Loose photo of Susanita del Valle, found inside Susanita's own copy of
The Home of Ramona: Photographs of Camulos, the fine old Spanish Estate Described by
Mrs. Helen Hunt Jackson as the Home of "Ramona."
This book was published in 1888 by Charles Flecher Lummis, then city editor of the Los Angeles Times and later founder of the Southwest Museum,
to demonstrate that the Del Valle family's Rancho Camulos, located just east of Piru along what is now
State Route 126, was indeed the inspiration for Jackson's
romantic tome, Ramona. In photographs and text, Lummis showed the similarities between the rancho's
chapel, courtyard, adobe home, etc. and those described by Jackson, who had died the same year
she completed her novel, in 1884.
Lummis writes of Jackson's Ramona: "No novel of strong purpose can be pure fiction. If it is to
mould fact, it must deal with fact."
But the case for Camulos as the "Ramona home" was in dispute. Cave Couts Jr.,
a slaveholder from Tennessee who arrived in 1851 and used Indian slave labor at his Rancho Guajome in San Diego County
(Akins & Bauer 2021:141-142),
argued that his ranch served as the inspiration for the book. Indeed, Jackson, of Colorado, visited
both places prior to its completion — Camulos during a trek through California in 1882, and San Diego in
1882 and 1883.
whose presence incidentally was felt in the Santa Clarita Valley at one time or another — ultimately gave up on his claim (others would pick it up later), at least partly because of
the efforts of the Del Valles and their associates, like Lummis, to boost Camulos.
Lummis, who engaged in countless extramarital affairs
throughout his life, fell in what may have been true love with 17-year-old Susana Carmen del Valle,
a cousin of then-patriarch Reginaldo and Belle del
Valle, and while the family forebade a wedding (for one thing, Lummis was married),
he remained a frequent visitor to the ranch. It is unknown (and doubtful)
if they consummated the relationship.
To lure tourists the Del Valles promoted Camulos as the legendary "Home of Ramona" on wine labels and on
letterhead; and the Southern Pacific Railroad Co., embroiled in a rate war, touted a Camulos stop as the place
Jackson took for the book's setting.
Today, Ramona is most popularly remembered with an annual play in Hemet.
Modern scholars generally agree that Jackson's story was not necessarily intended to be linked
to any one place, and that by writing the novel, Jackson, the quintessential contemporary promoter and chronicler of the plight
of American Indians, may have done more to fuel the mystique and allure of the West than anyone who had gone before.
And by publishing his little book, Lummis has left for modern seekers of Camulos and Del Valle family history a lasting legacy.