By Hero Eugene Rensch
Sept. 7  – Reached Vallecita (sic) at 2 p.m…. Taking minute directions where to find the best trail, we recommenced our journey, expecting to climb the mountains in time to reach Lassator’s ranch, in one of the valleys, by or before sunset … finally reaching the ranch … at two o’clock in the morning … Once in the haystack, we slept soundly till daylight.
Sept. 8 – At nine o’clock a.m. we left Lassator’s ranch with fresh animals, this time, mounted on horses … We reached San Diego at 10 o’clock p.m., bringing the first through mail which reached here in schedule time …
This first mention in literature, of James Ruler Lassator’s Green Valley Ranch in the Cuyamaca Mountains, was signed “I.C. Woods, Superintendent, S. A. and S. D. Mail Line.” Lassator’s was the only stop between Vallecito and San Diego which he mentions in his colorful Report “on the opening and present condition of the U. S. Mails” between San Antonio and San Diego, sent to Postmaster General Brown in March, 1858.1
The San Antonio & San Diego Mail Line was the first overland mail established by the United States Government, and Supt. Isaiah Churchill Woods placed special emphasis on the importance of “Lassator’s ranch” to the line, and its convenience as a place to rest and change animals on the shorter mountain trail” in to San Diego. He told of how immigrants, after crossing the desert to Vallecito, refreshed their stock in “the excellent grazing valleys of these mountains.” Pack-mules carried Green Valley hay to the Line’s “place of rendezvous” at Carrizo Creek. Known as “Lassator’s” from its dramatic beginning as the first and principal mountain station on James Birch’s San Antonio — San Diego Mail Line, it was also the first permanent white dwelling on Augustin Olvera’s Rancho Sierra de Cuyamaca. James Ruler Lassator, in business at the Vallecito sod house as early as July of 1854, was the first permanent white settler in the Cuyamaca mountains.2
The trail which went by Lassator’s place was known in written accounts long before “Lassator’s” appeared in Woods’ Report. It was the Yuma Indian Trail from the Colorado River via the Carrizo Corridor and over the Cuyamacas to the coast villages of San Diego, the natural Indian trade route for centuries before the white men found it. It is first described in the Diary of Don Pedro Fages, April 17-20, 1782, when Fages and his 20 horsemen climbed out of Oriflamme Canyon into the valleys of the Cuyamacas, on April 19. They found, that day, a good-sized village of friendly Indians in Green Valley, and Fages gave them glass beads.3 “El Camino de San Diego” was well known to Fages, who traversed it four times in 1772, twice in 1782, and again in 1785. The “San Diego Trail” was well known to travelers over the Southern Immigrant Route, and is noted in several diaries from 1849 to 1858.4
When Woods left Vallecito on Sept. 7, 1857, he took the old trail up Oriflamme Canyon, through Cuyamaca Valley and down into Green Valley. It was the main route of mail carriers and travelers – the one well known, much traveled trail mentioned in diaries and depositions from 1849 to 1873, and indicated on township maps and the U. S. Cuyamaca Patent map of 1874. It was the most traveled because it was more like a natural roadway than any other in the area (before the great flood of 1916 washed it out) and the only one which led from the desert directly into Cuyamaca and Green Valleys.5
Lassator and his stepsons, Andrew and John Mulkins (probably the J. R. Lassator & Co.) learned of this trail soon after settling at Vallecito in 1854, from Indians who annually traversed Oriflamme Canyon to harvest the acorns from Cuyamaca’s oak forests. The first mail carrier, Joseph Swycaffer, in 1870 testified that he “always traveled this route” with the U. S. Army Mail, 1854-57 – before. the advent of Woods.6
Over this well-worn trail Lassator and young John Mulkins went to Green Valley in 1857, to take up “160 acres of government land.” In 1870 Carlos Eschrich, who camped in Lower Green Valley in 1856, testified that “the year after I left, Lassitor (sic) took possession of that valley and called it Green Valley.”7 Lassator may have run stock there before 1857. On April 7 of that year he was appointed Judge of the Plains for Agua Caliente Township by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.8 From then on Green Valley became the scene of annual rodeos, with as many as 1,000 head of cattle gathered from far and near. On Oct. 24, 1857, Woods reported that while the coastal area was parched with drought, . . . “our contractor was cutting hay to send over to our station [Carrizo Creek] on the desert.”9
Thus Fages’ old San Diego Trail, opened in 1782, became an important link in overland communications when Woods climbed over it through Oriflamme Canyon, to Lassator’s and on in to San Diego Sept. 7-8, 1857, fulfilling the mail carriers’ motto: “The mails must go through on time!”
Not only was Green Valley good cattle country and a strategic point on the San Diego Trail; Lassator saw in it the future home for his family. The first permanent dwelling in the Cuyamacas soon appeared on the west bank of Cold Spring Creek, near its junction with the Sweetwater River.
