Ramona Lopez de Shaug

The Pioneer Society of San Fernando

In April 1913, just shy of forty years since San Fernando’s founding, a group of citizens in the recently incorporated city (1911) gathered to create The Pioneer Society of San Fernando.

A scrapbook in the Lopez Adobe collection contains the handwritten constitution and meeting minutes for the organization, which seems to have existed in the 1930s, but only met infrequently, if the book is the only record of its meetings.

SF Pioneer Society Constitution 1

As was the case with so many of these historical societies that sprung up with increasing frequency in the United States, especially after the American centennial was celebrated in 1876, the object of the Pioneer Society was typical:

to cement the bonds of friendship among the older and former residents of this Valley, to enable them to renew acquaintanceship and to promote that fraternal spirit which should permeate those who have long resided in the same community.

Unlike other similar organizations, however, there was no mention of specific activities or projects, such as saving or marking historic landmarks (although the town was less than four decades old), having regular meetings, publishing historical material, presenting lectures, or having events.

Perhaps this is why the existing record of meetings is spotty!

SF Pioneer Society 1st Mtg Minutes 26Apr13

Among the surnames of those mentioned in the early days of the society were Hubbard, Jenifer, Wright, Maclay, Van Winkle, Webster, and Barclay–all representatives of early families of prominent merchants, farmers and others in town.

Quite a few early members came from the large López family, especially the many daughters of Gerónimo and Catarina.  These include their son-in-law, John T. Wilson, who married Grace López and who was chairperson of the first annual meeting of the society, held at his home on what, funnily enough, was dated as “Sept. 31, 1913.”  Also included were Catarina Millen and her husband William; Ramona Shaug and her husband Charles; Erlinda Alexander and her husband Joseph; and J.C. Villegas, a grandson through the Lopez’s daughter María.

There was a meeting on 30 October 1913 with little business of note conducted and then not again until the end of September 1914, which was equally uneventful.   A gathering of 10 October 1914, though, did feature the election of Catarina López as honorary president of the society and her son-in-law Wilson as 1st vice-president.  Again, though, the agenda was on the light side.

SF Pioneer Society Annual Mtg 31Sep13

The first evidence of an event held by the organization came at the May 1915 meeting, at which a picnic to be held at “Griffith’s park” on 12 June was discussed and committees appointed for “conveyances”, food and refreshments, and a “programme” of toasts and speakers, among other elements.

At the end of September 1916, the next gathering was held, at which the honorary president, presumably Catarina López, was retained, as were the officers.  There was some vague business about tin cups, with no explanation of what they were for, but a “cooperative dinner” was scheduled for late October.

SFPS 10Oct14

Then, it was a few years before any new activity arose, when a meeting of 17 April 1920  was held to arrange for the annual picnic, with committees formed and members appointed, and the date, a holiday preferred, to be selected subsequently.

The organization, as noted above, continued into the 1930s, but with not much happening.  There was a list compiled, sometime in 1930, of society members with names and, in many cases, the date when persons settled in town.  Among the early residents listed were:

Mary Proctor, 1870

John T. Wilson, April 1871

J.C. Maclay, April 1874

C.J. Shaug, July 1874

H.C. Hubbard, March 1875

F.M. Wright, September 1875

SFPS signatures 3Aug30

Of course, Gerónimo and Catarina López were on the list (noted as deceased, having passed away in 1921 and 1918, respectively), but no date of their arrival was given.  The newly married couple did settle at Mission San Fernando, though, in the early 1850s and later established Lopez Station, where today’s Van Norman Reservoir is located.

One of the later pages of the book is dated 3 August 1930 and contains several dozen signatures, perhaps those attending a society picnic.  Names include the Lopez-affiliated John and Grace Wilson; Luisa López McAlohan, who extensively remodeled the López Adobe in the mid-1920s; Catarina (Kate) and William Millen, whose wife Catarina must’ve been there, as she was the last López to live in the adobe up until 1961; Ramona Shaug; and the Brookses, descended through the Villegas line; as well as such surnames as Maclay, Hubbard, Fraisher, Webster, Wright, Van Winkle, Folger and more.

SFPS member list ca 1930 2

The organization eventually died off, as so many do, but a later group, the Friends of the López Adobe, emerged a few decades later, in the 1960s, to save the historic structure and which is still around today, keeping up the spirit of its predecessor.

 

Categories: Catarina Lopez, Catarina Lopez de Millen, Geronimo Lopez, Lopez Adobe, Lopez History, Louisa Lopez de McAlohan, Pioneer Society of San Fernando, Ramona Lopez de Shaug, San Fernando founders, San Fernando History, San Fernando people | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Francisco López Gold Discovery Lecture

Yesterday at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center, a very thorough and very interesting presentation was made on the Francisco López gold discovery by Alan Pollack, president of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society.

Pollack obviously spent considerable time trying to sort out fact from fiction and history from myth as he discussed early gold discoveries in California, those documented and asserted; the López family history and the very limited information known about Francisco; and then carefully covered several major sources of information about the discovery.

