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Ranch of St. Margaret and the Flowers

Granted to:  Pío Pico and Andrés Pico in 1841 & 1844 by Governors Juan B. Alvarado & Manuel Micheltorena

Size:  89,642 acres & 43,800 acres

Location:  Northern San Diego County and parts of Orange and Riverside counties

The Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portolá, who came to California in 1769 with Father Junípero Serra, was traveling northward to Monterey later that year.  He and his group camped on July 20 in a valley which they named Santa Margarita, because July 20 was the feast day of St. Margaret.  St. Margaret was, according to legend, a young woman who lived in the Middle Ages.


Mission San Luis Rey was built in 1798 in the area known as Santa Margarita.  The mission thrived under the leadership of Padre Antonio Peyri.  It had thousands of cattle, sheep, and horses.  There were large wheat fields, vegetable gardens, vineyards, and fruit orchards.  In 1822, the mission added an asistencia (outpost)  named Las Flores, close to the ocean, at an Indian village of about 300 homes.


Pío and Andrés Pico were brothers.  Their father, José María Pico, was a soldier in the Spanish Army in California.  He was serving as a guard at San Gabriel Mission when Pío was born in 1801.  Andrés was born in 1810 when the family had moved to San Diego.

The Pico name is connected with many events in the Mexican period of California history (1822-1846).  Pío Pico served as governor of California two times during Mexican rule (briefly in 1832 and again in 1845-46).  Pío married María Alvarado, a niece of Governor Juan B. Alvarado.  The wedding was held at the home of Pío's sister and brother-in-law, Don José Carrillo, in Santa Barbara.  It was described as a very fancy wedding, with the groom dressed in black velvet. 

Andrés Pico became a general in the Mexican army in California.  It was Andrés Pico who surrendered to General John C. Frémont, and who signed the treaty ending the U.S./Mexican War.

When Mission San Luis Rey was secularized (land taken from the Church) in 1833, Pío and Andrés were appointed by the governor to oversee the mission lands.


While he was governor, Pío Pico gave many land grants to his friends and relatives.  He managed to get one of the largest and best ranchos for himself.  In 1841, Pío and Andrés were granted 89,642 acres of land by Mexican Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado.  In 1844, Las Flores (43,800 acres) was added to their lands.

The old mission outpost at Las Flores had become an Indian pueblo libre (free town) after Mission San Luis Rey closed in 1834.  The Picos acquired it by arranging for the land grant to be given to Pablo Apis, an Indian who lived at Las Flores.  Then the Picos transferred the title to themselves.

These grants held by the Pico brothers included 35 miles of ocean-front land.  The land was crossed by seven rivers or streams, and had seven lakes and three mountain ranges on it.


Pío and Andrés Pico were both good cattlemen, and their rancho was well run.  They increased their herds to include about 10,000 cattle, 2,000 horses, and 15,000 sheep.  The Picos built a large adobe house on a little hill overlooking a lake.  They had dozens of vaqueros (cowboys), field workers, and house servants on the rancho.

In 1846, Pío Pico (who was then governor of California) fled to Mexico as U.S. troops took control of California.  Andrés was busy with his military duties, fighting against the American forces.  The brothers left Don Juan Forster in charge of Rancho Santa Margarita.

Forster was an English merchant who had married the Picos' sister, Doña Ysidora.  Andrés soon sold his share of the rancho to Forster.  When Pío returned from Mexico in 1848, he had to borrow money from Forster to pay off some gambling debts.  In 1864, unable to pay back the loan, Pío signed over the rest of Rancho Santa Margarita to Forster as payment.  Pío went to live at El Ranchita, a small rancho near present-day Whittier.  By the time he died, he had lost all of his land and money.


The ForstersDon Juan and Doña Ysidora took good care of the rancho.  Their ranch house was the scene of many gala fiestas.  The Forsters had three sons -- Francisco, Marcus, and John.  When Marcus married, Don Juan gave him the Las Flores part of the rancho.  Marcus built a 16-room two-story house there in 1865, using bricks and timbers from the old mission station.  After Don Juan died in 1881, his sons sold the rancho to Richard O'Neill.

The O'NeillsO'Neill managed the larger part of Rancho Santa Margarita.  When he died in 1910, his son Jerome became the owner.  Jerome had polio as a child, and could not walk easily.  He was a superb horse rider, however, and supervised the rancho from horseback.

The Magees.  Henry Magee leased the Las Flores part of the rancho.  Henry was an American army officer who married a Mexican woman, Victoria de Pedrorena.  The Magees used several thousand acres of the rancho land for growing grain and lima beans.  They also raised nine children here.  When Henry and Victoria died, their children ran the rancho.  The last Magee, Ruth, died in 1968.


In 1941, 9,000 acres of Rancho Santa Margarita were purchased by the U.S. government.  A naval ammunitions depot was built on the land.  In 1942, the U.S. government purchased all the rest of the rancho that was in San Diego County.  They paid over $4 million for the land that had been given free to Pío and Andrés Pico.

Camp Pendleton, the world's largest amphibious training base, was built in 1942 for the U.S. Marine Corps on Rancho Santa Margarita land.  The camp was named for retired Marine Corps General Joseph H. Pendleton of Coronado.


The ranch house built long ago by the Pico brothers was restored and modernized to serve as the residence for the commandant of Camp Pendleton.  The courtyard enclosed by the rancho buildings still had many of the trees and shrubs planted by the Picos.  The building used as the Camp Pendleton chapel was built by the Picos as their winery.  Richard O'Neill had converted it to a blacksmith shop.

It seems fitting that the rancho owned and operated by Pío and Andrés Pico, a government official and a military general, should become the site of a major military base.  The Picos would have been impressed by the U.S. Marine Corps.

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