Five shots, fired in anger one spring day in 1883, helped change the course of Southern California history. For Sam Temple, the San Jacinto teamster who fired the shots, the issue was simple: an Indian had taken one of his horses and he had to shoot him to get it back. For Juan Diego, the issue was even simpler: he was shot dead on his own doorstep while his wife watched in horror. But for author and Indian rights activist Helen Hunt Jackson, Juan Diego’s death meant much more. It was symbolic of the brutal treatment of California Native Americans and a symptom of the disease she was trying to cure. She used Juan Diego’s killing as the model for Alessandro’s murder in her famous novel Ramona (1884).
No other single book has ever had as much effect on Southern California as Ramona. Written to dramatize the plight of the local “Mission Indians,” it was more popular for its descriptions of Southern California life and landscape. As its popularity spread across the nation, a virtual mythology grew around the characters and scenes of the novel. Tourists flocked to visit “Ramonaland,” and the emerging local tourism industry happily gave them what they were looking for.1
But along the way, the facts behind the story became obscured. Juan Diego’s life (and death) is one of the many stories that became lost in the Ramona myth, and reconstructing it is a challenging task.
Little is known of Juan Diego’s origins. It is generally agreed that he was a Cahuilla Indian, who lived in what was then the northern part of San Diego County. He worked seasonally as a sheep shearer, and did a variety of other menial jobs for white ranchers. But he was best known among the locals for his occasional mental lapses that caused him to do erratic things. “. . . Once in a while if he saw a band of sheep he would drive them away in the night,” author George Wharton James wrote, “always caring well for them, however, and bringing them back safely when his ‘fit’ was over.” Another time, when herding goats for rancher Will Tripp, Diego drove them all out onto the desert. On one occasion Tripp found him happily riding a saddled log. “Juan was regarded as a fairly decent Indian but he had the reputation of ‘going off his nut’ occasionally,” Tripp recalled.2
Juan Diego lived with his wife and children in a small mountain valley nestled between Cahuilla and Little Cahuilla mountains in the southwestern outskirts of the San Jacintos, about five miles from the main village of the Cahuilla Indian Reservation in Anza Valley.3 This little sage-covered valley is still known today as Juan Diego Flats. There he built a small adobe hut and planted a vegetable garden, a small field of wheat, and some fruit trees.
The spring of 1883 was sheep shearing time in Southern California, and should have meant steady work for Juan Diego. “Usually his services were in demand, and he was sent for,” wrote Helen Hunt Jackson, “but day after day passed, and no message came for him. At last, one day, late in March, he said to his wife he would go down into the San Jacinto Valley and see if he could find work.”4
However, none of the valley ranchers needed Juan Diego’s services that season, so he started the long journey home. When he reached the little town of San Jacinto he stopped for a rest, leaving his tired little Indian pony in Hewitt & Jordan’s corral. When he left later that night — apparently suffering again from one of his ‘spells’ — he rode off on a big gray work horse, part of a team belonging to Sam Temple, leaving his own horse behind. It was Friday, March 23, 1883.
The next morning Temple was up early and furious to find one of his horses missing. Arming himself, he rode off, following tracks (he claimed) that led him some sixteen miles up Bautista Canyon and over the ridge into Juan Diego Flats. There Temple found his horse, staked out in the lower part of the valley. Riding down closer to Juan Diego’s adobe, he dismounted and hollered towards the house.5
Here the story diverges. Mary Ticknor, the government school teacher at Cahuilla, in her report on the incident to the Indian Agent in San Bernardino, wrote, “When he [Temple] arrived Juan was sleeping. When the dog barked he went out without any arms. Temple . . . met Juan with a string of profane oaths and a shot and when he fell he kept shooting. . . “6
Temple would tell a very different story. He testified that Juan Diego came out carrying a vicious knife, “. . . and when he came up to within five or six steps of me I asked him whose horse that was. And he replied saying ‘it is mine.’ I asked him where he got it and he replied ‘in San Jacinto,’ advancing upon me all the time with a knife in his hand. I told him to stop.”7
Temple gave his detailed version of the killing a number of years later: “Instead of stopping he thought that he was close enough to me to run under my shot and made a dash for me with his knife in his hand. I throwed [sic] the gun into position and pulled the trigger . . . [but] it had no more effect in stopping that man than if you would have blown your breath against him.” Temple fired the second barrel of his shot gun and put a load of buckshot into Juan Diego’s chest. Even then, Temple claimed, Diego was still coming towards him, so he turned the gun around and used it to smash him in the side of the head. “Struck him so hard that I broke the gun off at the breech.” Still Juan Diego threatened him, Temple said. “. . . knowing that I had no more shots in the gun, I drew my revolver and put a shot between his eyes. That finished him up.”8 Temple fired several times, striking the body repeatedly. Then he turned and ran to his other horse, cut him loose, and quickly set off for San Jacinto, leaving Diego’s wife weeping over his bloody corpse.
After Temple rode away, Juan Diego’s wife hurried down to the Cahuilla Reservation to report the killing. A small group of Cahuilla men went up to the site, burned the blood-stained clothing, and carried the lifeless body down to the Reservation.
“I went to see the murdered man,” Mary Ticknor wrote. “It was a sickening sight. He was shot in the forehead, nose and wrist with a gun, and in the chest with a shot gun. . . . Juan’s wife says he had nothing to protect himself with. The murderer says he came at him with a knife. I think the wife tells the truth.”9
When Sam Temple arrived back in San Jacinto late that afternoon, he put both his horses back in Hewitt & Jordan’s corral, and then went to see Samuel V. Tripp, the local justice of the peace. Temple freely confessed to killing Juan Diego, but claimed he had shot only in self-defense. Tripp took down Temple’s statement, set a hearing for Monday, March 26, and released Temple on his own recognizance.10
The next morning, a Sunday, justice Tripp assembled a six-man coroner’s jury consisting of William and George Blodgett, William Stice, J. C. Jordan, Frank Wellman, and Will Webster — all white men, and several of them friends of Temple. Together they rode up to Juan Diego Flats. According to the San Diego Sun, Upon arriving at the ground they found the spot where the tragedy had taken place but the body had been removed and the clothing burned as a heap of hot ashes indicated.
