Sharing History with the Chino Valley Historical Society about Antonio María Lugo (1778-1860)

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

This afternoon at the 96th annual Pioneer Picnic held by the Chino Valley Historical Society and the City of Chino, I was honored to be the guest speaker and share some of the history of Antonio María Lugo (1778-1860), the grantee of Rancho Santa Ana del Chino, from which the city was developed, and one of the most prominent of the Californios during his long life, which spanned from the early Spanish period through just after the first decade of the American era.

The presentation began with an acknowledgment that the Chino area included the village of Pasinog-na, likely situated at or near today’s Boys Republic in Chino Hills, and where the indigenous people of the area resided for untold generations. Briefly, the early explorations of the Spanish were related and then the establishment, several years before Don Antonio’s birth, of the Mission San Gabriel, which established a chain of ranchos eastward to San Bernardino.

This included Santa Ana del Chino, literally “St. Anne of the Fair Hair” after the mother of the Virgin Mary and grandmother of Christ and where the native people were used as forced labor for raising cattle and horses, farming grain and other elements of ranching. For decades, the Chino ranch operated as part of the Mission San Gabriel system, though there is very little documentation about it. In the 1830s, the secularization of the missions was undertaken by order of the federal government in México City and ranchos such as Chino were freed up for grants to local citizens.

A portrait of Antonio María Lugo by Henri Penelon and in the collection of the History Division of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Francisco Salvador Lugo (1740-1805) and Juana María Rita Villanasul (1745-1790) were, as was the case with many of the colonists of Alta California, from northern New Spain, as México was known under the rule of the crumbling empire of Spain (the city of Lugo, is in the province of Galicia in the northwestern corner of Spain about 310 miles northwest of Madrid). Specifically, they hailed from the state of Sinaloa, situated on the western coast of the colony and Francisco, having enlisted in the Spanish Army at the age of 17, was later transferred to the presidio (military outpost) of Loreto, across the Bay of California in what is now Baja California del Sur.

In 1774, Francisco was one of the soldiers on the Rivera Expedition to Alta California and served at the missions San Luis Obispo and San Antonio in the central part of the territory. It was at the latter, a remarkable place next to Fort Hunter-Liggett, that Antonio was born. When the youngster was three years old, Francisco served as part of the military escort for the 44 pobladores, or settlers, for the newly established pueblo of Los Angeles, though later the Lugos resided at Monterey, the capital of Alta California, and at the Mission San Buenaventura (Ventura.)

After Francisco retired from the military in 1789, the family settled in Los Angeles and received land in the nascent pueblo. Antonio followed his father’s footsteps by joining the Spanish Army and rose to be a corporal. One of his more interesting roles during his military service involved the strange raids committed in 1818 by the privateer Hippolyte Bouchard, a native of France sailing under the flag of Argentina. Part of the Bouchard story has been related in a prior post here and, in 1876, Lugo’s son-in-law, Stephen C. Foster (who was mayor of Los Angeles during the Alvitre-Brown affair of late 1854/early 1855), wrote about Lugo’s involvement.

Hippolyte Bouchard, the French privateer sailing under the flag of Argentina when he confronted Lugo near Santa Barbara in 1818.

Specifically, commented Foster, “Corporal Antonio María Lugo received orders to proceed to Santa Barbara,” where Bouchard’s ship landed at the Rancho Nuestra Señora del Refugio along the coast north of the mission and presidio. The account continued that, when the crew of the ship was confronted by Lugo and his men, “several of their crew was captured, including Joseph Chapman and a negro named Fisher, for whose safe keeping, Lugo became responsible. Again, more of the story of Chapman, the first American to live in Los Angeles, and Thomas Fisher, the first Black person to reside in California, is in the aforementioned post.

A description of Lugo by Foster is also notable in stating that he was:

A man fully six feet high, of a spare but sinewy form, which indicated great strength and activity . . . His black hair, sprinkled with gray, and bound with a black handkerchief, reached to his shoulders. The square-cut features of his closely shaven face indicated character and decision, and their naturally stern expression was relieved by an appearance of grim humor—a purely Spanish face. He was in the uniform of a cavalry soldier of that time . . .

