This is Part 3 of a series of posts on the Catholic and Anglican history of North San Diego County. Part 1 is North San Diego County, Its Mission and Its Mission Days. Part 2 is When Spanish San Diego Became American. Part 2 ended with the perceptions of the first Episcopal Church Bishop of California when he spent a few days in San Diego in January 1854 as the guest of Don Juan Bandini in Spanish Old Town San Diego about 3-1/2 years after California became a state in the United States. At that time, the only non-Catholic clergyman in San Diego County was the Rev. Reynolds, an Episcopalian military chaplain stationed there with the military, who held civilian worship services at the courthouse each Sunday.
From the time when Rev. Reynolds left San Diego in 1854, no Episcopalian priest is known to have held civilian services in San Diego County until 1868. Protestant chaplains may have been stationed in the county with the military. As a rule, the church-going newly American residents were Catholic. While the population was small, San Diego County covers 4,261 square miles, about the size of the State of Connecticut, or one-third the size of Belgium, with its southern boundary at the Mexican boarder. It includes coastal communities to the desert and mountains with elevations of up to 6,500 feet in the east side of the county.
There was no gold rush in San Diego County, and no sudden rush of a new American population in the 1850’s. Instead, San Diego County was populated by Hispanics, Indians (many of them Spanish speaking), and a few Americans who arrived as military personnel, some of them choosing to remain in San Diego after they left the military.
From April 12, 1861 to May 26, 1865, the Civil War was fought in the eastern part of the United States, with little impact in San Diego County. However, more American soldiers came into the local forts, and some of them remained. Americans seeking to avoid the Civil War draft fled to California, and some settled in San Diego.
On August 17, 1865, U.S. soldiers were stationed again at the Mission San Luis Rey. The local newspaper said that the altar was stripped of gold ornamentation, and images were torn down.
1865 was one of those drought years that modern day Californians know all too well. Nowadays, we hope that our reservoirs will have adequate supplies for cities and farmers, but the North County residents of 1865 had no reservoirs and little means of irrigation, depending upon the San Luis River for most of their water. In drought years, that river can be completely dry. Grazing lands in a drought year were of little use. Don Juan Maria Marron, who had owned Rancho Agua Hedionda, in what is now Carlsbad and not far from the Mission San Luis Rey, had died in 1853, leaving most of the land to his widow and four children. The cattle on the rancho were starving, and there was nothing that could be done about the weather.
At first, the Marrons leased the land to an American named Francis (“Jack”) Hinton who had come there with the military. In 1865, Hinton took ownership of the rancho. He was a former New Yorker whose real name had been Abraham Ten Eyck de Witt Hornbeck. He had changed his name at the age of 27 and joined the United States Army, serving in the Mexican-American War. He had come to California with the Boundary Commission Guard and remained there near San Diego, one of the American adventurers in the rugged land. He had no wife and children, but was friends with the other Americans in southern California, including the pioneer Judge Benjamin Hayes. The mayordomo who managed Hinton’s ranch was Robert Kelly, who was also a merchant in San Diego.
The Mission San Luis Rey was finally returned to the Catholic Church in 1865, but the mission was empty, and the buildings were falling into ruin. The Catholic bishop had submitted land claims on behalf of the Indians at each of the California missions, and had submitted claims on behalf of the Church to the mission buildings, cemeteries and grounds. The claims on behalf of the Catholic Church were granted, while the claims on behalf of the Indians were denied. The Church did not return to the Mission San Luis Rey for another 28 years, while it remained at a fork in the road along the mail route from Los Angeles to San Diego – at least, when they had mail service.
The condition of the mission then was described by Judge Hayes in his book, Pioneer Notes of the Diaries of Judge Benjamin Hayes, 1849-1875:
"To the Catholic Church has been confirmed the Mission Church, with buildings and gardens, containing 53.39 acres. This was the last [eighteenth-Ed.] Mission established in California. It is said to have surpassed all the others in splendor. It is fast going to ruin. When I first saw it, in 1854, an expenditure of $500 for repairs on the roof would have preserved it many years. In its decay and solitude the old grandeur yet lingers there."
The roads through what is now Oceanside and Carlsbad were a buggy route for the daring in those days, and an easy place to get lost in the grassy coastal hills. Judge Hayes described one such trip he made between Encinitas and the ruins of the mission, passing Rancho Agua Hedionda, in that day.
If Hispanic San Diego had its downside, there were always the good times too. The fiesta of San Luis, on August 25, was still held despite the mission’s ruins. It must have been a celebration worth a lengthy journey to attend. The ladies on the ranchos proved to be good hostesses to the Americans as they were to their fellow hispanics, and the combination of Anglo-American, Hispanic American and Luiseno American cultures seemed to blend hospitably in an era of ample land and a common delight in the adventure of living, described by Judge Hayes:
"At the Mission of San Luis Rey, another road goes off intersecting that we travelled at Encinitos, distance, 16 miles; passing by Agua Hedionda rancho, now in the possession Of my old friend Jack Hinton. The long slopes on the southeast of the ridges make this more pleasant going than coming. I always avoid it when I can, having still a vivid remembrance of trying to find San Luis Rey one night on my way to celebrate the fiesta of San Luis in company with Hon. J. W. Robinson. Within a mile of the Mission, just below the ridge by which you approach it, we became somewhat bewildered, wandered about hither and thither, repeatedly, as we ascertained at daylight, tracing the track of our own buggy in the sand, to the infinite amusement of the ladies of Guajomito, to whom we tried to account satisfactorily for our non-arrival at an earlier hour. It ruined the feast for me that day. This was the mail-stage route, when we had a mail between Los Angeles and San Diego."
Later in his journals, the judge described another journey similarly – this was rugged country, but beautiful once the drought had passed, and the judge had fond memories of the hardy characters who lived there:
"Got off at 10 A.M. At Encinitos missed the intended road and got on that leading directly to San Luis Rey. Approached Agua Hedionda through a most beautiful valley; Prager said he would be satisfied to spend the remainder of his days there. Covered with fat cattle. This rancho is now in the possession of Jack Hinton. The title is still in the Marron family; will doubtless soon pass away from them. Night was too near to stop, else I should certainly have done so, and would have done so anyhow if I had brought along the little volume of Maj. Ringgold's Poems which had been sent to Ensworth for Jack. The “Fountain Rock”--I should like to know friend Hinton's plain mind in relation to it. “Thoughts of Heaven” struck my attention in a hasty glance at the volume. Major Ringgold, the Paymaster and Poet! Jack Hinton, the Sergeant of Buenavista! One who knows them will ever prize their memory!"