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

Mi Casa Es Su Casa:Being extended Dana/Carrilo Family, Friends, and famous Visitors to the Rancho Nipomo

They lived at the Adobe or on the Rancho:

Maria Isabel Ayala (bapt. 19 Nov 1836—May 1918): Isabel’s parents were Juan Jose Gervasio Ayala and Maria Rafaela de Jesus Arellanes (or Arrellanos).  Her father was married to another woman at the time.  This couple also had another child, Juan de los Dolores Ayala, born in 1839 and died in April 1841 on the Rancho Nipomo.  Isabel’s family stories (and her obituary) have her becoming a ward of the Robbins and Dana families.  She was taken into the Dana Family after age 11 “as a daughter.”  She reportedly had “several conversations with Capt. John Fremont,” which places her at the rancho in December 1846.  She was listed on the 1850 U.S. Federal Census with the Dana family in Nipomo.  We have a photograph of Isabel and five small children identified as the Dana children, including a young Adelina Elisa (age about 2 years), placing the photograph about 1850.  In 1855, Isabel Ayala was married to Felipe Grajada (abt 1812—1889).  Her uncle, Francisco Arrellanos, took her to be married from the rancho to the Mission Santa Barbara on horseback over San Marcos pass.  The couple made their home in Santa Barbara, where Mr. Grajada worked on the Mission aqueduct system. The Grajada family settled later in El Rio area of Ventura County. [Sources: correspondence from Isabel Ayala’s descendants, Isabel Ayala Grajada’s obituary, and research by Barbara Watson, Susan Gray, & Colleen Beck]

Josefa O’Brien (abt 1845–?): Josefa was listed as part of the Dana family after Isabel Ayala’s name on the 1850 U.S. Federal Census, dated Oct. 6, 1850.  Was she another “adopted” Dana child?  There was also Augusta (?) Ortega, age 21, female and born in California listed before the girls.  Both girls would be topics for further research.

Maria de la Encarnacion Carrillo de Robbins (March 24, 1814–June, 1876): Encarnacion was born just after her sister, Maria Josefa, and they were likely very close as young girls in Santa Barbara.  She married Thomas M. Robbins on February 3, 1834 in Santa Barbara.   Between 1823 and 1829 Robbins had been involved in the sea otter trade and served as a mate on the Waverly between 1826 and 1828.  Unfortunately, Robbins passed away July 15, 1857 in Santa Barbara leaving his widow Encarnacion with 10 children to support.  About 1861, Encarnacion was forced to sell their various properties in the Santa Barbara area to support her family.  During the same year, Encarnacion and several of her children moved to the Nipomo Rancho and remained there until about 1864 when their house burned down.   She later moved to Arroyo Grande with several of her remaining unmarried children. [The Middle of Nowhere, p. 20-21, 36]

According to an article written by Doris Olsen for the South County Tribune, “…Mrs. Robbins brought her younger children to the Nipomo ranch of her widowed sister, Mrs. William Goodwin Dana, in 1861.  The family remained there until after the marriage of Isabelle Robbins to Ramon Branch [1863] and Maria Antonio Robbins to Leandro Roman Branch [Oct. 1864] and then moved to a new adobe home situated in what is now the village of Arroyo Grande.  After the move another daughter, Concepcion Robbins, married Frank Branch [1867].”

William Rich Hutton (1826—1901):  Surveyor Hutton was 21 years old when he arrived in California in 1847.  Hutton was a friend of Capt. Henry W. Halleck, with whom Henry Tefft had stayed while serving as delegates to the California Constitutional Convention.  Early in 1850 while in Monterey, we speculate that he made the acquaintance of Henry A. Tefft, the future son-in-law of William G. Dana.  In May 1850, Hutton writes his mother about his trip south to San Luis Obispo with Tefft.  Hutton accepted a commission to survey the 38,000 acres Rancho Nipomo for Capt. Dana.  “…I found Capt. Dana an excellent, good natured old gentleman, and his daughter is a favorite with all who know her.…Since I have been here they have treated me kindly, and they live comfortably.  I sent up to San Luis for my things, and have commenced on this farm, as I cannot well do anything in San Luis until Capt. Wilson comes down.  The farm is about 10 miles long and, I believe, nearly as many broad, though a third of it is hilly and good for nothing.  The air is filled with the fragrance of the different species of clover, and in some places the oats are 4 feet high.”  Hutton served as Henry Tefft’s best man for his marriage to Maria Josefa Dana in July 1850 and in his later years wrote a description of the wedding.  Hutton was confirmed as the San Luis Obispo County surveyor in Sept. 1850, which he served until August of 1851.  He left California in 1853. [Research by Barbara Watson]

Henry Amos Tefft (1825-1852): Henry was a young lawyer recently arrived from Wisconsin, who settled in the San Luis Obispo area in 1849.  Tefft became acquainted with William G. Dana, and lived at Dana’s home in Nipomo for a four-month stretch.  During this time, Henry Tefft practiced law and became known and respected in the area.

