• Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

Around 1850, while she was still at San Juan Capistrano, Forster allowed Captain John Magruder to use Rancho Jamacha to graze U.S. Cavalry horses. Either through “hocus pocus” or americano legalese, the livestock became squatters, and the land eventually fell into Magruder’s hands.

“I had placed my trust in Señor Forster,” says Lorenzana, “and he violated that trust by letting others use the rancho,” which she never saw again. “And I never heard from Don Juan Forster again either. The truth is that I never received anything in return for the use of my rancho.”

The county recorder of January 17, 1853, claims that Magruder paid Lorenzana $2500 for Jamacha. Philip Crosthwaite, J.J. Warner, and E.B. Pendleton, prominent San Diegans, testified with one hand on the Bible that the terms of the contract “had been fully explained” to Lorenzana.

But when Thomas Savage interviewed her in 1878, Lorenzana angrily told him she’d refused to sell the property and that, somehow, she lost all three of her ranchos. “It is a long story, and I don’t want to talk about it,” she added — or Savage added, possibly freeing himself from the need to probe further. “She appears to be a good old soul,” he wrote, “resigned to her sad fate.”

“Like nearly all Californios of her generation,” writes Genaro M. Padilla, Lorenzana “found herself in the 1870s not only near the end of her life but also at the end of a way of life. The world she had known was receding into a past as unrecoverable as her sight.”

When Savage interviewed her at Santa Barbara, Lorenzana was at least 85. She was feeble, impoverished, and “stone blind.” The orphan, who experienced all the turmoil of 19th Century California, once again depended on the charity of others. “So it is,” she said, “after having worked for so many years, after having had possessions that I did not relinquish through sale or otherwise, I find myself in the greatest poverty, living by the favor of God and from handouts.”

Lorenzana lived six more years in that condition, fending off bouts of sadness with thoughts of happier times, as when she would take the sick to the hot springs at Agua Caliente and “bathe them and take care of them.”

She died in Santa Barbara. The funeral took place at the parish of Our Lady of Sorrows, a church devoted to the seven sufferings of the Virgin Mary. The register entry, written by Jamie Vila, reads, “On April 12, 1884, I gave ecclesiastical burial to the body of Apolinaria Lorenzana, single, about one hundred years of age, a native of Mexico whose parents are not known.” — Jeff Smith


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

Englehardt, O.F.M., Zephyrin, San Luis Rey, San Francisco, 1921; San Diego, San Francisco, 1920; San Juan Capistrano, Los Angeles, 1922; Santa Barbara, San Francisco, 1923.

Griswold del Castillo, Richard, “The U.S.–Mexican War in San Diego, 1846–1847: Loyalty and Resistance,” Journal of San Diego History, vol. 49, 2003, no. 1.

Gusdorf, Georges, “Conditions and Limits of Autobiography,” Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical, Princeton, 1980.

Haas, Lisbeth, “War in California, 1846–1848,” Contested Eden: California before the Gold Rush, Berkeley, 1998.

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

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

Sanchez, Rosaura, Telling Identities: The Californio testimonios, Minnesota, 1995.

Van Wormer, Stephen, “Legal Hocus-Pocus: The Subdivision of Jamacha Rancho,” the Journal of San Diego History, spring 1984, vol. 30, no. 2.

  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it


Sign in to comment

Win a $25 Gift Card to
The Broken Yolk Cafe

Join our newsletter list

Each newsletter subscription means another chance to win!