As the body could not be found in the locality, the jury was discharged. That evening Capitan Fernando [Lubo, head of the village at Cahuilla] sent a messenger for Mr. Tripp requesting him to visit the village . . . six miles distant, which he did and saw the body of the Indian. It was recognized as that of Juan Diego, and had two ghastly wounds, one in the breast from a charge of buckshot and a pistol shot through the forehead. Justice Tripp ordered the Capitan to have the body buried immediately.11
Temple’s hearing began promptly the next day, but was immediately continued until the following Saturday, March 31, to “allow time for further evidence.” Subpoenas were issued for the six jurymen, but Juan Diego’s widow was not called. Indian testimony against whites, while technically legal under California law, was seldom permitted in practice.12
When the court finally reconvened five days later, San Jacinto businessman Henry Hewitt appeared as Temple’s counsel. No one appeared for the prosecution. First, Temple related his own particular version of the event, then Hewitt called each of the members of the coroner’s jury to the stand, and did his best to lead them in testifying that the footprints and other signs they saw at Juan Diego Flat substantiated Temple’s story. Will Webster stated, “I think [the] Indian was closer to [Temple’s] horse than Temple, and the Indian in coming from the house . . . was on the way to intercept Temple.” Nothing more was said about Diego’s supposed knife.13
Hewitt then moved that the charge be dropped on the grounds of justifiable homicide. “Motion granted,” Justice Tripp noted in his docket, “the prisoner is discharged as it appears that no offens [sic] under the law has been committed.”14 Sam Temple was a free man.
There the story might have ended, if Helen Hunt Jackson had not learned of it. For her, Juan Diego’s death was an outrage. “The significance of this incident it would not be easy to over estimate. It gives a fair and actual showing, in the first place, of the helpless and unprotected condition of Indians in Southern California; in the second place, of the nature of public sentiment there.”15
Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-1885) was a native of Massachusetts who in later years lived in Colorado Springs. Following the death of her first husband and both of their children, she embarked on a prolific writing career. She wrote poems, travel pieces, children’s stories, and romance novels — none of which claimed lasting literary merit. She would probably be unread and unknown today if she had not happened to attend a meeting in Boston in 1879 where she heard Chief Standing Bear and his niece, Bright Eyes, graphically describe the misfortunes of their people, the Ponca Indians of Nebraska. Their story so moved her that Jackson dedicated the rest of her life to helping Native Americans.16
Not surprisingly, she began by writing a book. A Century of Dishonor was a strongly worded indictment of the federal government’s Indian policies and the greedy whites who had forced Indians off their lands. Upon its publication in 1881 Jackson sent a copy at her own expense to every member of Congress. On the cover was a quote from Benjamin Franklin: “Look upon your hands! They are stained with the blood of your relations.”
Late in 1881 Mrs. Jackson was commissioned by Century Magazine to write a series of articles on the California missions. She arrived in Southern California at the end of December and set out to visit many of the decaying mission sites. In Los Angeles she met Don Antonio Coronel, who told her stories of the early days in California. Although the heritage of Hispanic California and its missions interested her, she was far more concerned with the deplorable condition of the so-called “Mission Indians,” seeing for the first time their impoverished settlements on the outskirts of the American towns and their isolated villages scattered throughout the hills.17 Traveling to San Diego she met Father Anthony Ubach, who told her more about the sorry plight of these native peoples and of his efforts to help them in the midst of white apathy. With Father Ubach she traveled into the San Diego back country, visiting San Pasqual and Temecula, places where the “robber whites” (as she called them) had recently evicted the inhabitants, and Soboba in the San Jacinto Valley, where the Indians were in imminent danger of eviction.
On her return to Colorado Springs, Jackson fired off letters to Secretary of the Interior Henry Teller and Commissioner of Indian Affairs Hiram Price, pleading for government action on behalf of the Sobobas and all the other Mission Indians. To a friend she wrote, “there is not in all the Century of Dishonor, so black a chapter as the story of the Mission Indians . . . driven off their lands like foxes and wolves.”18 She even volunteered to serve as a special-agent to report on the condition of the native peoples of Southern California.
Teller and Price were sufficiently impressed by her persistence to recommend her as a government commissioner to report on the conditions and needs of the Mission Indians. President Chester A. Arthur approved her appointment on July 7, 1882. The following January, at her insistence, Abbot Kinney, a Southern California land developer with similar views on the Indians, was appointed as her co-commissioner.19
Jackson returned to Southern California in early 1883, and with Kinney at her side began visiting the scattered Indian villages. She was especially concerned about the threatened eviction of the Sobobas. She went to San Bernardino to discuss the situation with S. S. Lawson, the government Indian agent. While she was there, a letter arrived from Mary Ticknor, the government school teacher on the Cahuilla Reservation. In it, Jackson first heard of the killing of Juan Diego.