Due to his blossoming reputation and Dana’s support, Tefft was elected as San Luis Obispo’s delegate to the state’s Constitutional Convention in Monterey.  This convention was seated in August 1849 with the Constitution of California completed on October 12, 1849.  Tefft was a vocal participant in the convention, arguing in favor of the right of Native Americans to vote, property rights for women, the establishment of county schools, and a “Homestead Exemption” clause enabling a homeowner to have his home declared exempt from seizure for the payment of debts.  After October, Tefft rode south, taking responsibility of distributing copies of the Constitution to the southern part of the state.

After the convention, Tefft was elected as San Luis Obispo County’s first assemblyman.  Later when the state legislature divided the state into judicial districts, Tefft was elected as the first district judge of the Second Judicial District (comprised of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties).  In July 1850, Henry married Maria Josefa Dana in a wedding ceremony conducted at Rancho Nipomo.

Henry and Maria Josefa settled into the Casa de Dana in Nipomo.  Tragically, Tefft died just a year and a half after his wedding.  On February 6, 1852 (the dates vary by accounts), he was aboard the coastal steamer Ohio when it entered the harbor of Port San Luis amid high waves, heavy surf, and inclement weather.  Tefft reportedly was planning to pick up Maria Josefa and then head on to San Francisco to take the train back to Wisconsin for a visit with his parents, and insisted on going ashore.  The captain sent Tefft and five sailors on a boat headed to shore.  Within 100 yards of the sand…the boat suddenly turned over, dumping everyone into the pounding surf.  Tefft and four of the sailors drowned. By all accounts, his wife was expecting their first child, Henry Tefft Jr., who was born after his death.  There are stories that Maria Josefa Tefft was not told of her husband’s death for a while.  Henry Tefft’s body was not recovered for burial.

Samuel Adams Pollard (1824-1904):  A Virginia native, Sam Pollard served in the Mexican-American War sometime between 1846 and 1847.  After the war, he was working as a clerk in New Orleans when news reached him of the discovery of gold in California.  He briefly settled into clerking San Francisco, but…“The city was then wild with dissipation, and I got very tired of it.  Having a chance to open a store on the shares down the coast, I accepted it and did very well,” recalled Samuel Pollard.  About May 1849, S. A. Pollard and his partner, William L. Beebe began building an adobe store in San Luis Obispo at the corner of Monterey and Chorro streets.

After finishing the store, the partners found nearly all their money was sunk in adobe, and they had little left for purchasing stock.  In order to get stock from San Francisco, it was a lonely 300-mile mule ride.  “Our first district judge was Judge Tefft, who had accumulated a back salary of $3,000, but had no way to collect it without the bother of a land journey.”  Pollard agreed to collect the salary if Tefft would give the partners use of it for six months without interest.  “So, we got our stock,” remembered Pollard.  When the SLO Post Office established on 28 July 1851, Samuel A. Pollard was appointed its 1st postmaster and operated out of his store under 1853.

Besides operating the store in San Luis Obispo, S.A. Pollard was very active in early city and county government.  On 14 April 1850, he was appointed the County Recorder.  During this period, William G. Dana was also serving as the San Luis Obispo county Treasurer.  Having been acquainted with and having done business with both her father, William G. Dana, and her late husband, Judge Henry Tefft, it is no surprise that Samuel A. Pollard became acquainted with the widowed Maria Josefa de Tefft .  He courted her and they were married on 20 December 1854 in the Mission San Luis Obispo.  The couple lived at the Dana Adobe on the Rancho Nipomo for a time after they married.  The couple eventually raised five children together.  Reportedly, Samuel ran the store at the Rancho for a time. Sometime after Captain Dana passed away in 1858, the Pollards settled in the San Luis Obispo area as noted in Maria Josefa Pollard’s letter to her family in the early 1860s.

