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Horses splashed across the creek. Léiva and Molina raced to the ranch house. The attackers had to come up the promontory through over 100 yards of open ground. There was still time.

As Léiva neared the house, where he stored the muskets and pistols, arrows hissed past. They spiked the soil and clacked off adobe walls. One struck him. He ran inside. What’s wrong with the storage room door? He shook the handle. It’s stuck. Someone locked it!

As an Indian cleaning woman headed outside, she flashed the key at Léiva. She laughed, pointed at the door, and shouted, “No hope in that direction!”

Léiva chased after her. He saw Molina crumble under the covered porch. Gone. Léiva dashed to the oven and reached inside. He grabbed hot coals and firebrands and flung them at his attackers. They engulfed him.

In the orchard, María tried to hide her sons and daughters. Attackers surrounded them. Don’t try to escape, one said, or we will kill you all.

María recognized several of the natives. The “worst of the bunch,” she told Lorenzana, were from the rancho. They “incited the others to come.”

The Indians stripped the children. They tore the rebozo and blouse off María. They bound the girls — Tomasa (18) and Ramona (11) — with rawhide thongs.

You three leave now, one ordered Doña María and the boys. We do not want to kill you. Young Ramona realized what this meant: she and Tomasa were captives.

“The girls were screaming,” María told Lorenzana, “and the youngest was hanging on to my skirt.”

Leave now! A raised war club.

“Don’t kill them!” Tomasa shouted.

María and her boys, already hoarse from pleading, moved away.

From a distance she watched her house crackle, then erupt. She may or may not have known that Léiva, Molina, Camacho, and the field servant’s corpses had been dragged inside and laid out in the hallway. Flames crowned other buildings.

Loaded with booty from the rancho, the attackers headed east with Pico’s cattle. Somewhere from the dust cloud, two girls wailed above the din.

María finished her story and went blank, still refusing to eat. Later that afternoon, Secuans arrived armed with bows and arrows. Lorenzana sent a “force” of them to find out what happened at Jamul. “Don’t touch the bodies until after the judicial inquiry,” she told her foreman. (The next day, when Judge José Estudillo examined the corpses, he found them charred beyond recognition.)

After a long, profound silence, María asked to go to San Diego. Lorenzana offered a carreta and watched the inconsolable woman leave. Her “spirit was shattered,” says Lorenzana, “and she suffered the rest of her life. She never recovered from the tragedy and finally succumbed to the burden of her sorrows.”

— Jeff Smith

Next time: Tomasa and Ramona’s sad fate(s).

SOURCES:

Alvarado, J.B., Vignettes of Early California; San Francisco, 1982.

Beebe, Rose Marie, and Robert M. Senkewicz, eds., Testimonios: Early California Through the Eyes of Women, 1815–1848; Lorenzana’s recollections, pp. 165–192; Berkeley, 2006

Griswold del Castillo, Richard, “Neither Activists Nor Victims: Mexican Women’s Historical Discourse — The Case of San Diego, 1820–1850”; California History, vol. 74, fall 1974.

Hughes, Charles, “The Decline of the Californios: The Case of San Diego, 1846–1856,” Journal of San Diego History; vol. XXI, no. 3, summer 1975.

Machado, Doña Juana, “Times Gone By in Alta California,” trans. Raymond S. Brandes, The Historical Society of Southern California Quarterly, September 1959; also in Testimonios, pp. 119–144.

Moyer, Cecil C., Historic Ranchos of San Diego, San Diego, 1969.

Padilla, Genaro M., My History, Not Yours: The Formation of Mexican American Autobiography; Madison, 1993.

Pico, Pio, Historical Narrative, 1877, trans. Arthur P. Botello; Glendale, 1973.

Rush, Philip S., Some Old Ranchos and Adobes; San Diego, 1965.

Sánchez, Rosaura, Telling Identities: The California Testimonios; Minneapolis, 1995.

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