A few weeks later, while visiting in the San Jacinto area, she had the chance to speak with a number of people about the shooting. Will Webster, one of the members of the coroner’s jury, particularly shocked her when this “fine, open-hearted, manly young fellow, far superior in intelligence, education, and general bearing to the average Southern California ranchman,” told her:
I don’t blame Sam Temple one mite. What’s more, I’d ha’ done the same thing myself. . . . I know Sam said the Indian came at him with a knife. Perhaps he did and then again perhaps he didn’t. Sam had got to say so, anyhow. But that didn’t cut any figure with us. The man ought to be shot anyhow for taking that horse off up that trail. There was one thing, though I did blame Sam for; and that was firing into the Indian after he was dead. There wa’n’t any use in that, an’ it looked bad. Twas real mean, I’ll allow; an’ there ain ‘t any use sayin’ it wasn’t. Sam ought t’ have been ashamed o’ that. But he was so mad, I expect, he didn’t exactly know what he was a doin’. Sam’s a rough fellow.20
Later, in San Diego, Jackson called on the district attorney to discuss the matter (San Jacinto was a part of San Diego County until 1893). “He said that there would not be the slightest use in reopening such a case; that no jury in that part of the country would convict a white man of the murder of an Indian, if only Indian testimony as to the facts were to be had,” she wrote. “As from the very nature of the case, white witnesses would rarely be present on such occasions, except as accessories before or after, it is easy to see that killing Indians is not a very dangerous thing to do in San Diego County.”21
After visiting many of the other Mission Indian villages and reservations in San Diego and San Bernardino counties, Jackson headed home to Colorado, where she quickly wrote her Report on the Condition and Needs of the Mission Indians (1883). In it, she not only described the Juan Diego killing, but also detailed many other crimes and evictions throughout the area. She made eleven specific recommendations to the government, aimed at improving the lives of the Mission Indians.22
Jackson’s interest assured Juan Diego a place in history, but the question remains, how did he die? Or to put it even more clearly, did he threaten Sam Temple with a knife? “Perhaps he did and then again perhaps he didn’t,” Will Webster had said. “Sam’s had got to say so, anyhow.” The answer may lie in the life and character of Sam Temple.
Temple was born in Tennessee around 1840, the son (so he claimed) of one Judge Temple, a well-known Virginia old timer, and a full-blooded Cherokee Indian woman.23 He served in the Civil War as a Confederate “bushwacker” and later migrated to Montana before coming to California in the mid-1870s. He first appeared in the San Jacinto area around 1876, and was soon working as a teamster hauling lumber down from the sawmills on Mt. San Jacinto.
Physically, Temple was about 5′ 9″ tall and a stocky 208 pounds in weight. George Wharton James left this classic description of him:
A heavy-featured, strong-jawed, th’ck-nostriled, broad-browed, coarse-lipped, keen-eyed, self-indulgent face, crowned with a head of coal-black hair, dominated a strong, well-set, muscular body of some five and a half feet in height. A strong man, self-willed, proud and haughty. . .24
Almost everyone who knew him agreed that Temple had a mean temper, especially when drunk. A contemporary newspaper stated that, “When under the influence of liquor, Temple is a veritable terror, and always starts out to hunt for trouble.”25 But according to his step-daughter Elizabeth Carl, he was not without his good points. He loved his horses and took excellent care of them, he liked children, and he enjoyed singing and telling stories.26 Yet over the years, Temple was involved many fights and shooting scrapes.In May 1885 he had a shoot-out with Gus Parti (or Party), with whom he had been on bad terms for some time. Temple shot Parti through the right shoulder, ending the battle.28 In 1887 he was convicted of battery against one John Mullin of San Jacinto. Temple first plead not guilty, then changed his plea and was fined $25.27.29 Around 1897 Temple pistol-whipped a man who tried to keep him from crossing private property with his team and wagon.30 In May 1898 Temple had the tables turned on him when he was shot by Constable R. M. McKim of San Jacinto. According to the Riverside Press and Horticulturalist, Temple had severely beaten his wife after a drinking bout. McKim came to arrest him and when Temple pulled a gun on him, the constable shot back, hitting Temple in the arm.31
George Wharton James wrote that Temple “never seemed to show the slightest regret or remorse” over his killing of Juan Diego. In fact, Temple proposed that James finance and manage a trip for him to the St. Louis World’s Fair to exhibit himself as “The Man Who Killed Alessandro.” James replied — only half jokingly — that he would sooner raise money to see him tried and hanged for his crime.32
Interestingly, in 1900 James made a wax cylinder recording of Temple telling his version of the Juan Diego killing. This remarkable recording still survives in the collection of the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles. “You must remember that all stories has two sides,” Temple begins by saying, and then goes on to describe the killing in clear, graphic terms. When he returned to San Jacinto after the shooting, Temple recalled, Henry Hewitt saw his broken shotgun. ” ‘My God,’ he says, ‘has you been in a fight?’ I says, ‘I undoubtedly have been in a fight, and a very serious fight.’ I says, ‘The man refused possession of my horse and consequently it was that I had to kill him.'”33
Still, none of this is proof. Did Juan have a knife? There is no way to know for certain. But was Temple a man with a violent temper, who often attacked unarmed men? The historical evidence indicates that he was, and he proved it on numerous occasions.
Temple left the San Jacinto area in 1892 or 1893 and moved to the Cabezon area in San Gorgonio Pass, where he hauled freight from the Southern Pacific Railroad to the Desert Queen Mine near today’s Twenty-nine Palms. Though long a bachelor, he married Elizabeth Winters, a widow, about this time. They returned to San Jacinto shortly before his shoot-out with Constable McKim, and there are indications that his wife left him soon afterwards.
Temple departed San Jacinto for good around 1901, lived in the Yuma area for a few years, and is said to have died in San Diego around 1909.34
By then, the story of “Alessandro’s murder” was known throughout the nation. Helen Hunt Jackson has seen to that.
But it took some time to get her message across. Jackson’s Report on the Condition and Needs of the Mission Indians had been pigeon-holed by the government and largely ignored. Despondent, she cast about for some other way to bring the plight of the Mission Indians to America’s attention. Could a novel succeed where reports had failed? The idea appealed to her. Soon, it would dominate her whole being.
