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Ranch of the Valley of St. Joseph

Rancho Valle de San José
Granted to:  Silvestre de la Portilla in 1836 by Governor Nicolás Gutierrez

Size:  17,634 acres

Location:  San Diego County

Rancho San José del Valle
Granted to:  José Antonio Pico in 1840 by Governor Juan B. Alvarado

Size:  26,688 acres

Location:  San Diego County

The valley east of the present-day city of Escondido was called Valle de San José by the Franciscan priests who founded the missions in California.  St. Joseph (San José) was honored by the Catholic Church as the husband and protector of Mary, the mother of Jesus.


Before 1836, the cattle and sheep that belonged to Mission San Diego and Mission San Luis Rey grazed on the land in this valley.  There were also many Indian rancherías (villages) here.  The largest one was at a place called Agua Caliente, meaning "hot water," for the hot mineral springs here.


The first grant in Valle de San José was given in 1836 to Silvestre de la Portilla.  The boundaries of this grant were not clearly marked.  Portilla called his land Rancho Valle de San José.

In 1840 José Antonio Pico asked for the part of the valley that the Indians called Agua Caliente.  Don José Antonio was a brother of  Pío Pico, twice governor of California, and of Andrés Pico, a general in the Mexican army.  He was granted the land that he had requested.  Don José Antonio called his land Rancho San José del Valle. 

Neither Portilla nor Pico stayed on their ranchos.  The Indians, whose families had lived in this valley for hundreds of years, did not welcome the Spanish rancheros (rancho owners).  They made things difficult for both Portilla and Pico.  Soon  Rancho San José del Valle and  Rancho Valle de San José were abandoned.

A man named Jonathan Warner saw that these ranchos had been abandoned.  He asked to have the land.  In 1844, Governor Manuel Micheltorena granted the entire valley to Jonathan Warner.


Jonathan Trumbull Warner had come to California from Connecticut when he was 23 years old.  He was part of a fur-trading party which had followed the immigrant trail through this very valley in 1831.  At that time, Warner had no interest in the valley.

After some time spent hunting and selling otter skins, Jonathan Warner took a job in a store owned by Abel Stearns, an American businessman from New England.  While working at the store, Warner learned to speak Spanish.  He also became friends with Pío Pico.  While visiting in Don Pío's home, Warner met Anita Gale.  Anita was the daughter of an English sea captain.  She had been left with  Pío Pico's mother, Doña Eustaquia, to be raised.  In 1837, Jonathan Warner married Anita Gale in a wedding ceremony held at Mission San Luis Rey.

By this time, Jonathan Warner had become a Mexican citizen and taken the name of Juan José Warner.  He was often called Juan Largo, or Long John, because he was six feet three inches tall. 


Warner built an adobe house and a trading post on the part of his rancho at the base of the Palomar Mountains, just south of Agua Caliente.  Many of the Indians living at Aqua Caliente worked for Warner.

Warner's place was on a trail used by travelers coming from the east to the California coast.  It became a stopping place for trappers, gold diggers, and settlers who were weary with crossing the desert.  The trading post, run by William Marshall, had supplies that the travelers could purchase.  The first Butterfield stage stopped here on October 6, 1858, on its way to San Francisco from Missouri.

U.S. troops led by General Stephen Kearny passed through Warner's rancho in 1846, just before they met a group of 70-75 Californios led by Mexican General Andrés Pico.  The troops fought each other in what is now called the Battle of San Pasqual.  Neither side won.  The place of the battle is remembered today as San Pasqual Battlefield State Historic Park, Landmark No. 533.   

Don Juan José Warner lasted longer in the Valle de San José than did its previous owners, Portilla and Pico.  But Juan Largo too had trouble with the Indians here.  In 1851 his ranch house was attacked.  Warner had been warned of the attack, and his wife and children were safely in San Diego.  Warner and a ranch worker were unable to defend the house.  The attackers burned the house and scattered the cattle and horses.

Warner rebuilt his house, but after a few more years he moved his family back to Los Angeles.  At one time Warner had served as a state senator and as a member of the county Board of Supervisors in San Diego.  Now he became active in Los Angeles city government and in business.  He lived in Los Angeles until his death in 1895.


Before Warner left his valley rancho, he was having money problems.  Bit by bit, he sold portions of the land in order to pay his debts.  By 1861, Warner no longer owned any of the great valley rancho.  A part of the land was returned by the U.S. District Court to Silvestre de la Portilla, who had been the first to be granted the land.

In 1875, John G. Downey purchased all the various parts of the original rancho, so that once again it was under one owner.  When Downey died, the Pacific Light & Power Company of Los Angeles bought the land.


In 1903 the U.S. government forced the Indians of Agua Caliente to move to a reservation at Pala.  About 200 people had to move out of the valley that had been their family home for many generations.


In 1911 a man named William G. Henshaw purchased the property and built a reservoir, Lake Henshaw.   The Valle de San José became the site of a 3,000-acre guest ranch in the 1960s.  

A part of the old rancho was purchased as a recreation ranch for the San Diego Council of Boy Scouts.  The 697-acre Mataguay Ranch had a large lodge, lakes, swimming pools and camping places.

Another part of Rancho Valle de San José was leased by the El Tejon Cattle Company of Bakersfield, so it once again had cattle grazing on rancho lands, as in the days of the California rancheros.

Warner's adobe house, four miles southeast of Warner Springs, is California Historical Landmark No. 311.

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