Ernest Osuna, “El Hidalgo de San Diego,” is a sixth generation Californian, born in Bell, California, March 5, 1940. He is a graduate of Palomar College in San Marcos and served two years in the U. S. Navy as a medical corpsman. He also has been a professional entertainer.
As “El Hidalgo,” a Spanish word meaning “a person of noble birth,” his schedule calls for personal appearances both within our state and nation, and in other parts of the world.
Dressed in one of his many authentic costumes of a Spanish Don, and riding a golden palomino, he greets those who come to see him.
“My name is Ernest Osuna. I am San Diego’s official representative of its two hundredth anniversary.”
He introduces the horse as “Princesa,” loaned to him by S. Vallasenor, a horseman of Oceanside.
Because of his family background, Ernest states, he was selected by the San Diego 200th Anniversary, Inc., as the person to depict San Diego’s two hundred years of blended Spanish-Mexican-American influences.
He explains, “My great-great-grandfather was named ‘Juan María Osuna.’ He was San Diego’s first mayor.”
During his brief appearances Ernest does not have the opportunity to give detailed information. It is time to tell more of the story…
Information available in Junípero Serra Museum Library indicates that the story of the Osuna family in Upper California began in 1769, with Father Junípero Serra’s seven hundred fifty mile journey from Loreto in Lower California, to the port of San Diego.
Sent along to guard the frail little friar was a military expedition containing soldiers of one of the most picturesque and capable detachments ever to enter the New World, the “Soldados de Cuera.”
The group, known at first as the “Voluntarios de Cataluña,” or the “Catalonian Volunteers,” was organized in Spain for duty in the New World.
While on frontier duty, in 1767, the regiment adopted the garment which led to its nickname?the “cuera,” meaning “hide” or “skin,” a long sleeveless coat of white tanned buckskin, made of several thicknesses sewed together.
Juan María Osuna’s father, Juan Osuna, was a “corporal de escuadra,” a “corporal of the guard,” of the “Soldados de Cuera,” or “Leather Jacket Company,” sent in accompaniment to the missionary expedition into Upper California.
His mother, María Ygnacia Alvarado, was one of the first women to try to keep a tidy house in the dusty Presidio?Mission “San Diego de Alcala,” established by Father Serra on a gusty triangle of bluff, jutting over boggy mudflats and twin circles of blue bay. This was on July 16, 1769.
Within the Presidio, a son, Juan María, was born to the Osunas in 1785. He was baptized in its chapel?perhaps the same one that the excavation committee at the Royal Presidio Digs has been uncovering under the direction of the San Diego History Center. By the time that Juan María was born, the mission had been moved from the Presidio to a site five miles east, in a tranquil little valley through which gentle sea breezes blew.
As a child, Juan Maria played games within the clay and rock walls of the fortress. He went to school there, received the sacraments in its chapel, and learned to be a soldier. The Presidio was his only home for almost forty years.
Between 1769 and 1830 life in San Diego centered around the small enclosure situated on the breezy promontory from which one could watch the sparkling sea as far as the horizon.
At that time the Presidio of San Diego was a distinguished place. It was one of four important towns of Upper California and the principal garrison for a district which ran 125 miles north, including the missions of San Diego, San Luis Rey, San Juan Capistrano, San Gabriel, and three auxiliary missions or “asistencias.”
When he was grown Juan María also became a corporal of the guard. A soldier’s duties consisted of garrisoning the isolated forts, standing guard at solitary missions, caring for horses and cattle, and carrying important dispatches from one remote habitancy to another. The serious job of patrol was handled by a small force. In 1796, for example, the total military strength of the Presidio was only 90 soldiers.
From his vantage point on the scarp overlooking the sea, the young corporal, with his queue dangling down his back, and with his body protected by “botas,” or leggings, and his leather jacket, would have had an excellent view of San Diego’s first naval battle, on March 17, 1803. This occurred when the American ship, “Lelia Byrd,” exchanged fire with the Spanish garrison at Ballast Point.
