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

Col. Jonathan Drake Stevenson

Col. Jonathan Drake Stevenson (1800–1894) Jonathan D. Stevenson was born in Richmond, Staten Island, New York. While on a visit to Washington in 1846, President Polk offered Stevenson the command of a regiment of volunteers to be raised for military service in California. He accepted the command and returned to New York. Within three days after the rolls opened, the Regiment was recruited. Stevenson sailed for California with his Regiment of New York Volunteers and arrived at San Francisco March 7, 1847. After his arrival in San Francisco, Stevenson joined General Stephen Watts Kearny at Monterey and was made commander of the post. In May, 1847, he became the military commander of the southern district of California with headquarters in Los Angeles. While there, Stevenson did much to gain the goodwill of the native Californians and became known for his justice and kindness.

When his Regiment was mustered out of service in 1848, Stevenson went to the mining community of Mokelumne Hill. He was appointed alcalde of the settlement, and drew up a code of mining laws and regulations. He remained in the “diggings” long enough to amass the respectable fortune of ten thousand dollars.

He returned to San Francisco to enter the real estate business and was appointed Shipping Commissioner for the Port of San Francisco in 1872. He held this position for many years. Even after his term as Shipping Commissioner expired, he continued to engage in his law practice and to manage real estate transactions. He died in San Francisco on February 14, 1894. (http://socialarchive.iath.virginia.edu/xtf/view?docId=stevenson-j-d-jonathan-drake-1800-1894-cr.xml)

General Henry Wager Halleck


General Henry Wager Halleck (1815-1872):  Halleck was a New York native and West Pointer (1839) was posted to the engineers and earned a brevet in Mexico.  He worked on fortifications, taught at the Academy, and studied the French military.  Resigning as a captain in 1854, he became highly successful in the San Francisco law firm (Halleck, Peachy, Billings & Park) and helped frame the state’s constitution. Henry A. Tefft stayed with him during the California Constitutional Convention in 1849.  In Henry Tefft’s correspondence to Capt. Dana in Dec. 1849, he notes that Dana and Halleck were acquainted.  Halleck wrote a letter of condolence to the Captain after Henry’s death.  Later in 1851, Halleck employed William Rich Hutton as his assistant at the New Almaden Quicksilver Mine.  He maintained his interest in martial affairs through the militia and was recommended by Winfield Scott for a high post of Union major general at the outset of the Civil War.  He served as commander in chief (July 11, 1862—March 12, 1864) until Grant took over.  Halleck became the Union Army’s chief of staff and proved highly successful. (Stephen E. Ambrose’s Halleck: Lincoln’s Chief of Staff; Joseph L. Dana, “To Discourage Me Is No Easy Matter”)

Capt. John C. Fremont


Capt. John C. Fremont:  (1813-1890) John C. Frémont, one of the United States’ leading western explorers in the 1830s and 1840s, was born in Savannah, Georgia in 1813. He joined the U.S. Topographical Engineers in 1838 and earned a national reputation for his reports on the American West. In early 1846, Captain Frémont and a small mapping expedition arrived along the border of Mexican California.

Whether by accident or design, Frémont soon plunged into local political intrigue. After several dustups with locals, Frémont encountered a force of Anglo immigrants and disgruntled Californios who advocated a Texas style insurgency to force California into American hands. These agitators declared California as the Bear Flag Republic in June 1846 and Frémont declared himself the U.S. commander in California and led the insurgents and his regulars in a campaign to neutralize all Mexican resistance. The arrival of U.S. Commodore John D. Sloat and a naval expedition added momentum to the campaign, and, by the end of the summer [1847], all of California had fallen to U.S. forces.

Frémont then declared himself military governor of the conquered province. When Brigadier General Stephen Watts Kearny arrived later in the year, the men feuded and Kearny had Frémont arrested and hauled before a court martial. The sensational trial made an even greater celebrity out of Frémont, but he resigned his commission in the army in protest.

After the U.S-Mexican War, Frémont served as U.S. senator from California and, in 1856, became the first Republican candidate for president of the United States. He served in the Union army during the Civil War, and afterward was territorial governor of Arizona. He died in New York City in 1890.  (www.pbs.org/kera/usmexicanwar/biographies/john_fremont.html)

According to Juan Francisco Dana in the Blond Ranchero, “…Col. Fremont with about one hundred men and some Walla Walla Indians was marching south to claim the Mexican territory of California for the United States.  It was during the month of December [1846] that my father heard that the colonel and his men had left San Luis Obispo and were camped about three miles northeast of our casa.”  His father invited Fremont and six officers to lunch at the adobe.  Capt. Dana also offered Fremont…”a supply of fresh beef and thirty horses.”

Faxon Dean Atherton


Faxon Dean Atherton (1815–1877) A native of Masschusetts, Atherton first came to the Pacific coast in 1834 to engage in trade at Valparaiso, Chile. He settled in Valparaiso in 1840 and became a successful merchant dealing in hides and tallow, foodstuffs, and other commodities. Eventually he became one of the wealthiest men on the Pacific coast

From 1836-38 Atherton worked as a clerk for Alpheus B. Thompson, an early California merchant and Dan’s brother-in-law. During those eventful years, he kept a diary in which he faithfully recorded his experiences and impressions of Mexican California.  Atherton made many friends in California including Thomas O. Larkin with whom he was to be associated in several real estate and commercial ventures. In 1860 Atherton moved to California; he liquidated his assets in Valparaiso and reinvested his money in California. He included among his real estate purchases his estate in San Mateo County which he called Valparaiso Park; the land now forms much of present-day town of Atherton.

Atherton was one of the earliest visitors to the Rancho Nipomo in early March of 1838.  His visit was marked by tragedy, when his travel guide, Thomas Stuart, had a dispute and stabbed “Bill,” a black man employed by Dana.  Captain baptized Bill “at the point of death” and along with Atherton took Bill’s body and Stuart to the Mission La Purisima on March 10, 1838.

The Great Depression

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

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.

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.