Traditions are, at best, unreliable evidence, and memories do not prove origins. Some have said that this house of Lassator’s was a log cabin; others that it was of adobe, and a very few that it was of rock. Lassator’s connection with the house was forgotten by some who knew the house itself: “it was the house of Mulkins. Lassator never lived there.” The passage of time, changing ownership of the land, and destruction of the house itself have combined with conflicting traditions to add to the difficulties of arriving at the truth. What are the facts of Lassator’s Green Valley House? What documentary evidence do we have? Testifying in the Cuyamaca land case in 1870, John Mulkins said:
The stone house in which I now reside was built by my stepfather in 1857. 1 helped to build it.10
This long-overlooked testimony is from the National Archives at Washington, D. C. It is contained in a brief portion of Mulkins’ deposition not printed in the Exceptions to the Survey of the Cuyamaca Grant compiled by Judge Benjamin Hayes in 1873, but merely cited parenthetically as: “(Describes his residence there, as well as family.)”11 Here is final proof that the Lassator-Mulkins house, first permanent building in the Cuyamacas and principal mountain station on the S. A. & S. D. Mail Line, was a house built of stone.
This was Lassator’s house, a substantial mountain dwelling of native rock chinked with mud, gabled roof of hand-made sugar-pine shakes and rough-hewn pine rafters, cut in Cuyamaca’s forests. In the northeast corner of the kitchen was a huge stone fireplace, where rested the Dutch oven. The house is recalled vividly by Mrs. Jessie Hobbs, who lived in the adjoining Lockhardt frame house (built in 1881) for ten years, and David McCain remembers in detail the solid rock walls and gabled roof of the old house. Foundation stones, beautifully fitted and solidly placed, were seen by Granville Martin after the old house was demolished. 12
There is little doubt that most of the rock in the Lassator-Mulkins house was incorporated in the Dyar Green Valley country home, now the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park Museum. The man who supervised the work, Charles Kelly, recalls that sled-loads of native rock were gathered from all over the neighborhood and pulled to the new site, 1923-24.13
As soon as John Mulkins and his step-father had the stone house ready, Sarah Mulkins Lassator left the earthquake-ridden sod house14 and desert heat at Vallecito for pleasant Green Valley. There she found, as Fages had 75 years before, “a different climate” for herself and her two babies, James Lassator Jr. and little Martha, born some time that spring. With her also were two older daughters – John’s sisters – Jane, 17, and Lodusky, 10. An older sister, Loana Mulkins Beard, joined the household later.15
These were happy years for Sarah Lassator, with whom tragedy had walked the long trail before and would walk again after this peaceful interlude in Green Valley. She had lost her first husband and her mother on the overland trip to California in 1852. She married Lassator in Los Angeles Feb. 19, 1854, and went with her two sons and three daughters to live in the sod house at Vallecito.16 Now she and the children were snugly housed within the strong stone walls at Green Valley. The first marriage there took place on March 19, 1862, after Capt. James Dye had won the hand of Jane Mulkins. Step-father Lassator, as Justice of the Peace, “Selebreated the rights of Mattrimoney” as shown by the marriage certificate with his familiar signature (and bad spelling) recorded in San Diego April 17, 1862.17
Some time late in 1863, Lassator left for Arizona Territory on a lengthy commercial and mining trip apparently. Returning in January of 1865 with $3,000 in gold-dust, he and a companion were murdered at Texas Hill, Arizona; the bodies, the wagon and an abandoned trunk were found by his stepson, John Mulkins.18 Thus began a new period in the history of Green Valley, for on the settlement of the estate in 1867, the name of John Wesley Mulkins first appears on the tax-rolls and assessment papers.” As the matter of Olvera’s original Mexican land-grant of 1845 had not yet been settled — with a resultant flaw in the titles to what Lassator believed to be government land – a petition was filed by Sarah Lassator in March 1866; she prayed that the “homestead” be set aside for the use of herself and her children, James Jr., and his sister, Sarah Martha.” This was done, but John Mulkins testified in 1870 that his mother later “sold the same to me.”” Such is the basis for the frequently repeated designation, in later years, of “Lassator’s, now Mulkins’.”
Testifying in 1870 Dr. McKinstry, who had been the Lassator’s family physician, stated that his place is that designated as ‘Mulkins’ on Exhibit FF … drawn by Charles J. Fox.”
On this first centennial of the Lassator-Mulkins stone house, the principal mountain station on the San Antonio-San Diego Mail Line, these historic events of a hundred years ago should be fittingly and enduringly memorialized. The name of James Ruler Lassator should be honored with that of Don Pedro Fages and of Isaiah Churchill Woods, who made this short-cut mountain trail famous in the annals of the United States Mail by his history-making trip across the Cuyamacas and through Green Valley on the night of Sept. 7-8, 1857, when he carried the first through mail to reach San Diego on schedule time.