If Juan María had happened to miss this battle he didn’t need to wait long to experience more trouble with the Americans. The next incident was one in which he found himself involved as a prisoner. This occurred in 1805 as the result of a clash between the American trading ship, “Eclipse,” and a guard detail which was under Juan María’s direction.
When the Eclipse appeared off San Diego its captain asked for permission to anchor in order to secure fresh food and water. The Spaniards, finding themselves increasingly annoyed by foreign vessels and trying to discourage this activity, refused the American request.
The Eclipse sailed off, but the Spaniards did not relax. They suspected (and were correct in this deduction) that the Americans would try to land somewhere out of sight. Under the direction of Corporal Osuna a guard was sent to patrol the coastline to a point just below Ensenada, at Todos Santos Bay, where the two groups met
The American captain, “O’Cain,” his temper short, in part due to being harrassed and in part because four American sailors captured earlier that year off San Juan Capistrano still were held in custody by the Spaniards, seized the patrol, and took Juan María and the others aboard his ship as prisoners. He sailed backto San Diego and attempted to negotiate an exchange of prisoners. This failing, he threatened to attack the community, but finally changed his mind and sailed off, after first releasing the young leather jacket and his party.
In the following year occurred another important event in the young soldier’s life. He became a married man. On February 15, 1806, at Mission San Diego, he exchanged wedding vows with María Juliana Josepha Lopez, the daughter of Don Francisco and Doña Feliciana Arballo de Lopez. He was twenty-one. She was fifteen.
The leather jacket and his bride set up housekeeping in the Presidio, as his mother and father had done. They had several children?it seems that there were at least six sons and two daughters. Among the children were Julio, Felipa, Juan, María, Ramón, Leandro, José Ylario, and Santiago.
As is the case with all big families some of the children fared well and some didn’t. Sons Leandro and Santiago suffered tragic deaths. Julio became a famous judge. A daughter, Felipa, also played an important part in San Diego history, both often and in many ways. Her memoirs are of value to researchers.
Juan María and his wife, Juliana, continued to live for many years within the Presidio, raising their children inside its walls, where life centered around military and religious activities. The commandant’s residence was the principal building. Everyone was subject to his military discipline.
Juan María never had experienced civil government. He knew about it, though. He also knew that under the proper circumstances Spanish citizens in the colonies were entitled to form towns and rule themselves. Spanish law provided for this.
Military discipline, though, was not the worst feature of life within the Presidio. Quarters were cramped. Life was drab. The bright social spots were on Sundays and feast days, when, if a man was lucky, he could journey five miles up the pastoral valley to attend early mass at the mission, see the country, celebrate in picnic style and return to the Presidio, refreshed from the outing.
Other Presidio living difficulties were of an economic nature.
Juan María, as most men do, wanted to provide well for his family, but a soldier’s pay was small. There were many deductions from his salary. All supplies came from Mexico by ship and the cost was taken out of his wages.
The Spanish government was conscious of the financial difficulties of its soldiers. Both officers and men had much free time given them which they were allowed to use in some fashion to help provide for their families. Some were shoemakers, some were tailors or woodworkers. Most became farmers.
Juan María became a farmer, raising grain in the “Cañada de Osuna.” This canyon later became known as “Rose Canyon.”
In it Juan María farmed, while keeping a watchful eye for signs of Indians or other dangers. He worked the soil, using a crude plow made with the fork of a tree shod with a flat piece of iron.
While serving his country he often must have thought of his future and of the possibilities in the vast country. As he stared over the rock walls of the Presidio or jogged through the countryside on military missions, he viewed an eternity of rolling mesas and dipping canyons fringed with platinum grasses and beaded with thickets of dark green shrubs.