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The tunnel under Placerita Canyon Road leading to the alleged site of the López gold discovery has some murals, including this well-worn depiction of a broad swath of history from native Indians to gold miners to oil prospecting.

With respect to the first point, Pollack noted that, while the López discovery was the first major documented find, there was a very interesting document found that showed an 1838 deposit at the Philadelphia national mint of gold dust that was labeled as being from California.  He noted that there were accounts that claimed earlier instances of the location of gold.  Of course, who knows how many discoveries were made by the native Indians residing in what became California for thousands and thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans by 1770.

Pollack also discussed a bit of the López family genealogy to identify the Francisco was a cousin of Gerónimo and Catalina Lopez, the owners for decades of the López Adobe.  Their son, José Jesús, in a 1916 interview stated that Francisco was college-educated and studies mineralogy, so that this training was obviously essential in his find.  Francisco was also a part-owner of the massive Rancho San Francisco, encompassing today’s Santa Clarita Valley, which was the property of his sister and her husband, the del Valles.  Although Francisco would up being part-owner of other ranches, including Tujunga and Cahuenga, he seems to have died in some obscurity, as no record of his death or burial site have been found and he is missing from even the most basic of public records.

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This detail of another mural shows Francisco López (of whom there are no known images) triumphantly waving his gold-flecked wild onions under the Oak of the Golden Dream.  Conveniently, a piece of paper under the tree identifies the date “Marzo 1842.”

As to the main sources of information, Pollack shared an image of a New York newspaper article from October 1842 that briefly discussed the discovery.   He then spent some time going through later, more detailed sources, the earliest of these being a letter in 1867 by longtime Los Angeles merchant and land baron Abel Stearns and the last from 1930 surrounded the landmark status bestowed on the Placerita Canyon site said to have been the very spot on which López discovered the gold.

Stearns identified the find as from April 1842 and wrote that López and some ranch hands stopped in the canyon while searching for lost horses and, during a rest break, he dug up some wild onions on which were flakes of gold.  This set off a rush, mainly composed of hundreds of experienced gold miners coming up from the northern mining state of Sonora in Mexico proper.

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There it is–the alleged 500-year old Oak of the Golden Dream, where Francisco López is said to have found gold on 9 March 1842.

While Stearns noted that he sold gold dust to the mint in Philadelphia, there were others, too, that Pollack did not have time to discuss.  One was merchant Pliny F. Temple, who sent dust to a brother in Massachusetts to buy goods to send back to Mexican California–these are documented by surviving letters dating from 1842 to 1844.

A rather interesting tale from John Murray discussed a Mexican mineralogist who showed pebbles having gold  in them when he was visiting Santa Barbara and it was claimed that Francisco López was present when this took place, inspring his own search.  Murray, however, claimed that the gold discovery was actually in 1841, though not specified as to date.

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The tale of the Oak of the Golden Dream must be true because it is literally carved in stone (or brass set in stone) in this 1991 plaque by, curiously enough, the Santa Clarita Valley Association of Realtors.

James M. Guinn, an educator and historian of early Los Angeles and southern California, wrote a lengthy 1895 article in the San Francisco Call, analyzing the known accounts and declaring that there was no way to know the absolute truth of what happened with the discovery, though he did say it was likely early 1842 and that López was the discoverer.  Guinn also went on to state that while James Marshall, who found the gold in 1848 that launched the Gold Rush, received a small pension and a statue, López had been forgotten.

Interestingly, Isaac Given write a letter to Guinn, saying that he came to California from New Mexico at the end of 1841 with a group commonly known by two of its presumed leaders, Workman (the father-in-law of the above-mentioned Pliny Temple) and Rowland, and that he was shown gold dust from the discovery by Stearns.  Other accounts, including one by a man alleged to have been 115 years old, assigned dates of 1838 and 1840 for the find.

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Notably, the California state historic landmark plaque makes no mention of any dream, but rather matter-of-factly states that López found gold while gathering wild onions.  It does, however, declare that the find was six years before the Marshall discovery ushering in the Gold Rush.  Note the original registration was 1935, five years after the local dedication.  The plaque, however, dated from 1992 with the involvement of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society and E Clampus Vitus.

Perhaps the most persistent of the chroniclers was Francisca López de Bilderrain, a relative of Francisco, who claimed that Catalina López, of the López Adobe, told her that she was present, as a young girl of 12 or 13, when the first anniversary of the find was observed in 1843.  Based on this, Bilderrain, Catalina’s daughter Ramona López de Shaug, and Charles Prudhomme, a local history enthusiast, ventured into Placerita Canyon, where the tree said to have been the site of the discovery was pointed out based on Catalina’s recollection.  Prudhomme wrote a 1922 article in the annual publication of the Historical Society of Southern California based on this version.  Five years later, Catholic priest and church historian Father Zephyrin Englehardt reproduced Catalina’s account in a book he wrote.

