Monthly Archives: May 2013

The José Jesús López Interviews by Frank Latta, Part Four

In the 1976 book, Saga of Rancho El Tejón, Frank Latta extensively used interviews he did with that famed rancho’s longtime majordomo, or foreman, José Jesús López, also known as J.J., the eldest child of Geronimo and Catarina López.  With this installment, the interviews turned to a discussion of Geronimo’s involvement in the Mexican-American War, specifically the events surrounding the final surrender by Andrés Pico that ended the conflict in California.

José Jesús López and a longtime Indian employee of Rancho El Tejón from Frank Latta's 1976 book on that ranch.

José Jesús López and Juan Losada, a longtime part-Indian employee of Rancho El Tejón from Frank Latta’s 1976 book on that ranch.

First, however, J. J. López observed that, “When the Americanos came to take California, my father was an unattached young man.  So it was up to him to go into the California Army.”  This was particularly a force commanded by Governor Pío Pico, while military chief José Castro of northern California commanded his own force.  According to J. J., the two decided to meet and strategize about defending California from the invaders and did so at Santa Margarita north of San Luis Obispo.  Geronimo was with Pico’s force on that trip north as a sort of cavalry man, riding his own horse and carrying only a long knife rendered from an old sword by an Indian blacksmith hired by Geronimo’s father, Esteban, for the purpose.

To prepare for his joining the army, J. J. continued, Geronimo drilled with Andrés Pico “on the mesa across the river about a week all told,” this location appearing to be the flat lands of Paredon Blanco or what later became Boyle Heights.  In this “basic training,” Geronimo “drilled as a lancer.  He tied his big knife to the end of a pole with rawhide and used it as a lance.”  J.J. also stated that the Californios had muskets that they used for hunting birds, but that these were hardly suitable for battle.  This gives some idea of the formidable disadvantage the Californios had in weaponry to defend their homeland against the invading American forces.  Given this, it is impressive that the Californios managed to retake Los Angeles and other areas and put up a spirited defense.

J. J. also stated that inter-Californio conflicts frequently arose, which was certainly true as revolts and quarrels broke out frequently, such as the February 1845 incident at Cahuenga Pass that brought Pío Pico to the governor’s seat after he faced off against then-governor Manuel Micheltorena, an appointee of Mexico City who proved highly unpopular in Alta California.  As López observed, “The battles had been funny affairs.  The armies, about forty of fifty rancheros and their vaqueros, would laugh and talk about them until time for the next one.  Once they fought for three days, with the only casualty one wounded mule—which recovered in two weeks.”   The Pico-Micheltorena skirmish wasn’t much more than that as a horse was killed and a bullet passed through a man’s hat.

As noted here previously, Geronimo López did have an important role at the surrender by Andrés Pico to John Charles Frémont, which also took place near Cahuenga Pass in January 1847.  As related by his son, “My father carried the flag of truce to Frémont at the surrender at Cahuenga.  He was only a boy at the time.  He had been orphaned young and was raised by his grandmother, Luisa Cota de López, wife of Claudio López.”  This last observation was partially confirmed in an earlier post here relating to the 1836 census, in which Geronimo was in the household of his grandmother.  He was, however, not completely orphaned.  That is, his mother had died, but his father, Esteban, was alive and did remarry.  It may well, though, that Geronimo did not get along with his step-mother, explaining why he was on his own at a young age and, as stated above, “unattached.”  Indeed, J. J. followed this statement by noting that “From the time he was sixteen years of age he was on his own.”

J.J. continued that,

When father carried the flag of truce to Frémont he was retained as a prisoner, as were all of the Californio forces.  A flag of truce was sent from each side.  Montenegro was with Frémont.  He came with his flag to meet father.  During the night father decided he did not want to take a chance on the tender mercies of Frémont and his men.  So he slipped out of camp and ran to the Rancho La Providencia (present Burbank) of his future father-in-law, Pedro López.  There he obtained a horse and riding rig and got away to San Gabriel, where everyone was his primo (pree-mo) or cousin.  There was a dance at San Gabriel that night and father attended it.  He stayed at San Gabriel until the trouble had blown over and he knew what was going to happen.

