Doña María of Two Adobes

Doña María of Two Adobes
By Glenn Burch, Historian, California Dept. of Parks and Recreation, Sonoma

[Originally appeared in the California Mission Studies Assn. Newsletter, July 1993.]

In an attempt at political correctness in presenting women of the California colonial era, OH, CALIFORNIA (the current California fourth grade history textbook) shows a mythical "vaquera at work." I believe that a genuinely historic example should be used to portray the valuable contributions made by women to early California development and society. One such example is Doña María Ignacia Candelaria López.

Born at San Diego in January, 1793, María Ignacia was baptized at the Presidio Chapel, where sixteen years later she was to marry Joaquin Victor Carrillo, a Soldado de Cuera. Over the years Doña María Ignacia bore thirteen children. The twelfth, José de la Luz, died in infancy. All but two of the children were baptized at either the Presidio or Mission San Diego. The other two children, José Ramon, born in 1821, and José de los Dolores, born in 1823, were baptized at Mission San Gabriel, which may indicate that Joaquin Victor was serving in the mission escolta at the time.

The first child, María Antonia (known as Josefa) married Captain Henry Delano Fitch in one of California's better known romantic episodes. Rather than retell the elopement, I would like to look briefly at one part of Josefa and Henry Fitch's return to California which sheds a little light on the character of Josefa's father, Joaquin Victor. After a year's absence, Josefa returned to San Diego with her infant child (the Carrillo's first grandchild), to learn that her father had threatened to kill her for bringing shame on the family. In an article in the JOURNAL OF SAN DIEGO HISTORY (Spring 1973), Ronald Miller gives an emotional account of Josefa approaching the house and dragging herself to him on her knees as she begs forgiveness and blames the despotic governor for her elopement. She is successful in her entreaty and Joaquin Victor is reunited with his daughter.

Legend would have it that they lived happily ever after, but of course real life is never so simple. In December of 1835, Captain Fitch sued Josefa for separation because she had gambled away $1,000. Although the separation was granted, Josefa admitted the gambling loss and begged pardon. A reconciliation was affected, and Josefa and Henry stayed together in San Diego until his death in 1849. Until the 1840s, they lived in the Carrillo home.

Josefa's father, Joaquin Victor, served as a soldier for twenty-two years and then retired. Before 1820, possibly as a result of retirement, Joaquin and María Ignacia moved their family out of the Presidio and into a small adobe in what is now Old Town San Diego. This was the first house built in what was to become the town. It had been built sometime between 1810 and 1820 by Captain Don Francisco Ruiz, Comandante of the Presidio.

Ruiz was godfather to three of the Carrillo children, Juan Bautista, Francisca, and Julio. In March 1835 Captain Ruiz made a gift of his orchard, which evidently adjoined the house. The transfer document for the orchard fails to mention the house and specifically states that Carrillo is "... without being able on any pretext to sell, encumber, nor mortgage it; since it should ... remain in trust in favor of my three godchildren..." This turned out to be a prudent requirement on Captain Ruiz's part as, by May of the same year, Joaquin had been trying to sell the property and Doña María had appealed to the governor to protect the rights of her children. In a letter dated 19 May 1835 Governor José Figueroa wrote to the Alcalde Juan Osuña in response to an appeal from Doña María Ignacia, forbidding the sale of the orchard.

This incident is the first documented indication beyond the then ordinary role of mother and housewife of Doña María Ignacia's strength. Here we see a woman of self-determined character using the officials and laws of her time to defy her husband in the protection of her children's interest. The next major trial of her life was soon to follow.

Joaquin Victor died in 1835 or 1836, although no one seems to be able to document exactly where, when, or how. So, at age 43, Doña María Ignacia found herself a widow with nine children to care for, ranging in age from three year old Felicidad de la Augusta up to the grown twenty-three year old María de la Luz. Her daughters Josefa, María Ramona, and Francisca Benicia had all married. Francisca Benicia had married an up and coming army officer, Don Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, who by 1836 was establishing himself as Comandante of the Northern Frontier in Sonoma.

What, if any, influence Vallejo had on Doña María Ignacia's decision to move from San Diego is at present unclear. What is clear is that Doña María Ignacia decided to pack up and move north, following the example of her own mother, María Feliciana Arballo, widow of José Gutiérrez, who had, with her first two children (then ages four and six) joined the Anza expedition of 1775 from Tubac to Alta California. Doña María Ignacia packed up the family and its belongings and moved to Sonoma where the family stayed until a parcel of land was chosen and a house built to serve as their new home. Unfortunately, no diary or other account of the 700 mile journey from San Diego to Sonoma has to date been found. Doña María Ignacia did not know how to write and could not, herself, leave such a record. Using the transportation methods of the time--horses, mules, and ox carts--it was, by our standards, an arduous trek.

A petition was submitted to Don Mariano Vallejo in January 1838 requesting a grant of land along the banks of the Santa Rosa Creek. Vallejo gave her permission to occupy two leagues of land in the center of the Santa Rosa Valley. On 30 September 1841, Governor Jimeno granted Doña María Ignacia the 4,500 acre Cabeza de Santa Rosa Rancho. Incidentally, her daughter María Ramona de Luz, who had married José Antonio Pacheco in 1826, received, in her own name, the grant of the 48,000 acre Suey Rancho in what is now San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties. The grant was made by Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado in 1837.

As with many other adobe structures, the date of construction of the Carrillo Adobe at Santa Rosa is a bit vague and varies with the source. The work was supposedly carried out by the Carrillo boys (Joaquin, José Ramon, Julio, Dolores, and Juan) with the help of Salvador Vallejo and local Native Americans. The resulting home was at one point an "L" shaped, one story adobe with a shingle roof. The bricks averaged 22" by 11" by 3 1/2", and were stacked to make walls that were 28" thick on the shorter north-south wing while the long east-west wing had walls ranging in thickness from 36" to 42" in thickness. The long east-west wing of the adobe was still standing in the 1930s when it was photographed for the Historic American Building Survey.

