CHAPTER X: THE CORONELS


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THE CORONELS--THE ‘‘REAL’’ RAMONA AND HER BASKETS--THE INSPIRATION OF RAMONA--CAMULOS RANCH AND ITS CUSTOMS--THE RAMONA JEWELS

More than a decade after this last conversation with Helen Hunt Jackson it was the privilege of the writer to visit Southern California. His thoughts naturally were largely of his dead friend and her great work in behalf of the Mission Indians. He assumed that he would be accorded a cordial welcome at the home of Doña Mariana de Coronel, then a widow, and was not disappointed. She was not alone cordial, but communicative to a degree, and in that initial and in subsequent interviews a fund of most interesting and valuable information was disclosed. She regretted that so many fictions had arisen concerning Ramona, and expressed a desire that someone should undertake to tell the true story.

Some years ago one of the authors of this book prepared a short story upon Ramona,


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in which the inspiration and creation of the romance were told, which was published in the Out West magazine. In this article the writer endeavored to give some of the real facts surrounding the story, and asserted that the characters of Alessandro and Ramona were fictitious. This declaration was not calculated to encourage the imposition on tourists by curio sellers in palming off baskets as having been made by the Ramona of Helen Hunt Jackson.

The publication of this article was followed by the receipt of an extraordinarily large number of letters from persons in various sections of the country, as well as in Europe, whose ideals had thus been hopelessly demolished. All protested that they had bought their Ramona-made baskets in good faith, treasured them sacredly, and each pronounced it a burning shame that he or she should have been imposed upon by conscienceless traffickers, or that the writer should, at such a late day, attempt to discourage the popular belief in the existence of a real Ramona, and deny that she was still in the business of basket making on a large scale in some impossible cañon down by the sea.

The only comfort that could be extended


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these unhappy correspondents was cheerfully given. It was not much, but it at least possessed the quality of sincerity. It was declared by the writer that to his mind nothing could compensate for the exchange of the idealized Ramona, one of the most charming characters fiction has ever donated to the world of letters, for a squat Indian, with straight, coarse black hair, thick lips and high cheek bones, capable of sitting all day in a bamboo wickiup and contenting herself with the weaving of baskets, however beautiful in themselves or symbolic in their conception. At all events, he suggested that a little reflection would have saved these unfortunate investors much of their sentiment and some of their money.

Inasmuch as the time of the story, by comparison of records and incidents, must have been between 1840 and 1880, the life of the ‘‘real’’ Ramona could hardly have been extended, even by the liberal use of Aunt Ri's herb decoctions, down to the twentieth century. And again, if the ‘‘real’’ Ramona were indeed an Indian, and had given her undivided time and talents to the creation of baskets, it would not have been possible, within the space of one short life, to produce the large number that


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have been purchased for the decoration of the homes of Ramona-lovers all over the country, and that yet comprise so large a proportion of the stock of curio stores all over Ramonaland, from Monterey to San Diego.

The writer came to California with the principal facts regarding the inspiration, progress and completion of the romance thoroughly grounded in his mind. Mrs. Jackson had in substance told him that the Coronels had inspired the story, had aided immensely in the task of gathering material for it, and finally had insisted that she should visit Camulos ranch to secure the necessary local color. Neither Guajome, which she had several times visited, nor any other Southern California ranch was referred to by her in connection with the plot then in her mind for the romance of Ramona.

Doña Mariana de Coronel confirmed the conviction already entertained regarding the chief incidents, and urged a personal visit to Camulos as almost essential to a correct understanding of all the incidents of the plot.

This latter suggestion was acted upon without unnecessary loss of time. So often had the hospitality of the del Valle household been imposed upon by curiosity-seekers and


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relic-hunters that a favorable introduction was a thing to be prized. This the writer procured through the long acquaintance and close intimacy of his wife with the family of Senator del Valle of Los Angeles, and a most delightful day was spent within the classic precincts of the real home of the only Ramona that ever existed, the character idealized from the persons of Blanca Yndart and Guadalupe, the little Indian ward of Doña Ysabel del Valle, as heretofore stated.