The soldier with the dark braid hanging down his back, wanted a piece of that land. He wanted to become a rancher. There was one item around which the economic life of the area was beginning to center?the steer. To raise steers, though, a man needed a lot of land.
His dream was not an impossible one. Under the Spanish system military men were given the opportunity to select land for themselves. So far the amounts given had not been extensive, but who knew what the future held?
Who, in truth, knew the future? Juan María awoke one morning to learn that Mexico had overthrown Spanish rule and had declared its independence. Before the inhabitants of the Presidio of San Diego knew that a war was on, it was over.
A few of the soldiers took the news hard, cutting off their queues as an expression of disgust. For the most part, though, they had been isolated for so long that they felt no strong emotional attachment to the Spanish government. The law, the language, the religion, the customs remained the same…
The government of Mexico, though, inherited problems when it inherited the Presidio. The population of the little garrison at that time was 450 souls. It had delapidated fortifications, soldiers with no uniforms, and no supplies.
The government, in its acute need for money, began searching for ways to strengthen its financial position. There was one big source of wealth?the rich mission lands that Juan María had spent his life in helping to protect. The danger to the missions, instead of Indian attack, became the government’s policies of secularization?the transfer of the missions and their possessions from the Catholic church to the state. Juan María’s dream of his big piece of land later became a realitythrough this plan.
In the mid 1820’s the soldier retired from the army, under the Spanish military system, which was continued under Mexican rule. It contained provisions for retiring veterans and those who were disabled to receive pensions that were about half their regular incomes.
Juan Maria, in his forties, became a property owner. He built a small three room house, with a bit of land around it. The house was situated in the pueblo lands of San Diego, down the hill from the Presidio where thus far he had spent his life.
He had company in his move. By the time of the Mexican Revolution many soldiers had left the Presidio and had built homes in what now is Old Town, San Diego. They planted vines, fig and citrus trees and their own vegetable and flower gardens. The way of life was comfortable. On warm afternoons a man could sit in the shade of his own trees and enjoy conversation with his neighbors.
A man, however, who is a civilian and owns a piece of property, does not want to be ruled as though he still were a soldier. The property owners in the little pueblo felt themselves stymied in planning for their community when they were still under the military command of the commandant of the declining Presidio. Other cities in California had been given self-government already. Why not San Diego?
While sitting in the shade of their trees on the warm afternoons, Juan María and his friends talked the matter over and decided that they must have city status. Their wishes had been ignored for too long by the military government of California.
Having developed this desire to rule himself, Juan María sailed with vigor into politics. His first adventure came in 1831, after Lt. Col. Manuel Victoria was appointed governor of California.
Victoria’s appointment was an unpopular one, both with San Diego’s five hundred people, and in other parts of southern California.
The dissatisfaction culminated in a Mexican version of the “Boston Tea Party”?an open revolt against Governor Victoria. It was conceived in San Diego and it ended there, in a less than ideal fashion for the governor.
On November 29, 1831, a group of citizens of San Diego issued a pronouncement of grievances against Victoria. Among the charges listed against him were that he set up a military dictatorship in the state and over-rode popular will, and that he was too severe in the administration of justice.
That night, a party of fourteen men seized control of the Presidio and Garrison of San Diego. Among the active participants in this affair were Juan María Osuna and his future son-in-law, Juan María Marrón.
Victoria, at first, did not take this uprising with seriousness. Nevertheless, he headed from Monterey, the capital, to San Diego, to subdue the rebels. As sometimes happens with leaders, he mistook the temper of the times. At Cahuenga Pass, outside Los Angeles, Victoria’s southward marching army met the determined revolutionists, who were heading north. Victoria was wounded, his forces defeated, and the last view Juan María and his allies had of the Colonel was when he was carried to San Diego and put aboard a ship bound for Mexico.
A few months later, in June, 1832, Brigadier General José Figueroa was appointed governor of California. He was more to the liking of the San Diegans, yet they still did not have the city status to which they felt they were entitled. Having tasted the sweet taste of power they were in no mind to give it up.
