Warner Springs Ranch Resort

Warner Springs Ranch History

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Native Americans have  been traced back at least 6,000 years at Warner Springs. These pre-historic tribes were the fore-runners of the Cupeña Native Americans who occupied the land from as early as 1700.

In approximately 1830 John Trumbull Warner left Connecticut and headed to  California, joining a trading expedition headed by famed mountain man Jedediah Smith. Warner passed through the Warner Springs area (known  then as Rancho San Jose de Valle) and Temecula in 1832 on his way to Los  Angeles.  Later in Los Angeles, John Warner met and married Anita Gale, who had been raised as a ward of the widowed mother of Pio Pico, who  would later become the governor of California under Mexican rule. Soon  thereafter Warner became a naturalized Mexican citizen and changed his name to Juan Jose Warner. 

In 1844, Warner applied for a land  grant that awarded him ownership of the 48,000-acre Rancho San Jose de Valle. Here, he established a successful cattle ranch and trading post under the name Warner’s Ranch. He and his wife Anita moved into the adobe building next to the hot springs while they built the ranch house and trading post several miles away at the intersection of the road  connecting Los Angeles and San Diego to Yuma, Arizona.

The Mexican-American War (1846-48) followed in the wake of the 1845 annexation of Texas (which Mexico considered part of its territory) and preceded California’s statehood. General Stephen Watts Kearney, led by Kit Carson, marched through New Mexico and Arizona, and then passed through Warner Springs on the expedition that led to the Battle of San Pasqual. (John C. Frémont would later become a U.S. Senator from California and run for president of the United States.)


Warner Spring Ranch History - John Warner

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By  1849, John Warner operated part of the Ranch to serve travelers on the  Gila River Emigrant Trail (part of the Southern Trail) and opened the  only trading post between New Mexico and Los Angeles. John Warner was  later elected to the California State Senate, where he diligently fought  for Native American rights and protection.  He became a newspaper  publisher and served as the first president of the Southern California  Historical Society.

The Butterfield Stage at Warner Springs Ranch

The  Butterfield Overland Mail Company established a station at the Ranch in  1858 and rebuilt the demolished buildings. At the start of the Civil  War in 1861, stagecoach service was discontinued and the army  established Camp Wright, a cavalry outpost at the ranch to protect the  route from Southern California to Fort Yuma, and to intercept  secessionist sympathizers attempting to the join the Confederate armies  in the south.

]Former  California Governor John Downey purchased the ranch in 1880 to graze  his cattle and sheep herds. In 1892, after years of disputes with the  Cupeños living at the ranch, Downey sued for an order to evict the  Native Americans from the ranch. After a decade-long legal battle, which  continued after Downey’s death in 1894, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled  against the Cupeños.  The eviction order came in 1901, and their exodus  two years later became known as the “Cupeño Trail of Tears.” Bureau of  Indian Affairs agent Jim Jenkins arrived with 44 armed teamsters to  carry out the order. Their belongings were piled into horse-drawn carts  and the tribe was relocated to the Pala reservation approximately 40  miles away.

William  Henshaw purchased the Ranch in 1911 and Henshaw Dam was completed on  Christmas Day 1922.  The flood gates were closed and it started filling  on December 26.  In 1978, the level of the lake was lowered to 40  percent due to the Elsinore Fault Line running beneath it and because of  earthquake concerns.  At one point in its history the lake's expanse  reached the junction of 76 and 79 and surrounded "Monkey Island."


Warner Spring Ranch History - Julio Ortega

As written by Kathryn Fletcher, Warner Springs Historical Society, October 2009

Old timers did not  say a person died, they would say "he has gone West."  They felt in the  country where so many people moved west, there would be an opportunity  to meet again someday.  Julio Ortega was one of the last great  Indian-European cowboys who worked cattle in the days when it was all  done on horseback.  He was an old man when I was a child at Warner Hot  Springs and used to sit on the porch of the trading post, telling  stories and greeting people. 

Of Spanish and Diegueno, blood he  had the features of a Spanish grandee nobility with blue eyes, white  hair and a great mustache, along with the dark skin of a native  American.  He was the great-great-great grandson of Sergeant Jose  Francisco Ortega who in 1769-1770 broke trail for Don Gaspar de Portola  en route from Loreto to found the first European settlement in  California at San Diego and Monterey. 

Julio  was born May 6, 1882 in nearby Santa Ysabel, and his ancestors lived in  the Valle de San Jose when Don Juan Jose Warner lived there.  As a  child, he attended the Indian School at Mission San Diego de Alcala, and  the school for Indian boys at Perris in Riverside County.  He ran away  from the strict military discipline there and returned to Warner's Ranch  in 1894-1895.  There, he learned the work of the vaquero, his  occupation form age 10 until his late 80s, when due to two broken hips,  he could no longer ride.  He spoke of the work of the cowboy saying, "It  was a 24 hour job.  I was in the saddle most of the time.  I slept in  the open with my head in the saddle." 

When  he was 20 in April 1903, the government of the United States moved the  Cupa Indians from Warner Springs to Pala.  Commissioner Charles Lummis  pinned a star on Julio and made him an officer.  He guarded the roads,  keeping the curious away from the Native Americans who had to make the  move, then he returned to the ranch.  Later, Julio worked for Walter  Vail whose properties came to include not only the 47,000 acres of  Warner's Ranch, but the Empire Ranch in Arizona and the vast tract of  land called Rancho California. 

He  said the valley was much more beautiful when he was young:  "There was  water everywhere and the grass was so high.  There were some 8,000 or  more cattle here all the time, and Andres and Pio Pico had their ranches  here.  Governor Downey bought land here as well.”  Once the ranch  became a resort under Henshaw, Julio became part of it, working as a  wrangler, greeting visitors and showing them to their casita on  horseback.  He was a fine story teller and his stories ranged from  present to prehistory, and demonstrated that he was self-educated,  particularly about his Native American and Spanish ancestors.  In his  later years, Julio lived on a pension in a cabin on the ranch and kept  his old saddle, spurs and bridle inside.

Julio  Oreta "went west" for the last time in the 1970s and left behind his  wonderful stories, six children, 20 grandchildren and 10 great  grandchildren.  He is buried in the little cemetery on Mesa Grande.