671 South Oakglen Avenue, Nipomo, CA 93444 dana@danaadobe.org 805.929.5679

The Great Depression

“Migrant Mother,” 1936 (Dorothea Lange, photographer). Library of Congress FSA/OWI Collection.

[paragraph extra=””]Perhaps the most famous aspect of the region’s history is that which was created by the photographer Dorothea Lange. The economic hardship of the Great Depression and the environmental catastrophe of the Dustbowl, caused by improper farming, affected coastal California unlike any other region. Thousands of immigrants made their way to the state looking for work in the fields. They followed the crops north and south as they were ready for harvest at different times in the various geographic regions. Many found themselves in Nipomo and Los Berros hoping to find work in the region’s pea fields. Unfortunately, weather was not on the side of the migrants when frost killed the pea crop each year throughout the 1930s. Without an income, many of these immigrants were left stranded, some of which reportedly rented rooms within the Dana Adobe. Dorothea Lange captured these migrants on film and brought attention to the need for government intervention to help them. She unintentionally gave a face to an entire generation of people. Today, Lange’s “Migrant Mother” appears in most United States History textbooks as an example of the struggles society faced during the Depression. It is a photograph that captured a moment when collective action from citizens around the nation helped a group of 2,000 destitute migrant farm workers, and when government began to play a larger role in the lives of the everyday American.[/paragraph]

[paragraph extra=””]Working through the hardships of the Great Depression, the Post-War era saw a period of normalcy for the Nipomo area. The nation’s economy gradually improved and this allowed an influx of new residents to the area. More houses were built for the new residents, and local organizations and businesses were formed. At first glance, it appears that the post-war era saw population booms and enormous change. However, regardless of the level of advancement the local population always maintains ties with its rancho style past that began with the Dana Family.[/paragraph]

Dana Family History

William[paragraph extra=””]As the Dana Family grew, they were increasingly involved with trade and politics. John Fremont stayed at Rancho Nipomo during the Mexican-American War – the conflict in which the United States gained control of California and much of the Southwest. The Dana family gave Fremont and his troops supplies for their trip to Santa Barbara. Following American annexation, Dana’s first son-in law, Henry Amos Tefft was a delegate to the state’s Constitutional Convention while many of Dana’s sons participated in local politics. By 1860, while his brothers were participating in local politics, Jose Ramon Dana was driving cattle to the San Francisco Bay area to be sold to Henry Miller – part of Miller and Lux Corporation that revolutionized the meat industry and turned it into the West Coast’s version of the factory system that was growing in New England.[/paragraph]

[paragraph extra=””]The children of William Goodwin and Maria Josefa Dana began subdividing the original property as they reached adulthood. William Charles Dana was the first to do so when he married Modesta Maria Castro and moved to Los Berros (meaning “the watercress”) in 1861. The two built their own adobe home that still stands today. Other Dana children built their homes closer to the original Dana Adobe. When the Pacific Coast Railway extended its route from San Luis Obispo to the Santa Ynez Valley in 1882, the company built stations in Los Berros and Nipomo. The Dana Family began selling plots of land the same year, and the town of Nipomo developed. Los Berros also had a small housing tract develop, but never grew to the same extent as its neighboring town.[/paragraph]

[paragraph extra=””]The introduction of transportation dramatically transformed the region. The Pacific Coast Railway enabled the movement of people and goods to and from the area during the turn of the century. Speculators planted thousands of eucalyptus trees around the Nipomo and Los Berros area, reportedly making it one of the largest stands of eucalyptus trees outside of Australia. Businessmen from Los Angeles developed quarries in Los Berros; while agriculturalists experimented with various crops around Nipomo that they shipped out of the region via railroad. These developing industries required labor. Initially immigrants from around Europe and China arrived and took up odd jobs, but by the turn of the century, racism and exclusionary immigration laws meant that Japanese immigrants were the main labor force in the Nipomo area. Federal immigration reform in 1924 essentially banned immigration into the United States, which left farmers scrambling for labor. The same decade saw the agricultural industry boom as cars became more readily available to transport goods and people, and roads along the California coast were improved. Each of which added to an increased labor need. Filipino immigrants found themselves filling the labor void, as the Philippines were a United States possession at the time and bypassed the newly created immigration laws. These immigrants worked in the fields and built the roads through Nipomo and the Central Coast, and have left a legacy still seen in the Central Coast’s Filipino community today.[/paragraph]

Natural History of Nipomo

natural history of nipomo[paragraph extra=””]Rancho Nipomo once encompassed the vast majority of land between what is now Arroyo Grande and the Santa Maria River – an area blessed by rich soil and natural resources that enabled the establishment of towns whose economy was based in agriculture and natural resource extraction. The original land grant awarded to William G. Dana and his family by the Mexican government in 1837 included Nipomo and the Los Berros region. The area’s history is significant not merely because of the history that took place within its boundaries, but also because of its relationship with distant places. The movement of goods and people is what connected Nipomo and its vicinity to the world and made it an extremely dynamic location to live.