Juan María and his friends were well educated as to their constitutional rights to form their own towns. They knew that the “Compilation of the Laws of the Indies,” which was issued by Spain in 1681, contained specific provisions for the establishment of towns.
They knew that Felipe de Neve, the Spanish governor of California in 1779, had issued definite instructions for the establishment of municipal governments where they were needed in order to run the affairs of the communities.
Juan María and his friends knew that the decree of the Spanish Cortes of May 23, 1812, called the “Formation of the Constitutional Town Councils,” provided that every pueblo with a population of less than one thousand persons which had no town council, had the right to petition the government for its own governing body. Spanish law had been carried over into Mexican government.
Armed with their proof and exasperated over past rebuffs, the community took action. On February 22, 1833, the new governor, José Figueroa, heard from the citizens of San Diego.
“We are of the opinion, Sir,” they said in a stiff petition, “that whatever might be the number of individuals who live in a settlement, one way or another they ought to have in their local government, the same guarantees and the same organization as the general constitutional provisions provide… they ought to enjoy the privilege of electing their agents, and these ought to be limited in their term of office…”
Included among the signers was Juan María Osuna.
In response, in 1834, the government of California at last gave the community of San Diego the status of an official “pueblo” or town.
On December 18th, 1834, San Diego’s initial primary election was held. Thirteen electors were chosen. These men met on December 21st to select San Diego’s first city officials. At stake were four positions, “alcalde,” or mayor, two “regidores,” or councilmen, and a “síndico procurador,” or city attorney.
When the ballots were counted it was found that Juan María Osuna had been elected mayor of the pueblo. Juan Bautista Alvarado and Juan María Marrón, both prominent citizens, had been elected councilmen. Henry Delano Fitch, an American, and another prominent citizen of the little pueblo, was elected city attorney. These four men made up San Diego’s first “ayuntamiento” or city council.
In winning the election for mayor, Osuna defeated Pio Pico, who later became the last Mexican governor of California, being toppled from his position by the Mexican American War.
On January 1, 1835, the officials of the new pueblo of San Diego were given their oaths of office. Santiago Arguello, who was serving as commandant of the Presidio of San Diego when the area was asking for town status, claims that he was the one to install Juan María Osuna in office.
Arguello did this by giving the new mayor his “staff of office,” a cane of light wood with a knob of silver or gold. Below the knob were holes through which was drawn a black silk cord with tassles. This was the new mayor’s symbol of his authority. From then on Juan María, during his term of office, never appeared in public without this cane.
This action was in line with a very old tradition. As alcalde or “village judge” he was inheriting a position which originated in the Arab-Moorish invasion of Spain in 711 A.D.
By his cane Alcalde Osuna summoned persons into court, held in a two room adobe house on the gritty plaza. When it was impossible to attend to business himself he sent his cane to the first regidor, who automatically became vested with the powers of the alcalde. This highest official presided at council meetings. Together the alcalde and the regidores ran the affairs of the little town. Their powers did not extend beyond the local Presidio, however.
As mayor, Juan María found that there was plenty of work for him to attend to. He was the sole arbiter of local disputes, even those within families. He was a policeman, a police judge, the justice of the peace and the chief city administrator, directing the city’s economic and political affairs. For reference he relied on “The Laws of Spain and the Indies.”
Wearing his powdered wig, carrying his cane, and with his black robes trailing in the sandy streets, the little mayor patrolled his quaint community, exhorting the people in the name of the law?and on the basis of ordinances enacted by the city council?to keep their cattle off the public thorough fares, to remain sober in the town, to desist from using firearms in the city limits, to pay their rightful taxes, and to keep the streets in front of their homes swept free from debris. Violators were subject to fines.
Juan Maria was responsible for the education of the children, disposition of garbage and sewage and an infinity of other problems associated with the general well being of the pueblo. It was his duty to appear at all public functions, wearing his official uniform and carrying his staff.