Next:  the marriage of Geronimo and Catarina López and the conclusion of this fascinating series of recollections of their son.

Categories: Andres Pico, California History, El Paredón Blanco, Esteban Lopez, Geronimo Lopez, John C. Fremont, José Jesús López, Lopez History, Mexican-American War, Pedro Lopez, San Fernando History, Treaty of Cahuenga | Leave a comment

The José Jesús López Interviews by Frank Latta, Part Three

In his interviews with Geronimo and Catarina López’ oldest child, José Jesús (or J. J.), who was the long-time majordomo (foreman) at the famed Rancho El Tejón, author Frank Latta obtained a great deal of information about the López family and their history.  Continuing from the last post, J.J. talked about his childhood at Paredón Blanco, or White Bluffs, the area east of the river across from the pueblo of Los Angeles that was later known as Boyle Heights.

López informed Latta that, when he was born there in 1852, “Old Aliso street led from the Pueblo up to El Paredón Blanco.  We lived there until 1860, when my father established López Station.”  This was the adobe house and stage stop on the road north from Los Angeles, located where the Van Norman Reservoir is in today’s Granada Hills, northeast of the López Adobe.  J.J. also noted that, “My uncle, ‘Chico’ López, of what now is called Elizabeth Lake, owned most of El Paredón Blanco.  There were about six hundred acres in the property.”  Explaining how the area became the Boyle Heights neighborhood, J. J. stated that, “Chico allowed his son-in-law, John Lazzarovich, and Boyle [actually William H.] Workman to promote a subdivision.  Lazzarovich was given power of attorney to borrow money, and to develop into town lots the six hundred acres in the Chico López holding.  Lazzarovich borrowed the money, and in 1875 the Temple and Workman Bank failed and Chico lost all, the money he had borrowed and the land as well.”

There was actually more to the story than this.  Andrew Boyle, an Irish native, who had resided in Mexican-era Texas and San Francisco before coming to Los Angeles in 1858 bought property in El Paredón Blanco from Petra Varelas, the widow of J. J.’s grandfather Esteban López.  Boyle built a brick house on the tract, continued working with the López vineyard, and owned a shoe store in the pueblo before his death in 1871.  The land then went to his daughter Maria (pronounced Mariah) and her husband, William H. Workman, a saddler in Los Angeles.  In 1874, Workman, Lazzarovich and banker Isaias W. Hellman, created the Boyle Heights subdivision.  If Lazzarovich did, indeed, use his power-of-attorney for Chico López to borrow money from the Temple and Workman bank, co-owned by William H. Workman’s uncle William Workman of Rancho La Puente in the eastern San Gabriel Valley, to finance his contribution to the subdivision, then that institution’s demise in early 1876 would have created the conditions described by J. J.  Chico López then made his way to Elizabeth Lake, which is a sag pond at the west end of the Antelope Valley north of Los Angeles.  According to one source, Chico López began running cattle there in the 1840s and the body of water was called La Laguna de Chico López.


The wedding portrait of José Jesús López and Mary Winter. She grew up on a ranch in the Tehachapi Mountains not far from the Rancho El Tejón where López was foreman for many years. From Frank Latta’s “Saga of Rancho El Tejón.”

Later, J. J. noted that, “In those days, 1852 to 1860, I was a boy living in the López home on El Paredón Blanco.  I can remember our home like it was yesterday.  By present-day standards of housing we lived very primitively.  But, understand, we were healthy and comfortable and we were happy.”  He also made reference to “dancing all day and all night in an old adobe home with a dirt floor when we kicked up so much dust we couldn’t see across the room.  Bad for the lungs maybe, but wonderful for memories.”  He continued that “The López family, as well as all of the early Angelenos, had very little furniture, say until about 1820s.”  He indicated wealthier families imported furniture from México, but that others had rough wood table, benches and chairs often with rawhide pieces and strips for seating.  In fact, he said, “I can remember my mother telling of getting in bad with an Indian rawhide worker because she took some rawhide strips he had prepared for use in making a reata (rope), and had another Indian use them to put rawhide bottoms in some chairs.”  He also observed that, “I have heard my father say that he was born in a rawhide bed.”

