Rancho San Pedro

 Life on a Rancho
Spanish Period 1A

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Photo credit: Dominguez Adobe
The adobe of Rancho San Pedro as can be seen today.


How did Juan Jose Dominguez get the land?

 In September 1782 Pedro Fages, the military commandante of California became provisional governor of Alta California. Fages was part of the Portola Expedition in 1769, he was Juan Jose’s former lieutenant. While Fages was visiting San Diego in 1783, Dominguez saw a chance to get land to graze his cattle. He requested some vacant land south of pueblo Los Angeles. No survey of the land was done and no diseno was drawn. The first land grant was done very informally. In March of 1784, Governor Fages presented Juan Jose with a provisional land grant for his many years of dedicated service to the king of Spain.

 How did Juan Jose Dominguez use his newly acquired land?

Juan Jose drove his livestock north toward Los Angeles with Felipe Talamantes and Mateo Rubio. His livestock consisted of four herds of mares and 200 head of cattle. He set up camp near the Los Angeles River just east of a hill which later became known as Dominguez Hill. He chose the location because it had a number of running springs. He stayed in pueblo Los Angeles while he built an adobe home. His adobe had two rooms, a total of thirty-three square feet, with a dirt floor. The roof was made of willow poles covered with molten tar from the La Brea Tar Pits. His casa was located on a slope of the hill overlooking the river. He also made corrals and several huts for his Indian vaqueros.

 Photo credit: California State University Domginuez Hills, Gillingham Collection
The ruins of the original adobe of Juan Jose Dominguez.

For the next two decades Juan Jose lived at the Rancho only periodically. He was not married and had no children. He was lonely. He made Felipe Talamantes his mayordomo. A majority of the work was done by Indian vaqueros from the Suangna tribe. These Indians lived on the Rancho lands, some of these Indians worked the Dominguez herds for more than forty years. He spent a great deal of time at Mission San Gabriel, which was much livelier. He had many friends and several leather-jacketed comrades who were still in active service. In October of 1785, he participated in defending the mission during a revolt.

The rancho could have prospered more if Juan Jose hadn't been gone so much. Some crops of grain grew near the river and his cattle grew at a slow but steady pace. A government census report of 1795, stated that Juan Jose owned more than 400 head of cattle. By 1805, he had 1,300 head of cattle, 3,000 mares, 1,000 fillies, and 1,000 colts.

Juan Jose was not in good relations with his neighbors due to his frequent absences from the rancho. His horses had multiplied and become wild, causing damage to the Mission San Gabriel and other ranchos. After his death many of the wild herd were destroyed. There were also many disputes concerning cattle due to the vague boundaries of the Rancho.

Juan Jose began to lose his eyesight by 1800, and by 1805 he became totally blind. He went to live with his nephew Cristobal Dominguez, at Mission San Capistrano. Cristobal was a sergeant of the Cavalry, and in charge of the mission guard. He was educated and able to read and write. Juan Jose left Rancho San Pedro in the hands of Manuel Gutierrez. Juan Jose lived with his nephew for two years, then he returned to Pueblo Los Angeles. He died there on January 24, 1809 and was buried at the San Gabriel Mission Cemetery.

 

Photo credit: Sarah Cohom, 4th grader in 1995.
The graveyard at Mission San Gabriel, the large cross is where Juan Jose Dominguez is buried.