As a notary public he handled business transactions. Among the earliest of the pueblo documents which he signed is one dated “Port of San Diego, February 10, 1835.” In it he attested to a bill of sale from one Guillermo Antonio Rechason?William Anthony Richardson?to José Antonio Melendes, by which, for the sum of 5000 pesos, the ownership of a “brig-schooner named ‘El Crusador,'” tonnage 110 tons, was transferred.
“This,” wrote Mayor Osuna, “was attested, executed and signed before me and my witnesses in lieu of a notary public.”
Feast days, in the past, had been times of holiday relaxation for Juan María. Not so after he became mayor. On the afternoon of feast days, while the rest of the citizens enjoyed themselves, Mayor Osuna’s time was taken up with the prompt arrest and sobering up of Indian cooks who had celebrated too much. This action was necessary in order to make sure that they were able to be in their masters’ kitchens in time to prepare the next meal.
His salary? There was none. He served without pay.
If Juliana, his wife, had any unhappy thoughts about the disruption of her family life, she, in the tradition of wives of politicians, must have kept her feelings to herself, for his year as mayor seems to have worn well with the Osunas. Juan María later served as justice of the peace, and officer-in-charge at San Diego and San Luis Rey Missions.
While he was busy holding political office there was something else in the back of Juan María’s mind?the dream of the stretch of land of his own, big enough to raise cattle and horses, with good soil which a man could rub between his fingers and scrape up with his boot heel.
Working to his advantage in fulfillment of his dream were two factors?the privilege extended to those who had served their country to select a piece of land for settlement and the “Act of Secularization of 1832.” This latter piece of legislation provided for the seizure of all the property of the missions, both real and personal, and for its division among those who would use their wealth and influence for the defense and development of Mexico.
Juan María chose his land with care. He had seen it many times in his duties as a soldier, as he marched along El Camino Real, or stood guard duty at Mission San Luis Rey. The area he selected was called “Rancho San Dieguito,” among the best of the mission lands.
The tract lay twenty miles north of San Diego and about three miles inland from the sea?approximately at the location of the present city of Solano Beach. Included in its boundaries were luxuriant little valleys, ample lengths of mesa, and a bubbling river. The grant given to the soldier-turned politician-turned rancher was for 8,824.71 acres. It wasn’t as big as some grants, but it was what he wanted.
The rancher, fifty-one years of age, began living on the land in 1836. He is mentioned in official records as owner of the property at that time. Provisional grants were issued to him in 1840 and 1841, although his final grant came through much later?almost too late.
Juan María and Juliana built two homes on the ranch. The first home, a big one, they gave to their son, Leandro, so that he would have room for his family. The grandparents moved into a smaller house which they had built for themselves. They didn’t need much room anymore. Almost all the children were grown and married, with homes of their own.
Julio was attaining a name for himself in the law. Ramón was seeking title to a rancho of his own, “Valle de las Viejas,” situated thirty five miles east of Old Town. He was collector of tithes and later became police commissioner. Leandro was helping to run the family ranch. With his knowledge of horses he was a great help to his father. Santiago still was a youngster.
Daughter Felipa had been married on January 12, 1834, in the Mission San Diego, where her parents had been united over twenty-five years earlier. Felipa married a man close to Juan María’s heart. She took as her husband Juan María Marrón, who had worked with her father in their mutual political struggles.
Marrón owned considerable property, including a rancho called ” Cueros de Venado,” land at San Juan Capistrano, and the important “Agua Hedionda Rancho,” comprising 13,311 acres lying along the coast just south and east of Carlsbad, on our present Highway 101.
The Marrón city home stood at the northwest corner of Congress and Twiggs Streets in Old Town. It was there that Felipa first came to fame.
