CHAPTER II: MEETING THE CORONELS


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MEETING THE CORONELS--BISHOP MORA--MRS. JACKSON'S AFFECTION FOR THE CORONELS

The inception and development of Ramona is in itself a story of more than ordinary interest. It was the product of a peculiar and fortunate combination of circumstances and events, a happy mingling of realism and romance, the timely meeting of design with chance.

Helen Hunt Jackson came to Southern California in 1881, with a purpose not too well defined. She had been commissioned by the Century Company ‘‘to write something about the Mission Indians.’’ It would have been an easy matter for her, and without leaving comfortable apartments in a hotel, to have prepared an interesting series of articles on the prolific theme, and her publishers would doubtless have been satisfied; but she was directed to higher and greater achievements by influences not reckoned with by her or those whom she represented. The inspiration may have been heaven-sent, but the instrumentalities that proved most potent were human, tangible, real.


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The conditions were ripe for her mission; indeed, they were waiting for her. To the task of harvesting the matured fruit she brought a rare equipment. If events and circumstances were favorable, a less earnest, a less receptive, a less impressionable person might easily have failed to recognize their significance.

She brought a letter to Bishop Francisco Mora of the Los Angeles diocese. He gave her a cordial welcome and pointed the way. Don Antonio Francisco de Coronel, he assured her, was the traditional friend of the Indian in these parts, and to him and his noble wife she was sent with a suitable letter of introduction.

The Coronel rancho consisted of seventy-five acres of fruitful land lying in the valley of the Los Angeles River, on the southern outskirts of the city, and was covered with a noble growth of citrus and deciduous fruit trees. In the center of the tract was the hacienda, for decades a conspicuous landmark. It was a typical Spanish adobe house, with projecting tile roof and broad verandas opening upon the proverbial ‘‘court.’’ It contained thirteen large rooms, more than sufficient for the needs of its two occupants, the old Don and his young


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wife; but Spanish hospitality took into account the necessity of providing accommodations for all comers, and it is not likely the hacienda was ever found to be too large.

The rancho was a gift to the Don's father from the Mexican government, in consideration of distinguished services in the field, the grant dating back to the early 30's. It descended to Don Antonio, who came upon the stage of action in time to be of service in opposing American aggression. He, indeed, had been singled out for the distinction of conveying to the Mexican capital the flags captured in various engagements with the invaders, nearly losing his life in carrying out his mission.

The rancho was still intact upon the occasion of Helen Hunt Jackson's first visit, 1881, but the subsequent growth of Los Angeles has completely obliterated all of the ancient boundary lines. Railroads cross and recross it, streets have been cut through, monster depots and factories built, residences erected and the once pastoral quiet of the locality has forever departed. The famous adobe dwelling itself, still retaining its original proportions, but fast going to decay, stands within the inclosure of a mammoth cracker factory near the corner of


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Central Avenue and Seventh Street, and is now used for storing merchandise.

On her first visit to the historic hacienda amidst the orange trees, Mrs. Jackson met a cordial reception at the hands of Don Antonio and Doña Mariana, not because of her distinction or her worth, but because she bore a letter from the Bishop. They had never before heard the name of their guest. They had not been blessed with offspring, and had never read her Bits of Talk for young folks. They had felt the omnipotence of perfect, patient love, but not from reading her story of Zeph. They knew, for it had come home to them as to few others, about A Century of Dishonor, though they had never seen the book. They had been fighting the battles of the Indians for many years, in the most practical and helpful way, without the aid of allies beyond the mountains, without knowledge of the devoted work being done in other portions of the vineyard by the Helen Hunts and their colleagues elsewhere.

In the old and happy days of Church domination and priestly rule there had been no ‘‘Indian question.’’ That came only after American ‘‘civilization’’ took from the red men their lands and gave them nothing in return. It


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ministered neither to their spiritual, intellectual nor physical needs. It neither helped them nor permitted them to help themselves. It simply abandoned them to their fate. In struggling with this they ever counted upon the sympathy, the advice and the material aid of Don Antonio and his tender-hearted wife, Mariana.

The situation had reached a critical stage when Helen Hunt Jackson appeared on the scene. The statement of her mission and the proffer of her assistance at once won the hearts of Don Antonio and Doña Mariana. The mutual confidence early established soon developed into friendship and ripened into love; and the last meeting of the trio was quite as pathetic as was the first. Doña Mariana was very ill, and believed she was on her death-bed. Helen Hunt Jackson had responded to a summons, and the speedy rally of the patient was doubtless largely due to her visit. ‘‘You are going to get well, Mariana,’’ said Mrs. Jackson. ‘‘You will survive me. I feel that you will live to complete my work.’’ Only a few weeks later Helen Hunt Jackson was among the blest.

A touching tribute to the affection between Mrs. Jackson and Señor de Coronel is her own statement in a letter from her at San Francisco


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to Mr. Abbot Kinney, April 1, 1885, a short time before her death, describing her departure from Los Angeles a few days previous. ‘‘Nothing ever before so utterly upset me,’’ she wrote. ‘‘Everybody cried that bade me good-by, I looked so ill. Even Miller, my driver, stood speechless before me in the car with his eyes full of tears! Dear old Mr. Coronel put his arms round me sighing: 'Excuse me, I must!' and embraced me in Spanish fashion with a half sob.’’

To whom  brought a letter of introduction and who introduced her to the .

BISHOP FRANCISCO MORA, LOS ANGELES DIOCESE,

Where  was ever a welcome guest, and where the story of  had its origin.  (Mrs.  in .)

EL RECREO, OLD CORONEL HOME, LOS ANGELES,

We quote from Mrs. Jackson's Glimpses of California and the Missions this description of Señora de Coronel and the Coronel hacienda: "In the western suburbs of Los Angeles is a low adobe house, built after the ancient style, on three sides of a square, surrounded by orchards, vineyards and orange groves, and looking out on an old-fashioned garden in which southernwood, rue, lavender, mint, marigolds and gilly flowers hold their own bravely, growing in straight and angular beds among the newer splendors of verbenas, roses, carnations, and geraniums. On two sides of the house runs a broad porch, where stand rows of geraniums and chrysanthemums, growing in odd-shaped earthen pots.

‘‘

Here may often be seen a beautiful young


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Mexican woman, flitting about among the plants, or sporting with a superb Saint Bernard dog. Her clear olive skin, soft brown eyes, delicate sensitive nostrils, and broad smiling mouth, are all of the Spanish Madonna type; and when her low brow is bound, as is often her wont, by turban folds of soft brown or green gauze, her face becomes a picture indeed. She is the young wife of a gray-headed Mexican señor, of whom--by his own gracious permission--I shall speak by his familiar name, Don Antonio.

"Whoever has the fortune to pass as a friend across the threshold of this house finds himself transported, as by a miracle, into the life of a half-century ago. The rooms are ornamented with fans, shells, feather and wax flowers, pictures, saints' images, old laces, and stuffs, in the quaint gay Mexican fashion. On the day when I first saw them, they were brilliant with bloom. In every one of the deep window-seats stood a cone of bright flowers, its base made by large white datura blossoms, their creamy whorls all turned outward, making a superb decoration. I went for but a few moments' call. I stayed three hours, and left carrying with me bewildering treasures of pictures of the olden time.

’’

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