J.J. also talked in some detail about the “hide and tallow trade” that dominated the California economy through the Gold Rush of 1849 and afterward, but noted that there was much more used from cattle than just the hides for leather goods and the fat (tallow) rendered for use as candles and soap.  For example, he observed, “Grandfather, and father, too, dried all of the best meat and sold lots of it to the Boston traders,” most trading ships then coming from Massachusetts.  He stated that, “They also saved the horns, which the Indians knocked off last year’s skulls.  These were used to make lanthorns (lanterns), combs, shoehorns, buttons, and many other things.  Hundreds of bladders were saved for containers.  The Indians saved the bladders from deer.”  Cow’s tails became decorative ornamental tassels for harnesses on mule and horse teams.  He also recalled that Chinese camphor-wood chests were very popular and remembered that, in his extended family of some twenty persons, “the old wooden chests were given to the Indians, and our family was outfitted with more than a dozen camphor-wood chests from China.”  He also stated that his grandfather Esteban had a hide-covered chest made in China that showed his cattle brand on the portion of the hide that was on the lid.  Moreover, these chests were packed with items like silk for the manufacture of clothing items.

When the ships came to port at San Pedro, the captain would set up the cargo hold like a store and Los Angeles-area residents came to shop with hides (otherwise known as California banknotes or dollars) and 25-pound bags of tallow as the medium of exchange.  J. J. reported that “Grandfather [Esteban] would take his family in the carreta [ox-drawn cart]  to San Pedro, and the sailors with the boat from the ship would row them out to the ship.  After they had finished with their purchases, the boat would bring them back to San Pedro.”

As for living at El Paredón Blanco, J. J. distinctly recalled Indians sweeping constantly around the López home, because “the one bad feature of El Paredón Blanco was the wind, which swept unhindered across that height.”  He also recalled going down from his home to the Los Angeles River for washing day and being accompanied by his dog, Pancho.  Playing marbles with Santiago Argüello, from another old Californio family, J. J. lost track of his dog, when the city dogcatcher, thinking the pet was a stray, grabbed him with a reata and hit him on the head with a stick until he died.  Mournfully, young J. J. and Argüello buried the loyal animal in the sand banks of the river.

Next, J. J. López and his recollection of his father’s involvement at the end of the Mexican-American War in Los Angeles and the marriage of his parents.

Categories: Boyle Heights, California History, Catarina Lopez, El Paredón Blanco, Esteban Lopez, Geronimo Lopez, hide and tallow trade, John Lazzarovich, José Jesús López, Lopez Adobe, Lopez History, Lopez Station, Petra Varelas, Rancho El Tejón, San Fernando History | Leave a comment

The José Jesús López Interviews by Frank Latta, Part Two

In Frank Latta’s Saga of Rancho El Tejón, his extensive interviews with José Jesús López, son of López Adobe owners Geronimo and Catarina López, from 1916 and 1939 provide a wealth of information about the family.  In the opening sections of the first chapter, J. J. (as he was commonly known) gives his understanding of the family’s origins in Asturias, Spain and observed that there was French and Arabian [Moorish] blood in the family’s history, as well.  J. J. also addressed the mystery of when the progenitor of the family in Alta California, Ygnacio, along with his sons Juan and Juan Francisco, came to the Spanish territory, noting that, while there were claims that the clan was with Portola in the 1769 land-based exploration that was the first by Europeans in the region, “for this I cannot vouch, but some of them were here soon after that time, for one of them helped found San Gabriel Mission in 1771.”

