ANTONIO F. CORONEL.
In the death since our last meeting, to-wit, at midnight on the 17th-18th of April, 1894, of our co-member and co-laborer, Don Antonio Franco Coronel, this society has lost a good friend, and this community and this State have lost a most valuable and useful citizen.
Mr. Coronel, who had been a resident of Los Angeles for 60 years, was in many respects a remarkable man; and as, in the flight of time, he recedes gradually into the distance of the past, he will, I imagine, like numerous others of his predecessors and contemporaries of Spanish ancestry in the Californias of whom English-speaking Californians of today have but partial knowledge, become more and more a striking figure in the annals of the times in which he lived.
Being an educated and enlightened man in his own language and civilization — for he possessed only a limited knowledge of the English tongue — and having taken an active interest in public affairs during his long career, serving the community in many and varied capacities, it is not an easy matter for us who survive him who knew him well — probably it is yet too early — to rightly estimate or measure the extent of the influence of his personality on those with whom he associated.
Don Antonio was born in the City of Mexico in 1817, and he came to California in 1834, while yet a boy, with his father, Don Ygnacio F. Coronel, who accompanied by his family, came with the celebrated Padrés "Colonia," which arrived here that year from Mexico. The elder Coronel, whom the writer knew, and who had formerly been an officer under General Yturbide, established the first school in Los Angeles, under the Lancastrian system. He taught a public school in the block at the head of Los Angeles street, as it formerly existed, just north of the line of Arcadia street, from 1844 till about 1856. He was an educated man and gave his children a good Spanish education. He died in 1862.
His eldest son Antonio, because of his excellent school training and because he showed capacity, soon attained prominence both as a citizen and in official positions of responsibility. The list of offices filled by him is a large one. In 1838 he was appointed assistant secretary of tribunals of the city of Los Angeles. In 1843 he was made judge of the first instance (justice of the peace), and in 1844 Governor Micheltorena appointed him inspector of the Southern Missions. In 1845 he was made commissioner to treat for peace between Gov. Micheltorena and Alvarado and Castro, commanders of the revolutionary forces. In 1846 he served as captain with his patriotic countrymen in their attempts by inadequate means, to defend themselves and their homes as best they could against the invasion of the country by the Americans. He took part in the battle of the 8th of October, 1846, on the San Pedro rancho, in which the Californians were victorious. Afterwards he was appointed aide-de-camp of the commanding general and took part in the battles at Paso de Bartolo and la Mesa. As the Americans then had superior numbers and resources, the Californians were compelled to fall back to the interior or to the mountains, where, under General Flores, an attempt to continue the unequal contest was kept up, till finally, friends got word to Don Antonio, urging on him the uselessness and hopelessness of the fight; and he and others gave up and came in. But Gen. Flores and a remnant of his command retired to Mexico. After peace was declared, and Alta California became permanently a portion of the United States territory, and its inhabitants became, if they so elected, citizens of the United States, Mr. Coronel with the great body of Californians, transferred their allegiance in good faith to the nationality represented by the stars and stripes, to which ever afterwards, or as long as they lived, they remained loyal and true.
In 1847-48 Mr. Coronel was a member of the board of magistrates having in charge the regulation of irrigation. With this very important question, which was new to Americans, he was both theoretically and practically familiar. The whole theory of water rights under the laws and customs of Spain and Mexico, and of all dry countries where irrigation is a necessity, is radically different from that of England and the United States, where, as a rule, practical irrigation is unknown. The persistent though futile attempts which Americans in California and other semi-arid States and territories have made, and are still making, to apply the theories relating to the use and ownership of water as evolved in wet countries, to dry countries, have caused a vast amount of confusion and loss, and frequently bloodshed, the end of which is not yet.
The writer of these lines has often discussed this matter with Don Antonio, who as often expressed his regret at the inaptitude or self-sufficiency or disinclination to learn, what, in spite of all their preconceived notions on this subject, they will perforce, have to learn at last, for the simple reasons that the theories of non-irrigation countries concerning water, are, in many fundamentally essential respects, utterly inapplicable in practical irrigation.
So of the rights of cities and pueblos to running streams under the laws of Spain and Mexico; Mr. Coronel held that it was, of the utmost importance that the people and officials of this city should know and assert to the last, all the rights to all the water of the Los Angeles river, which this city inherited as successor to the pueblo. In a conversation I had with him a short time before his death, it seemed as though he could not impress on me strongly enough his convictions concerning this important matter.
