Casa de Miguel Ortiz — "... is said to be the first building erected at Laguna de Chico López." Click to enlarge.
The old trail south from Fort Tejon circuited the Ridge traversed by the modern highway, following along its north wall to Elizabeth Lake, and thence down into San Francisquito cañon.
Pursuit of straying cattle and untamed aborigines had made this mountainous region and the incomparable Antelope Valley beyond, familiar to the mayordomos and retainers of Misión San Fernando since early days.
It was Mayordomo Pedro López who first showed these trails and cañons to his nephew Francisco, who while exploring in them afterwards, discovered gold in Placeritas cañon. Another López penetrated through the mountain wall and in the rich little valley where Elizabeth Lake lies established his sítio de ganado mayor, or stock range. This was the handsome Francisco, known to everyone in the Southland as Don Chico López. His cattle ranged Antelope Valley where Lancaster and Palmdale are now, and the whole region was identified among the Californios by his name. What we call Elizabeth Lake was to them la Laguna de Chico López, and the hills surrounding it were las montañas de Chico López.
Don Francisco López, the discoverer of gold, was Don Chico's uncle. Chico was living at Paredon Blanco in Los Angeles and had his cattle at Rancho Rosa de Castilla. About 1850 his uncle took him into the mountains and showed him the laguna and the attractive land around it, advising him to go in there with his stock. This he did soon thereafter. He found a little spring, and near it built his adobe ranch house.
Obtaining title to the land, Don Chico prospered at la Laguna. In the seasons of the rodeo he would bring his family of lovely gay daughters to the rancho, and they were happy there.
Then in a few years all was sadly changed. The rancho was taken away from him, by one misfortune after another.
It became necessary for him to live most of the time in Los Angeles, and during his absence, under the careless guardianship of his mayordomo, his herds dwindled mysteriously. [His mayordomo was Tiburcio Vasquez's brother. Where's the mystery? — Ed.] He had 800 head of horses in the vicinity of Lancaster, and 4,000 head of cattle in what is known today as Leona Valley. In the end he realized on the sale of only 800 out of his 4,000 cattle. His band of 40 mules vanished also. At last the rancho itself went from him on a mortgage into the hands of Miguel Leonis. As a final blow during one of his absences, his ranch house, his barns, and corrals and implements were set fire to and deliberately burned by those who wished him ill.
From the name of Leonis, who then acquired the property, comes the modern "Leona" Valley, now being subdivided into beautiful small farms.
At la Laguna de Chico López a little settlement was growing up during this period on the stage road from Fort Tejon.
Casa de Miguel Ortiz — Elizabeth Lake
A long one-story adobe facing northwest, at the left of the old road as you go toward Fort Tejon, is said to be the first building erected at Laguna de Chico López.
Details of unusual interest in the house are a big fireplace constructed principally of adobe and a diverting barrel-shaped chimney rising from the low roof.
Miguel Ortiz, they say, was an arriero, or muleteer, who used to pack for General Beale. In early days also he packed from Los Angeles to Clear Crick and Havila, to and from the mines. He possessed 40 mules and all equipment, and Beale contracted for his services on the 35th parallel survey. When his work with the Surveyor-General was completed, the mules were sold in Texas, Miguel Ortiz returned to California, and on land given to him by General Beale built this adobe. It is still occupied as a home.
Casa de Pedro Andrada — Elizabeth Lake
Not far from the adobe of Miguel Ortiz, Pedro Andrada established a stage station, where a stop was regularly made, just where the old road enters the cañon southeastward from the lake.
Andrada came to California from Sonora in 1858. The house which still remains, and is occupied by his granddaughter, Mrs. Frank Talamantes, is the second one he built there at Laguna de Chico López. It is 45 years old. Don Pedro's first house had not been entirely a success, because moisture from the water-filled ground — water drained into the lake more plentifully in those days — persisted in finding its way up through the floor, sometimes in a veritable stream. So when Don Pedro built his second house he took such care to prevent a repetition of this annoyance that the abundant rocks he put into the foundation used frequently to be exposed to the discomfort of the housewife, as the earthen floor was worn down with her sweeping.
Today the old floor and foundation are concealed beneath a wooden floor, and outside, the corredor has become a screened porch, but nevertheless, within this adobe still reigns the hospitable friendliness of the old times.