The genesis of Ramona has been described and debated for more than a century now. Some have suggested that Jackson already had the plan in mind while she was in Southern California during the spring of 1883, but her letters from this period clearly show this was not the case. The idea that Jackson might write some sort of Indian novel had been suggested as far back as 1881; but she resisted, saying she did not have the necessary background or local color needed for such an undertaking. As late as May of 1883 she still felt it was beyond her. “If I could write a story that would do for the Indian a thousandth part that Uncle Tom’s Cabin did for the negro, I would be thankful for the rest of my life,” she wrote the editor of Atlantic Monthly.35
It was the realization that her Report failed to effect any change in government policy or public awareness that was the real catalyst for the writing of Ramona. The story came to her with startling suddenness early one morning in October 1883: “. . . before I was wide awake, the whole plot flashed in my mind . . . in less than five minutes, as if someone spoke it,” Jackson recalled, “sprang up, went to my husband’s room and told him. I was half frightened.”36
Finally, she had the inspiration she needed. She wrote to Antonio Coronel: “I am going to write a novel, in which will be set forth some Indian experiences in a way to move people’s hearts. People will read a novel when they will not read serious books. The scenes of the novel will be in Southern California, and I shall introduce enough Mexicans and Americans to give it variety.”37
Hoping to include as much local color and detail as possible, Jackson wrote to several of her California friends seeking more material. “I wish I had had this plan in my mind last year when I was in Los Angeles,” she wrote to Coronel, “I would have taken notes of many interesting things you told me.”38 She asked Ephraim Morse of San Diego for more information on the Temecula Indian removal and the alleged theft of Indian sheep by Cave J. Couts. “I would rather you did not speak of this [the novel] , as I shall keep it a secret, until the book is done, from all except my more intimate literary friends,” she added. From Mary Sheriff, the schoolteacher at Soboba, she sought more details on Juan Diego’s death and Sam Temple’s justice court hearing. “Any and every detail you can get will be of value,” she told Sheriff.40
The novel she had in mind would take her total concentration. She felt that, among her friends in Colorado Springs, she could not achieve the isolation she needed. So, in late November, she boarded the train for New York City where she checked into the Berkeley Hotel. On December 1, 1883 she commenced writing at a furious pace. Her health was not good. She had a persistent cold, made all the worse by over exertion, and — although she did not yet know it — she was in the early stages of stomach cancer. Yet she wrote almost every day and often long into the night for five months.
Jackson originally planned to call her book In the Name of the Law, a reference, no doubt, to Sam Temple’s acquittal. Then part way through she changed the title to the name of her heroine, Ramona. Later, she was told that Juan Diego’s widow — whom she seems to have never even met — was in fact called Ramona. “A Cahuilla Indian was shot two years ago exactly as Alessandro is — and his wife’s name was Ramona and I never knew this last fact until Ramona was half written,” she wrote after completing her novel.41
But was Juan’s wife really named Ramona? There is reason to believe that it was not. Local old-timers confirm this, and there are some early newspaper accounts that support the contention that she had another, Indian name.42 In 1892 the San Jacinto Register noted that she “is called ‘Ramona’ by everybody, although this is not her real name.”43 Still, she has come down in history as Ramona Lubo, “The Real Ramona.” But was she?
That question has been debated ever since Ramona first appeared in print in 1884. It has been assumed by many people that there had to be a “real” Ramona. Ramona Lubo is often proposed for that honor, but other writers make counter-claims. She was really a half-breed Indian girl at the Camulos Rancho in Ventura County, some say. She was Ramona Wolfe, wife of Temecula storekeeper Louis Wolfe, others claim; or Ramona Shorb, granddaughter of Indian agent Benjamin Wilson. She was Blanca Yndart of Santa Barbara, still others write.44
Despite years of debate, the fact remains that there was never a real Ramona. One might just as well try to find the “real” Scarlett O’Hara, or the “real” Tom Sawyer. While it is true that each of these literary characters is based on fact, with Ramona, too many people move quickly “from based on fact” to fact.
Jackson herself had no illusions about what she was writing. Early in 1884 she wrote Abbot Kinney, “For dramatic purposes I have put the Temecula ejectment before the first trouble in San Pascuale [sic]. Will anybody be idiot enough to make a point of that? I am not writing history. I hope the story is good.”45
Too many people still assume that Ramona is factual, and not just based on fact. That belief has taken on a life of its own in Southern California and has fostered a romantic legend that refuses to die. Many have become lost in the Ramona myth.46
The novel Ramona is a romantic tale of two lovers, the handsome Indian Alessandro and the beautiful half-Indian, half-Scottish Ramona, set against an idyllic Southern California landscape. The action takes place in the early 1850s, just after California had become a state, beginning on the mythical Moreno Rancho and then moving to Temecula, San Pasqual, and finally to the San Jacinto Mountains. There the climax of the novel takes place as Alessandro is shot down by a white man whose horse he has taken.
But while Alessandro may die like Juan Diego, there the resemblance ends. Alessandro is a product of Jackson’s imagination — friendly, intelligent, good-looking and loyal. But eventually he is driven crazy, setting the scene for his murder. Jim Farrar is the Sam Temple of the story, portrayed more realistically as a hot-tempered bully.