Manuela Antonia Carrillo Jones de Kettle (1820—1900):  Maria Josefa Carrillo Dana’s younger sister, Manuela was born in June, 1820.  She married John Coffin Jones, Jr. (1796—1861), a Massachusetts trader, who had served as the U.S. Consular Agent for Commerce and Seamen in Oahu, Sandwich Islands.  Jones and Alpheus B. Thompson went into partnership, mainly in commerce trading in Santa Barbara.  Unlike his brothers-in-law (Dana, Thompson, Robbins and Burton), Jones had no formal residence for his family, no Mexican citizenship, and bitterly disliked California.  In 1846, Jones, Manuela, and two children sailed for Boston leaving Thompson to manage their Santa Rosa Island stock ventures and keep the books. The Jones family settled in West Newton, Massachusetts where Jones “farmed” until this death in 1861.  After five years, widowed Manuela remarried to George Nelson Kettle, an Englishman and widower with three children.  While he had investments in Massachusetts, the Kettles spent most of their time in Europe.  The San Luis Obispo Tribune of May 18, 1883 included a personal notice of the Kettles “stopping with the Danas in this county…After an absence of thirty-eight years she has returned to the scenes of her youth to find all her sisters, excepting Mrs. [William] Dana, dead.  The meeting between the two sisters is said to have been very affecting.”  This meeting was most likely at the Casa Grande in Nipomo where Maria Josefa Dana lived. Manuela Kettle died in Nice, France at eighty years of age.  [Ynez Durnford Haase, The Middle of Nowhere: the Carlos Carrillo Adobe, The Carrillo Family & Their Rancho Sespe, p. 22-24; History of San Luis Obispo County,p. 106]

Hubbard C. M. Ely (c. 1818-1889):  Hubbard C. M. Ely was born and named Elihu Ely, junior, in Binghamton, New York.  Elihu Ely Jr. was the great nephew of William Ely, who married Clarissa May Davis and was thus a relative of William Goodwin Dana.  Based on the date of his passport, Ely traveled most likely to California for the first time at the beginning of the Gold Rush.  Elihu Ely Jr. is noted as a bookkeeper at the Custom House in San Francisco in 1850.  In March 1851, Elihu Ely petitioned the California government to officially change his name from Elihu Ely to Hubbard C M Ely.  This was approved 28 Mar 1851.

About the 17th Apr 1853 H C M Ely set sail from (possibly) San Francisco for New York via Panama and arrived in New York about 16 May 1853 [NYT].  On board were the Dana brothers, Henry Camilo Dana (Enrique), noted as age 19, and Charles William Dana (Carlos), noted as age 17, perhaps traveling with Ely, who they knew from home.   The Dana boys are on their way to school in New York to stay near their aunt, Adelina Eliza (nee Dana) Darling.  Ely wrote a letter to Carlos Dana from San Francisco in 1854 reporting happenings on the rancho.

H C M Ely, Esq. conducted a number of business transactions for Capt. Dana in 1853 and 1854.  He aided William Goodwin and Maria Petra Josefa Dana when they deeded to Maria Josefa (their daughter) a large chunk of property in SLO (including the Dana Hotel) on 12 Nov 1853 and some Rancho property on 6 Dec 1853.  The other signature, either serving as law clerk or district attorney on these deeds, was Hubbard C M Ely. [SLO County Deed Book #A]

In August 1854, he handled the scrip and other documents for Wm. G. Dana in his controversy with the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors in regard to the rent of the courtroom. [Angel, 171]  Ely was possibly living in San Francisco later in 1858.  Ely returned east sometime afterwards and died in Wilmington, Delaware on the 25th of Nov 1889.

La Catrina

La Catrina: Mexico’s grande dame of death

Christine Delsol, Special to SFGate

Published 10:41 am, Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Jose Guadalupe Posada’s original ‘La Calavera Catrina,’ circa 1910. Jose Guadalupe Posada’s original “La Calavera Catrina,” circa 1910. credit: Courtesy Mexican Museum Photo: Courtesy Mexican Museum


In many years of traveling to Mexico I’ve often encountered a tall, elegantly attired female skeleton sporting an extravagantly plumed hat — in books, in cartoons, on posters, in figures and in the works of some of Mexico’s greatest artists. I gradually realized that she is not just one among the proliferation of skulls and skeletons in Mexican art and lore, but a distinct figure named La Catrina.

It took San Francisco’s Mexican Museum to drive home just how beloved and deeply rooted in the Mexican psyche La Catrina is. For its Oct. 29 fundraiser launching a final push to complete its new and greatly expanded home in the Yerba Buena Arts Center, the museum is holding a La Catrina party. “La Catrina: Keeping the Spirits Alive” will invoke all the traditional Day of the Dead elements, re-creating a Mexican village whose paths are lined with marigold-strewn altars created by local artists to remember loved ones who have died. Mariachi and salsa tunes will fill the air, with the promise of a spin around the dance floor with the flirtatious, fabulously dressed skeleton.

Why Catrina? I asked curator David de la Torre.  “Catrina has come to symbolize not only El Día de los Muertos and the Mexican willingness to laugh at death itself, but originally catrina was an elegant or well-dressed woman, so it refers to rich people,” de la Torre said. “Death brings this neutralizing force; everyone is equal in the end. Sometimes people have to be reminded.”