CAMULOS RANCH AND THE HILLS TO THE SOUTH

From which Señora  was accustomed to watch for the coming of her husband down the valley. It presents a view of many miles.

BALCONY AT CAMULOS,

The writer's wife, some time previously, had spent an entire week as a guest at the ranch, during which she had opportunity to thoroughly familiarize herself with animate and inanimate features of the place. Members of the del Valle family had pointed out the original boundaries of the ranch, exactly corresponding with Mrs. Jackson's description. It had indeed extended ‘‘forty miles westward to the sea, forty miles eastward into the San Fernando Mountains, and an equal distance along the coast line.’’

But Governor Pio Pico's grants had been largely disallowed by the American authorities, when they took over the country, and the limitations of the princely ranch had been greatly circumscribed. The crosses were yet


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upon the hillsides to the north and the south of the ranch house, that the heretics might still know, ‘‘when they go by, that they are on the estate of a good Catholic.’’

The ‘‘aroma of it all lingered there still.’’ It had not been an unusual thing, during Señor del Valle's day, for as many as fifty people to be seated in the spacious dining-room at one time. The working force of the ranch was perhaps never quite so large, but the occasion was rare when a dozen or more guests were not being entertained.

It was a custom at Camulos, as at many another Spanish home in the Mission days, to place a basket of silver money in the room of the passing guest, stranger though he be, that he might replenish the financial needs of his journey.

The resources of the ranch were large and varied, and settlements for wool and fruit and other foodstuffs came in large amounts. These were almost invariably made in coin, and it was the custom of the Señor del Valle to keep all of the funds in a large trunk or box, that was never locked against any member of the family, nor was any account ever kept of the withdrawals made from time to time.

When the writer was there the pay-roll


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probably did not include more than a quarter of a hundred. But even from this diminished number in the household it would not have been difficult for the observer to select almost every character of the romance from those gathered in the patio and on the south veranda of the typical old Spanish hacienda. Neither Blanca Yndart, Guadalupe nor Senator del Valle was there. But there was Señora del Valle, still the uncrowned queen of the realm; half-breeds of almost noble bearing, who easily might represent Alessandro; and other personages who, without violent wrenching of the imagination, might be taken for Juan Canito, the chief herder, for Marda, the cook, Anita and Maria, the forty-year-old twins, ‘‘born on the place,’’ and their two daughters, Rosa and Anita the Little, for José, and all the other characters of the story. There was present more than one representative of old Juanita, oldest of the household, ‘‘silly, and good only to shell beans’’; for to the day of her death Señora del Valle maintained a goodly little army of pensioned retainers, none of whom could she think of turning away.

It has long been the custom to hold an annual fiesta at Camulos ranch, a gathering of the del Valle family and friends. A guest at


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one of these annual gatherings wrote a description of it, published in California of the South, which is here submitted:

‘‘

The annual fiesta is a gathering of the del Valle family and a few invited guests that takes place in July, and lasts four days. The train from Los Angeles arrived about noon of the first day with twenty-five of the family and friends. Señora del Valle stood at the entrance to the garden and welcomed each guest. The visitors were quickly conducted to their rooms, where water, comb and brush soon removed all trace of the midsummer car-ride. Dinner was then announced, and Senator Reginald F. del Valle, a prominent Los Angeles attorney, sat at the head of the table, which was under a shady arbor in the garden but a few steps from the chapel. Two barbecued pigs, done to perfection, formed the principal meat of this meal, but there were olives, cooked and pickled, various Spanish dishes, containing almost invariably chiles (red peppers) and olives, delicious dessert, claret and white wine ad libitum, and the regulation black coffee. Surrounding the table were members of numerous distinguished Spanish-American families. The two features that attracted the particular attention of an American were the


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gallantry of the men and the beauty and vivacity of the ladies.

 .

THE GRAVEYARD AT CAMULOS

WHERE THE BROOK AT CAMULOS NOW RUNS

"The afternoon was spent by the guests hunting, riding, singing, reading, talking and mountain-climbing, just as each one chose. In this way of entertaining, and yet giving each visitor perfect freedom to do just as he pleased, the hostess and her daughters displayed rare tact. Watermelons and fruits of various kinds were always at hand.