As "Ranchera," Doña María Ignacia took charge of her rancho and provided well for her family. It is in this role that our only description of her exists. William Heath Davis described her:

I have seen Doña María Ygnacia robed in a neat calico dress of a French texture, with a broad-brim straw hat made by one of her Indian women, mounted on a horse which had been broken to saddle by some of her sons expressly for her use, ride over the hacienda and direct the gentiles in sowing and planting seed and in harvesting the same. She supervised the farming herself, but the management of the stock and rodeos was left to her son José Ramon and his brother. ... Although she was the mother of eleven grown daughters and sons, she was well-preserved and still of medium height, with all the graceful movements so characteristic of her race.
Part of Doña María Ignacia's success as "Ranchera" was a result of her being able to marshal a work force which was recruited from among local Native Americans. Davis recounts that there were "several hundred gentiles" living near the house. Doña María Ignacia attributed her success with them to good treatment and plenty of food. Although she could not write her native language, she had mastered the local Indian dialect.

With the new home firmly established, the San Diego house and orchard were no longer necessary for Doña María Ignacia's children's welfare. Ramon Carrillo sold it, in 1842, to Lorenzo Soto for "... ten broken horses and thirty young heifers...." Presumably, the horses and cattle were driven north to the Cabeza de Santa Rosa. It is interesting to note that there is no brand on file in the Sonoma County Courthouse for Doña María Ignacia, although there are brands on record for Ramon, Juan, and Julio Carrillo. This may just be a function of timing, or it may be that the cattle and horses were managed by the boys were seen as their property and not their mother's.

Tragedy struck María Ignacia's family again in 1841 with the death of her son Juan Bautista by poison. The early 1840's also saw two of Doña María Ignacia's children leave home to start their own families. María de la Luz, at age 26, married Salvador Vallejo and set up her home in Sonoma. Joaquin took Guadalupe Caseras as wife and was granted the 13,000 acre Llano de Santa Rosa rancho just west of his mother's property.

In 1846, tragedy struck again as part of the Bear Flag Revolt. Two members of the Bear Flag party, Thomas Cowie and George Fowler, were dispatched from Sonoma to Alexander Valley to obtain gunpowder. Carrillo family tradition says they stopped at the Cabeza de Santa Rosa ranch house where they raped and killed José Ramon's wife Rosita. No records of José and Rosita's marriage have been found. However, it is revenge for this incident that is supposed to have caused vaqueros nominally under José Ramon's command to have murdered Cowie and Fowler whom they had captured. It may be this event which caused Doña María Ignacia to dislike Americans to the extent that James C. Ward, in 1848, chose not to travel across the Cabeza de Santa Rosa as "... I should have been forced to trespass upon the hospitality of Señora Carrillo who, it is said, affections not our countrymen."

A year later and Ward would not have to worry, for in January of 1849, Doña María fell ill. She called her children to her and, at her direction, her sons prepared her will dividing the Cabeza de Santa Rosa to her daughters Marta, Juana, and Felicidad. A marginal note to the will gives a house and lot in Sonoma to her son Julio.

During her illness Doña María Ignacia also called Padre Quijas from Sonoma mission and requested that she be buried in the chapel "near the Holy Water font, where drops of the Holy Water might fall on her resting-place." And not too far from where her son Juan Bautista (the one who had been poisoned) was buried before the altar. <:P> Doña María Ignacia's daughter Juana de Jesus and her husband David Mallagh lived on in the house for a time. Mallagh opened a store and then an inn known as the "Santa Rosa House" in part of the adobe. Over the years the land was sold off and a modern city grew up around the Carrillo Adobe. Today its ruin is the last visible symbol of a real woman who could easily stand as an example for today's school children of what women in early California were really about. I do not believe that we need any mythical "vaqueras."

Sometime between the 1930's when the Carrillo Adobe was photographed for the Historical American Building Survey. and the 1960's the long east-west wing of the building disappeared. In the 1960's an attempt was made at restoration which resulted in measured drawings being made for the HABS program. If any such drawings were made then of the complete structure no one has been able to find them. A new wood shingle roof was placed over the north-south wing in the 1960's restoration attempt. Since the 1960's about two-thirds of what the HABS drawings show has melted away and the wood shingle roof has collapsed.

Today, the remnants of the Carrillo Adobe still speak of its past. Shreds of a manta ceiling can be found tacked to the hand-hewn beams of the north room, where part of a door lies on the dirt hiding an old wooden floor. The boards of a plank ceiling, or loft that was once set above the level of the manta have a round hole cut in them where there once passed a stove pipe. The rock remains of two back-to-back fireplaces can be found on either side of the remnant of an interior cross wall. At the southern end a curious band of red adobe bricks can be seen about a yard above ground in the otherwise brown walls. All around the interior walls can be found niches and "gringo blocks" speaking of changes in decorating style brought to the adobe by Yankee occupants.

About five years ago a group of local folk, including some descendants of Doña María Ignacia, banded together to try again to save and restore the Carrillo Adobe. Today the adobe and the land it stands on belong to the Archdiocese of Santa Rosa. With their permission and help, the Friends of the Carrillo Adobe have replaced the 1960's roof over the adobe and are trying to bring together the City of Santa Rosa, private donors, and the Church in order to see the Carrillo Adobe restored and made available to the public as a city park. The going is slow, as the Church's attitude towards the adobe changes from Bishop to Bishop and the general. public are frequently reluctant to donate to the restoration of a building that belongs to the Church, which needs its scarce dollars for its social services.