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Most of the people who came to California and settled here between 1770 and 1846 were from either Spain or Mexico.  These people spoke Spanish and called themselves Californios.  Most  ranchos were owned by Californios.  Many of the workers on the ranchos were Indians, the original inhabitants of California.

Besides the Californios and the Indians, there were some Europeans and Americans living in California.  A few of them became rancho owners.


The Californios were seen as happy, carefree people.  They enjoyed life.  They seemed to have time to have fun, and they were content with their life.  They had good weather, free land, and lots of help with the work.

The Californio men were described as tall, muscular, and athletic.  The women were said to be small and attractive.  They had dark hair and dark eyes.  The title of Don was used before a man's name to show that he was a Spanish gentleman.  The title used for a Spanish woman was Doņa.

Richard Dana, a writer who visited California on a merchant ship in the 1830s, described the Californios: "The men are thriftless, proud, extravagant, and very much given to gaming; the women have but little education, and a good deal of beauty."

Family was very important to the Californios.  Families were large, with six to 15 children being common.  Teresa de la Guerra and William Hartnell had 19 children; María Sepulveda and Tomas Sanchez had 21 children; María Antonio Garcia and Secundino Robles had 29 children. Grandparents,  in-laws, and other relatives often lived with the family on the rancho.

In addition to the large family, there were often guests at the rancho.  Hospitality was very important to the Californios.  Even strangers who came by the rancho were invited to stay and were treated as family. 

Children on the rancho received very little formal education .  Boys were taught to be good horsemen, and to be polite and happy.  Girls were taught to embroider and to dance well.  Many of the rancho people could not read or write.


It was the Indian workers who made it possible for the Californios to have such a carefree life.  Most of the work on the rancho was done by Indian workers.  Many of these Indians had been living at the missions.  They had useful skills which made life more enjoyable for the Californios.  Even the smallest rancho had several Indian servants.  A large rancho had as many as 100 servants who did these jobs:

     vaquero (cowboy)
     harness maker
     wool comber and weaver
     cook and baker
     butter and cheese maker
     wine maker

The Indian workers at a large rancho lived in a small village near the big ranch house.  At smaller ranchos, the workers lived in a wing of the main ranch house.  For their work, the Indians got a place to live, food to eat, and a few clothes to wear.


Each rancho had a mayordomo or manager to oversee the care of the cattle and fields.  The mayordomo took orders directly from the rancho owner, and then told the vaqueros what they should do that day.     


Clothes were important to the Spanish Dons.  Even men who were poor liked to wear fancy clothes and were proud of their appearance.  The men's clothing was usually more colorful than the women's. 

The men wore short trousers or pantaloons that came to the knee, with gold or silver lace at the bottom.   Around the lower part of the leg they wore either white stockings or botas, leggings made of soft deer skin, decorated with designs etched into the leather.  These leggings were tied at the knee with a cord wound several times around the leg, with gold or silver tassels on the ends of the cord.

Over the shirt, a man often wore a long vest with buttons.  A well-to-do man would have fancy gold or silver buttons on his vest, while a poorer man had brass buttons.  Over the vest was a jacket.  An everyday jacket would be made of dark blue cloth, but a jacket for fiestas and other special occasions might be made of velvet, silk, or calico.  The jacket was usually tied with a red sash at the waist.

Over all this, the Don wore a serape or poncho.  The poncho or serape showed the social status and wealth of the person.  Richer people wore serapes trimmed with velvet and silk tassels.  Poorer people used a poncho made from a large square of cloth with a hole in the middle for the head.  The Indians used blankets as ponchos.

Topping off the Spanish Don's outfit was a black or dark blue hat with a stiff, broad brim.  The hats were imported from Mexico or Peru.  The most valued hats were made of vicuņa, a South American animal that is somewhat like a llama.  


The Spanish Doņas also loved pretty clothes.  Their dresses were made of silk, crepe, or calico, with many petticoats under the brightly-colored skirts. The dresses usually had short sleeves.  Around the waist was a belt or sash in a bright color.  The women did fine embroidery on their dresses and added lace edges to their petticoats.

Over her shoulders, the Doņa wore a shawl made from cloth or lace.  This served as a cloak to keep her warm, and could be pulled up over her head like a scarf to protect her from the weather.  When there was no need for warmth, the Doņa wore a small scarf or neckerchief around her shoulders.

Many of the Spanish Doņas loved jewelry.  They wore necklaces and earrings. A popular decoration was a band around the top of the head, decorated with a cross or a star on the forehead.   Their long dark hair was worn either loose or in braids.  Married women sometimes held their hair up on a high comb.

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