Born of revolution

La Catrina as we know her originated with Jose Guadalupe Posada, considered the father of Mexican printmaking. Born in 1852, he apprenticed to a local printmaker and publisher when he was just 14. Moving to Mexico City in 1888, he soon became the chief artist for Antonio Vanegas Arroyo, publisher of illustrated broadsides, street gazettes, chapbooks and other popular forms of literature, including songbooks for the popular corridos. He became famous for calaveras (skulls or skeletons) images that he wielded as political and social satire, poking fun at every imaginable human folly. His influence on Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco and other great artists of their generation was incalculable. La Catrina isn’t your typical revolutionary babe, but her appearance has everything to do with the Mexican Revolution. Posada’s working life paralleled the reign of dictator Porfirio Díaz, whose accomplishments in modernizing and bringing financial stability to Mexico pale against his government’s repression, corruption, extravagance and obsession with all things European. Concentration of fantastic wealth in the hands of the privileged few brewed discontent in the hearts of the suffering many, leading to the 1910 rebellion that toppled Diaz in 1911 and became the Mexican Revolution.

Posada’s illustrations brought the stories of the day to the illiterate majority of impoverished Mexicans, both expressing and spreading the prevailing disdain for Porfirio’s regime. The image now called “La Calavera Catrina” was published as a broadside in 1910, just as the revolution was picking up steam. Posada’s calaveras — La Catrina above all, caricaturizing a high-society lady as a skeleton wearing only a fancy French-style hat — became a sort of satirical obituary for the privileged class. But his Catrina cast a wider net: His original name for her, “La Calavera Garbancera,” used a term that in his day referred to native Mexicans who scorned their culture and tried to pass as European.

Lineage begins with the Aztecs

“La Catrina has been iterated over time,” de la Torre said. “It’s not just Posada and his work in 1910. There are layers of history. The image and the woman in death goes back to the ancient Aztec period. Posada took his inspiration from Mictecacihuatl, goddess of death and Lady of Mictlan, the underworld.”  Also known as Lady of the Dead, Mictecacihuatl was keeper of the bones in the underworld, and she presided over the ancient monthlong Aztec festivals honoring the dead. With Christian beliefs superimposed on the ancient rituals, those celebrations have evolved into today’s Day of the Dead.

Posada’s image was basically a head shot, unclothed except for the elegant hat. It took Diego Rivera to portray a full-length figure, put her in an elegant dresss and, by some accounts, to dub her “La Catrina.” In the center of his 50-foot mural, Sueño de una tarde dominical en la AlamedaCentral (“Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park”), Catrina holds the 10-year-old Rivera’s hand while Frida Kahlo in traditional Mexican dress stands behind them. None other than a dapper Posada himself stands to Catrina’s left, offering her his arm. The symbolism — and this is but a fraction — is staggering.  Rivera painted the mural in 1947 at the Hotel del Prado, which stood at the end of Alameda Park. The mural survived the 1985 earthquake, which destroyed the hotel, and later moved across the street to the Museo Mural Diego Rivera, built after the earthquake for that purpose.

Grande dame of death

La Catrina’s vacuously grinning skull fell inevitably into the role of literal and metaphorical poster child for the Day of the Dead, symbolizing the joy of life in the face of its inevitable end. But La Catrina is the beloved grand dame of Mexico’s dance with death 365 days a year, appearing in at least two movies, graduating from drawings to sculpture, and taking on such roles as mermaids, brides and the all-around icon of the recent Bicentennial celebrations.

The Day of the Dead brings into focus one of the greatest differences between Mexican and U.S. cultures: the 180-degree divide between attitudes toward death. Mexicans keep death (and by extension their dead loved ones) close, treating it with familiarity — even hospitality — instead of dread. La Catrina embodies that philosphy, and yet she is much more than that.  A product of the irrevent spirit and rebellious fervor that ignited a revolution, lovingly kept alive and evolving over time, she remains as relevant today as she was a century ago. She is all the more endearing for reminding us of one more Mexican characteristic that sits 180 degrees from today’s U.S. population: The ability to extract humor from protest, to poke fun at the powers that be and at sacred cows of any description with no concern that someone might take offense.

As de la Torre observed, “It’s about class and society, and we can draw relevance in today’s world about that, too. There are some very real similarities.”

Viva La Catrina.

Glossary of Huichol Symbols

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Glossary of Huichol Symbols – The Huichol Center for Cultural Survival and the Traditional Arts-

SHAMANS – The spiritual leaders who are ambassadors to the gods, shamans preside over ceremonies, recite the divine passages, cure the sick, interpret dreams, etc. They are believed to have supernatural powers and insights in the metaphysical world that are considered out of reach for normal humans.

SPIRIT GUIDES – Intermediaries between human and spirit realms, the guide can take the shape of half-human, half-animal being. These figures appear in visions and dreams and remain with each shaman even after apprenticeship is over.

FIRE – Considered a very valuable gift from the gods, fire is called Tai. Tai is believed to enable the Huichol to have visions. The fire god, Tatewari, is always honored at Huichol ceremonies, and receives many offerings such as corn meal, sacred water and much of the art that they make.