Felipa, who seems to have been born with a nose for news, learned one day in 1837 of a planned Indian attack upon her neighbors, the American, Henry Fitch and his wife, and others. She carried her secret well, telling only the proper people at the right time. The attack was allowed to proceed as planned but before any harm could be done, the forewarned authorities of Old Town intervened and captured the plotters.
Juan María and Juliana, with no need to concern themselves over their children, could devote their attention to the fulfillment of their dream of developing the rancho. Juan might have succeeded had he not come up against something with which he was not familiar?the practices of the American businessman.
Americans were beginning to dominate the economic life of the area. Juan María was no businessman. He was not accustomed to the practice of making money out of one’s neighbor’s needs. In his world one never paid for help. If a man was your friend, what you possessed was his if he needed it. If he needed a horse he took one and repaid when it was convenient. If he needed a steer, you gave him one of your animals. A friend was never charged for a favor. A guest never paid for lodgings?even if he were a stranger. A tray, with money in it, from which he could borrow, sat in a conspicuous place in the house.
Juan María, in his efforts to develop his ranch, ran into men who were glad to lend him money, but charged him interest rates as high as ten per cent a month. Soon he was forced to mortgage parts of his land. He took out second mortgages in order to pay off the first ones and went into heavy debt. Still he retained his Latin faith that on a sunny “mañana”?tomorrow?things would work out. He loved horses. He loved to gamble. At a party he sang with gusto.
He waited until 1845 for the permanent grant to his ranch. Yet, at that moment of thanksgiving, there fell across the rancho the shadow of the American eagle.
How soon Juan María learned that in late 1845 Texas had declared its independence from Mexico and joined the United States we do not know. Nor do we know how long it took him to learn about the outbreak of hostilities between the United States and Mexico that this event created. It may not have been until the arrival of United States troops and the raising of the American flag in the Plaza at Old Town on July 29th, 1846, that he learned that on May 13th, of that year President James K. Polk had signed a bill declaring that a state of war existed between the two countries.
Juan María, at sixty years of age, was too old for fighting. His sons were not. Leandro, Ramón, Julio, and Santiago, that we know of, enlisted with General Andres Pico’s fabulous riding unit of 150 skilled lancers called the “Californians.” The flashy group was stationed at Rancho San Dieguito. Leandro, riding his favorite horse, a white stallion named “El Apache,” was the leader of a unit which galloped down the gullies and over the hills to Old Town to bother the United States troops which were stationed there.
Juan María’s town house was seized by the Americans and was used for quartering troops, Later, after the war ended, he submitted a bill for damages. His well was ruined. His walls were knocked out and his furniture destroyed.
For safe keeping he sent his cattle up to the Serrano Rancho, located in Pauma Valley, inland from Escondido?a decision which turned out to be of tragic irony…
In every war there are some humorous events. Felipa Osuna Marrón, Juan and Juliana’s quick thinking daughter, played a prominent part in one of these episodes.
After the American rapid conquest of southern California, Governor Pico, Juan María’s old friend, fled the country, as did other state officials. His secretary, José Matías Moreno, did not get away so rapidly, and, with General John Charles Fremont on his heels, hid himself at San Luis Rey Mission, where Juan María Osuna was serving as administrator.
While Moreno rested in preparation for resuming his trip across the border into Mexico when conditions were safe, Felipa prowled around outside looking for Fremont. Soon she spotted his forces approaching. It seemed that Moreno was trapped until Felipa thought of a successful femine solution. She commanded Moreno to undress, gave him nightclothing, tied a cooling rag around his head and put him to bed. When Fremont appeared Felipa introduced Moreno as her “sick nephew,” and requested the general not to bother him.
Moreno later managed to make his way to Mulegé, in Baja California, a famous ranch often in the news today.
At the dramatic battle of San Pasqual?San Diego’s own version of “The Alamo,” the exhausted First Dragoons, under Gen. Stephen W. Kearney, having marched all the way from New Mexico, were met by the dashing Californians, who had ridden out from the Osuna Ranch. Leandro, Julio, Ramón and Santiago were included in this group.
