A Brief History of Rancho Los Encinos

The site that became known as Rancho Los Encinos was a "rancheria" (the Spanish term for an Indian village) known as "Siutcanga" and occupied by the Tongva people (called "Fernandeño" or "Gabrielino" by the Spanish), for several thousand years. This village was one of the stops on the Portola expedition of 1769.

The name of the rancho comes from the original designation of the San Fernando Valley by the Portola expedition of 1769: "El Valle de Santa Catalina de Bononia de los Encinos", with "encino" being the Spanish word for oak, referring to the many oak trees in this area, to include a fair number which still exist on the site.

In 1797, when the San Fernando Mission was completed, it became part of the Mission's holdings and the surviving inhabitants of Siutcanga came under Mission control.

Vincente De La OssaThe Missions did not use military force to bring the indigenous people into the Mission, though they would use it to hold them once they had converted and become "neophytes". However, the diseases the white men brought with them, and the destruction of the local food sources caused by the Mission livestock put the native population in a desperate state. A significant portion of the indigenous people of California died within a few years of the arrival of the white man, from a combination of disease and starvation. While the padres had the best of intentions and were horrified at the death they saw around them, their arrival was the root cause of this inadvertent genocide.

This disease and starvation did have the effect of forcing most of the surviving natives living anywhere near the Spanish settlements, including those in the San Fernando Valley, to place themselves under the Mission's protection and control.

When the Mexican government dissolved the California missions in 1834, three Mission Indians named Ramon, Francisco and Roque were given a 4,460 acre rancho (1 Mexican League) in what was to become Rancho Los Encinos. They and their families made a marginal living grazing cattle and raising simple crops. On July 8th, 1845, Governor Pio Pico officially recognized their claim to the land, but by that time Francisco and Roque were dead. Their widows inherited the land and worked it for a few years with Ramon and his family until 1849 when Roman deserted them and his daughter Aguedo, and ran off to the gold fields. Unable to continue, they sold out to a Ranchero named Vicente de La Osa (or "de La Ossa").

Before California was conquered by the United States in 1847, and the Gold Rush began in 1849, cattle ranching had been the center of the entire "Californio" economy. The Californio "rancheros" raised huge herds of cattle on the vast grasslands of places like the San Fernando Valley.

The rancheros and their vaqueros (who were almost all California Indians) would gather the cattle once a year in a rodeo, and then slaughter hundreds of them. There was far more meat than they could eat or preserve, so most of the beef was left to be eaten by the local wildlife, while the rancheros saved the hides and tallow.

The hides and tallow would be traded to Yankee sea captains, who would sail around Cape Horn in ships loaded down with fabrics, clothes, household goods, liquor and any other items the Californios might want. The sea captains would trade their cargo for as many hides and barrels of tallow as their ships could hold, and then return home to sell them. The story of one of these voyages is told in the famous book "Two Years Before the Mast", by Richard Henry Dana.

The De La Osa Rancho however, opened just as this phase in California history was coming to a close. When hundreds of thousands of gold miners came pouring into California, there were suddenly enough mouths to eat all the beef this fertile land could produce, and the meat became more valuable than the hides. Californio rancheros like Vicente made a great deal of money providing meat to the hungry miners of Northern California at premium prices. For a few years, the rancheros prospered under the Stars and Stripes.

In 1849, Vicente De La Osa built the adobe that still stands at Los Encinos. It is an excellent example of the basic Californio style of adobe. It is long and narrow, with many rooms having a door connecting to the outside, and many adjacent rooms not connecting to each other. Only in a climate as mild as Southern California, would anyone consider designing a house that way.

The cattle boom did not last, and when the miners went home or settled down, the demand for cattle declined. Vicente compensated by establishing a small vineyard, raising some sheep, and letting out rooms to travelers. There were many customers, since the Rancho was located along the primary road through California, El Camino Real, which in Encino corresponds to Ventura Blvd. Vincente died in 1861, leaving his widow Rita with twelve children, and pregnant with a thirteenth.

James and Manuela ThompsonRita managed to hold on for six more years, until 1867 when she conveyed the 4,460 acre rancho to her son-in-law, Sheriff James Thomson of Los Angeles and her daughter Manuela for $3,500. Manuela died in 1868 and the Rancho was sold to two Frenchmen, Eugene and Phillipe Garnier.

The Garniers were energetic builders, and added much to the Rancho. They built a stone-lined pond, in the shape of a Spanish guitar at the site of the spring; they built a two story limestone building to serve as a bunkhouse and they built a roadhouse across the road (Ventura Blvd.) which became the focal point of the local Basque community.

They also plunged with both feet into the Los Angeles sheep boom of the early 1870s. Three years of drought followed by two years of rain had combined with falling cattle prices to wipe out the cattle economy in Los Angeles. The sheep moved in to fill the void.

The Garniers spent freely on prize Spanish and French Merino breeding rams and borrowed heavily to finance the expansion of their herds and facilities. They had the reputation for producing the finest wool in Southern California.

Unfortunately, it wasn't good enough. The Los Angeles sheep boom was built on dreams and speculation, and the poor quality of most of the Southern California product, combined with the expenses of getting the product back east to the mills, made sheep ranching on the scale of the Garniers and their many sheep ranching neighbors, economically insupportable.

The market collapsed in 1873, and joined with a nation wide depression to ruin the Garniers and many like them.

They hung on until 1878, when their primary creditor, a Basque named Gaston Oxarart, purchased the ranch at a Sheriff's auction. He continued to raise sheep, but like most landowners in the Valley, he moved more and more into agriculture. In 1886, Gaston died, and the ranch passed to his nephew Simon Gless. In 1889, Gless sold the rancho to his father in law, Domingo Amestoy. This was the last time the 4,460 acre ranch was sold as a whole. In the coming years, it would slowly be taken apart, a piece at a time.

In 1916, 1,170 acres of land were sold from the Rancho. This parcel was subdivided and became the city of Encino.

In 1949, through the efforts of Mrs. Mary Stuart in mobilizing the local community to save the buildings from developers, the last remaining parcel of land, containing the De La Osa adobe, Garnier House and spring were purchased by the State of California, and the Los Encinos State Historic Park was created.