Don Ignacio del Valle had had enough. After serving as county registrar, alcalde of Los Angeles and in the state Assembly, the 53-year-old don decided it was time to retire to his beloved Hacienda de Camulos — his House of Refuge.
1861 a 20-room adobe home rose on the right bank of the Santa Clara, long and low in the old Californio style. It was U-shaped, with wide verandas facing onto a central patio where a mission-style fountain bubbled amid a large collection of Indian pots. Across a sweet-scented flower garden stood the family chapel. Next to that hung three historic bells dating to the days when Spain ruled the New World. Not far away were the majordomo's quarters, four rooms built in 1854, and another small adobe that may have been erected by the padres when the property was part of Rancho San Francisco.
Across a continent, fortunes were being made in petroleum. Thomas A. Scott, president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, sent Yale professor Benjamin Silliman westward on a geographical expedition. In 1864 Silliman published Rivers of Oil, a glowing report on the Santa Clara River Valley and its vicinity. Scott formed the Pennsylvania and California Petroleum Company and dispatched his nephew, Thomas R. Bard, out west to buy up oil-rich lands.
Bard acquired Rancho San Francisco from William Wolfskill for $53,320 by deed dated April 29, 1865. From the original grant of 16,599 acres inherited from his father, Del Valle's Camulos was whittled down to 1,340 acres. The remaining property, however, was sufficient to support his vanishing lifestyle.
The land was planted with grapes, citrus and walnuts. Wine was pressed, and growing herds of sheep and cattle roamed the estate. Here the don and his second wife, Isabel Varela, raised eleven children and a host of orphans for whom the doña had a penchant. Among them was Blanca Yndart, who would figure in a later chapter of the Camulos story. Blanca's grandfather, sea captain Domingo Yndart, had left the child a chest of jewels to be opened when she reached her twenty-first year.
On March 30, 1880, Don Ignacio del Valle died and was buried in the family crypt a mile north of the main house, marked by a tall cross set upon a high hill. Management of the estate passed to his eldest surviving son, Reginaldo, who was then a state senator.
Helen Hunt Jackson was a crusader for Indian rights whose most famous work, A Century of Dishonor, documented broken treaties and the dismal plight of native Americans. Realizing that she would need a novel along the lines of Uncle Tom's Cabin to whip up public interest in her campaign, she began prowling the back country of San Diego County for authentic settings.
Jackson arrived at Camulos on Jan. 23, 1882 and spent a few hours taking notes and interviewing the staff, including Blanca Yndart. Doņa Isabel was away at the time, but she became the model for Jackson's proud, aristocratic character, "Seņora Moreno." Canadian artist Henry Sandham spent a week at Camulos sketching scenes for the romantic tale of star-crossed lovers.
When it was published, Ramona became an instant best seller; was translated into scores of languages; and is today regarded as a literary classic, serving as the basis for several movies and an annual pageant at Hemet.
Ramona is not only an enduring tale, but an accurate depiction of life at Camulos when it was still ruled by the Del Valles. "It was a world," Jackson writes, "half-barbaric, half-elegant, wholly generous."