Here is Jackson’s fictional description of the death of Alessandro, from the pages of Ramona:
When she went into the house, Alessandro was asleep. Ramona glanced at the sun. It was already in the western sky. By no possibility could Alessandro go to Farrar’s and back before dark. She was on the point of waking him, when a furious barking from Capitan and the other dogs roused him instantly from his sleep, and springing to his feet, he ran out to see what it meant. In a moment more Ramona followed, — only a moment, hardly a moment; but when she reached the threshold, it was to hear a gun-shot, to see Alessandro fall the ground, to see, in the same second, a ruffianly man leap from his horse, and standing over Alessandro’s body, fire pistol again, once, twice, into the forehead, cheek. Then with a volley of oaths, each word of which seemed to Ramona’s reeling senses to fill the air with a sound like thunder, he untied the black horse from the post where Ramona had fastened him, and leaping into his saddle again, galloped away, leading the horse. As he rode away, he shook his fist at Ramona, who was kneeling on the ground, striving to lift Alessandro’s head, and to staunch the blood flowing from the ghastly wounds. “That’l teach you damned Indians to leave off stealing our horses!” he cried, and with another volley of terrible oaths was out of sight.47
Ramona was first serialized in the Christian Union beginning in May 1884, and then published as a book that November. It was an instant success, but not in the way Helen Hunt Jackson had envisioned. Critics praised the love story and her beautiful descriptions of the Southern California landscape, but virtually ignored the Indian reform message she hoped to convey. In California the book was received coolly at first, and her pleas for the Indians again fell largely on deaf ears. Jackson was deeply disappointed. She feared that her effort had been in vain, and died in San Francisco on August 12, 1885, never knowing the effect her novel would eventually have.
But some people had been listening, and others later came to see what Jackson had been trying to say. Although significant reforms in government Indian policy were slow in coming, the public’s perception began to change, and more and more people took up the cause of Native Americans. For decades, reformers drew inspiration from Mrs. Jackson and her writings, and tried to carry on her work. Others were attracted to her romantic descriptions of the old California missions and the days of the ranchos. Under the leadership of men like Charles Lummis, editor of Out West magazine, efforts were undertaken to save these crumbling landmarks.48
However, for most people, Ramona remained simply a romantic novel. They fell in love with the story and its setting, and thousands came West to visit “Ramonaland.” Tourist attractions sprang up throughout Southern California, catering to Ramona fans. At different times, one could visit “Ramona’s Birthplace” at San Gabriel, two different “Homes of Ramona” (Ranchos Camulos and Guajome), and “Ramona’s Marriage Place” in Old Town San Diego. Postcards and souvenirs were sold, and books and articles were written about the “real” Ramona and the “true” story. Hollywood got into the act, too, producing four motion picture versions of the story between 1910 and 1936. And best known of all is the Ramona Pageant in Hemet, which began in 1923 and is now America’s oldest continuing outdoor drama.
The “Ramona Myth” turned out to be good business for Southern California. Author Cary McWilliams once suggested that the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce should erect a huge bronze statue of Helen Hunt Jackson at the top of Cajon Pass, with the simple inscription “In Gratitude.”49
But there were casualties of the myth as well. Ramona Lubo lived a long, unhappy life, often on the brink of poverty. Tourists came to gawk at her, and she was often treated as little more than an object.50
Some were able to see a little more of her human side, such as author George Wharton James, who later published Through Ramona’s Country (1909), probably the best of the “facts behind the fiction” books. He photographed Ramona Lubo and made a recording of her voice on an early wax cylinder phonograph. Sadly, that recording has not survived.
Over the years, several other authors have published “interviews” with Ramona Lubo, but none of them seem to truly capture her words (she spoke little English). Some of these writers may never have even met her.51 George Wharton James at least did, but his quotes from her are obviously awash with the sort of literary license for which he was well-known.
According to James, she said,
I see my poor husband, tired and sleepy almost to death, stagger to the doorway, and that wicked man shouting foul oaths, put his gun to his shoulder and fire, bang! bang! — two shots — right into the heart of my poor husband. And I see him fall across the doorway, and although the blood was oozing from his dead body, and I knew I had now no husband, that cruel bad man pulls out his little gun and fires again, ping! ping! ping! ping!’ four more shots into his dead body.52
Ramona Lubo lived on until 1922. It is quite possible that she herself didn’t know the exact year of her birth; she was probably between 74 and 79 years of age when she died. Her son Condino once said that she was born in Agua Mansa, near San Bernardino, and spent most of her childhood at the Cahuilla village in San Timoteo Canyon, above Redlands. Her mother died when she was young, he said, and her father lost his life during the smallpox epidemic that swept through the village in 1863. After living on the desert with her grandparents for a time, she came to the Cahuilla village in Anza Valley, where she met and married Juan Diego.53
After his murder she returned to Cahuilla and lived for many years in a little shack near the cemetery. All of her children by Juan Diego died young, leaving her only her half-breed son Condino Hopkins, fathered by a local white man. To earn a living she wove baskets, did laundry for nearby ranchers, and worked in the apricot camps in the San Jacinto Valley.54
One wonders what she thought of her unwanted notoriety when tourists came looking for her, seeking the “real” Ramona. She was put on exhibit several times over the years, sometimes hired by the Hemet Valley Chamber of Commerce, which would soon sponsor the famous Ramona Pageant. Her last public appearance was in February 1922 at the National Orange Show in San Bernardino.55
Fanny Conteras, an Anza Valley homesteader of 1910, saw Ramona Lubo often during the final decade of her life. She says that Ramona never spoke of her husband’s tragic death. “Ramona could not talk English,” she recalls.
She talked a little Spanish and when I was a kid I played with the Indians, so I talked a little Indian, so we were half and half. So we got along all right. And she told me some stories from way back. . . .
She used to wash for people. There was a big warm water spring there at Cahuilla and she had a great big flat rock there, sitting in the water. And she’d get a cake of soap and she’d wash on the rock. I think that’s how she made her living, doing wash for people.”
Contreras also remembers Sam Temple, and heard how he shot Juan Diego. “Shot him three times,” she says.