Mr. Coronel was assessor of Los Angeles county in 1850 and '51, and in 1853 he was elected mayor of Los Angeles City. He was a member of the city council, except during two years, from 1854 to 1866, when he was elected treasurer of the State of California for four years. He also served at various periods, as supervisor of the county, member of the State Horticultural society, president of the Spanish-American Benevolent society of this city, etc.
When the cause celebre, known as the "Limantour Claim," was before the United States Courts in 1857, Mr. Coronel was sent on a confidential mission to the City of Mexico to examine the archives there and gather testimony, etc., which his knowledge of the Spanish language and familiarity with Mexican land laws, and acquaintance with public men in that capital, enabled him to do very efficiently. His labors were facilitated by President Comonfort and other high officials. The evidence he obtained was laid before the United States Court, with the result that the claim, was rejected finally; and thus the title to thousands of homes in San Francisco were cleared of a cloud that hung over them. Only those who were cognizant at the time, of the excitement which was stirred up throughout California by this case, can appreciate how intense that excitement was. Limantour, who was a Frenchman, maintained his colossal pretentions with the utmost vigor and by the most unscrupulous means, bringing witnesses from Mexico to swear to the genuineness of his alleged grant, which, as already stated, the Court finally rejected.
Mr. Coronel, in his lifetime, made a most honorable record as a friend of the defenseless Mission Indians of Southern California. Of this fact Mrs. Helen Hunt Jackson has borne warm testimony in several national publications. When these simple, harmless children of nature were imposed upon, and robbed of their lands and of the waters in default of which those lands became comparatively valueless, by greedy and unscrupulous American squatters, they came to Don Antonio Coronel for advice, and he always befriended them. He gave to Mrs. Jackson the materials of her story of "Ramona," and aided her in many ways in acquiring a knowledge of the customs and traditions of the people of the country, necessary to give characteristic coloring to the story. He also gave her the outlines of another and more dramatic story, based on real life in the olden time here in Southern California, the beautiful heroine of which, Nacha, was well known by some of the best of the old Spanish families. If Mrs. Jackson had lived she was to have worked them up as a companion story of "Ramona." He also gave her the data of her account of Friar Junipero Serra, the venerable founder and first president of the California Missions. Mr. Coronel took an active part with Father Casanova of Moneterey in the restoration of the San Carlos Mission, and in the solemnization of the centennial, in 1884, of the death of Father Junipero.
In 1873, Mr. Coronel married Miss Mariana Williamson. In 1887, Mr. and Mrs. Coronel visited the City of Mexico, and in '93, they went to the World's Fair at Chicago, where their stay was cut short by his illness; and his health continued in a precarious state from that time until his death, though he was not confined to his house until within a few days prior thereto. Toward the end he was fully aware that his hour was near, which he welcomed, only regretting the parting with his beloved wife. Twice he fervently embraced her, his last words being: "Querida! Ya me voy!" (Dearest, I am going!) As she gently laid him on the pillow, he peacefully closed his eyes and one of his attending physicians, who held his wrist, said, "His pulse has ceased;" and thus he died without a struggle. His good friend, Rev. Father Adam, vicar general of the diocese, attended him daily and administered to him the consolations of the religion in whose communion he had been born, and in which at last he died.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Coronel were active members of this Historical Society of Southern California from the time of its founding.
They had gathered, during the course of many years, the largest and most valuable collection of historical materials relating to this section and to this coast, in the country. Mr. Coronel ardently desired to co-operate with other citizens of wealth and enlightened public spirit in the establishment in this city of a museum, in connection with the Historical Society and the Public Library, to which he could donate his very valuable collection; and he made a liberal offer of either money or land to assist in endowing such an institution. It is to be hoped that other public-spirited citizens of means will be seized by the same desire, and thus show in a substantial manner their willingness to aid in preserving and safely guarding the materials of local history which they and their fathers and mothers have helped to make, and at the same time manifest to the world by their acts the fact that they recognize the obligations they owe to the community in which and off of which they have made their wealth. In the many conversations which the writer of this brief memorial tribute to our departed friend has had with him concerning the past history of California, and especially of the part he took in it, I have been impressed with the vividness of his recollections; and I have felt that a record merely of those personal recollections would, to a certain extent, constitute a history of California.
Our kind-hearted friend is gone, but his memory will remain.