In any case, J. J. stated that, because they helped quell a rebellion in Michoacán, México, two of the López family, Juan and Claudio, “were given charge of the Indians building two of the missions, Claudio those at San Gabriel, and Juan those at San Fernando.”  These institutions were built about a quarter century apart (1771 for San Gabriel and 1797 for San Fernando), but J. J. also noted that “Juan’s son, Pedro, followed his father as Majordomo over the Indians at San Fernando.  This Pedro was my mother’s father.”  Meantime, Claudio was J. J.’s great-grandfather through his father Geronimo and it was observed that Claudio and his wife, Luisa Cota, were buried under the church at San Gabriel, a practice continued until the very early 1850s.

José Jesús López and William Rose, ca. 1885.

José Jesús López and William Rose, ca. 1885.

Intriguingly, J. J. made reference to Spanish “heirlooms and records” that belonged to the Spanish López ancestors and which were carried by patriarch Ygnacio to Alta California, but that these were destroyed sometime around 1820 “during a revolt of the Indians,” apparently at San Gabriel, as it was stated that these objects included “the records Claudio had made at San Diego and San Gabriel Missions.”  Another interesting tidbit had to do with Rancho Santa Anita, most famous for its ownership by “Lucky” Baldwin from 1875 to 1909, but which, J. J. dictated, was given to Claudio López because of his many years as majordomo at San Gabriel, which counted Santa Anita as one of its ranches until secularization shuttered the California missions in the 1830s.  According to J. J., it was Claudio who named the ranch and did so as “Rancho Anita,” after Anita Cota, whom he hoped to marry.  This didn’t happen so he married her cousin, Luisa.  J. J. continued that Claudio retired to his “Rancho Anita” about 1820, but only stayed a couple of years before turning the property over to some sons and going to Los Angeles, where he was alcalde (roughly, mayor) in 1826.

Although he stated that the López family in Spain were among the Castilian aristocracy, a not uncommon claim among the Californios, he did note that his ancestors were freighters in Alta California, carrying material on oxen-drawn carretas (carts), driven by Indians, while the López family members supervised on horseback.  Moreover, Esteban Lopez, father of Geronimo and grandfather of J. J., was said to have been the main hauler of brea [tar] from the Rancho La Brea pits to the pueblo of Los Angeles for covering the roofs of adobe houses there and J. J. also stated that “in later years my father, Jerónimo López, hauled it.”  The brea was used, moreover, to grease the wheels of the carretas that the López family used for their teamster work. A humorous story involving Geronimo also emerged (pardon the pun) from his experiences with the tar pits at La Brea.  Namely, when he was informed that there were “elephant” bones in the brea, Geronimo scornfully replied that “those are the bones of a span of my oxen that bogged down out there.”  When shown “an elephant leg bone that weighted as much as one of this oxen, he was so made he just snorted.”

Also not surprisingly, J. J. claimed that “I can remember my father [Geronimo] saying that he and his father-in-law, Pedro López, did more hard work than any Indian that ever worked for them.”  As for his mother, Catarina, he offered that, “my own mother probably was the most ambitious socially of any of the old generation that I knew.  But, at the same time, she was the best business manager of her generation.”  Another tidbit about Geronimo’s early work experience related by his son was that “my father . . . was in the business of burning lime and charcoal . . . for lime,” which was a main ingredient of the white plaster which covered the area’s adobe houses.

Next, José Jesús López and his recollections of the family’s years at Paredon Blanco [White Bluffs], later the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles.


Categories: California History, Catarina Lopez, Claudio Lopez, Esteban Lopez, Geronimo Lopez, José Jesús López, Lopez Adobe, Lopez History, Mission San Fernando, Pedro Lopez, Rancho El Tejón, San Fernando History, Ygnacio Lopez | Leave a comment

The José Jesús López Interviews by Frank Latta, Part One

The 1976 Bear State Books production, Saga of Rancho El Tejón deals with the history of the famed ranch in The Grapevine, the area flanking Interstate 5 as it winds through the mountainous area north of Los Angeles and between it and Bakersfield.  Frank F. Latta, a preeminent Kern County historian, wrote the book, but it so happens that the work relies heavily on interviews Latta did, starting in 1916, with José Jesús López, the eldest son of Geronimo and Catarina López, owners of the López Adobe from the early 1880s until the early 1920s.  After the couple died, sisters of J. J., as he was commonly known, owned the adobe until the 1960s.

