Raymond Starr, Book Review Editor
Off The Main Road: San Vicente and Barona: A History of those who shaped events in the Rancho Canada de San Vicente y Mesa del Padre Barona. By Charles R. LeMenager. Ramona: Eagle Peak Publishing Company, 1983. Bibliography. Illustrations. Index. Maps. 187 pages. $7.95, paper. Reviewed by Stephen R. Van Wormer, freelance public historian, and author of articles on San Diego history.
This book is a detailed and well researched history of present day San Vicente and Barona valleys, which are located in San Diego County’s back-country, southeast of the town of Ramona, and north of the community of Lakeside. The record of San Vicente and Barona valleys’ past is traced from the time of their prehistoric aboriginal occupation to the present day.
The narrative is organized both chronologically and topically. It contains a wealth of information on early inhabitants and events of the area based on a large number of primary and reliable secondary sources. The author especially excels in two aspects. First, he explains the general historical development of both Southern California and San Diego County, and how this specifically affected settlement of the San Vicente and Barona regions. Secondly, he accurately depicts the past. The narrative is not a romantic exercise in hero worship, as so many local chronicles tend to be. The hardship and drudgery of life in San Diego County’s backcountry is realistically portrayed. For example, the author notes that existence on a Mexican period rancho was “. . . no life of luxury …” even though some writers have depicted the era “. . . as one large fiesta . . .” Rather than a large luxurious mansion, the Rancho San Vicente adobe “. . . had two or three rooms at most with a dirt floor and a cowhide door. There was no comfortable furniture and only the barest necessities” (54). The author’s accurate portrayal of the region’s past is complemented by numerous illustrations and maps which aid in understanding the text.
The narrative suffers from a few minor defects. The treatment of the California Indians during the mission period is slightly romanticized, which is in contrast to the author’s otherwise realistic presentation of the region’s history. In addition, although the work is based on a large number of excellent sources that are listed in the bibliography and mentioned in the text, there are no reference notes. This reduces the value of a work that would have been an excellent source book for the serious student of San Diego’s backcountry, since references for specific information can not be traced.