Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures
Joseph Pedro (Pete) Rivera: Death Certificate
Tataviam Culture | St. Francis Dam Disaster

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Short summary: Pete Rivera bridges two major areas of research on — the SCV's Native Americans, and the St. Francis Dam Disaster. Pete Rivera was a Native American born at Elizabeth Lake. He married into the family that traces its roots to the Tataviam Indian villages in the Newhall and Castaic areas prior to European contact, when they were the only people here. So, Pete is an ancestor of some of the Tataviam Indians who are alive and well today. Later, Pete remarried into the LeBrun family. The LeBruns owned a ranch in San Francisquito Canyon that they sold in 1920 to the city of L.A. when the big-city water barons wanted to build a dam. Eight years later that dam on the ex-LeBrun Ranch collapsed and killed a number of LeBrun descendants and their in-laws — including Pete Rivera.

Death certificate for Joseph Pedro "Pete" Rivera, who perished in the St. Francis Dam Disaster along with his (second?) wife — the former Miss Addie M. LeBrun — and two of their children.

We don't (yet) know the exact relationship between Addie LeBrun and Frank LeBrun, a rancher in San Francisquito Canyon. From her extrapolated birth year (1882), she was probably his daughter. The irony is, in 1920, Frank LeBrun sold his ranch to the city of Los Angeles for the dam. From 1924 until the dam broke in 1928, the LeBrun Ranch was submerged under the reservoir.

The informant for Pete Rivera's death certificate is Grace Rivera of Newhall. We don't know who that is.

The death certificate shows Pete was born May 31, 1877, at Elizabeth Lake.

It lists his name as Pedro Rivera. However, it should be noted that this is the same person who appears as Joseph P. Rivera on his 1899 marriage license with his (first?) wife, Petra Garcia, when he was 22 — giving an extrapolated birth year of 1877.

According to the informant, his father's name was also Joe Pete Riveria — "Riveria" being a common variant of "Rivera" which frequently appears on documents relating to this family. In fact, on this death certificate, the surname appears both ways: "Rivera" for the decedent and "Riveria" for his wife.

According to family tradition, Joseph/Pete Rivera (the decedent) was the son of Tejon Indians — an appellation for Native Americans of various cultures who were brought to the San Sebastian (Tejon) Indian reservation in the 1850s-1860s (and some of their descendants), e.g., Chumash (specifically ex-Mission Santa Barbara), Tataviam (ex-Mission San Fernando), Kitanemuk, Tongva (ex-Mission San Gabriel), Southern Paiute (removed from Owens Valley), etc. We don't know how long Joseph/Pete's ancestors were living at Elizabeth Lake prior to his birth there; if they were indigenous to the area, they were likely Tataviam.

As stated, Joseph/Pete married his (first?) wife, Petra Garcia, in 1899 when Joseph/Pete was 22 and Petra was 17. Later that same year, Petra gave birth to a daughter who, in 1914, married Eldridge Ward, thus estabishing the local Ward line of Native Americans. (Petra's ancestors lived at the Tataviam Indian village of Chaguayabit/Tsawayung at Castaic Junction prior to European contact.)

Pete and Petra's marriage didn't last. Both remarried.

We don't know when Joseph/Pete married Addie M. LeBrun, but their eldest child, William Peter Rivera, was 24 when he died in 1928, so it was probably around 1904. (Petra remarried in 1907.)

According to St. Francis Dam researcher Ann Stansell, Joseph/Pete and Addie and their children were living on The Newhall Land and Farming Co.'s ranch, probably west of the L.A./Ventura county border near Rancho Camulos. (See map of flood-damaged Newhall Land property.) Joseph/Pete's body was found and taken to a morgue in Fillmore.

Addie's body was not found; nor was son William Peter Rivera's. Also killed was 6-year-old son Albert Rivera, who was probably carried farther by the floodwaters because his body was taken to a morgue in Santa Paula.

Joseph/Pete's cause of death on March 13, 1928, is listed as "Drowning or being struck by objects in Santa Clara River Flood."

The informant, Grace Rivera, possibly a sister or cousin of Joseph/Pete, filed a claim with the city of Los Angeles in the amount of $20,000 for the wrongful death of five people, not four — three adults and two children — and the city paid that amount. We don't know who the fifth person might have been, if there was one.

One of Joseph/Pete and Addie's surviving sons was Louis Rivera, the young man seen in the famous "Hero Medal" photo, where actor William S. Hart and Rev. Wolcott Evans are pinning a medal on his chest for his heroic efforts to save the lives of his two sisters, Mary and Belle.

Also of note is another famous photo showing William S. Hart and the Newhall Cowboys at a gravesite in the Ruiz Cemetery after the dam disaster. One of the cowboys in the photo is an Indian — Petra Garcia's nephew Cy Cooke, a son of Chief Frances Garcia Cooke (Petra's sister) and father of Chief Charlie Cooke (born 1935).

Joseph Pedro "Pete" Rivera was buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Chatsworth on March 15, 1928.

Click to enlarge. Courtesy of Ann Stansell.

AS2805: 19200 dpi jpeg courtesy of Ann Stansell.

Petra Garcia & Pete Rivera Marriage License 1899

Pete Rivera's Death Cert. 1928

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