"At 7 P.M. another bountiful meal was served in the arbor, which was brilliantly lighted by lanterns fastened between the innumerable clusters of purple grapes that hung overhead. This time two roasted kids were served--and delicious they were. After an hour's walk, all gathered in the spacious parlor, and, with music on the piano, the organ and the guitar, and vocal solos and choruses, time quickly sped. Fireworks in the garden closed the entertainment for the first day.

"The next morning all were out bright and happy, and at breakfast, where everything was served with the usual profusion, the American would notice that olives were again eaten by all, which leads to a reflection in regard to the value of this ancient food.

"After breakfast an hour was spent by the


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good hostess and her Catholic guests in the chapel.

"A fat young steer was then lassoed by a vaquero, the aorta was dexterously severed with a knife, and then began some dissecting that would have surprised the most skillful anatomist. The skin was quickly and neatly taken off and spread out to protect the beef from the earth; the muscles were then, layer after layer, deftly removed, and in an incredibly short time this Mexican butcher had the meat ready for the fire.

"A fire in a pit near by had been heating stones, which were now red-hot. Iron rods were laid across the pit, and the whole beef put on to roast for dinner.

"The noon train from Los Angeles added materially to the number of guests, and seventy-five as happy people as ever lived sat around the heavily-laden table under the grapevines. What a delicious meal that was! The eating was happily interspersed with laughter, conversation and brilliant repartee.

"After the dessert had been enjoyed toasts were in order, and following those to the del Valle family, and Southern California, a gray-headed Mexican gentleman, after delivering a fervid, eloquent eulogy upon, proposed a


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toast to the memory of Helen Hunt Jackson, which was drank standing. How true the statement: 'Mrs. Jackson is dead, but her work still lives in the hearts of the people of Southern California.'

’’

The Ramona jewels were not exhibited, nor yet referred to, upon this visit of the writer. There was no occasion for it. They had all been given to Blanca Yndart, upon the occasion of her marriage to James Maguire, about 1878. Blanca had removed them, with other belongings, to her home at Newhall, a town midway between Los Angeles and Camulos.

The nomenclature, ‘‘Ramona jewels,’’ is misleading, since the property, in addition to jewels, included a large trunk filled to repletion with dress skirts, waists, shawls, bolts of silk and of satin, and female lingerie generally. Most if not all of these were rich and costly, some of them very old, and all highly prized.

It is an habitual practice of the old Spanish families to retain clothing for years, and in the attic of the ranch house at Camulos there were not less than thirty trunks filled with clothing that had been accumulating for generations. Often skirts were made over for the children, but the waists, on account of


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changing fashions and perhaps for other reasons, could not be so utilized, and in these trunks were samples of the fashions of numerous decades.

The jewel case in the ‘‘secret closet’’ back of the statue of Saint Catherine, to which Señora Moreno is made to point in her dying conversation with Felipe, is the purest myth. There never was such a secret closet in the wall at Camulos, and Mrs. Jackson used it simply to heighten the reader's interest and add to the tensity of the situation.

The Ramona jewels, until removed by Blanca Yndart, remained in a large trunk under the bed in Señora del Valle's chamber. They remained there many years, and there may have been many reasons for so keeping them segregated from the other trunks and boxes. None was volunteered and no explanation invited. Sight of the trunk itself was of more than ordinary interest to the writer. The jewels, as well as some of the rich fabrics, had been seen before. Mrs. Maguire had caused some of the former to be put in more modern settings, and much of the silks and satins had been worked up into garments for herself and children.

The significant fact about the Ramona jewels


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is that they correspond almost exactly with the description given of them in Ramona.

Title to Camulos ranch now vests in the ‘‘del Valle Estate,’’ incorporated, and doubtless always will remain an asset of the younger members. At this writing its affairs are being managed by a son, Ulpiano del Valle, the mother having died March 28, 1905.

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