HEALING WANDS – Called Muvieri, each shaman carries a wand in their medicine basket. They are made of pairs of eagle or hawk feathers attached to ceremonial arrows, and are used in rain making ceremonies and other divinations.

PATH OF LIFE – Wavy lines represent the “vine of life”, which the Huichol Goddess of Life gives to every soul (plant, animal, human) at birth. This vine is the soul’s spiritual connection to the breath of the goddess in the ethereal realm. When people chose to follow her “path of flowers”, they receive her blessings: prosperity, abundance, creativity, health, and their hearts’ desires.

WOLF PEOPLE – Believed to be the earliest ancestors, they spoke and lived like people. Tacutsi, the goddess of life, first taught them how to live well and overcome hunger and cold.

PRAYER ARROWS – Used to express gratitude or requests to the gods, called Urus, prayer arrows, like gourd bowls, are ceremonial objects through which the gods are believed to give their blessings. Special prayer arrows have crystals attached to them, representing the spirits of departed ancestors.

PEYOTE CACTI – Symbol for life, sustenance, health, success, good luck, and acquisition of shamanic powers, the peyote appears in practically all Huichol art and is considered a gift from the gods to the people to enlighten their lives and bring them into the mystical realm.

THE SUN – Brings light and illumination to the world. Tayaupa is father sun, master of the heavens, and his wife is the Eagle, mother of the sky and goddess of life. The Huichols believe all living things receive their power from the sun, and that He guarantees healthy crops and abundant food.

SNAKES – Instruct shamans to become healers. The rattle on the Rattlesnake is believed to be the tongue of the greatest shaman of all, which is the fire god. Snakes may also be associated with the rain goddess. The Mother Goddess of the Sea is pictured as a huge coiled serpent forming herself into a cyclical storm cloud from which rain falls. The Huichols believe that rain itself consists of millions of small snakes. They are valued for their work in the cornfields where they eat the rodents and pests harmful to the corn harvest.


DEER – The spirit guide Kauyumari, who leads the shamans on their visionary pathways and teaches them how to gain their special knowledge. One of the most commonly seen motifs, the deer, maxa, in Huichol, often appear in male and female pairs, symbolizing the unity between men and women on their spiritual journey. Legends about the deer abound in Huichol culture. The deer mother is the guardian spirit, the important animal in Huichol shamanism. She holds tobacco gourds and corn plant, both of utmost importance for Huichol survival. The Huichols believe that deer give their lives willingly to those who hunt them in a sacred manner. After a deer hunt, the hunters have to perform purifying rituals for many days to insure that the animals are properly thanked for giving their lives to the benefit of the people.

FLOWERS – Play a part in all Huichol ceremonies, and all flowers are considered sacred in healing rituals; the patient’s head is anointed with flowers. Shamans use them to prepare for the deer hunt and during harvest ceremonies to adorn the new corn. One flower that appears often is called Kiera, the tree of the wind. It is a hallucinogenic plant said to open the Huichols spirits to the highest level of enlightenment.

BIRDS – Believed to be messengers to and from the gods, all birds are held in great regard. The shamans use tail and wing feather of eagles and hawks in their rituals and ceremonial chanting. The double-headed eagle is another common design, representing the shaman’s omnipotent power to see in all directions.

TURTLES – Esteemed as assistants of the rain goddesses, turtles are believed to be responsible for replenishing the water of underground springs and the purity of all water sources.

WOLVES – Carrier of spirits, Kumukemai, the wolf, is honored in all peyote ceremonies. Many Huichols believe they are descendents of the “Wolf-People” of primordial times. Huichol shamans claim to possess the power to transform themselves into spirited wolves.

GOURD BOWLS – Used by shamans as containers filled with important symbols, such as corn, animals, and images of family members. Colorfully decorated, they are carried during ceremonies and prayer for protection, health, and abundance. The symbols themselves represent attributes of different gods and goddesses. They are placed in shrines and sacred sites throughout the Huichol homeland.

SCORPIONS – Used by shamans to repel evil and bad luck. They are both esteemed and feared. A deadly species of scorpion inhabit Huichol land and cause numerous fatalities every year. However, the Huichols believe that the scorpion spirit is a powerful ally that protects them as well.

SALAMANDERS – Agents of the rain mother, salamanders are connected with the water and rain, stirring up clouds and making rain fall.

JAGUAR – Messengers of the god of fire, Tatewari, they are guardians of the sacred vows taken by shamans during their years of initiation. Called Mayetse, they are given the power to devour the spirits of those who fail.

EAGLES – Believed to be the embodiment of a goddess known as Mother Eagle, Mother of the Sky and Queen of Heavens. Admire Werika, the eagle as the most magnificent among all birds.

