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Rain Ranch

Granted to:  Agustín Olvera in 1845 by Governor Pío Pico

Size:  35,501 acres

Location:  San Diego County

Cuyamaca is an Indian word meaning "rain above."  It may have been applied to this area because the mountain slopes, situated on the western side of the mountain range, got more rain than the surrounding desert.


Forests covered the western slopes of the range of mountains that run north to south across the desert, east of San Diego Bay.  Tipai Indians (later known as Diegueños), who lived in this part of southern California, used these mountain areas for hunting and gathering food.


The grant of Cuyamaca Rancho, made late in the period of Mexican control of California, was a strange one.  No diseño, or map, was presented with the petition for the grant.  Governor Pío Pico, who wanted to give as many land grants as he could before his time as governor was over, signed the land grant anyway.  Agustín Olvera, who had asked for the land, was married to Concepción Argüello, a niece of the governor.  This no doubt helped his case.

The land grant stated that Olvera should appear before the justice of the peace in San Diego and present a map, showing that the rancho had been measured.  Olvera said he couldn't measure the land because the rain had made it impossible to get to parts of the rancho.  So he drew a map without measurements.  The 35,501-acre figure stated in the grant was an estimate.

When the U.S. took control of California, each rancho owner had to present a claim for his land.  Olvera's claim was rejected by the U.S. Land Commission in 1854.  However, a district court in 1858 decided that he could keep the land.


Agustín Olvera was born in 1818 in Mexico City.  He came to California when he was 16 years old and settled in Los Angeles.  He was active in politics there, later serving as a county judge and a member of the State Assembly.  Olvera Street in Los Angeles was named for him.


It seems that Agustín Olvera had no interest in being a rancher.  He rarely visited Cuyamaca Rancho.  He did not build a house on the rancho, nor did he keep herds of cattle on it.  Just as his petition for the land grant did not follow the rules, so his use of the land did not follow the government's plan that each ranchero (rancho owner) would put a house and at least 150 head of cattle on his rancho. 

It may be that Olvera thought he could make money from the timber that grew on the mountain slopes.   About three years after getting the rancho, Olvera sent a man to the rancho with instructions to construct a sawmill and begin producing lumber.  Some trouble developed between this man's crew and the Indians who lived in the area, and the project was abandoned. 

Olvera continued to own the land until 1869.  During these years he didn't seem to mind that other rancheros brought their cattle and horses to graze on Cuyamaca Rancho lands. 

Olvera also allowed James R. Lassator to build a stone house on the rancho land in 1857.  Lassator cut wild hay in the mountain meadows and brought it down to his house.  This became a rest stop for the Jackass Mail route that crossed the desert from San Antonio, Texas, to San Diego.

The Jackass Mail route was run by a man named James Birch, who had a $196,000 contract with the U.S. Post Office Department.  The name of the route may refer to the fact that it brought in very little revenue, making the Post Office Department look foolish for paying out so much money to have mail service to the western frontier.  However, the U.S. government felt that frontier mail routes encouraged settlement and so were worth the money.


Olvera sold Cuyamaca Rancho to a group of men  in 1869.  Just one year later, a man named William Skidmore was following a stray mule near Cuyamaca Lake when he found gold in the rocks.  Other gold deposits were found to the north, in the Julian area.

Skidmore filed a claim on the land and began operations as the Stonewall Jackson Mining Company.  The rancho owners claimed that the mine was within their land boundaries and that they should get a part of each ton of gold mined. In a lawsuit, they lost their case to the miners. 


The Stonewall Mine, as it came to be called, was sold several times over the next fifteen years.  In 1886 it was purchased by Robert W. Waterman, who also bought 26,000 acres of Cuyamaca Rancho.

Waterman became governor of California in 1887.  His son, Waldo, took over operations at the Stonewall Mine.  Between 1888 and 1891 the mine produced more than $900,000 in gold.  A town with a hotel and a post office grew up around the mine.

The gold ran out at the Stonewall Mine in 1893, after a total of about $2 million worth had been extracted.  Waterman sold the mine and rancho lands.  The land changed hands several times over the next 40 years.  In 1933, the current owner sold 20,735 acres of Rancho Cuyamaca to the state of California for $125,000.


With the purchase by the State of California of more than half of the original Cuyamaca Rancho, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park was created. 

The State Park now covers 24,677 acres of meadows, forested mountains, and oak woodlands.  It has facilities for camping, picnicking, fishing, and hiking.  Visitors can hire horses and ride over many miles of equestrian trails.  Some campsites can only be reached on horseback or by hiking.

A visitor center at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is open every day.  The Park is located six miles north of Descanso on State Route 79.

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