The oldest house between LA and Stockton (part 1)
October 14, 2023
The name Edward Beale should sound familiar to many. Among his laundry list of accomplishments in politics and military that brought him notoriety, Beale owned the locally-famous Tejon Ranch and an adjacent ranch named La Liebre. A destination lunch on Sept. 6 offered by the Ridge Route Communities Museum and Historical Society at what is thought to be the oldest building between Los Angeles and Stockton revealed the storied past of Beale and his La Liebre Adobe.
As more Americans started coming into California in the mid 1800s, and amidst rising tensions preceding Texas's annexation into the United States in 1845, Mexican-appointed California Governor Pio Pico began handing out land grants in the hopes of securing Californian land for Mexico before the United States could. In the several years before the Mexican-American war started, Pico gave out five grants in the modern day Gorman and Frazier Mountain areas, including Ranchos Castaic and El Tejon.
The last of these five grants was given to Jose Flores in 1846, who built a small adobe house and named it Rancho la Liebre (the ranch of the jackrabbit). At the time, it was said that jackrabbits were even more abundant than antelope in the valleys. Flores had led several revolts in the previous years against an American battalion led by John Fremont, so Flores knew the land well, having traipsed through the hills either in pursuit of or in panic from Fremont's men. He became interested in owning land in the area and jumped on the opportunity when the grants became available. Flores stocked his ranch with the grant-required fencing, housing and 2,000 heads of livestock, with the appropriate corresponding amount of ranch hands.
In 1846, the same year La Liebre's grant was given and the same year the Mexican-American war was officially declared, Navy Lieutenant Edward Beale found himself trapped in San Pasqual with two other American armies. American troops had been dispatched to southern California to handle Mexican civil unrest following the annexation of Texas the previous year, which still Mexico believed was their rightful land. Beale's crew had rendezvoused with Lieutenant Archibald Gillespie's volunteer riflemen and General Stephen Kearny's mounted dragoons with a plan to sneak up on and surround Mexican forces quartered in the San Pasqual valley. The Mexican forces were native Californian-Mexicans led by War Commander Andres Pico, brother of the land grant-giving Governor Pio Pico.
On Dec. 6 a failed scouting mission cued Pico's army to American presence. Kearny immediately mobilized his men in response. While descending into the San Pasqual Valley, American troops became separated on the ridgeline and Pico's army capitalized on the opportunity, marking the beginning of what would become known as the Battle of San Pasqual. Considered to be California's bloodiest battle, the "winner" depends on which side is telling the story.
American troops retreated and regrouped but were quickly surrounded and had suffered significant casualties, leaving both Kearny and Gillepsie critically injured and unable to lead. With the help of a local Native American guide and an American mountaineer, Lt. Beale successfully snuck out of the siege and back to San Diego, where he managed to rally 200 men from a freshly-landed naval crew. With the extra men, American troops successfully pushed back Pico's, but did not ever make it into San Pasqual. Both Mexican and American troops made hasty retreats from the area, claiming "victory" despite no tangible evidence of success. Beale was hospitalized in San Diego for weeks following his mountain trek, suffering from extreme exhaustion and horrible puss-filled infections from stumbling through more than a few prickly pear cactus along the way.
Beale would be dispatched back to California just a couple of years later on blockade duty where he became Commander of the Pacific Squadron. Between 1849 and 1851, Beale would ride from California to Washington, D.C. seven times on horseback to deliver communications to and from the White House. On one of those trips he would become the first person to deliver news of the California gold rush to U.S. Congress. Another time he rode to marry his childhood sweetheart Mary Edwards. The trips soon began to wear on Beale though, and in 1851 he resigned from the Navy and moved to San Francisco with his wife.
By 1855 California had been annexed into the United States for about 7 years and American-imposed land-ownership policies that were implemented to drive out Mexican grant owners finally caused rancho La Liebre to come available for purchase. Beale bought the ranch and moved his family into the adobe house, retaining both a San Francisco house and a house near the White House, but living mainly in La Liebre. Here he and his wife would raise their three children while Beale invested into oil and mining endeavors near Soledad Canyon. This period of calmness and homemaking, however, would far from spell the end of Beale and La Liebre's story.
Part two will be in The Loop's next issue on Oct. 28. La Liebre Adobe is managed by the High Desert Hunt Club and operates as a hunt lodge. The destination lunch offered was a fundraising opportunity hosted in partnership with the Ridge Route Communities Museum and Historical Society located in Frazier Park.
Guided tours are available throughout the year and are by reservation only. Visit Ridge Route Communities Museum & Historical Society online at http://www.ridgeroutemuseum.org to see their upcoming events and to read more about La Liebre Adobe, or call them for more information at (661) 245-7747.