CANDLES – Represent the illumination of the human spirit, Catira, candles hold the sacred gift from the sun and fire gods. Along with flowers and ribbons, attached candles serve as offerings and payment to the deities who have granted special wishes to a Huichol.




Cloud Spirits.


The East, fire, masculinity.


The South, Pacific Ocean, water, rain, femininity.


The Earth, the Heavens, healing, the heart, grandfather, growth.


A special root from Wirikuta used for face paint in ceremonies.


“Wirikuta”, the sacred land where the Huichol believe life began and also where they gather peyote.

Historical Significance


Nipomo, California 

As written in 1970

The Casa de Dana or “Dana Adobe”, begun in 1839 and completed much as it appears today in about 1851, is the most historically significant residence in the County of San Luis Obispo.  The adobe is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Its architect and builder, Captain William G. Dana of Boston, played an important role in the histories of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties, and through his influence and contacts, in the history of California before and after statehood.  Located beside the old Camino Real which bisected the 38,000-acre Rancho Nipomo, La Casa de Dana for many years provided a stopping place for travelers along this main north-south artery.


Historical Associations

Captain John C. Fremont was a guest at the Rancho on his march south to the conquest of

Los Angeles in 1846, and Captain Henry W. Halleck, who later became Abraham Lincoln’s Chief of Staff, was a friend of Dana’s and a frequent visitor.  Letters preserved in collections at the Bancroft Library, the Huntington Library, and numerous other institutions document Dana’s correspondence with most of the leading figures during one of the most critical eras in California’s history.  The adobe’s significance, however, lies not only in its associations with historic figures, but with events that took place there as well.  After the end of the war with Mexico, and before California became a state, William G. Dana’s home was designated by order of General Kearney as one of only four official exchange points along the state’s first American mail route.  In 1849 it became one of the two polling places in what became San Luis Obispo  County where votes were cast on the issue of  statehood.  From the 1850’s to the 1890’s all stagecoaches travelling north and south along this inland route stopped at the Rancho’s adobe barn (whose foundations can still be seen near the house) to change horses.


Cultural Significance

In addition to its historical significance, the Casa de Dana has a cultural value which becomes increasingly relevant as the demographics of modern California change.  Captain Dana’s wife, Maria Josefa Carrillo, was a daughter of Don Carlos Carrillo of Santa Barbara, one-time governor of California under Mexico, and also niece of the general, Jose Castro, who commanded Californio troops against the American takeover of California in 1846 and ’47.  The thirteen children born to the |couple who lived to adulthood were raised in the traditions, religion and language of .Mexican California, but were educated in their father’s native language, values and customs as well.  As with the house itself, which architecturally blends features of the California adobe with those of the New England frame house, the life of the Casa de Dana was a blend of Hispanic and American cultures.



To preserve the Casa de Dana as it looked in its prime, circa 1851, along with enough land to provide it with an appropriate pastoral setting, would be to catch and hold a moment so critical to  California’s later development that the reverberations of that moment still influence the lives of all Californians today.  The potential educational and cultural benefits of preserving this tangible remnant of the state’s history for future generations have been noted many times before by many people over the last fifty-four years or more, but as the building ages and as surrounding rural land rapidly gives way to urban development, time is running out. There will never be a better time than the present to restore the Casa de Dana and take action to preserve as much of its cultural landscape as possible.

Jim Beckwourth – Blazing a trail in history

The DANA Adobe keeps the memory of mountain man James P. Beckwourth alive by illuminating his footprints on the Central Coast

For a time, the Dana Adobe was the lone outpost for travelers in between Mission San Miguel and Mission Santa Ines.

American frontier history is filled with iconoclastic characters of independence and freedom. Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, and Jim Bowie, to name just a few, are all remembered and lauded as folk heroes and have come to symbolize the American dream.

One man, James B. Beckwourth (1798-1866), was dismissed for generations as a liar in regard to many of his exploits. Beckwourth might have taken some creative liberties with details, but scholars have verified the man’s remarkable story, which included time on the Central Coast at places like Mission San Miguel and the Dana Adobe in Nipomo. Ignored in the past mostly because of his race, modern history books are starting to include references to the freed slave who became a prolific explorer, Crow chief, trapper, and all-around mountain man who saw most of the western United States while it was still Mexico.

The Dana Adobe Nipomo Amigos (DANA) is a nonprofit that began in 1999 for the express purpose of restoring the Dana Adobe—Captain William Dana’s house and rancho—and creating an educational center that teaches about Nipomo’s cultural and ecological history. DANA’s lifeblood is its team of volunteer docents who lead tours and give presentations at the historic house, which is almost completely renovated.