Lugo’s civic responsibilities included his service as alcalde (mayor) of Los Angeles in 1816 and 1818, as a member of the ayuntamiento (town council) in 1837-1838, and as a juez del campo (judge of the plains, mediating disputes and enforcing regulations for the ranchers in the region) in 1833-1834, when secularization of the missions was underway and the opening of their ranchos was imminent. Merchant Harris Newmark, in his 1916 memoir, related a story of how Lugo, in the course of his judicial duties and astride his horse, “nearly trampled upon Pedro Sánchez, for no other reason than the poor Pedro had refused to ‘uncover’ [that is, remove his hat] while the Judge rode by, and to keep his hat off until his Honor was unmistakably out of sight!”

A photo of a Lugo family adobe at San Pedro and Second streets in Los Angeles from the collection of the Los Angeles Public Library.

He was twice married, first in 1796 to María Dolores Ruiz (1783-1829) and with whom he had 13 children and then in 1842 to María Florentina de Jesús German (1828-1863), with 9 children borne by her—though many of the 22 did not survive into adulthood. Around 1810, the Lugos, who had a house in Los Angeles, obtained the nearly 30,000-acre Rancho San Antonio, immediately southwest of the pueblo between the Los Angeles and San Gabriel (today’s Río Hondo) rivers. This prime property, where such cities as Bell, Bell Gardens, City of Commerce, Cudahy, Huntington Park, and Lynwood are now situated, was formally granted to Don Antonio by his nephew, Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado, in 1838.

The San Antonio rancho, with its ready access to plenty of water, choice location near Los Angeles, and other attributes, was a prime piece of property and a prosperous domain for its owner. In an 1877 interview with an agent of historian Hubert Howe Bancroft, Lugo’s son José del Carmen, went into some detail regarding operations on the ranch, something we’ll discuss further in a future post because of the great content in the younger Lugo’s dictation. A few years prior to his death, Don Antonio subdivided the ranch among his many children, a common procedure, but one which could readily lead to complications as smaller portions of ranches might prove to be difficult to keep during the many challenges of the era.

Another major grant to Lugo came in 1842, also by Alvarado, for the Rancho San Bernardino, comprising 35,000 acres at the base of the San Bernardino Mountains as well as Cajon Pass, which was a major issue because of the frequent raids by native peoples of the interior basins of the American Southwest for horses. During the post-secularization period, grants were made for ranchos in the vicinity in an effort, generally in vain, to stymie such encroachments. San Bernardino was settled by three of his sons, José del Carmen, José María and Vicente, as well as a nephew, Diego Sepúlveda. After just under a decade, part of the rancho was sold to Mormon settlers who established the town of San Bernardino.

A map of the Rancho San Antonio, with the border with the Los Angeles pueblo limits at the top left, a partial indication of the San Gabriel River (Río Hondo) at the upper right, and sections of the Los Angeles River at the center.

The prior year, Alvarado granted his uncle another large domain, the Chino ranch, comprising over 22,000 acres, and, as with San Bernardino, Don Antonio installed another family member there, this being his son-in-law Isaac Williams, a Pennsylvania native who came to Los Angeles several years prior and married daughter María Jesús. In 1843, Williams secured, from Governor Manuel Micheltorena, a roughly 13,000-acre addition to the northeast of the original grant. This grant, along with others at the ranchos Jurupa and El Rincón, may well have been another effort to provide security for native incursions through Santa Ana Canyon and into the fertile ranchos of the coastal plain in modern Orange County. Before purchasing the land for San Bernardino, Mormon negotiators nearly reached a deal with Williams to buy land at Chino for their new colony.

