The Story of Rancho Camulos

A STORY OF OLD CALIFORNIA

The present 1,800 acre Camulos Ranch, established by Ygnacio del Valle in 1853, was carved out of the 48,612 acre Rancho San Francisco, granted in 1839 to Ygnacio’s father Antonio del Valle, majordomo and administrator of Mission San Fernando. Camulos was located at the western boundary of the rancho and was originally a Tataviam Indian village known as Kamulus. The San Fernando Mission used the area as early as 1804 for raising small animals and crops grown by the Indians, who numbered 416 when visited by Inspector General of the Missions in 1839. 

Antonio del Valle and his family lived at the eastern edge of the ranch near Castaic in the former San Fernando Mission granary adobe building. After Antonio’s death in 1841, the land was divided among his second wife and the children from his two marriages. Ygnacio received the western portion of the ranch known as Camulos and built a corral and stocked it with cattle in 1842. He bought back some of the Rancho San Francisco acreage from the other del Valle heirs and also acquired Rancho Temescal, north of Piru. Ygnacio’s first wife died in childbirth in 1842. He was married a second time to Ysabel Varela of Los Angeles, who was only 15. They settled in Los Angeles near the Olvera Street plaza. The following year he built the first four rooms of what became the main adobe at Camulos, which was at first occupied by Ygnacio’s majordomo (foreman).

Ygnacio and Ysabel lived in Los Angeles for almost a decade, during which time Ygnacio held a number of elected positions. Between 1853 and 1861, five children were born to them. After the birth of their fifth child, Josefa, in 1861, the family moved permanently to Camulos and added three new rooms and a basement to the original adobe. Many of the Kamulus Indians continued to live and work at the ranch and helped to make the adobe blocks used in the construction. Some of these Indians are buried in the del Valle family cemetery. Between 1862 and 1870, seven more children were born at Camulos. Of twelve children total, only five lived to adulthood.

The drought of the 1860s took its toll on del Valle cattle and crops, forcing the del Valles to sell most of the Rancho San Francisco in 1865. However, Camulos continued to evolve into a diverse agricultural operation. By the time of Ygnacio’s death in 1880, the ranch had grown from a few hundred head of-cattle in the 1840s to a thriving, virtually self-contained ranch. It consisted of approximately 1290 acres of citrus, vineyards, almonds, grain and vegetables, and supported close to 200 residents. In addition to the del Valles, large numbers of Mexicans and Indians were employed on the ranch. The single four room adobe, built in 1853, grew into a twenty room adobe surrounded by numerous other buildings, including a brick winery, chapel, barn and workers’ housing. The isolation of the Santa Clara Valley was broken with the arrival of the stagecoach in 1874 and the railroad in 1887.

Throughout its long history Rancho Camulos has had a diverse and rich agricultural history. The first oranges grown and shipped commercially from what is now Ventura County were from the Camulos Ranch in 1876. In addition, the rancho produced annual crops of citrus, almonds, walnuts, apricots, peaches, wheat, corn and barley. Grapevines were also cultivated at Camulos for the production of wine and brandy. It was the wine grape that brought the first real commercial success for the del Valle family in the 19th century. Camulos wines and brandies enjoyed a good reputation throughout Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. During the 1860s, ninety acres of wine grapes were planted, a brick winery built, and a license obtained for brandy distilling. The federal industrial census for 1870 records the Camulos Ranch winery as the largest of the four vintners in the San Buenaventura Township of Santa Barbara County, with 45 tons of grapes resulting in 6,000 gallons of wine and 800 gallons of brandy.

In 1908 the ranch was incorporated as the del Valle Company by Ulpiano and his remaining brothers and sisters for the purpose of raising crops and livestock, acquiring water rights, and developing oil resources. Eventually, friction within the family and the death of several family members forced the sale of the ranch in 1924 to the August Rubelfamily. At the time of the sale, writer Charles Lummis, a close family friend of the del Valles, appealed to the State of California to purchase Camulos as a historic park. Lummis had long been an active preservationist. He founded the Landmarks Club, which contributed substantially to preserving the missions. His magazine Out West, more than any other publication, promoted the heritage of Southern California. When the sale to the Rubelwas inevitable, Lummis wrote:

It has been forty years since I first visited Camulos. Since that time, it has been like my own home, and its people like my own. The old folks were like parents to me. The romance, the traditions, the customs of CamuIos are all familiar and all dear to me – not merely because they are Camulos, but because that was the Last Stand of the patriarchal life of Spanish California, which has been so beautiful to the world for more than a century. [Smith, Wallace E., This Land Was Ours: the del Valles & Camulos. Ventura: Ventura County Historical Society, 1977, pg. 242.]

The Los Angeles Times echoed Lummis’ sentiment when they wrote:

An era in the history of California closed yesterday. The del Valles of Camulos bade farewell to the homestead where they have lived in successive generations since Antonio del Valle. It was the passing of the old regime. They are said to be the last of the old Spanish families who held in unbroken succession to the ancestral acres. [Los Angeles Times, August 11, 1924.]

