A Rustic Village, SJC – 1908.


Not for a long time had I been in a place that so filled me with delight as did Capistrano in Southern California.  Such a dreamy, easy-going community – no hurry, no worry – such a luxuriant valley, such lofty environing hills with the green turf clothing every rounded outline!  Then, to the north, were the rocky peaks of a mountain range, serene and blue in the distance.  The village itself was a queer huddle of primitive houses, some no more than board shanties, and none of them large or in the least pretentious.

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While I was in the store a fat old Indian entered.  He had short hair, wore overalls, and except for his color was not much different in dress and appearance from a white workingman.  His breath was odorous of liquor and he was loquacious and happy.  The clerk introduced him as the best sheep-shearer in the country.  He shook hands and said, “Me good man!  You good man?”

In talking with him it was not easy to catch the meaning of some of his remarks.  The common patois of the region used by both the whites and the darker skinned folk is based on Spanish, but with an intermixture of Indian and of words borrowed from English.  The old sheep-shearer had about fifty other Indians working under him in the season, got five dollars a day himself and two dollars for his wife who did the cooking for the gang.

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We were sitting on the post office piazza, and here we were joined just then by a man who was a former resident of the village and had recently arrived for a visit.  He accosted my companion and they were discussing incidents of the past.  Among other things they mentioned cock fights, and the German said, “Eighteen or nineteen years ago (1890s) dey use to haf a cock fight mos’ every Sunday, but I didn’t see him now for a long time.”

When the newcomer moved on, the German happened to turn his eyes toward home and remarked, “I haf now to go to my house.  Dere is a peacock from my neighbor dot I can see on der roof.  Sometime it vill stay dere all der night and holler; so I vill drive it off.

The peacock belonged on a place that formerly was the home of Don Foster, the feudal lord of the region.  He had hundreds of thousands of acres, and sheep and cattle unnumbered, and he set a generous table free to all comers.  Indeed, two or three dozen villagers were constantly fed at his board and he really supported  “the whole shooting match;” for they did no work.

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The most exciting period in the village history was that immediately following the acquisition of California by the Americans.  To quote a leading citizen, “There was then a band of sixty or seventy disgruntled Mexicans known as ‘Manillas’ who were a terror to all the region.  They had a leader by the name of Basquez who was credited with all sorts of savagery and wild escapades.  He delighted to come unexpectedly when a dance was in progress and join in the merry-making and cut the fandango.  Then, again, he would dash into a village with all his troop and commence firing.  At once there’d be a yell, ‘Basquez is in town!’ and you’d ought to see the people hide.

“…the sheriff was comin’ from Los Angeles to punish them, and they went and bushwhacked him and killed all but one man.  The sheriff made a brave fight, and as he lay dying he kept firing his pistol at the fellows as long as he could hold it.

“In a short time another and bigger posse was gathered.  Then the Mexicans scattered, but within a few months they’d nearly all been hunted down.  When one was caught there were no legal proceedings.  He was just hung to a sycamore tree, or stood up against an adobe wall and shot.  Last of all they waylaid Basquez and shot him all to pieces.”

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Among the various lodgers at the hotel when I arrived were three men who were driving a couple of wagons to San Diego.  They had been stopping four days on account of rains that had flooded the rivers.  There were no bridges, and the quicksands at the fords were trecherous.

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Note:  Capistrano is not a tourist resort, and its hotel accomodations are poor; yet this lack is not without certain picturesque compensations.  The village is one of the quaintest, its setting among the hills is charming, and it has the most imposing and beautiful Mission ruin in California.  No traveller who goes to San Diego can afford to miss visiting the place, if only to stop off from one train and go on by the next.  The outlying sections of the village where the Indians and poorer inhabitants dwell should not be neglected; and it would be well to visit the wild, abrupt coast.

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