Finally, there was a dedication of the purported discovery site on 9 March 1930, said to have been the 88th anniversary of López’s find.  For that event, a couple of men prominent in the creation of the landmark status came up with a new wrinkle in the story, grandiosely called “The Oak of the Golden Dream,” in which Francisco was not only taking a break from hunting the roaming horses, but fell into a slumber, during which he had a dream of finding gold.  Lo and behold, the gold was found.

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. . . and, it’s got its own logo, too!

An affidavit was secured from Bilderrain, stating that the information she received from Catalina López was true and that this was relayed to her at a 1914 family reunion.  Meantime, local ranch owner Frank Walker donated the site of the tree for the dedication, which featured two plaques and speeches that went to great lengths to play up the importance of the discovery and to assure it a place in California history less overshadowed by the great Gold Rush of six years later.  Pollack’s reading of some of the speeches brought a bit of laughter for its overwrought language!

Bilderrain added to the earnest attempt to redress the wrong perpertrated on Francisco López by writing another version that was submitted to the California State Library in July 1930, including the alleged exclamation of Francisco when he discovered the gold:  something along the lines of “Gold!  I have found it!  Gold!!”  She also claimed there were numerous celebrations in Los Angeles when the word reached the little village of the find, that an emissary was dispatched to Mexico City to alert the federal government, and other embellishments.

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Whether it’s the actual tree or not, long may it stand to commemorate an important event in local and state history!

 

In 1959, Placerita Canyon Nature Center was dedicated and a reenactment of the discovery was presented.  In later years, the long-vanished original plaques were replaced by new ones, including a designation of the site as a California state historic landmark and another by a local organization.  The tree, purportedly 500 years old, still stands just a few feet north of Placerita Canyon Road.

As Pollack noted in his excellent telling, however, the “true history” of the discovery is really unknown, from the actual date, to the real location, and details associated with the event.  He summed up by noting that the only person who could have told the story accurately was Francisco López, but he, evidently, left no version behind.  Not surprisingly, as with many notable historical events, the story has become more embellished and expanded over time, but the “Oak of the Golden Dream” has moved into legend and will almost certainly remain there.

Categories: 1842 discovery of gold San Francisquito Canyon, California History, Catalina Lopez, Francisca López de Bilderrain, Francisco Lopez, Geronimo Lopez, Gold Rush, José Jesús López, Lopez Adobe, Lopez History, Oak of the Golden Dream, Placerita Canyon, Ramona Lopez de Shaug, Rancho San Francisco, San Fernando History, Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Find of the Week: Lopez Family China Hutch

This 1949 photograph of a San Fernando civic organizaiton event at the López Adobe shows two daughters of Gerónimo and Catarina López, Ramona Shaug (seated at the far right) and Catarina Millen (seated at the middle and who lived in the house from 1935 to 1961) with some guests in the Adobe's dining room.  At the back left is a china cabinet that is still in the Adobe collection and which will be displayed when the historic house reopens this year.

This 1949 photograph of a San Fernando civic organizaiton event at the López Adobe shows two daughters of Gerónimo and Catarina López, Ramona Shaug (seated at the far right) and Catarina Millen (seated at the middle and who lived in the house from 1935 to 1961) with some guests in the Adobe’s dining room. At the back left is a china cabinet that is still in the Adobe collection and which will be displayed when the historic house reopens this year.

One of the fun aspects of the Lopez Adobe project has been discovering those few items in the collection of furnishings and artifacts that belonged to the family and were in the house in earlier eras. When reviewing for the project some photographs of the house, it was noticed that one of them showed a piece of furniture that is still in the collection.

The photo was dated 1949 and showed two of the surviving children of Gerónimo and Catarina López, Ramona Lopez de Shaug and Catarina Lopez de Millen, dressed in early California costume with some other San Fernando women and sitting at a dining room table set for tea as part of a civic organization event. In the background is a china cabinet that, it so happens, remains with the Adobe today.

On its own, the cabinet doesn’t appear to have a great deal of inherent interest. It is not a high-end piece of furniture, does not have a manufacturer’s label on it, and lacks a compelling story to relate, other than its rather routine function storing and displaying china, glass and other pieces by its owner. If anything, it is one of other furniture and furnishing items that show a middle-class status for those who possessed it and can be looked at that way in context with other pieces in the same room and others in the building. It is true that the Lopez family were not particularly wealthy and would likely best be considered middle class for their time, although their long history in the Los Angeles region generally and the San Fernando area specifically is where the main interest lies.

However, while it is not known how old this piece of furniture is or whether it was brought to the house by one of the daughters, perhaps Kate Millen, who lived in the house from 1935 and 1961, as opposed to being there when Gerónimo and Catarina resided there, it is still great to have something linked to the family and its occupancy of the house. To show the 1949 photo in the dining room and have the cabinet in the same location it occupied more than six decades ago (and, presumably, for much longer before that) is a way to engage the visitor in discussing the Adobe as a not just a museum, but as a family home for over some 80 years. That may be where its place as part of a broader story is best viewed.

Categories: Catarina Lopez de Millen, Find of the Week, Lopez Adobe, Ramona Lopez de Shaug, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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