One docent, Helen Daurio, took an interest in James P. Beckwourth when she learned he was a guest at the rancho during the Mexican-American War. Beckwourth was hired by the military as a courier, passing mail from Monterey to San Francisco and then to Nipomo, where he and a courier from San Diego would swap bags and then make their journeys all over again. Beckwourth was considered the best man for the job, Daurio explained.

“He was selected because of his courier experience in the Southwest, primarily in New Mexico [and] all the way down to Chihuahua,” she said. “He was an awesome rider and he knew Indians; he was one of them. As he would say, he could ‘play the fox’ when he needed to.”

A recent talk by Daurio at the Dana Adobe highlighted how exceptional Beckwourth’s story was. She began by describing how talented Beckwourth was at storytelling himself—he was a mountain man who was always ready with a tall tale.

“Pretend you are sitting at a campfire and the sun is setting, and the light is reflecting [on] the craggy mountain man faces, and a voice breaks out, ‘Hey Jim! Tell us how you got those gnarly legs!’” she said. “So, Jim clears his throat and begins to tell a tale about how he ran 90 miles away from Indians, or he may tell about the time he went ’round and around a mountain top so many times that the [legs of the] horses of the men who were chasing him … grew longer and longer on one side.”

Daurio continued to detail a life that was full of impossible exploits and strange happenings. Born to Jennings Beckwith (Beckwourth later altered his last name) and a slave Beckwith owned, James P. Beckwourth grew up in Virginia and the frontier of Missouri. His father freed him in his mid-20s; an already adept frontiersman, he took off into the wilderness that is now the western United States.

“He had some problems finding his way,” Daurio said. “He works in a mine for a while and is not sure about his direction, but because he lived on the edge of the wilderness for so long, he had acquired skills in hunting, and he perfects those [abilities] and ends up becoming a skilled hunter.”

Long neglected in American frontier history, James P. Beckwourth has received a place of distinction as of late, including at the Dana Adobe, where he spent time as a courier.


A mountain man could sustain himself with hunting alone if good enough at it. Beckwourth would go on long hunts deep into the wilderness and then set up shop with his furs, trading for whatever he needed, and getting to know the various mountain men, settlers, and Native Americans.

“He would go and trap for furs and then open a store [and] sell his wares, and then get bored because he always had to be outdoors, always seeking that elusive fame,” Daurio said. “What Jim was always looking for was fame and renown, and he never got it. It just eluded him time and time again, until now I think.”
Beckwourth’s search for acceptance and renown found him a home among the Crow tribe. After being told that Beckwourth was really a Crow Indian who was kidnapped at birth, the tribe adopted him into the community. He never corrected the mistake and lived wholly as a Crow.

“One of the Crow women notices he has a mole on his eyelid and she says, ‘My son had a mole right where you have one; you are my son,’” Daurio said. “So, he was immediately embraced by this culture; he is given horses, supplies, wives; he begins to live with them, dress like them, and he participates in their battles.”
Beckwourth eventually climbed his way up the ranks of the Crow hierarchy to achieve the title of chief. Each time he ascended a level, he earned a new name, eventually being known as Chief Medicine Calf, a title of respect and renown.

“According to Jim—and I believe this to be true—he says that one of his missions was to try and improve the Crow quality of life by increasing their skills at trapping, discouraging war, and, most of all, discouraging alcohol,” Daurio said.

The Crow trappers, she explained, would accept meager payment for their furs, and most mountain men would pay them in alcohol, which had a destructive effect on the Native American population. Learning went both ways, though, as Beckwourth learned much from the Crow about survival skills, knowledge of the land, and language.

“When he is with the Crow he learns a lot of Native American dialects,” Daurio said, “and this is what’s going to help him throughout the rest of his career.”

Growing up speaking English, French, and Spanish, Beckwourth was able to pick up many different Native American tongues on his journeys across California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and into modern-day Mexico. As a result, he was always able to talk his way out of hostile encounters with Native Americans or frontiersmen.

Dana Adobe docent Helen Daurio recently delivered a talk about frontiersman James P. Beckwourth from the veranda of the Dana Adobe in Nipomo.


This was a skill Beckwourth needed, as he was a prolific horse thief. He happened to be in Mexican territory when the Mexican-American War broke out, and saw fit to bring more than 1,000 horses back with him for the American military.

“There has been argument over [whether] he understood what he was doing in the rebellion, and he knew what he was doing,” Daurio said. “This guy was well educated, he quoted Shakespeare. He was also ready to take advantage of any time he could steal horses.”

Beckwourth’s abilities didn’t remain secret to those in high power with the United States military. He was hired in various ways by the military, though he never enlisted. He made an excellent courier, slipping unnoticed through vast stretches of hostile wilderness.

“They needed to get messages from Monterey to San Diego, and who was better to do it than Jim?” Daurio said.