THE DEL VALLE FAMILY

Three generations of del Valles served their country through either military service or in responsible governmental positions under the Mexican government and the new government of California. Their lives were closely associated with the most prominent and influential citizens of Mexico and California during the tumultuous years of California’s entrance into the United States and its rise from a rural state to one of power and influence.

Antonio del Valle, a native of Compostela, Mexico, played a prominent role in both the Spanish and Mexican colonization of California. He arrived in California in 1819 as a lieutenant in the San Bias Infantry, responsible for delivering forty men to the presidio of San Francisco. New troops were called to reinforce the garrisons that had been attacked the previous year by the privateer Bouchard. The Company moved to Monterey and Antonio became commander in 1822. In 1824 he was placed in charge of secularizing the San Fernando Mission and served as majordomo until 1837. In recognition of his years of military service, he received the 48,612 acre Rancho San Francisco grant in 1839.

Ygnacio del Valle, son of Antonio, began his military service in 1825 as a cadet at the Santa Barbara Presidio. Following his training, he accompanied Comandante General Don Jose Echeandia to San Diego and served as staff adjutant and harbormaster in San Diego until 1832. By 1832 he had attained the rank of second lieutenant and was put in charge of the San Gabriel Mission. The following year he joined the Monterey presidial company and under Governor Figueroa was put in charge of the secularization of the Santa Cruz and San Francisco missions. As a trusted officer, Ygnacio was charged with the military command at: Monterey during Figueroa’s absence. He left the military in 1839. As a reward for his services to the government, he was granted Rancho Tejon in 1843.

Continuing in public service, Ygnacio del Valle accepted numerous positions of importance in both the Mexican and American governments. During the 1840s he served as a member and secretary of the junta (council), and treasurer of civil government under Governor Pio Pico. In 1850 he was elected recorder of Los Angeles County and in 1852, he was elected to the California legislature. His residence, located near the plaza in Los Angeles was the center for political meetings. [NOTE: CONFIRM DATE OF SERVICES AS MAYOR]

Reginaldo del Valle, Ygnacio’s son, was born in the family home on the Plaza in 1854, the second child born to Ygnacio and Ysabel Varela after their marriage in 1852. Perhaps it was his father’s influence and the numerous political meetings held at the house that led Reginaldo into public life. By 1873, he graduated with honors from the Santa Clara College in San Jose and by 1871 he was admitted to the bar and elected to the Assembly in 1880. In 1882, at the age of 28, he was the youngest member ever elected as president of the State Senate.Although he lost- the 1884 congressional campaign, he continued to work for the Democratic Party as a delegate to numerous state conventions and as elector in almost all presidential elections. Following his campaigning for Grover Cleveland in 1893, he was offered ministries to Chile and Japan, which he declined.

In addition to Democratic politics, Reginaldo had a great interest in California history and promoted it through preservation efforts due in large part to the influence of his close friend, Charles Lummis. Together with Lummis, Reginaldo was a founding member of the Landmarks Club of Southern California, formed in 1887 to advocate for the restoration of the missions. He was one of the forty founding members of the Southern California Historical Society and spearheaded the committee to restore the San Fernando Mission and to mark the El Camino Real with bells.

In 1913 Reginaldo was appointed by Woodrow Wilson as his personal representative to Mexico, and in 1914 was appointed president of the Los Angeles Public Service Board, later known as the Water and Power Commission on which he served for more than 20 years.

THE RUBEL FAMILY

August Rubel  and his family moved to Camulos in 1925 having purchased the ranch the previous year. August Rübel, the son of Swiss immigrants, grew up in New York. He came to Ventura County in 1922, after graduation from Harvard at the age of 23. He and his wife Mary Colgate Mclsaac first lived in Aliso Canyon near Santa Paula, having established the Billiwhack Dairy there in 1924.

The Rubels raised five children at Camulos. During the Rubels’ tenure, several changes occurred at Camulos. The apricot and walnut trees were replaced with orange trees and a school house was built in 1930 for the Rubel children and those of the ranch bookkeeper. Mr. Rubel managed the ranch with a foreman and a number of farm laborers who had also worked for the del Valles.

Mr. Rubel had a great appreciation for the historical legacy he had acquired in Rancho Camulos and fostered within his family a sensitivity to historic preservation. He established a small museum in the winery for the del Valle artifacts that had been left at the ranch. Though Mr. Rubel let it be known that the ranch was private, “Ramona-seekers” continued to visit the ranch on occasion and small school groups from Piru and neighboring towns were welcomed on field trips.

Mr. Rubel served in the American Field Service in France between 1917 and 1919. He returned to this service during World War II and was killed in Tunisia in 1943 when the ambulance he was driving hit a German land mine. His untimely death changed the course of the future at Camulos.

Mary Rubel was remarried in 1946 to Edwin Burger, who allowed few visitors after Mrs. Rubel’s death in 1968.  It wasn’t until the 1994 Northridge earthquake and Mr. Burger’s death that the children and grand children of August and Mary Rubel were able to resume management of the ranch, which, after damage sustained in the earthquake, was in a tragic state.

In addition to reviving the commercial citrus operation, the family formed a non-profit museum that now oversees the restoration and interpretation of the historic buildings. The museum is now governed by a Board of Directors.