Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures
HISTORY OF THE SANTA CLARITA VALLEY BY JERRY REYNOLDS
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12. Staking Claim

Early in 1804, the padres at Mission San Fernando learned that a Santa Barbaran named Francisco Avila had claimed several thousand acres east of Piru Creek along the banks of the Rio Santa Clara and named his holdings Camulos.

The padres protested vigorously, notifying Governor José Arrillaga at Monterey that these lands belonged to the church. After due study, Governor Arrillaga acknowledged the mission's title and rescinded Avila's grant. To forestall further claim jumping, the fathers decided to maintain a presence in the Santa Clara River Valley.

According to church historian Zephyrin Engelhart, "At the Rancho de San Francisco Xavier, or Chaguayabit, a building was erected to provide for a granary and other necessary rooms."

St. Francis (San Francisco) Xavier lived from 1506 to 1552. The patron of foreign missions and "Apostle of the Indies," he helped found the Society of Jesus, the Jesuit order, with St. Ignatius in 1537. The Jesuits had been expelled from the New World by order of the king of Spain, replaced by the Franciscans who founded all the California missions. It is not clear how this new outpost, or estancia, came to be named for one of the "disgraced" Jesuits.

The feast day of St. Francis Xavier was December 3, so it is possible that on that date in 1804 Father Pedro Muñoz and Father José de Miguél trudged up to the top of the little mesa overlooking Castaic Junction to set up a building on the very spot that Father Crespí had recommended thirty-five years earlier.

The building was 105 feet long and seventeen feet wide, with dirt floors and thirty-four-inch-thick, whitewashed adobe walls. Sometime later a second structure was built, 107 feet long and almost twenty-three feet across, with five rooms, the largest featuring a burnt-tile floor and altar. This second structure was erected to the north of the original building, right next to the precipice that dropped off to the valley floor below.

Adobe walls with gates ran between the two long, low buildings, in front and in back, forming an enclosed courtyard. All of this rested solidly on rounded cobblestone foundations. Overall the front façade was sixty feet long.

Exactly when the granary was raised to the status of an asistencia, or submission, is not known. It probably happened when the new wing and tiled sacristy were authorized, but when that occurred is a mystery.

To prevent cattle from wandering away, in 1813 a bar was placed across present-day Newhall Pass and a sturdy fence was erected along Piru Creek. A dam rose up in Piru Canyon, and irrigation ditches brought water to crops in the western, or Camulos, section of the rancho.

During September, 1821, Father Ibarra wrote from San Fernando that "rabbits and hares and worms have done great damage to the crop" at the Rancho San Francisco. In spite of these depradations, fifteen pack mules left the rancho a few weeks later, loaded with thirty fanegas of corn bound for the troops at Santa Barbara. A fanega equalled one hundred pounds, so the Rancho San Francisco must have been very prosperous, indeed.

While the padres and the Tataviam neophytes quietly tended to their cattle and crops at the lonely, isolated Asistencia de San Francisco, revolution was raging in New Spain. If they knew what was going on, they probably didn't care one way or the other. Yet the outcome of the insurrection would have profound effects not only in the Santa Clara, but all throughout Alta California.


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