The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1996, Volume 42, Number 1
Richard W. Crawford, Editor

Book Notes

Stephen A. Colston, Book Review Editor

When Descanso Was Young: Early Settlers and Ranchers [of] Descanso[,] 1845-1947.

By Beryl Newman. Descanso, California: Friends of the Descanso Library, 1994. v + 170 pages. Illustrations. Bibliography. Name Index.

The History Committee of the Friends of the Descanso Library commissioned this book “as a service to the Descanso community” (p. [I]). Based largely upon oral history testimonies, this modest work provides an overview of the development of this San Diego East County settlement from the end of the Mexican period to the beginning of the Post-World War II era. Topics which are particularly well developed by the author in seventeen unnumbered chapters include Native American culture history, water resources, ranching, transportation, hunting, tourism, and historical structures. These subjects are discussed principally through biographical vignettes, and these are enlivened by the use of extensive quotations from orally transmitted testimonies.

While the text is far more narrative than interpretive, and the paucity of source citations may also be regretted, the work is on the whole a meritorious effort. The oral histories on which so much of the volume was based were largely drawn from the archives of the Friends of the Descanso Library, and the publication of portions of these testimonies make these important first-hand accounts more readily accessible than previously. Moreover, the book transcends what on first reading may appear to be only a competently narrated history of Descanso. Many of the individuals who were instrumental in developing this community had commercial and familial relations which connected them to other regions of San Diego County. When Descanso Was Young occasionally provides, then, unique perspectives on a number of people, institutions, and events within the greater San Diego region.