In 1842, there was a brief seizure of Monterey, the capital of the Mexican department of Alta California, by American Navy Commodore Thomas Ap Catesby Jones, though, realizing the embarrassment from his action on mistaken information, Jones quickly lowered the American flag and sailed off. A few years later, however, the Mexican-American War was launched on a pretense by the United States and Alta California was taken by the Americans over several months in 1846-1847. This included the Battle of Chino, which took place at the ranch headquarters and featured Williams and a cadre of Americans and Europeans (including John Rowland) seeking to fend off Californios, including two of Lugo’s sons, José del Carmen and Vicente.

In a 1896 sketch on Don Antonio by Henry D. Barrows for the Historical Society of Southern California, Foster related that, following the war, after he was elected to represent Los Angeles in the convention that drafted California’s first constitution, enacted at the end of 1849, he went to speak to his father-in-law about a letter of introduction to Lugo’s sister, María Antonia Vallejo (whose son was the prominent northern California figure, Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo). Foster told Barrows that Lugo commented,

So the Mexicans have sold California to the Americas or $15,000,000, and thrown us natives into the bargain? I don’t understand how they could sell what they never had, for since the time of the king [of Spain] we sent back every governor they ever sent here . . . However you Americans have got the country; and must have a government of your own, for the laws under which we have lived will not suit you.

This was a concise and direct statement about the fact that the Californios called themselves by that name for a reason; namely, their isolation and lack of communication and support from México City forced them to be self-sufficient and, generally, independent. Purportedly, Lugo expressed his frustration with his fellow Californios and their consistent infighting leading up to the American invasion, telling Foster, “plague take them all with the pronunciamientos [rebellions or coups] and revolutions, using up my horses and eating up my cattle, while my sons, instead of taking care of their old father’s stock, were off playing soldier.” He apparently added, “the Americans have put a stop to all this, and we will now have peace and quiet in the land, as in the god old days of the king.”

An 1863 map of the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino from the California Land Claims docket at the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley.

This, of course, was not the case, as tension and violence wracked greater Los Angeles in the postwar period, even as the Gold Rush, which immediately followed the war’s end, brought unprecedented prosperity to the region, including to Don Antonio and other rancheros who made large sums from the trade of their cattle for fresh meat to the hordes of miners and settlers inundating California at the end of the 1840s and into the following decade. Lugo remained, in his last decade or so, a prominent personage in Los Angeles and Horace Bell, whose colorful and frequently fanciful memoir, Reminiscences of a Ranger, published in 1881, was highly complimentary of him.

Bell, who came to Los Angeles in fall 1852 joining his uncle, Alexander, a well-known merchant, wrote that not long after he settled in town, “it was my good fortune to visit the home ranch [San Antonio] of possibly the most eminent Spaniard in California, Don Antonio Maria Lugo . . . the patriarch of the numerous Lugo family, once so rich, powerful and influential.” In one of his flights of factual fancy, Bell added that he thought that Lugo could ride from San Diego to Sonoma (which he wrote was 700 miles, when it is actually not that far about 500) and sleep, change horses and eat on his own land all the way.

Continuing his issues with accuracy, Bell added,

The old Don, then ninety years old [he was actually 74], was tall, straight and supple, with a splendid military carriage, elastic step and measured tread . . . when mounted, the old man was the beau-ideal of a horseman, and was the envy of all the young Dons, who were emulous of acquiring the style and carriage known and designated as el cuerpo de Lugo—the carriage of the Lugo.

The author went to say that, until just before Lugo died (at 98, he calculated), he was possessed of “all of his physical vigor, and could ride on horseback, and, if necessity required, could swing and thrown the lasso with as much vim and precision as the most expert youngster.” Beyond this, Bell stated, Don Antonio’s “mental faculties, of the highest order, were perfect and unimpaired until the last minute.”

Lugo’s listing in the 1850 census, taken early the following year due to California’s September admission to the Union, and with his self-declared property value of $20,000, a handsome sum for the period in Los Angeles.

It was also observed that “old man Lugo died comparatively poor” and, if this was the case, there were many reasons why this was so. In 1860, greater Los Angeles was mired in an economic malaise, which included the decline of the Gold Rush and the lowered demand for local cattle (which were also affected by the importation of better breeds from Texas and elsewhere), a national depression in 1857, and other factors. The partitioning of San Antonio would also likely post a problem, especially as severe floods followed by devastating drought came in the several years after Don Antonio’s death.

