Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures
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"Charros at the Round-Up" (1877) by James Walker. As published in Westways, October 1966. Click image to enlarge.

The Vaquero Mysteries: Del Valle Artwork by James Walker.


About the Artist.

From "Artists in California 1786-1940" (Hughes 1989)

WALKER, James (1818-1889). Painter. Born in Northamptonshire, England, on June 3, 1818. Walker immigrated to the U.S. with his family in 1823 and settled on the Hudson River at Albany, NY. Little is known of his art training; he is said to have studied painting in NYC. Upon leaving home in his early twenties, he went first to New Orleans and then to Mexico where he became interested in the Spanish-American culture. When war broke out between the U.S. and Mexico in 1846, he was imprisoned there for awhile until escaping to the U.S. He then became an interpreter for General Winfield Scott in the U.S. Army and began sketching battle scenes. After the war, he established studios in NYC and Washington, DC, where he became well known as a painter of famous American battle scenes. Walker completed a number of government-commissioned works, one of which was placed in the Senate. In the late 1860s or early 1870s he settled into a studio in San Francisco. There he concentrated on genre scenes of the Mexican culture of early California. His highly detailed paintings realistically and accurately depict the costumes and gear of the rancheros and vaqueros on the cattle ranches. Walker died at the home of his twin brother in Watsonville, CA, on Aug. 29, 1889. Works held: LACMA; CHS; Denver Art Museum; U.S. Defense Dept. Bldg., Washington, DC; Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley. Har; Fid; G&W; JVN; Sam; AAW; Taft; Honeyman Collection cat.; West as Art cat.

I first saw "The Vaquero" at Rancho Camulos about 15 years ago, sitting in a storage area with several other similar pictures. All of them were full-sized, printed copies of paintings by an artist named James Walker. As I was told by fellow docents, a man delivered them one day, stating that he had rescued them from a trash heap. He thought the Rancho might have some use for them at the developing museum.

There were two different stories about their source: one claimed that they had been in a conference room at the Newhall Land and Farming headquarters, while the other located them in the lobby of a bank in Santa Clarita.

We received three James Walker rancho-era pictures. One was said to depict several Del Valle family members judging a herd of cattle at Camulos. A second was reported to be del Valle and Newhall ranch riders corralling wild horses on their adjacent properties. The third one was "The Vaquero," which featured a handsome gentleman in full regalia roping a steer in the traditional vaquero style. However, that one was said to be set at Rancho Santa Margarita (a rancho near present-day Camp Pendleton).

The copies of these beautiful paintings sparked my interest, and I scoured the internet to find out more about James Walker (1819-1889) and the paintings. I learned that he was a prolific painter noted in his early years for his large scale and accurate renditions of battle scenes. One of them, the Mexican-American War "Battle of Chapultepec," hangs today in the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

Walker found his way West to California by way of Mexico. In California, he produced a lot of early California-themed depictions, reportedly featuring real local people and capturing their traditions. There was no specific mention of either the Del Valles or Rancho Camulos in any of the material I found. However, several citations did mention Rancho Santa Margarita as the location for "The Vaquero" (1877).

Eventually, the prints were put on display in the main adobe at the Rancho Camulos Museum. "The Vaquero" was given a place of honor above the fireplace in the living room of the adobe that had been added in 1862. Years went by, and one day, a docent leading a tour noticed something as the afternoon light hit the painting. He reportedly exclaimed, "If this is a painting set at Rancho Santa Margarita, why does the horse have the Del Valle brand?" Different theories were advanced, such as: the Del Valles did sell horses throughout a wide area; one of the Del Valle daughters had married into the Forster family who at one time owned Rancho Santa Margarita; or perhaps the brand was added as a prank.

Fast-forward to March 2017. A docent from the Pico Adobe in San Fernando visited and donated a clipping that had been destined to be thrown in the trash. He thought we might be interested in it. It was an original page from a printed document depicting "The Vaquero." I lifted it carefully from the construction paper it was mounted on and looked at the back. It apparently came from Westways Magazine, an official publication of the Automobile Club of Southern California. I then noticed the caption that had been cut out and pasted on the picture. "The cattle round-up on our cover was painted in 1877 by James Walker, famous artist of early California. The pastoral setting he chose is historic Rancho Camulos, owned by the distinguished California family, the Del Valles, and situated above present Newhall. The painting depicts Ranchero Ignacio del Valle, gracious host to Walker, who was registrar of marks and brands for Los Angeles. On page 56 we have reproduced the registration of the brand on his horse..." Now, that was an amazing revelation to be explored further.

Thanks to Morgan Yates, the Corporate Archivist for the ACSC, we now know that the Walker painting was reproduced on the cover page of the October 1966 edition of Westways, which was devoted to Spanish-Mexican California. The description was on the contents page just as it appeared on the copy we received. The article makes no further mention of Walker or the Del Valle connection. Ignacio would have been about age 69 at the time of the painting, so perhaps this was a romanticized homage to his youth.

However, the tall handsome vaquero does not resemble the short stocky Ignacio as described and photographed elsewhere. I could not find a mention of his being the Los Angeles registrar of brands. Was the Vaquero at Rancho Santa Margarita or Rancho San Francisco/Rancho Camulos?

So, now my fellow history sleuths, it is up to you. Can you shed any further light on the story? Who was the mysterious donor of the copies of the James Walker prints? Where had they come from, a bank or Newhall Land and Farming? Do you remember seeing them or have pictures of them hanging at that location? What about documentation of the people depicted in the Walker paintings? Where are the originals? What was the source of the information in the Westways caption? Is there more to the story of the Walker-Del Valle connection? Please share your findings and, come see the Walker prints during a docent-led tour at Rancho Camulos on Sundays on the hour from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.


DEL VALLE FAMILY

• C. Rasmussen Story
• Reynolds Story: Antonio del Valle


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Ygnacio Family Tree

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Ygnacio 1808-1880

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Del Valle Branding Iron, RSF 1830s-40s x5

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Livestock Ledger 1853

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Labor Records
1919-1924

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James Walker Art
(1818-1889)

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Ygnacio Bio 1889

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Ysabel 1837-1905

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Bedroom ~1890

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Pico Oil Connection

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Probate Filing, Death of Juventino, 1919

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Reginaldo 1854-1938

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Reginaldo Bio 1889

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Lucretia 1892-1972 (Multiple Entries)

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Nor. Cal. Basket mid-1800s

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Bell, Portrait Come Home 10-28-2017

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