The first American fatality was Captain Andrew Johnston, who was wounded in the head by a bullet fired by Leandro Osuna.
After help arrived at last for the pressed and outnumbered United States troops, the Californians, having missed their opportunity for the big push to victory, withdrew, carrying their wounded to the Agua Hedionda Ranch for treatment.
None of the Osunas were injured in the Battle of San Pasqual. A few days later, however, there occurred an unexpected sorrowful aftermath of the battle. As a result Juan María Osuna and his wife, Juliana, lost their youngest son.
Many of the Californians, fleeing the rescue expedition of the Americans at the Battle of San Pasqual, went to the Serrano Ranch. There, a day or so later, the Luiseño Indians, in an explosion of hatred which some historians claim was incited by an American, rose up against the Mexicans, whom they charged had driven them off their lands. Eleven men were seized, tortured and killed, in spite of Mexican pleas to free them. The bodies were piled in a heap while the Indians danced around them in wild triumph all one fearful night.
The next day the bodies were buried in secret?all, that is, except those of young Santiago Osuna and his boyhood friend, Jose María Alvarado. Legend says that an aged Indian woman, who had worked as a nurse caring for the boys as babies, pleaded for the bodies. She buried them and then trudged the long way to San Diego to tell the sad news.
A month later the unequal war ended with the Battle of San Gabriel, near Los Angeles. Four days later a treaty of peace was signed. The Osunas and other Mexican families found themselves aliens in the land in which they had been born…
Through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, though, the former Mexican citizens were assured of equal rights under United States laws. On the first precinct poll list of April 1, 1850, Leandro and Juan Diego Osuna appear as American voters. Ramón served on the initial grand jury of San Diego, in September, 1850.
Although there is no mention made of Juan María in the history of political activity in San Diego at this time, this was not because he was indifferent to the affairs of his community. He was sixty-six years old and his health was failing.
On January 12, 1851, he put his affairs in order.
“In the name of Almighty God… finding myself sick in bed of an illness God has willed to send me… fearing death, which is a natural thing… and wishing the welfare of my soul, form my will…”
He listed his debts and left instructions for his family.
On the fifth of March San Diego’s first mayor passed away. He was buried in El Campo Santo Cemetery in Old Town, at the foot of Presidio Hill. The family plot is there today.
His town house was sold to pay his debts. The ranch he left to his courageous wife. She also inherited the battle to keep the tract in the family’s possession.
The Osunas, in 1850, had applied to have their rights to the ranch recognized as legal, but in 1854 the United States Land Commission denied the petition. Juliana’s claim to the land was challenged because she could not prove that her husband had built a house on the property within one year’s period of time. Also she was unable to define the boundaries of the ranch in proper fashion.
Juliana, never downhearted, set about rectifying these oversights. She went out in search of those who could substantiate her claim. She also drew a map showing the location of her first home on the ranch.
Her main ally during this period was her oldest son, Julio, the judge. Benjamin Hayes, in his diary, tells of talking with “old Doña Osuna and Don Julio” about their ranch troubles when they came to San Diego.
While the case dragged on Juliana kept her mind off her troubles by rearing several orphan children.
Juliana’s sorrows at that time were not limited to the ranch. There was an immediate personal problem. It concerned her tempestuous son, Leandro. Although he tried, Leandro could not succeed in keeping from living back in the time of the Dons. He did not feel at home in the new California. He envisioned the ranch at San Dieguito and the other at Valle de Las Viejas being taken from the family. He became depressed and embittered, developed hallucinations and was convinced that some Indians had put a curse on him and were poisoning him. On April 3, 1859, Leandro, while lying in bed, put a bullet through his heart. He was thirty-seven years old.
Such an event was a catastrophe in his religious family. He could not receive the last rites of the church or have Christian burial. His family buried him?some say at the ranch other say in Old Town. His body then was at rest, but not his soul.
