Part 3 of 3.

B
y Father Juan Crespí's own account, the peaceful Tataviam Indians of the Upper Santa Clara River Valley offered seeds and sweet preserves to Don Gaspar de Portolá's soldiers when they rode their peculiar four-legged beasts into Castaic Junction on Tuesday, August 8, 1769.
    Apparently that hospitality was forgotten 35 years later, when the Franciscan padres of Mission San Fernando decided to annex our valley and bring the local heathens into the Catholic fold.
    Portolá had considered the confluence of Castaic Creek and the Santa Clara River a "very suitable site" for Father Junípero Serra to establish a mission, but it was not to be. Mission San Buenaventura went up in 1782, followed by Mission San Fernando in 1797, and El Camino Real (the Spanish "Royal Road") eventually punched its way through the Conejo Corridor, bypassing the inland Santa Clara Valley.
    But as their herds grew, the missions needed more land. Within a few years after the founding of Mission San Fernando, the verdant Santa Clara River Valley was deemed an ideal spot for a mission rancho, or estancia.
    Spanish troops removed the Tataviam from their land and relocated them, Japanese internment camp-style, to San Fernando, where they were put to work in mission vineyards and fields. All Tataviam were baptized by 1810. Their introduction to Old World diseases and their intermarriage with other relocated tribes effectively ended their 1400-year history. The last full-blooded Tataviam died in 1916.
    The Estancia de San Francisco Xavier was a ranching out-station, and probably a religious outpost, of Mission San Fernando. Built with Tataviam labor in 1804 on the site proposed by Portolá and Crespí, its headquarters consisted of two long, rectangular adobe buildings connected by a low wall and included a kiln, granary and tiled sacristy. Another adobe structure known as the "Old Milk House" was built just down the hill from the estancia structures.
    Spanish rule was not to last. Revolution soon raged in Mexico. Skirmishes broke out in Alta California. In 1833, the Mexican government confiscated all mission holdings. The next year, Mexican Lt. Antonio del Valle was assigned to inventory the property of Mission San Fernando. The land was supposed to revert to the indians, but Don Antonio appealed to his friend Juan B. Alvarado, governor of California, for the deed to the former estancia. Alvarado granted the 48,000-acre rancho to Antonio, then 46, in January, 1839.
    Don Antonio didn't have long to enjoy it. In two years he was dead. In 1845 the rancho passed to his son, Ignacio, who was mayor of Los Angeles until the war with the United States, and who would serve in the state Legislature after the peace of 1848. When the Death Valley '49ers escaped the Mojave Desert, they emerged at the old estancia, now headquarters of the Del Valles' Rancho San Francisco.
    The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo honored Mexican land grants. The Del Valles held the rancho until the 1860s, when falling cattle prices and too many bank loans put them out of business. They retired to their hacienda at Camulos, at the western fringe of the rancho, and sold the rest. It went to a succession of oil speculators and, finally, to a San Francisco entrepreneur whose heirs renamed it "Newhall Ranch."
    Today, little more than memories remain of the Estancia de San Francisco Xavier. The last vestiges of its headquarters were razed in 1937, after vandals broke up the tiled floors and adobe walls in search of fabled mission treasure.
    To the land owners of the 1930s, bulldozing seemed the surest way to discourage trespassing and looting. To the archaeologists who explored the terrain of the planned Newhall Ranch development from 1993 to 1995, the rubble of the old estancia was a treasure trove of historical artifacts. Their surface survey yielded roof and floor tiles, hand-blown glass, hand-crafted nails and pottery dating from 1750 to 1840.
    The remnants of the estancia lie in an area where no future development will occur. The Newhall Ranch Company plans to deed the site to a nationally-renowned non-profit organization that will preserve and manage it on an ongoing basis.
    The writer thanks Newhall Ranch Co. Vice President James Harter and archaeologists David Whitley and Joseph Simon for providing information for this series.
Go to Part 1
Go to Part 2

©1996 LEON WORDEN — ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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