If you would like to learn more about the natural history of Nipomo check out A Natural History of the Nipomo Mesa Region (available for purchase at the Dana Adobe or online).[/paragraph]


Neighboring Rancheros

“Los Quatro Americanos:” (included Dana, see the Blond Ranchero, p. 74-79)

Francis (Franicsco) Ziba Branch (1802-1874): Francis Ziba Branch was born in upstate New York in 1802 and left his family at an early age to make his own way in the world. In 1830, after various experiences including sailing ventures on Lake Erie, he joined, at St. Louis, a trading party bound for Santa Fe. While there Branch joined the Wolfshill trapping party and came with them to California in the Spring of 1831. A few of the party decided to remain, Branch among them. He married Maria Dominga Manuela Carlon (1815-1909) in 1835 and he and his wife were granted land in the vicinity of San Luis Obispo. Later, by right of his own grant [Santa Manuela Rancho, granted in 1837] and two others [Pismo and Huer-Huero] which he claimed through his wife’s family and by purchase, he became possessed of one of the largest land holdings in the county. His business prospered and in 1874 he died, leaving a large family to share in a considerable estate. (www.oac.cdlib.org)

The three eldest Branch sons married three Robbins women, who were 1st cousins to the Dana siblings.  According to Juan Francisco, “…I remember Don Francisco as a fine man, slightly built but very hardy, and much interested in education.  He even sent to New York for a tutor for his children.  He built the first schoolhouse at Arroyo Grande and held many public positions in the new county of San Luis Obispo after its formation.” [Blond Ranchero, p. 75]

John Michael Price (1810–1902): John Price was born in England and went to sea at the age of 15.  Harsh treatment by the older sailors caused him to jump ship in Mexico.  He arrived in Monterey in 1830 and worked as a vaquero on various ranchos in the Salinas Valley before coming to the Rancho Nipomo in 1836.  According to Juan Francisco Dana, he became the Rancho’s mayordomo and stayed until 1840.  The enterprising vaquero Juan Miguel Prais ran cattle on Rancho El Pizmo as mayordomo before purchasing the land and settling his wife Maria Andrea Carlon (1829-1912) and their young family into old adobes on the rancho—just as California became a state.  Maria Andrea Carlon’s sister, Manuela Carlon married Francis Ziba Branch.  As American statehood settled over California, John Michael Price readopted his English name and language, established Rancho del Pismo, and founded the town of Pismo.  During the 1850’s he was well respected and served as a judge, sheriff and San Luis Obispo County supervisor. [Blond Ranchero, p. 76-79; www.pricepark.org/]

Isaac J. Sparks (1804?–1867): Isaac Sparks was born in Maine and was an otter hunter who came west with the Ewing Young party in 1832.  Sparks settled in Santa Barbara, bought a store and also erected the first two-story brick building in town.  He also built a one-story adobe and a store and settled down to life of a business man.  During an early hunting trip he fought a grizzly bear and lost an eye. [Blond Ranchero, p. 76]

Sparks obtained his Huasna Mexican land grant in Dec. 1843.  The land grant included all of the Huasna Creek Valley, a major portion of the Huasna River Valley, part of the Alamo Creek Valley, and ranges of hills between them al and was surveyed and parented in 1872-73 for a total of over 22,000 acres.  Like all grantees of the day, Sparks had become naturalized as a Mexican citizen, joined the Catholic Church and married a Mexican woman, Maria de las Remedios Josefa Eayrs.  The Sparks never actually lived at Rancho Huasna, preferring instead to be closer to his business holdings in Santa Barbara.  However the ranch was stocked with cattle and sheep and its operation was entrusted to John Price.  Shortly before his death in 1867, Sparks divided the ranch among two of his three daughters, Manuela Flora Sparks Harloe and Maria Rosa Sparks Porter.   (http://www.southcountyhistory.org/huasna.html)

