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In the spring of 1837, Apolinaria Lorenzana left her duties at the mission for a few days, to break in a new foreman at Rancho Jamacha. San Diegans called her la beata (“the blessed one”), though she preferred la cuña (“the foundling”), because she’d been orphaned at birth. At Jamacha she was la ranchera. She managed, and would eventually own, the 8881-acre land grant 15 miles southeast of San Diego in the Sweetwater River Valley.

Lorenzana arrived and put everyone to work. She sent her servant, Camacho, to Jamul to help round up stray cattle. She had servants clean the adobe casa (on a rise northwest of the junction of Campo and Jamacha Roads). She told the new foreman, Rios, to help workers with chores, while she and the foreman’s wife, Nieves, scraped gunk from a watering trough.

Someone’s coming.

A shaken, half-clothed boy inched down the trail from Jamul with painful, barefooted steps. Forty-five-year-old Lorenzana, whose eyesight had begun to dim, thought she saw a woman trying to hide behind the lime kiln. Naked from the waist up, the woman held straw in her crossed arms to conceal her breasts.

“Something for my mother,” the boy pointed to the kiln, “to cover her.”

He was José Antonio, the 12-year-old son of Juan Léiva, foreman of Jamul. As Nieves ran into the house to grab a bedspread, she thought she heard the boy say “Indian attack.”

So did Lorenzana. Warn Rios and gather everyone together, she told a servant.

Lorenzana recognized the woman staring through infinity. It was Léiva’s wife María, so “overwhelmed by sorrow,” she could neither speak nor cry. “I tried to console her and get her to eat something,” said Lorenzana, “but she was sad beyond comforting.”

An old Indian trail, through Mexican Canyon and southwest along today’s Otay Lakes Road, curves from Jamacha to Rancho Jamul. If the attack were widespread, Lorenzana’s rancho would be next. “This is what I feared.”

Praised as a healer, beloved by many as a “living saint,” Lorenzana was also a woman of the world, writes Philip S. Rush, with a “strong, somewhat domineering character.” She never married, nor was she a cloistered nun. The “grand lady” taught, nursed, godparented, and, in times of tragedy such as the “Jamul Incident” of 1837, took charge.

Ride to the village of Secua, she ordered a native. They must come at once armed with bows and arrows. She wrote letters to El Cajon Rancho and San Diego, telling a woman friend where the mission hid guns and bullets. Send them! And ask Fathers Oliva and Martin for paper to make cartridges.

As lookouts raced to vantage points up the hill, and ranch hands secured the livestock and piled adobe for a siege, Doña María, wrapped in a bedspread, told her story.

Don Pio Pico (who owned the rancho) had been arrested Christmas Eve and at last word was in Santa Barbara. His mother Estaquia and her three daughters were among those at Jamul.

Two days earlier, Estaquia sat in the doorway of the adobe ranch house, on a shelf near the mouth of Cedar Canyon. She had a pleasing view of the orchard, down to her right, and the corral, across the way, behind the junction of Jamul and Dulzura creeks. Off to the southeast, she could see the cornfield, which still needed planting, and the wheat fields beyond.

Cesaria, an old Indian servant, came up the hill and asked for salt.

Estaquia gestured at someone inside.

The servant’s hands flashed “no!” Estaquia must bring it.

The two went inside. In a quiet corner, Cesaria whispered, “Indians are going to revolt. They will kill the men and take the women captive!”

Estaquia went to the sewing room. Drop everything, she told her daughters. Grab your rebozos (all-purpose shawls) and go to the road by the cornfield — ¡andale!

Estaquia broke the news to Léiva. She’d seen signs of unrest for days, she added. Léiva, whose wife and four children were at the rancho, told her to calm down. They had more than enough arms and vaqueros to stop an assault.

Estaquia wanted to leave. So the foreman sent an ox-drawn carreta to the cornfield. As they boarded, a daughter noticed only one cowhide. Since carretas usually have hides on the bottom and the sides, theirs was an undignified means of travel. Urgency tempered displeasure, however.

When Léiva’s wife María heard the news, she begged him to flee. And if he was staying, then “let me go to [Lorenzana’s] rancho because I am really frightened.”

There are no Indians, Léiva joked. Don’t worry. Lorenzana’s servant will stay the night. So that makes four men, plus 12 loaded firearms in the house. “If they do come, I’ll put the family in a room filled with cowhides.”

The day had been too blessed for bad news. Anastasio Molina had come from San Diego that morning with a much-anticipated request. He asked Léiva’s permission to marry his oldest daughter, Tomasa, and to take her to the mission. They’d publish the marriage banns and proclaim their love. No one would dare violate such a joyous occasion.

At sunrise, María cooked breakfast at the “kitchen,” an outside structure and stone oven near the ranch house. A servant took an extra strip of beef to fortify himself, since the wheat fields he tended were so far away. Camacho rode to the corral, where he would separate Lorenzana’s cattle from the roundup. Léiva and Molina mounted their horses. Then Léiva dismounted. He went to the outdoor oven for a fire-stick to light his cigarro.

All heard a scream, sudden, more piercing than any bird. Then several.


“Oh, Anastasio,” Doña María shouted at her future son-in-law, “the Indians are coming to kill us!”

She hurried her children down the hill to hide among the olive trees.

A band of natives, some bareback on horses, others sprinting, swarmed across the cornfield, killing the servant. Through the tall reeds and sycamores at Dulzura Creek, Léiva heard horses’ hooves pound for the corral, where Camacho, unarmed, ran for shelter. He found none and died amid shouts and slashes.

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