Soon after his death whispers went about the ranch, concerning strange events that occurred when the moon was full and the wind piped a sad song through the tree leaves.
At those times, it was whispered, the sound of horse hooves cut through the night air. If a man watched with care he could glimpse a ghost, wearing stirrups of silver and sitting on a silver saddle, the metal flashing in the light, as the figure galloped by on a big white charger. It was Leandro, the whisperers maintained, astride his favorite horse, El Apache, riding in restless fury, in search of a familiar yesterday…
Juliana, having buried another son, turned her attention back to the problem of securing title to the ranch. It was not until 1871 that the project which she and Juan María had begun together was completed. On April 8th the ranch was confirmed to her and to her descendants, “to have and to hold.. .. forever.” The deed was signed by President U. S. Grant.
With this task completed Juliana could rest. She put her affairs in order through her will. On December 22nd she was buried beside her husband. She had lived eighty-four years.
In her will Juliana specified that for her wake she was to be dressed in a black or blue wool dress and that she was not to be laid out on a table or a bed as was the custom. Rather she wanted her friends and relatives to bid her goodbye as she lay on the bare dear earth of her ranch. This is the way her friends and relatives last saw her.
Among her neighbors she was respected and loved. She was known as a woman who had a “gentle heart” and much compassion for others.
She had outlived many of her children. In addition to Santiago and Leandro, José Ylario and Julio had preceded her.
Daughter Felipa, however, was still maintaining a strong pace. Although her husband had died in 1853, she continued to manage her own affairs with such skill that in the census of 1860 she was classed as a woman of wealth, with a real estate value of $2000 and personal property valued at $1000. She had other claims to fame.
Felipa was the first person in southern California to own a horsedrawn carriage. She paid fifty cows at thirty dollars each for this luxury. With it she could whiz along between her home in San Diego and the ranch at Agua Hedionda, thirty-five miles away, in a little over a day, instead of spending a week enroute by ox cart. Felipa, for a long time, was the oldest resident of Old Town and always attended mass there.
Her ranch, in the 1860’s, was purchased by Robert Kelly, of a famous family still prominent in San Diego ranching. Later it was bought by the actor, Leo Carrillo, a descendant of another famous Mexican family. Carlsbad State Park has since been established at the site of part of the ranch.
The shrunken Osuna ranch at San Dieguito remained in the family until 1906 when it was sold to the Santa Fe Land Improvement Company. It was subdivided into rustic Rancho Santa Fe, where a man can have his own horse if he wishes and can scrape up his own good soil with the heel of his riding boot. Col. Ed Fletcher, one of San Diego’s most visionary land developers, worked on this project. He said it was his finest accomplishment.
In the 1930’s the actor, Bing Crosby, bought the acreage surrounding the Leandro Osuna home. He rebuilt the home and established a horse ranch there. It was from this ranch that he took his horses to race at the Del Mar Race Track, which he had helped to create and which was only a little way south of the ranch.
The property has changed hands several times since then. The Osunas are scattered throughout southern California, but their old home, built by the former corporal of the guard of the Leather Jacket Company, stands today at the corner of Via de la Valle and Via Santa Fe, in Rancho Santa Fe.
Residents of the area will tell you that sometimes when the moon is full and the wind pipes a sad song through the tree leaves, the thlot-thlot of horse hooves cuts through the night air. Once again the silver saddle and the silver stirrups gleam in the moonlight as the shadowy figure flashes by…
The Osuna family history and the story of the creation of our community is reborn in the person of a handsome and humble young man who bridges the gap between tradition and today. Dressed as a Don, riding on the golden palomino, “Princesa,” he travels through the land, explaining to the people who come to see him, “I am Ernest Osuna, San Diego’s official representative of its two hundredth anniversary. My great-great-grandfather was named Juan María Osuna. He was San Diego’s first mayor…”