Museum Director Musings at Warner’s Ranch

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

For the last several years, I’ve enjoyed weekend trips once or twice each year in the picturesque historic mining town of Julian, not far from San Diego.  On the way back home this afternoon, I stopped off to see one of the state historic landmarks in the area: Warner’s Ranch.

Jonathan Trumbull Warner (1807-1895) was from Hadlyme, Connecticut, along the Connecticut River southeast of Hartford.  In 1830, leaving home to improve his health, Warner traveled to St. Louis, then over the Santa Fe Trail to New Mexico and, finally, on the Old Spanish Trail, on which at the end of 1831 he wound up in Mexican-era Los Angeles.   While Warner went on to other hunting and trading expeditions, he returned to Los Angeles to settle in 1834 and was one of the first Americans or Europeans to reside in the remote pueblo in what has been called the “Siberia of Mexico.”

The Warner’s Ranch site, a state and national landmark between Temecula and San Diego, includes this adobe mistakenly believed to be that of Jonathan Trumbull (Juan Jose) Warner, who lived on the property from 1844 to 1857.  The adobe house, however, was built by Vicenta Sepulveda de Carrillo, who lived there from 1857 to 1869.  Used until 1960, the home is now owned by the Vista Irrigation Company.

The 6’3″ Warner, known as Don Juan Largo for his height, was part of the small merchant class in town, with his store located on Main Street (Calle Principal) and married Anita Gale, the daugher of a sea captain who was adopted and raised by the mother of Pio Pico.  In 1844, Warner was granted the Rancho San José de Valle, some 26,000 acres in northwestern San Diego County in an area occupied for millenia by the Cupeño Indians.  He built an adobe and raised cattle on his vast and generally isolated domain.

After the American conquest of Mexican California and the discovery of gold in the north, Warner’s ranch became an important stopping point for migrants using the southern route to Los Angeles.  Later, the property was a stop for the Butterfield Stage route, which came through in 1858.

The national historic landmark plaque for Warner’s Ranch, placed in 1962.

However, research (see the link below for the house) has shown that his adobe house was razed in 1851 attacks by Indians in revolt led by Antonio Garra and that Warner left the area and returned to Los Angeles by about 1857.  In the 1850 federal census (actually conducted in late February 1851 in his enumeration) and in the 1852 state census, Warner and his family were still living on the ranch.  In 1851-52, he served in the state assembly as a representative from San Diego County.

The adobe house that is marked as “Warner’s Ranch” is actually that of Vicenta Sepulveda of an early prominent Californio family and wife of Ramon Carrillo, a colorful character heavily involved in the Californio defense of their land during the American invasion of 1846-47 and business associate of John Rains of Rancho Cucamonga.

In 1964, the “Warner Ranch House” was given state historic landmark status.

When Rains was killed in 1862, Carrillo was widely blamed.  Carrillo was soon murdered and it was stated this was done in revenge by Rains’ brother-in-law Robert Carlisle, who, however, may have killed Rains, as well, due to an intense hatred and rivalry.  The Homestead’s “Curious Cases” series of presentations and group discussion will include, in its 2017 lineup, the Rains murder as one of the “cases.”

Vicenta Sepulveda de Carrillo built the current adobe on the site in 1857 and lived in it about a dozen years before vacating it, though the home continued to be used as a residence until 1960, when it was abandoned and became the property of the Vista Irrigation District, a water agency.

Another view of the Vicenta Sepulveda de Carrillo adobe with attached wooden additions.

In 1858, Warner turned to journalism and launched The Southern Vineyard, a weekly and then a semi-weekly newspaper.  In the 1860 census, Warner, by then a widower with several children, was listed as an editor and he also served a term in the assembly as a Los Angeles County representative, but his paper soon folded.

Notably, in the 1870 census, Warner was listed as a “retired editor,” though it is hard to believe he could remain retired for several years without some means of subsistence for himself and his children.

Tours of the ranch house are offered on weekend afternoons by Save Our History Organization.

In fact, he may have made some money writing articles for publication in newspapers.  One example is a piece published in the San Francisco Daily Alta California in July 1865, in which Warner recounted “An Episode in the History of California.”  This had to do with the fur trapping expedition led by James Ohio Pattie, which came to California in 1827, just a few years before Warner’s arrival in Los Angeles.  How Warner got his information for the story seemed clear from this excerpt:

In this party were Mr. William Workman, a young Englishman, then and until 1841, livign in New Mexico, and now of La Puente rancho, in this [Los Angeles] county, and Mr. [George] Yount, of Napa.  Before reaching the mouth of the Gila [having trapped the river from southern New Mexico], a majority of the men became so dissatisfied with their leader [Pattie] that a separation tok place.  A majority withdrew, and elected Mr. Workmam as their leader.  The two parties continued on down the Gila until they reached the Colorado, trapping beaver upon it for some distance above the mouth of the Gila, and down stream to tide-water.  The party commanded by Mr. Workman returned to New Mexico

The remainder of the original group, led by Pattie, went on into California and, in San Diego, met Pío Pico, who was on the verge of establishing his political career, culminating in being the last governor of Mexican California and stood as sponsor to Pattie’s father in baptism.

The late February 1851 enumertion for the 1850 federal census for “John Warner” at his ranch.

After 1870, Warner took to the legal profession and became an attorney and notary public.  His friendship with Workman appears to have been manifested during the tragedy that afflicted Workman when his bank, co-owned with son-in-law F.P.F. Temple, failed in early 1876.  As the disaster struck and Workman clearly blamed Temple for the mismanagement of the institution, he changed his power-of-attorney removing his son-in-law and replacing him with Temple’s son, Francis, who resided at the Homestead and served as Workman’s winemaker.  The document was notarized by Warner.

Later in 1876, Warner was one of three men hired to compile a centennial [that is, for the American centennial of independence] history of Los Angeles County-this being the first published book in Los Angeles.  Warner put together the section on the early history of the region to 1847 and he was followed by former district court judge Benjamin Hayes (a resident of San Diego in 1876) and Joseph P. Widney, who’d arrived in Los Angeles within the past decade.

The 1852 state census, taken about mid-year, listed “John J. Warner” and family on the ranch, though his home had recently been destroyed by an Indian attack.

By 1870, about 4,500 acres of Warner’s original interest, including the ranch house site, in the San José de Valle ranch was lost to former California governor John G. Downey, of whom Warner had been a strong supporter during the early Civil War years as a staunch Unionist.

By the time the 1860 census was taken, Warner was back in Los Angeles and was proprietor of the Southern Vineyard newspaper, which lasted a short time before folding.

Warner remained in Los Angeles, working with his law practice until he retired due to failing eyesight.  He died in 1895 at age 87 and was buried at Rosedale Cemetery.  A biographical sketch of Warner, who had the honorific title of Colonel due, evidently, to Indian wars in the Warner’s Ranch area, appeared in the annual publication of the Historical Society of Southern California in that year.

In 1880, the 73-year old Warner was a practicing attorney and notary public.  Four years before, he notarized a change in a power-of-attorney document for his friend, William Workman.

The adobe ranch home at San José de Valle, though mistakenly thought to be Warner’s original house, is a California state historic landmark and a national historic landmark, largely for its role as a stopping point for migrants and for the Butterfield Stage route.  The organization “Save Our History Organization”. or SOHO, gives tours on weekends (click here for more from the SOHO website.)

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