Beckwourth spent months as the Central Coast courier, leaving Monterey on a Monday and eventually arriving in Nipomo on the following Sunday.

“At the same time a guy leaves from San Diego, stops in L.A. and Santa Barbara, and then is here,” Daurio said. “They swap satchels here and then they ride back so the military has clear communications of what is going on in the war.”

Beckwourth and Capt. Dana were close to the same age, though from vastly different backgrounds. At the time of their meeting, Dana was established with his house, shop, and a large family.

“There were small boys of 8, 10, or 11 when Jim was here,” Daurio said, “and how big their eyes must have been when they saw Jim riding down from the north; they would have seen him from the cupola.”

Beckwourth was a renowned storyteller, but also a prolific lover. He had at least 11 wives, including several during his time with 
the Crow.
“I wonder, was he able to charm Maria Josepha Dana like he did the other women? He must have had a word or two in Spanish, of course,” Daurio said. “The Captain, who was very much in the political scene of the area, I’m sure they maybe had a glass or two of the Captain’s brandy and talked about what was happening up north, who was on the move.”

Jim also spent much time at the Mission San Miguel, which was owned by a ranchero at the time. He had the unfortunate luck of being the first responder to the infamous San Miguel Mission Massacre. Eleven people were killed, including the Reed family and their servants, all for the small sack of gold Reed was too willing to gloat about in front of his traveling guests, a pack of outlaws looking for easy profit. Beckwourth arrived at San Miguel by night and discovered the massacre.
“That was in 1848, and when that happened, I think for Jim, it must have resonated early experience,” Daurio said. “When he was 9 years old, his dad gave him a job; he was charged with taking corn to the mill. So, he takes the corn—and it’s his first manly job, so he wants to show off—and he stops by at his friend’s house. As he rides up to his friend’s yard, he sees bodies—they had been massacred.”

“He said that that memory was one always fresh in his mind,” she continued. “Throughout his life, that was one of those horrible events that shaped and molded his thinking, and again, it resonated with the San Miguel Massacre and the Sand Creek Massacre.”

Several years after his experiences on the Central Coast as a courier, Beckwourth was hired again by the military as a guide and scout for a mission into Cheyenne and Arapaho territory. Little did Beckwourth know he was leading the American troops to Sand Creek, the site of a friendly Cheyenne encampment numbering more than 100 people—all of whom were massacred by American troops.

“Jim had been a guide for that army contingent and was witness to what happened, and so he was asked to testify on what he saw,” Daurio said. “His testimony helped set the record straight, and that [killing Indians] was something the U.S. wouldn’t be party to.”

*Visit the Rancho
The Dana Adobe Nipomo Amigos (DANA) welcomes the community to come enjoy the Rancho Nipomo and Dana Adobe at 671 S. Oakglen Ave., Nipomo. The historic location is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. and Mondays through Fridays by appointment. Docent and group tours are available by request. Cost is $5, students free with ID. More info: danaadobe.org, 929-5679, or marina@danaadobe.org.

Beckwourth was known in his time, though obviously discriminated against because of his ethnicity and infatuation with Native American life. He met up with a writer named Thomas D. Bonner who wrote the book The Life and Adventure of James P. Beckwourth. Beckwourth himself never received a penny of profits he was promised to receive, but his book did get sold and read extensively on the East Coast and in Europe.

When testifying before Congress about the Sand Creek Massacre, Beckwourth was already an old man in his 60s. It was one of the last things he did. His book was panned as nothing but lies, causing his testimony to be doubted. However, what he reported was incontrovertible to the harsh reality of the situation.

History is a trail blazed by individuals. Most walk the road well trod, but some march to the beat of their own drum and make a new path. The Dana Adobe Nipomo Amigos is all too aware that before Nipomo was a city, it was a path through the wild, with a lone rancho standing by the road.

“We are still talking about these things because it is important to understand where we came from,” DANA Executive Director Marina Washburn said. “I think we are all seeking that, to better connect.”

The Dana Adobe offers many regular opportunities to connect with local history, both of the Dana Adobe and the native Chumash as well. Regular tours, presentations, talks, and even concerts are held at the historic location, all aimed at keeping the memory of people like James P. Beckwourth alive.

“What we offer, and will continue to offer here at the rancho, is educational programs and activities that continue to be available and accessible to the community,” Washburn said. “Not just the building, but the heritage park and the education center.”

The Dana Adobe is a living piece of rancho California history. Before there was a Nipomo, or Santa Maria, or San Luis Obispo, there was the rancho, where people like Henry Tefft, John C. Fremont, and James P. Beckwourth stood.

“It’s all part of the community we live in,” Washburn said. “It’s the stories of how these streets got named and how the town grew, and the people who left their footprints here in the same place that we are leaving our own footprints now.”

Contact Arts Editor Joe Payne at jpayne@santamariasun.com.