CHAPTER X: THE CORONELS
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.
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.
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
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.
CAMULOS RANCH AND THE HILLS TO THE SOUTH
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
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.
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
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.
"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.
"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
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
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.
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.