Just killed him. . . . They had a jury when Juan Diego was killed, and later on I knew some of the men that served on the jury, and one of them was a cattle thief. . . .The jury wasn’t any better [than Sam Temple], she says, . . . just because he was an Indian, that was the end of it. They might as well not had a jury.56
Juan Diego’s murder and his wife’s long, lonely life afterwards are greater tragedies than anything that befell the fictional Ramona. Greater because these were real people, with real loneliness and real sorrows. Helen Hunt Jackson’s novel has kept their story alive all these years, and that is as it should be. Their tragedy illustrates the long record of cruelty and indifference on the part of whites toward Native Americans. And that is the essence of Jackson’s message: we have grievously wronged the Indian, and for this we must make amends. Viewed in this light, Ramona is no myth.
1. The literature on Ramona and the novel’s effect on Southern California is voluminous. Perhaps the best book that delves into the subject is Carey McWilliams, Southern California: An Island on the Land (Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith Inc., 1973 – reprint of 1946 first edition), 70-77. (McWilliams borrowed his subtitle from Helen Hunt Jackson.) See also Kevin Starr, Inventing the Dream: California Through the Progressive Era (New York: Oxford University. Press, 1985), 55-63. Starr writes that “No other act of symbolic expression affected the imagination of nineteenth century Southern California so forcibly.” (p. 55).
2. George Wharton James, Through Ramona’s Country (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1909), 153-154. Reliable material about Juan Diego is difficult to find, and many of the later sources are open to question. A few facts can be gleaned from Helen Hunt Jackson’s Report on the Condition and Needs of the Mission Indians (1883), and her article “Justifiable Homicide in Southern California,” New York Independent, 27 Sept. 1883. Jackson explicitly states that Diego was a Cahuilla Indian, but even that point is open to debate. His mental condition has been often described but never explained. See, for example, Dr. Henry Hewitt’s recollections in the Hemet News, 13 August 1926; the interview with Mrs. J. C. Jordan in the Los Angeles Times, 1 April 1 1906; and the material in James, pp. 153-156, 164-166. Will Tripp’s experiences with Juan Diego are mentioned in the Hemet News, 7 October 1921. Tripp (1861-1926) was a well-known San Jacinto area rancher who for many years lived just a few miles from Juan Diego Flats.
3. Juan Diego Flats is located primarily in Sections 4 and 5, T7S, R2E. In “Justifiable Homicide,” Jackson claims that Diego “was not in wholly pleasant relations” with the other Indians. “[They] have a superstitious dread of anything like insanity,” she wrote, “and this, added to the fact that Juan’s half-crazy freaks were sometimes troublesome, had much to do with his leaving the band and going away to live by himself, with his wife and baby, on the mountain side.” Just when Diego moved to the Flats is unknown, but it was apparently sometime in the late 1870s.
4. Jackson, “Justifiable Homicide.”
6. Quoted in Jackson, “Justifiable Homicide.” Ticknor’s letter was written on behalf of the Cahuillas, and is the best source for their side of the story.
7. “People of the State of California vs. Samuel Temple,” transcript of a hearing in the San Jacinto Justice Court, 31 March 1883, San Diego Historical Society, Research Archives.
8. Sam Temple, interview by George Wharton James, 1900. Transcribed from an original cylinder recording, courtesy of the Southwest Museum, Los Angeles. See note 32 for more on this rare recording.
9. Quoted in Jackson, “Justifiable Homicide.”
10. Docket of the San Jacinto Justice Court, 24 March 1883, San Jacinto Valley Museum, San Jacinto.
11. San Diego Sun, 5 April 1883. The San Diego Union also published a brief synopsis of the event on 1 April 1883 (taken from the San Bernardino Times of March 30). The Union mistakenly calls Juan Diego “Domingo.”
12. Ferdinand F. Fernandez,”Except a California Indian,” Southern California Quarterly 50 (June 1968): 161-175.
13. People vs. Temple, 31 March 1883. Helen Hunt Jackson’s description of the killing has often been quoted as the final word on the subject, but court records and other sources show that she was in error on several points.
14. Docket of the San Jacinto Justice Court, 31 March 1883.
15. Jackson, “Justifiable Homicide.” Native American homicides by whites were not uncommon in 19th century Southern California, but without someone like Jackson to publicize them, none of these killings are remembered today. For three random examples, see the San Diego Union, 13-14 June 1875, 18 May 1886, and the Hemet News, 31 July and 14 August 1914, and the San Jacinto Register, 6 August 1914.
16. There are three full-length biographies of Helen Hunt Jackson: Ruth Odell, Helen Hunt Jackson (H.H), (New York: D. Appleton-Century Co., 1939), Evelyn I. Banning, Helen Hunt Jackson (New York: The Vanguard Press, 1973), and Antoinette May, Helen Hunt Jackson: A Lonely Voice of Conscience (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1987). Jackson has also been (and continues to be) the subject of many scholarly articles and doctoral dissertations. In many ways, Odell’s book remains the most useful. For the beginning of Jackson’s interest in the Indian question, see Odell, 155-164.
17. “Mission Indians” was the generic term used by the Indian Bureau for all the Native Americans of southwestern California, even though many of these Indians, notably the Cahuilla, were never under mission control. Jackson’s California articles were later published in book form as Glimpses of California and the Missions (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1902).
18. Quoted in Valerie Sherer Mathis, Helen Hunt Jackson and Her Indian Reform Legacy (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990), 53. Mathis’ book is an important new study of Jackson’s efforts, and helps to dispel many old legends concerning the latter’s activities in Southern California in 1882-83. It is far superior on Jackson’s efforts in behalf of the Mission Indians than any of the three full-length biographies.
