Juventino del Valle, Black Walnut Tree; 5 Ranch Views

Rancho Camulos

Five (5) views of Rancho Camulos, probably made in the late 1910s; in any case prior to the death in 1919 of Juventino del Valle, seen in the first photograph in the series.

Personal photographs as opposed to professional photography, apparently made by an unknown tourist during an auto vacation, judging from the last photograph in the series. These 4x5-inch matte prints had been pasted to an old, black-paper album page.

Click filenames in bold type below for enlargements:

LW3664a: Juventino del Valle and the black walnut tree. Juventino (1841-1919) was the eldest child of Ygnacio del Valle. As such, he served as ranch manager from 1862-1886, assuming more and more duties in the 1870s as his father inched closer to his death in 1880 (Triem & Stone 1996).

The tree in the photograph is the signature black walnut tree of Rancho Camulos Museum that survived into the 21st Century. In the background is seen the (south-facing) door to the 1867 winery. (The door is essentially unchanged in 2019.) Note the ramp leading up to the winery door, large enough to accommodate vehicular entry. In between the tree and the winery is an arbor. It is unclear what type of plants the arbor is supporting.

This photograph is the only one in the series with writing on the back. It reads:

At the Camulos Ranche, where Ramona spent many happy years — Ventura Co., Cal.

Mr. Juventino del Valle, one of the original (owners), sitting under a Black Walnut tree that he planted 50 years ago.

Ignoring the silly "Ramona" comment (other than to acknowledge how ingrained this idea was on the American psyche), let's focus on the tree.

Triem & Stone (op. cit.) also say the tree was "planted by Juventino del Valle circa 1870."

Seeing it in this photograph makes us wonder: Is this tree really only 50 years old? Or was Juventino telling a tall tale, taking credit for something he didn't do?

According to a comprehensive history of the Del Valles and Rancho Camulos ("This Land Was Ours" by Wallace E. Smith, 1977) — in the 1880s (only a decade later!), when Juventino's half-brother Reginaldo hosted the big, annual fiestas at the ranch, "as many as six dozen invited guests" were served from "a long table in the shade of El Nogal, a black eagle seedling walnut tree of modest proportions" (pp. 173-174).

In 1899, the Ventura Free Press reported that the tree was so big, "100 workers can readily sit at tables and cut and pit fruit" under its branches.

According to Triem & Stone, when the tree was measured in 1940, "its circumference was eighteen feet, and with a branch spread of 129 feet."

When they completed their report in 1996, Triem & Stone estimated the tree's cir­cum­ference at that time to be "approximately twenty-five feet," but they did not take measurements (Judy Triem, pers. comm. 2019).

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, black walnut trees mature in good soils in 150 years (Camulos has good alluvial soils), and they may live 250 years or more.

Throughout the latter half of the 20th Century, the tree's branches were so heavy, they had to be propped up on metal pylons. Over time, the branches collapsed under their own weight. In 2019, following several years of drought, the tree fell over and basically died. (As of late 2019, one tiny splinter of trunk remains, with new growth emerging from it.)

If Juventino was falsely boasting, and we treat Triem & Stone as an outlier, all the rest of the anec­dotal evi­dence, coupled with the photographic evidence above, points to a tree that was fully mature, or very nearly so, at the dawn of the 20th Century. If it was, then it would have been a seedling 150 years earlier, in the latter half of the 1700s, and it died of old age in 2019.

Taking this theory one step further, was the shade of a nice, big walnut tree the reason Ygnacio del Valle select­ed that particular location for the family home?

LW3664b: South veranda of the Del Valle family's main adobe home at Rancho Camulos. The first four rooms were completed in 1853 at the direction of Ygnacio del Valle, then-owner of the 48,000-acre Rancho San Francisco, which stretched eastward from Piru and included the present communities of Newhall, Saugus and Valencia. Over time, under Del Valle ownership (which ended in 1924), the adobe was expanded to 20 rooms.

Note the unambiguous warning sign on the side of the building: "TAKE NOTICE / This is a private home. Bear this in mind. No trespassing will be tolerated."

LW3664c: East-facing courtyard of the main adobe. (The view is to the west.)

LW3665d: Two of the bells of Camulos, facing west. The bell at right is the highly important Rezanov bell, which is described by Engelhardt, who indicates it was removed from the Mission San Fernando and brought to Rancho Camulos about 1860 (coincident with the construction of the chapel next to it). It might have arrived a bit earlier; according to Smith ("This Land Was Ours"), the bell was present at Rancho Camulos the entire time the Del Valles lived there (pg. 112) and was gone by the time the mission property was inventoried in 1849.

The photographer is standing on the north side of the chapel (seen at left), built in 1860 at the direction of Ysabel del Valle. The chapel sat roughly halfway between the Missions San Fernando and San Buenaventura; thus, visiting priests ministered to the Del Valle family and their neighbors and workers at the chapel.

If this photograph were made today, we would see a portion of the schoolhouse at right. The schoolhouse was built in 1930 at the direction of the subsequent ranch owner, August Rübel. We'd also see a lawn and other landscaping, and metal fencing instead of the split-rail fence visible here.

In 2019, the shutters on the chapel windows, which had worn out, were replaced with an exact replica of those shown here.

LW3665e: Here is one reason these are thought to be a vacationer's photographs (another reason other being the photo album residue). Several tents are set up in a campsite on the Camulos Ranch, with three or four cars in view. See detail from last photo in series.

LW3664: Download original images here.
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