Benjamin William Foxen (1796-1874): Foxen was born in Norfolk, England and joined the British Navy at age 14.  He later joined the merchant service and worked his way up to first officer.  Later in the Sandwich Islands, he met Alpheus Basil Thompson who was in need of a first officer on his ship which was engaged in the California-Boston hide and tallow trade.  After working for Thompson for two years, Foxen went into business for himself.  Using his own ship, he made his first visit to San Francisco Bay in 1815 and Santa Barbara in 1818.  In 1828 after completing the rebuilding of the schooner Goleta for William G. Dana, Benjamin Foxen captained the ship for several years trading in Alta and Baja California.  During his trading, he had met Eduarda Osuna, the step-daughter of Tomas Olivera.  As he wished to marry her, he was baptized into the Catholic faith in August, 1830 and given the name of “Domingo,” but the Indians called him “Don Julian.”  Guillermo Domingo Foxen and Eduarda Osuna were married at the Mission Santa Barbara in May, 1831.  The Foxen was granted the Rancho Tinaquaic in May of 1837.  Like his fellow ranchero, William Dana, Don Julian spent many years building up his rancho and large adobe ranch house.  In Dec. 1846, his rancho was the next stop for Capt. Fremont in his military drive south towards Santa Barbara after leaving the Rancho Nipomo.  Because he was Mexican by adoption, Don Julian decided the wisest thing was for him to remain neutral.  Juan Francisco Dana relates his version of the story: “Foxen told him [Fremont] that there was no way to go south except by the narrow Gaviota Pass. So when the rains stopped, Fremont…set out.  He was surprised when he got near Santa Ines Mission, to see William, one of Foxen’s sons, riding after the army with a message from his father for Fremont. He said that an ambush had been prepared at the Pass of las Gaviotas and huge boulders were being loosed to be pushed down by the Californios on the gringos as they went through.”  Young William Foxen then showed the troops over the tricky San Marcos Pass.  Juan Francisco Dana later wrote: “Don Julian surely paid a heavy price for his bravery for many of his native friends turned against him.  He was harassed by Indian raids from the Tulares to the east and his home was later burned to the ground.” [Blond Ranchero, p. 27-28]

John Wilson (1797?—1861) and Maria Ramona de Luz Carrillo Pacheco de Wilson (1812—after 1880):  Maria Ramona la Luz Carrillo was baptized at the Mission San Juan Capistrano on 24 Jul 1812.  Ramona Carrillo and Maria Josefa Carrillo de Dana (b. 1812) were second cousins.  At age 14 years old, Ramona married Romualdo Pacheco, native of Guanajuato, at the San Diego Presidio Church on 4 Aug 1826.  At the end of 1828, Pacheco was transferred to Santa Barbara, where he was made comandante and later being promoted to lieutenant in 1829.  In 1831, he was granted the use of a part of the Simi rancho.  While marching with a small part of his company to support Governor Victoria, Pacheco was killed in a fight near Los Angeles on 5 December 1831.  Ramona and Romualdo Pacheco had two sons: Mariano Pacheco born 1830 and Romualdo Pacheco, born in Santa Barbara within the month after his father’s death.

The widow, Ramona Pacheco married a second time to Juan (John) Wilson on 9 Nov 1835 (or 1837) at the Santa Barbara Presidio Church.  Witnesses to their marriage were Maria Antonia Carrillo and Jose Noriega (Jose de la Guerra y Noriega).  Ramona had lived with the De La Guerra family since she was widowed. Captain John Wilson was a Scotch shipmaster and trader who arrived in California about 1826.  He became a naturalized Mexican citizen in 1837.  He partnered with James Scott and Mr. McKinley in 1845 to purchase part of the Mission San Luis Obispo buildings for $510.  Wilson was a grantee of the ranchos Canada del Chorro and Canada de los Osos, where he spent the rest of his life.  [Bancroft’s California Pioneer Register and Index, p. 385]  Ramona Carrillo de Wilson was granted the Rancho de Suey in 1837 and it was patented and surveyed in 1865, containing over 48,000 acres.

The Dana and Wilsons stood as godparents for a number of their children: John Wilson was a godparent for Juan Francisco Dana; Ramona Carrillo Wilson was a godparent to Jose Ramon Ijinio Dana; both the Wilson’s were godparents for Adelina Elisa Dana (#2) and David Amos Dana.  The Danas in turn served as godparents for two of the Wilson girls.  Being a godparent was a very serious commitment to make sure the child was raised in the Catholic faith.  [Early California Population Project database]

Richard Henry Dana made a return trip to California in 1859 and recorded a chance meeting with Captain John Wilson (who had captained the Ayacucho) on 20 August 1859 aboard the Senator, traveling from San Francisco to San Diego. [History of San Luis Obispo, p. 55]