19. Mathis, Helen Hunt Jackson, 52-54.
20. Quoted in Jackson, “Justifiable Homicide.” While she does not give Webster’s name in her article, Jackson later mentions him in a letter to Mary Sheriff (1 December 1883), saying that he would recognize himself as the young rancher. This suggests that she had presented his opinions accurately, or she would not have wanted him to see what she had written.
22. Jackson, Report on the Conditions and Needs of the Mission Indians (Colorado Springs, 1883, reprinted by the San Jacinto Museum, 1973), 7-13.
23. Temple often claimed to have a Cherokee mother, but it appears doubtful that this is true. In the 1930s, Banning pioneer John Felton recalled, “Temple claimed Cherokee blood, but a lot of people didn’t take him seriously.” Quoted in Tom Hughes, History of Banning and San Gorgonio Pass (Banning: Banning Record, n.d. ca. 1938), 162. George Hannahs, businessman and early Idyllwild postmaster, who arrived in the area in 1889, claimed that Temple was “Cherokee and negro . . .[and] English.” See Hemet News, 24 January 1930.
24. James, Through Ramona’s Country, 133. For biographical information on Temple (some of it contradictory), see Riverside Press and Horticulturalist, 27 August 1898; Tom Hughes, History of Banning and San Gorgonio Pass, 162-163;, and interviews with his stepdaughter, Elizabeth Carl (1871-1972) in the Riverside Enterprise, 1 May 1931, San Jacinto Register, 18 April 1952, and Hemet News, 20 April 1961. See also Will Tripp’s recollections in the Hemet News, 7 October 1921 and 28 July 1922. Will was Justice Samuel Tripp’s son.
25. Riverside Press and Horticulturalist, 27 August 1898.
26. Elizabeth Winters Carl, Temple’s step-daughter, lived with him for only a few years before her mother left him. Nevertheless, she defended him against many of the accusations. “Her stepfather was’no angel,’ Mrs. Carl told the Hemet News (20 April 1961), ‘but he was made the villain of the novel. In reality he was no better or no worse than most of the other people of his own time.'”
27. San Diego Union, 17 May 1885.
28. People v. Sam Temple, San Jacinto Justice Court docket, 30 December 1887, San Jacinto Museum.
29. Riverside Press and Horticulturalist, 27 August 1898. It would seem most likely that this occurred during the construction of the California Southern Railroad near Temecula around 1881 or 1882.
30. Hughes, History of Banning, 163.
31. Riverside Press and Horticulturalist, 27 August 1898.
32. James, Through Ramona’s Country, 139.
33. Sam Temple, interview by George Wharton James, cylinder recording, 1900, The Southwest Museum, Los Angeles. Listening to Temple’s voice, telling his own side of the story, is a striking experience. But a written transcript of the original recording reveals that James made substantial changes in Temple’s narrative when he published it in Through Ramona’s Country, 133-135. This comparison casts doubt upon the accuracy of James’ other quotations, particularly in what he claims was said by Ramona Lubo.
34. No contemporary report of Temple’s death has yet come to our attention. He was reported to have died as early as 1906 (Los Angeles Times, 1 April 1906), but George Wharton James wrote that he was still living in Yuma as late as 1908 (Through Ramona’s Country, 137). Elizabeth Temple is listed as his widow in the 1909 San Diego City and County Directory (issued 1 September), so presumably he was dead by that time.
35. Jackson to Thomas Bailey Aldrich, 4 May 1883, quoted in Mathis, 77. For the suggestion that Jackson should write an Indian novel, see Odell, 169.
36. Jackson to Thomas Higginson, quoted in Banning, 198.
37. Jackson to Mr. and Mrs. Coronel, 8 November 1883, quoted in James, 20.
38. Ibid. This statement flatly contradicts all the later claims by people who said Jackson discussed Ramona with them while she was in California in 1883.
39. Jackson to Ephraim W. Morse, 3 November 1883, San Diego Historical Society, Research Archives.
40. Jackson to Mary Sheriff, 1 December 1883, Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino.
41. Jackson to Aldrich, 1 December 1884, quoted in Mathis, 81.
42. Hemet historian Clarence Swift (1907-1985) spoke with many old-timers who denied that “Ramona” Lubo was really named Ramona (personal conversation with Phil Brigandi, March 1983). Swift’s widow also confirms having heard “Ramona’s” real name in the 1930s, but can no longer recall it (personal conversation with Phil Brigandi, April 1993). It appears possible that Ramona Lubo, and the other Cahuillas, had both Indian and English or Spanish names. Art Guanche of the Santa Rosa Indian Reservation stated that “Yes, we have our own [traditional] names, but we won’t tell that to the white man.” (personal conversation with John Robinson, March 1991.)
43. San Jacinto Register, 1 April 1892. The contemporary, local sources would seem in a better position to know the truth. Jackson’s statement (note 40) suggests that the name of her novel and that of Juan Diego’s widow, both Ramona, was an amazing coincidence.
44. The literature generated by Ramona is vast and varied, and much of it is unreliable. The major sources are: C. F. Lummis, The Home of Ramona (Los Angeles: C. F. Lummis & Co., 1888), p. and ; A. C. Vroman and T. F. Barnes, The Genesis of the Story of Ramona (Los Angeles: Kingsley-Barnes & Neuner Co., 1899) (later reprinted in the 1913 “Tourist Edition” of Ramona); D. A. Hufford, The Real Ramona of Helen Hunt Jackson’s Famous Novel (Los Angeles: D. A. Hufford & Co., 1900), 35 and 37); James, Through Ramona’s Country, 63-75, 153-172); Margaret V. Allen, Ramona’s Homeland (Chula Vista: Denrich Press, 1914); and C. C. Davis and William Alderson, The True Story of “Ramona”, Its Facts & Fictions, Inspiration & Purpose (New York: Dodge Publishing Co., 1914), 33-45. Scores of other books, pamphlets and articles which refer to Ramona could also be listed.
