Agua Mansa: An Outpost of San Gabriel, 1842-1850

Agua Mansa: An Outpost of San Gabriel, 1842-1850
By R. Bruce Harley

[Originally appeared in the CMSA Newsletter, May 1999]

With the demise of the mission system after 1834, it took a while before towns and non-mission parishes were established. The opening of the Old Spanish trail by 1830 which extended from Santa Fe to Los Angeles meant almost inevitably that sojourners would conceive of a possible place to settle other than in Los Angeles at the end of the trail. A second factor was the existence of Mission San Gabriel's Rancho San Bernardino and its estancia buildings. Early travelers noted the capability of the Santa Ana River valley for both crops and grazing. The Lugo family, who acquired the rancho as a land grant was eager to attract settlers. Antonio Lugo even petitioned in 1841 for the assignment of a priest to minister to what was hoped to be a farming and ranching community, but the request was not granted.

In 1838, a small group of men accompanied the annual caravan from Abiquiu, New Mexico. The leaders of this advance party were Lorenzo Trujillo and Hipólito Espinosa. They initiated talks with Lugo who had just acquired Rancho San Bernardino, and Juan Bandini, owner of another former San Gabriel grant, Rancho Jurupa, located just south of Lugo's holding. Both of these Californios needed skilled fighters to protect their ranchos from Indian raids and other marauding activity. Trujillo's group eventually selected the Lugo proposal for a land allotment of 2,200 A. to be held in common, with ownership still residing in the ranchero family, a common practice in California agricultural endeavors at that time.

One of the group, Santiago Martinez, decided to settle immediately on a farmstead near the boundary between today's San Bernardino and Colton, California. He was the only emigrant at the time who had his family with him. This family had increased by one since leaving New Mexico. His wife, Manuelita Renaga, had borne a son, Apolinario, probably at Resting Springs where the trail crossed from Nevada to California. The other men wintered at the rancho and helped the return caravan from California the next spring with its horses and mules. Espinosa was the next to decide to make the move and did so in the fall of 1840. He established his family near the Martinez family - The pueblo became known as Politana, a name derived from Espinosa's given name.

A year later, Trujillo traveled with his family and the Rowland-Workman Party to Politana. They arrived in late 1841. This leader completed arrangements with Lugo. Trujillo and his four sons set about building adobe houses in anticipation that three dozen of his neighbors in Abiquiu eventually would become settlers. A dozen homes were well on the way to completion when Trujillo and Espinosa joined the return caravan to New Mexico in the spring of 1842. Upon their arrival, they found about half of the prospective families ready to go that year. The others would accompany the trade caravans in 1843 and 1844. The 1842 group consisted of the leaders and a dozen families totaling about forty individuals. None had previously been on the Old Spanish Trail. The group that left Abiquiu in August 1842 traveling on pack mules. They arrived without any major mishap on November 8. The people quickly moved into their new homes and easily survived what they considered a mild winter. They subsisted on the crops grown by the Trujillo family and other food occasionally transported from Los Angeles.

Lorenzo Trujillo was a dedicated church member. He already had contacted Fr. Tomás Esténaga at Mission San Gabriel about serving the developing colony as an outpost. The padre agreed to the necessity and helped arrange for services to be held at Politana and not at the ranch headquarters. The colonists did not want to use the chapel at the abandoned estancia. The priest was not in favor of going there either because in 1834 he had been attacked there by Indians and kidnapped.

Soon after the arrival of the second contingent of colonists in 1843, the villagers had a falling out with the Lugos. Careless horsemen had been breaking down fences and trampling crops and irrigation ditches. Trujillo then negotiated with Juan Bandini, owner of Rancho Jurupa. Instead of a community land grant still owned by the ranchero, each family received their own plot of ground along the Santa Ana River, similar to the custom in New Mexico. In exchange, the people performed the duties of protecting the area from sundry marauders. About half of the colonists moved to the north bank of the river some four miles downstream from the Lugo ranch. They chose the name Agua Mansa, a name which also came to be used in a general way with the other half of the colonists on the south bank. The name was used interchangeably with the new parish that was soon to be formed: San Salvador de Jurupa.

More specifically, the south bank people called their settlement La Placita de los Trujillo, honoring their best known family. Trujillo quickly arranged for the entire community to worship near his home at an enramada constructed in the small plaza which featured a square piece of cleared ground for the worshipers and a wooden altar covered with brush when not in use. The Mission San Gabriel priests continued their ministry until 1842. Within a few years the inspirational leadership of Lorenzo Trujillo resulted in the establishment of a school, a parish, a church and rectory for the first pastor, Fr. Amable Petithonune, who was transferred from Mission San Fernando. A church cemetery was opened just a year before Trujillo's death in 1855.

The census of 1850 showed a roster of some thirty families in the parish area which stretched from La Puente to San Gorgonio Pass. The population had reached 130 souls. Unfortunately, this growing and prospering community was destined to be challenged by problems which it could not solve, highlighted by the flood of 1862 which destroyed everything but the church and cemetery. Although rebuilt and partially relocated, the community failed to regain its prosperity, leading to abandonment of the church and eventual closure of its sacramental registers. However, descendants of the pioneers, many of whom still live in the area of Colton, California, are proud of their ancestors' accomplishments, particularly in establishing the first non-mission parish in Southern California. As such, it served as the mother of later major parishes in both San Bernardino and Riverside counties.



Beattie, George W. and Helen P. Beattie.

Caballerfa, Rev. Juan.
HISTORY OF THE SAN BERNARDINO VALLEY, 1810-1850. San Bernardino: Times-Index Co., 1902.

Whelan, Rev. Harold A.
"Eden in Jurupa Valley: The Story of Agua Mansa." SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA QUARTERLY 55.4, (1973):413-429.



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2001 E. Agua Mansa Road
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Hours: 10-5, Wed-Sat; 1-5, Sun .
Contact: Rev. and Mrs. Beardslee, Docent Caretakers

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