Portrait Gallery: Ernesto Tomás Yorba, ca. 1875

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

In sparsely populated pre-American California, referred to once as the “Siberia of Mexico,” the familial connections between the Californios were often very complicated with intermarriage providing all kinds of tightly held bonds.  This often extended to some of the earliest Anglo arrivals in the area, including the Workman and Temple families, and it wasn’t always through marriage that close-knit relationships were forged.

Godparents, or padrinos, had especially close ties with and responsibilities to their godchildren and witnesses at sacraments.  The nature of compadre went beyond friendship and established ties between very close friends that had a range of duties and expectations that, as with godparents and their godchildren, went beyond what we experience now.

Ernesto Yorba census 1880
Ernesto Tomás Yorba was enumerated in the 1880 federal census with his family in the Santa Ana Township in what was still part of Los Angeles County.

Among the identified persons resting in peace at the Homestead’s El Campo Santo, the cemetery established by the Workman family in the 1850s, are two members of the Yorba family, Maria Jesús (Jessie) Palomares de Yorba and her teenage son Ramón.  The former’s husband and latter’s father, Liborio, came from the prominent family of what is now Yorba Linda in northeastern California.  Young Ramón, just 14 years old, died at the end of February 1922 and was followed a little less than six years later by his 61-year old mother, who was from the prominent Pomona-area family.

Tonight’s highlighted historic artifact from the Homestead’s holdings is a carte de visite portrait of a relative of Jessie and Ramón, Ernesto Tomás Yorba (1871-1948).  Ernesto’s great-grandfather, José Antonio Yorba (1743-1825) was from the Catalonia province of Spain and who has been frequently stated to have come to California as a soldier with the Portolá Expedition, the 250th anniversary of which has taken place over the last several months.

Ernesto Yorba 1900 census
In 1900, Ernesto resided with his younger sister Dolores and next to his brother Prudencio, Jr., in what was known as the Yorba district.

This claim, first made by historian Hubert Howe Bancroft in the 1880s, is, however, not true, thanks to explanations by several researchers including Yorba descendant (and descendant and biographer of John Rowland and William Workman,) Donald E. Rowland.  More likely, Yorba came two years later in 1771 and, a year-and-a-half later, he married an Indian convert.  After they had three children, she died in 1781 and Yorba wedded María Josefa Grijalva, whose father, Pablo, obtained the Rancho Santiago in what is now central Orange County.

After Grijalva’s death in 1806, Yorba took over the Santiago rancho with Grijalva’s grandson and namesake, Juan Pablo Peralta.  A regranting of the ranch took place four years later.  Yorba and Josefa Grijalva had a large family, including Bernardo (1801-1858), who asked for a grant to the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana adjacent his father’s ranch.  While no confirmation apparently took place, Bernardo and members of the Peralta family occupied the ranch and were considered owners under the American land claims process.

Ernesto Yorba Dolores Ruiz marriage record S Barbara 1910
On 11 January 1910, Ernesto was married in Montecito, south of Santa Barbara, to Dolores Ruiz of Santa Maria, near where his maternal grandfather had a large ranch.

Bernardo was married a few times and over 20 children (F.P.F. Temple became the guardian of the three youngest after Bernardo’s death) one of these being Prudencio (1832-1885), who was Ernesto’s father.  His mother was Maria de los Delores Gertrudes Ontiveros (1832-1885), whose father Juan Pacifico was the original grantee of Rancho San Juan Cajón de Santa Ana in what is now portions of north and north-eastern Orange County.

In 1853, Juan Pacifico sold most of the ranch to American Abel Stearns, who eventually amassed a portfolio of land encompassing much of southeast Los Angeles County and a good deal of Orange County.  Four years later, another section of the ranch was sold to German colonists who created Anaheim.  Another area was left with two of Ontiveros’ sons and quickly passed in 1864 to a son-in-law, German-born Anaheim resident Augustus Langenberger.  The next year, Daniel Kraemer, another German, led a colony of settlers to what became Placentia.

0816055CDV Ernesto Tomas Yorba 2015.454.1.1
This carte de visite photograph from the Homestead’s collection shows Ernesto at about four years of age, circa 1875.

Ernesto was the eighth of nine children born to Prudencio and Gertrudes, who lived on the Cajon de Santa Ana formerly owned by her father.  Prudencio was a rancher and farmer and, in Ernesto’s youth, had a large flock of sheep from which he derived revenue from the sale of wool.

When Ernesto got his own land on the rancho, he farmed it on his own and did not marry until 1910 when he was in his late thirties.  His wife was Dolores Ruiz, who was about twenty years his junior and a resident of Santa Maria in northern Santa Barbara County, and the couple were wed at Montecito, south of Santa Barbara.  He may have known her through his Ontiveros connections, as his grandfather left the Santa Ana area to live on a ranch in that region acquired from his father-in-law.

Ernesto Yorba 1924 Anaheim Directory
Ernesto and other Yorbas in the 1924 North Orange County Directory.  Note the reference his residing at “Esperanza Station” in an Anaheim post office “rural district.”

Ernesto and Dolores had nine children and the land he worked eventually was devoted to citrus even as oil was found nearby in what became the Richfield area of southeast Placentia (Richfield Oil eventually morphed into the Atlantic Richfield Company or ARCO).

The couple lived on Esperanza Road, named for one of the Yorba family (Ernest had a sister by that name) much of which is the eastern extension of Orangethorpe Avenue from Fullerton (I happen to be a graduate of Esperanza High School, not far from where Ernest and many other Yorbas lived and well remember the Halloween tradition of going to the Yorba Cemetery, in the midst of a townhouse complex, where the “Pink Lady” was said to appear each year at that time—though I didn’t see her the year I went.)

Ernesto Yorba 1940 census
The 1940 census includes Ernesto and family along with other Yorbas in what appears to read “Fixana Road—Yorba District.”

Ernesto remained on his property until his death in June 1948 at age 77 and was buried with many of his family members at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery in Orange.  His photo, an early example of an image from his family and of Latinos generally, is a tangible artifact connected to one of the most prominent Californio families in greater Los Angeles.

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