The History of Ramona, California and Environs. By Lulu R. O’Neal. Ramona, CA.: Ballena Press, 1975. Bibliography. Illustrations. 46 pages. Softbound. $1.95.
Reviewed by Tom Hudson, editor of The High Country, author of Three Paths Along a River (1964), The West Is My Home (1956), and co-author of Two Presidents (1973).
Although named to honor Helen Hunt Jackson’s fictional heroine, the town of Ramona in San Diego County is far from being fictional. Ramona, trading center of the broad, mountain-rimmed Santa Maria Valley southeast of Escondido, is today a busy little modern city that has retained its bucolic charm and the flavor of early California that is its heritage.
Readers of this little book will learn from the author something of its prehistoric inhabitants, and more about the Diegueño Indians who were there when the Spaniards first found, and named, the Santa Maria Valley.
Among the early Spaniards who at one time or another came into the valley were Sgt. José Francisco Ortega, Father Juan Mariner, Capt. Juan Pablo Grijalva, and those two dedicated searchers for mission sites, Fathers Mariano Payeras and José Sanchez — all names that start the ringing of mission bells in the memories of those who love California history.
Then follows the era of Mexican land grants, when the lands of the Santa Maria Valley were granted to José Joaquín Ortega and his son-in-law, Capt. Edward Stokes.
As the parade of historic names continues, Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny with his Army of the West fought a bloody battle in nearby San Pasqual Valley, and with him were Edward Fitzgerald Beale, Kit Carson, Lt. W. H. Emory and Capt. Archibald Gillespie.
Lt. A. W. Whipple, on his “reconnaissance to the mouth of the Gila River from San Diego” to establish the boundary between the United States and Mexico, passed through the Santa Maria Valley. With him, commanding a military escort, was Cave J. Couts who later became master of Rancho Guajome near Vista.
The author has not limited her story to the town of Ramona, but also tells of an Indian uprising when the house at Warner’s Ranch was burned; of railroad surveys and the unfulfilled promises of a railroad for Ramona; of nearby communities, including the Santa Teresa Valley, Ballena, and Witch Creek.
The “Jackass Mail,” operated briefly by James E. Birch, traversed the Santa Maria Valley on its long haul from San Diego to San Antonio, Texas. Other stage lines, more local in scope, were established and operated until motorized Pickwick stages ushered the valley into a more modern era.
This long-needed story of Ramona is packed with facts, including the many transfers of ownership that have resulted in the transformation of a single sheep ranch into the present community of diversity under many ownerships. Several pages describe the geology of the valley, and in imagination the reader can enter it via Indian trails, dirt roads, or modern paved highways.
There is every indication that the author has done a thorough research job, and the book deserves a place on every shelf of California lore.