In any case, Latta’s preface notes that “José Jesús López was one of the most colorful pioneers ever to operate a stock ranch in California.”  It goes on to assume that the family came to the area with Portola (and, it indicated, Junípero Serra, though Serra was not on the expedition) in 1769, but states that Juan Francisco López was with the soldiers who escorted the padres who founded Mission San Gabriel in September 1771.  Latta also wrote that J. J. López first saw the San Joaquin Valley in 1872 and brought sheep there the following year.  In 1874, Edward F. Beale, owner of Rancho El Tejón and three other ranches, bought some of J. J.’s sheep and then asked López to manage his sheep herds, totaling almost 100,000 animals on a staggering 300,000 acres.  Although Beale transferred operations from sheep to cattle in 1885, J. J. stayed on to manage the ranchos and did so until Beale’s death.  Even though the ranchos were sold to a Los Angeles corporation, J. J. was kept on as a manager and then consultant until he died in 1939 at age 87.

A studio portrait of José Jesús López, eldest child of Geronimo and Catarina Lopez, and longtime foreman at Rancho El Tejón.

A studio portrait of José Jesús López, eldest child of Geronimo and Catarina Lopez, and longtime foreman at Rancho El Tejón.  From Saga of Rancho El Tejón by Frank F. Latta.

Latta’s initial meeting with J. J. in 1916 began with a noon dinner and the formality and hospitality with which López conducted the meal were vivid in the author’s mind nearly six decades later.  Latta wrote that,

I continued to visit Don José and to take notes at this dictation until he passed away.  And he actually dictated.  He immediately knew when I was leaving out or adding anything.  At times he interrupted me and had me read back what I had written.  He was one of the most fascinating and entertaining persons I ever interviewed, as well as an accurate and voluminous informant.

Fascinatingly, Latta pointed out that “beginning about 1868, he [López] began keeping detailed daily account of all of his income and expenses.  His account book soon developed into a diary and was carried in his pocked everywhere he went.”  Observing that J. J. wrote down so much of what he saw and noticed that he filled over 130 volumes, Latta stated that the greatest value in these monumental journals was the information recorded about the Indians of the Tejón and surrounding areas.

Sadly, in 1917 the Tejón ranch office was being rebuilt and a fire erupted.  Latta recorded that “his [Lopez’s] records and correspondence were entirely destroyed,” though the author stated that “most of the events in the diaries were remembered word for word,” even to J. J.’s death over two decades later.

In describing how J. J. exercised his authority with firmness and respect among the employees, Latta quoted López as stating that

My mother could keep a houseful of Indian servants and from six to ten of her own children busy every minute, as well as keep tabs on the men who were working around the place.  You see, I am much like my mother—who also was a López, daughter of Pedro who kept a thousand Indians busy at San Fernando Mission.

Clearly, Catarina López was a formidable figure at López Station and at the adobe, too!

Latta concluded his preface by observing that López had a powerful management style with the Tejón ranch hands and his commanding presence was exemplified in his interviews, during which “Don José would spring from his chair and act out the events—mount his horse by jamming  the first and second fingers of his left hand astride the edge of his right hand and gallop of pasear across the Tejón hills as he had sixty years before.”  He ended with the simple lament that, “when Don José passed away, this author felt he had suffered one of the greatest losses of a lifetime.”

Next time, José Jesús Lopez and his recollections of his family’s origins.

Categories: Catarina Lopez, Geronimo Lopez, José Jesús López, Lopez Adobe, Lopez History, Rancho El Tejón | Leave a comment

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