This took place on the last day of January 1860 and, almost a decade ago, when I was helping to sort through the stored documents and artifacts of the Historical Society of Southern California, kept then in storage in Pasadena, I picked up from the bottom of a box a badly worn death notice for Lugo. He’d managed to live far longer than most of his contemporaries, experiencing an enormous amount of changes and transformations during his 81 years. In fact, the 1896 sketch stated that, when Don Antonio first saw a mechanical mower for farming in operation, he exclaimed, “Los Yankees faltan un dedo de ser el Diablo!” or “The Yankees only lack one finger of being the Devil!”

Bell, writing that Lugo was “sober, industrious, managed his herds successfully, extended his landed interests, and founded a family whose present numbers and various ramifications exceed any other family in the State,” further praised him as having “left a name that stands honored, unsullied, and bright example to be imitated by generations to come” and added,

Don Antonio Maria Lugo was eminent, not as a politician or as a man of learning, but as a man of princely possessions, of great generosity, and unblemished honor. To be a kinsman of old man Lugo, in the remotest degree, was an assurance of an ample start in lands and cattle with which to commence the battle of life . . . and any man or woman, high or low, rich or poor, should feel proud to say, “I descended from Don Antonio Maria Lugo, who lived a century—a long life of usefulness—and died honored and wept by all, the friend of mankind, and without an enemy.”

Less grandiloquently, Newmark observed that “of all these worthy dons, possessing vast landed estates [in greater Los Angeles], Don Antonio Maria Lugo . . . was one of the most affluent and venerable” and noted that he “was a familiar figure as a sturdy caballero in the streets of Los Angeles, his ornamental sword strapped in Spanish-soldier fashion to his equally-ornamented saddle,” this said to have cost $1,500, a princely sum in those days.

The agricultural portion of the 1850 census showing Lugo, third from the top, with over 13,000 acres of declared property, 6,000 cattle, and a livestock value of over $60,000. Third from the bottom is William Workman, listing 8,756 acres of land and 800 cattle with a live stock value of under $12,000.

The Barrows account mentioned that Don Antonio “was, in most respects, as thoroughly a Spaniard as if he had been born and reared” in the old country” and that, while “he looked upon the coming of the Americans as the incursion of an alien race” with their strange customs, language and manners” and “had little sympathy” for most of them, “he learned to esteem and respect most highly” those he came to know well. The sketch concluded that

To rightly estimate the character of Señor Lugo, it is necessary for Americans to remember the differences of race and environment. Although he lived under three regimes, to wit: Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo American, he retained to the last the essential characteristics which he inherited from his Spanish ancestors; and although . . . he had, as was very natural, no liking for Americans themselves, as a rule, or for their ways, nevertheless, he and all of the better class of native Californians of the older generations did have a genial liking for individual Americans and other foreigners . . . this universal friendship and respect on their part, for those foreigners, comparatively few in numbers, who by alliance in marriage, or by sympathetic and honorable dealings have won their confidence.

There isn’t much known about the relationship of the extranjeros in the Workman and Temple family, who were neighboring rancheros, with Don Antonio, though Laura González, wife of Walter P. Temple, was said to be a Lugo descendant, and the family was owner of the Rancho Potrero de Felipe Lugo (Pasture of Felipe Lugo), a Whittier Narrows ranch northeast of San Antonio where the Lugos appear to have grazed some of their livestock.

The death notice for Lugo, formerly in the collection of the Historical Society of Southern California and now at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Still, it seems almost certain that they had some connections through social gatherings, the annual recogidas in which Judges of the Plains presided over the separation of cattle and horses that were intermingled during grazing, and in other ways. In any case, the Workmans and Temples were contemporaries for over thirty years with this preeminent Californio and those aspects of his life shared today seemed appreciated by those attending the event in Chino.

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