Bits n Pieces of History
- Published on Saturday, 04 April 2009 14:22
Way back in 1884 American writer Helen Hunt Jackson wrote a novel of the waning Spanish days of California, a heart-tugging Victorian romance. She named it "Ramona" after her heroine.
Mrs. Jackson ardently supported the Indians, and wrote vivid descriptive passages. She passed away a year later in her eighties, and never knew that her work would be widely read and become an American classic.
It was immensely successful, with wonderful details of life as it was. According to a publisher, the book went through several editions and over 135 printings, became a stage play, and was produced as a motion picture. The idea of an opera probably fell through, but the story has became famous as the Ramona Pageant put on by the townspeople of Hemet.
The tale revolves around a part-Indian girl, Ramona, who is placed in the care of Senora Moreno, owner of a hacienda near Santa Barbara. She grows up with Felipe, Senora Moreno’s son, whom she considers as a brother.
The Indians from Temecula were sheepherders, and every year traveled to the great Spanish ranchos to do the sheep-shearing. One of them, Allesandro, falls in love with Ramona, and she with him. Unbeknown to Senora Moreno - who would be dead set against it – they elope one night and head southeast to be married by a priest and then join Allesandro’s people.
How does Ramona figure into our history?
The editor of one of the first newspapers here, the "La Verne News," found news hard to come by after he set up his printshop, but he had read the book. In his second issue, of March 29, 1888, he drew upon the story to fill a column with details.
His La Verne was not our La Verne of today, but a little community of a dozen or so houses built between Lordsburg (now La Verne), and Mud Springs (San Dimas), on what is now Sedalia Street. The town did not benefit by having a station on the Santa Fe railroad, and quietly folded, leaving only its name, which was adopted by Lordsburg in 1917.
According to the editor of 1888, the story of Ramona was local to that La Verne in some particulars.
When the Indians traveled through this area, they were shy and avoided well-known roads as much as possible, taking their own "Indian trail" near the foothills. It ran from Indian Hill to the San Gabriel River and the Arroyo Secco where Pasadena now stands. There are similarities to Horsethief Canyon.
The trail, according to the editor, was the north boundary of La Verne, and known as Irving street.
When Ramona and Allesandro eloped from the Moreno hacienda, they fled on her horse Baba and an Indian pony, accompanied by a dog, and took this trail through the mountains to avoid pursuers.
One night the two made camp in the San Dimas Arroyo, just above La Verne, on the bank of the ancient flood plain. The description roughly identifies the area south of the intersection of Foothill and Baseline at the border of San Dimas and La Verne.
Author Jackson did not offend the sensibilities of her prim readers who might wonder about two young people at a campsite. She wrote that while Ramona slept, Allesandro stayed awake all night keeping watch. They left the next morning.
The foster brother, Felipe, came searching for Ramona but took the Spanish road to the south.
Jackson took some liberties in her work – it is definitely not just a three or four day ride from Santa Barbara to Temecula. But the trip through, and that newspaper story, led citizens of the original La Verne to honor Jackson’s primary characters with street names
Allesandro and Ramona avenues still exist, as does a short street named for the strong-willed Senora Moreno.
La Verne also has Ramona Middle School, attended by over a thousand students. They have no statue or monument to the heroine, but they may take pride in a name that harks back to our Indian and Spanish cultural heritage.