James Ruler Lassator (left), of Lassator’s stage station, was born in North Carolina in 1816; he was murdered near Texas Hill, about 90 miles above Fort Yuma on the Gila River, early in January of 1865. James Ruler Lassator Jr. (right) was born at Vallecito in 1854 and was killed in a cattle war near Tombstone, Arizona, in 1885. The rare photograph of the father is reproduced by courtesy of the Dr. Louis Strahlmann collection; that of the son is from the files of the Junipero Serra Museum.
1. I.C. Woods, Report … U. S. Overland Mail Route … 1858 (Washington, 1858) p. 10.
2. (Hayes) Exceptions to the Survey of the Cuyamaca Grant (hereafter cited as Exceptions) (San Francisco, 1873) pp. 60-65, deposition of Carlos Eschrich; passim.; S. D. County Assessment Papers, J. R. Lassator, Vallecito, July 9, 1854.
3. Herbert 1. Priestly, ed. and tr., “The Colorado River Campaign, 1781-82, Diary of Pedro Fages,” Acad. Pac. Coast Hist., Pubs. III (May 1913) 225-229; Hero Eugene Rensch, “Fages’ Crossing of the Cuyamacas,” Calif. Hist. Soc. Quarterly (Sept. ’55) 193-208.
4. Rensch, ibid, passim.; diaries, etc., that refer to the S. D. Trail, or point out the line over the mountain short-cut to San Diego:
a) Benj. Hayes, “Diary of Emigrant Travel … 1849,” (MS. in Bancroft Library.)
b) Jno. E. Durivage, “Through Mex. to Calif. . . .” in Southern Trails to California in 1849, Ralph P. Bieber, ed. (Glendale, 1937), V, pp. 239-40.
c) Hayes, “Scraps” R104, no. 109, from Alta Californian, J. M. Farwell, letter, Oct. 21, 1858 (MS. in Bancroft Library).
d) G. Bailey, “Report to Postmaster General Brown,” U. S. Sen. Ex. Doc. 35th Cong. Sess., II, pp. 739-41.
e) Jno. B. Hinton, “Reminiscences … 1853-69” (MS. in Huntington Library).
f) Exceptions, op. cit., affidavit of E. W. Morse, Mar. 25, 1871, pp. 24-25.
5. Woods, op. cit. p. 21.
Exceptions, op. cit., affidavits of: McCoy, p. 20; Morse, pp. 24-25; Swycaffer, p. 60.
Hinton, op. cit., passim.; Everett Campbell, interview, Apr. 23, 1950.
6. Exceptions, op. cit., affidavit of Swycaffer, p. 60.
7. Ibid., affidavit of Eschrich, p. 60.
8. S. D. County Supervisors’ Minutes, I, p. 81, Apr. 7, 1857.
9. Woods, op. cit., Oct. 24, 27, 1857, p. 37.
10. National Archives of the U. S. (Washington, D. C.). Records of the General Land Office, RG49, Calif. Private Land Claim 482, Exhibit No. 18, aff. of J. Mulkins, Aug. 16, 1870.
11. Exceptions, op. cit., aff. of Mulkins, 1870, exhibit No. 18, p. 14.
12. Mrs. Jessie Hobbs, interview, Oct. 26-27, 1956; David McCain, interview, Oct. 21, 1956; Granville Martin, interview, Oct. 19, 1956. Both Mrs. Hobbs and David McCain recall one or two rock out-houses, but no log houses or cabins.
13. Chas. Kelly, interview, Oct. 22,1956.
14. Hayes, “Emigrant Notes,” V. 894, Sept. 20, 1856 (MS. in Bancroft Library).
15. U. S. Census, 1860; Nat. Archives, op. cit., aff. of Mulkins.
16. Lillian Enos, interview, Oct. 11-12,1955; U. S. Census, 1860; L. A. County “Calif. Marriage Records” Bk. 1, p. 5, Feb. 19, 1854; in Court House and Church Records, from California, compiled by D.A.R. Geneal. Records Committee, 1936 (MS. in State Library).
17. S.D. County, Book of Marriages, No. 1, Folio 27, Apr. 15,1862, Dye-Mulkins Marriage Certificate.
18. Wilmington Jour., Feb. 25, Mar. (?) 1865; Arizona Weekly Miner, Feb. 15, 1865 (reprinted in S. F. Bulletin, Mar. 4, 23, 1865).
19. Probate, Lassator estate, Mar. 20, 1865 – Mar. 4, 1867, Old Court 106 (MS. in S. D. County Court House); Assessment Papers, Tax Rolls, Mulkins, Green Valley, 1867.
20. Probate, op. cit., passim.
21. National Archives, op. cit., Exh. No. 18.