45. Jackson to Abbot Kinney, 20 February 1884, quoted in James, Through Ramona’s Country, 336.
46. Excellent analyses of the effects of the “Ramona Myth” are found in Carey McWilliams, Southern California: An Island on the Land, 70-77; and Kevin Starr, Inventing the Dream: California Through the Progressive Era, 55-62. Starr writes that the source of Ramona’s popular appeal “is not that it translates fact into fiction, but that it translates fact into romantic myth.”
47. Helen Hunt Jackson, Ramona; A Story (Boston: Roberts Bros., 1884), 427.
48. Mathis, 92-94, 158-162. Mathis writes that Jackson’s legacy “was that, as a single woman, she undertook the tremendous task of alerting the public to the condition of the Mission Indians – a task she succeeded at eloquently.” (p. 162).
49. McWilliams, Southern California, 71.
50. James, 159-161, 170-172; Hemet News, 28 July 1922 (obituary). Fanny Contreras of Hemet, still living at 103, was an Anza Valley homesteader when Ramona Lubo lived nearby on the Cahuilla Reservation. She remembers Lubo as “a nice, quiet lady who seemed unhappy and cried a lot.” (Interview with John Robinson, 23 February 1993.)
51. See note 43. For an especially bad example, see Hufford, The Real Ramona, 43-57. Hufford publishes pictures of several different Indian women (including Ramona Lubo), each identified as the one “real” Ramona he claims to have interviewed. To these writers, Hufford’s “interview” appears to be pure fiction.
52. James, Through Ramona’s Country, 170-171. This “quote” does not come from James’ recorded interview with Ramona Lubo. “Unfortunately,” he wrote, “she was so afraid of the machine that in spite of all my urgings her voice was low and timid, and did not make much impression.” Instead, it comes from a conversation he had with her, interpreted by her son, Condino Hopkins. Just how much English Lubo spoke is unclear. The Hemet News (25 April 1913) noted that “Ramona talks very little English, but when it comes to a matter of dollars and cents she can make change with as much ease as the average trader.” Anza Pioneer “Bud” Clark, born in 1902 and now living in San Jacinto, recalls that she did speak some English — at least in later years (Interview with John Robinson, 15 March 1993).
53. There are two extensive published interviews with Condino Hopkins, both of which must be read with caution. See the Los Angeles Times, 1 October 1922, and the San Jacinto Register 8 May 1941. In the former, Condino seems to have fabricated some incidents in his mother’s life in order to weave her into the Ramona story. He claimed his mother was born at San Gabriel and related episodes clearly taken from Jackson’s novel.
The 1941 interview appears to be more valid. Condino’s assertion that his mother was born at Agua Mansa and spent much of her childhood in San Timoteo Canyon cannot be verified but makes historical sense. The great mountain Cahuilla chief, Juan Antonio, brought his people to Rancho San Bernardino in 1843 or 1844, hired by the sons of rancho owner Antonio Maria Lugo to protect the sprawling rancho and its great herds of cattle and horses from hostile desert Paiutes and Mojaves. Agua Mansa was founded in 1843 by colonists from New Mexico and was located on the rancho, just south of today’s Colton. When the Lugos sold the rancho to Mormon colonists in 1851, Juan Antonio moved his people into San Timoteo Canyon, where they remained until the chief died in the smallpox epidemic of 1863. They then moved back up to the Anza Valley. For the history of Agua Mansa, see R. Bruce Harley, “By the Gentle Water: Agua Mansa and San Salvador Parish, 1842-1893, Readings in Diocesan Heritage, Vol. III, Diocese of San Bernardino, 1991; and J. C. Vickery, Defending Eden: New Mexico Pioneers in the San Bernardino Valley (Riverside Museum Press, 1984). For Juan Antonio and his Mountain Cahuillas on Rancho San Bernardino and in San Timoteo Canyon, see George William Beattie and Helen Pruitt Beattie, Heritage of the Valley: San Bernardino’s First Century (Claremont: The Saunders Press, 1939), 61-62, 87-88, 189-190, 403-406; and Gerald A. Smith, “Juan Antonio: Cahuilla Indian Chief, A Friend of the Whites,” Quarterly of the San Bernardino County Museum Association, Fall 1960.
54. San Jacinto Register, 26 July 1888 and 1 January 1892; Riverside Daily Press, 8 July 1899; and Hemet News, 3 March 1899, 25 April 1913.
55. San Jacinto Register, 23 January 1908, and Hemet News, 7 October 1921, 24 February 1922, and 28 July 1922. Lubo also was “on display” at various local Indian fiestas over the years.
56. Personal interviews by Phil Brigandi, 7 November 1990, and John Robinson, 23 February 1993. Born in 1890, “Aunt Fanny” still has vivid memories of her youthful days in the Anza Valley. Her older sister, Clara, was married to Frank Wellman, a friend of Sam Temple and one of the “witnesses” at his 1883 hearing.
Phil Brigandi has been researching and writing local history since 1975. A native of Orange, California, he has written several books on the history of that city. His other areas of expertise include the Anza-Borrego Desert and the Riverside/San Diego County back country. He has been studying the background of the Ramona story since 1977, and has been associated with the historic Ramona Pageant in Hemet, California since 1980. He currently serves a Pageant Historian and Museum Curator.
John W. Robinson is a retired school teacher living in Fullerton, California. He has a B.A. degree in social science from the University of Southern California and an M.A. in education from California State University, Long Beach. He has written extensively on the history of Southern California with articles appearing the Southern California Quarterly, Arizona and the West, and Westways. He has also authored several books, most recently, The San Jacintos (1993). Mr. Robinson is a recipient of the Donald H. Pflueger Award for local history, awarded by the Historical Society of Southern California.