HIPÓLITO ESPINOSA – And the Old Spanish Trail

HIPÓLITO ESPINOSA – And the Old Spanish Trail

by Mary Anne Pentis and June Espinosa Rosales 
Great, Great Granddaughters of 
CAYETANO HIPÓLITO DE JESUS ESPINOSA 
1800-1885

Hipólito Espinosa spent most of his life in the saddle and by the time he finally settled in the San Bernardino Valley of California in 1840, he had probably traveled more than 20,000 miles over the Spanish Trail from his birthplace near Abiquiu, New Mexico, to the pueblo of Los Angeles in California. In 1829, Antonio Armijo had succeeded in establishing a viable trade route from Santa Féto Los Angeles, thus opening up the San Bernardino Valley to commerce.

This route became known as the Camino de California1 (California Road– later by Anglos as The Old Spanish Trail). Armijo was accompanied by 60 men, one of whom may have been Hipólito Espinosa, as by then, he was 29 years old. The trail was a circuitous route of at least 1000 miles, from the staging area of Abiquiu, New Mexico, which eventually crossed the deserts from the Utah Basin, then through what is now known as Las Vegas, Nevada, across the Mojave Desert along its river of the same name, and on down through the Cajon Pass into the San Bernardino Valley, and eventually to Los Angeles. Although, only fit for animal caravans, as it could not accommodate wagons or carts, it became well used and commonly known as THE OLD SPANISH TRAIL

Likely the earliest published mention of Hipólito Espinosa was February 12, 1833, when he was required, as a Mexican Citizen, to obtain a passport from Alcalde(Mayor) Carrillo of the pueblo of Los Angeles2  to travel to Monterey, California, then the Capitol of California, which (along with New Mexico) was under Mexican rule (1821-1848). Hipólito Espinosa was believed to beSpanish of Castilian descent and was of fair hair and blue eyes3.

Hipólito’s purpose here is subject to interpretation, but it may be that since secularization of the Mission lands was underway, he may have been going to Monterey to seek a grant of land for a settlement in the San Bernardino, as well as possibly to trade. He certainly would have been well aware of the “land grants” of former Mission properties that were being awarded. In any case, Hipólito continued to make these commerce trips serving as a caravan trader and muleteer (foreman in charge of the pack animals) during many of these years for various merchants of New Mexico. This was quite a responsible position as the success of the trade expeditions, as well as the colonist caravan, depended on hundreds of these animals having forage and water the entire way. They had to be kept in the best condition possible, loaded with their packs every morning and unloaded every evening so they could graze and rest, and Espinosa would have overseen the accompanying drovers who tended to them. 

By the mid-1830s, the basically undefended California ranchos with their free ranging mules and horses attracted many marauders made up of lawless Rocky Mountain men, Indians, and other foreign adventurers known as Chaguanosos. It must be remembered that the population was very limited then; it is estimated that around the 1840s there were fewer than 12,000 people of Spanish descent throughout ALL of Californiaand less than 70,000 throughout New Mexico known to be gente de razón (of identifiable Hispanic cultural components). 

As a trader, Hipólito must have believed the ranchers would be anxious to attract them to settle.  So, in 1838, Hipólito made an exploratory trip with five of his other trusted trader companions, Santiago Martinez with his wife Manuelita Renaga de Martinez, brothers Diego Lobato and Antonio Lobato, Jose Antonio Garcia, and Lorenzo Trujillo (a Genizaro Indian believed to be of Comanche ancestry from Abiquiu Pueblo); they left ahead of the regular trade caravan that year. They planned to scout out suitable sites in San Bernardino for a possible future settlement5.

Knowing that the New Mexicans had great skill and courage in fighting Indians, both Antonio Lugo who had the San Bernardino Grant (first reached after crossing the Cajón Pass), and Juan Bandini who owned the Jurupa Grant (just a few miles further south) made offers. Juan Bandini’s offer was a half-league of land, which was about 2200 acres6, while Lugo’s was similar. The “free land” would be given if the settlers would agree to help defend these ranchos against the continual livestock raids which had been taking place. Espinosa accepted a commission from Lugo to recruit colonists from New Mexico to come there and settle. Martinez and his wife and newborn son Apolinario, who was born on the trail at Resting Springs that year, immediately decided to stay and settled on the Lugo’s rancho. Hipólito returned to New Mexico and brought his family with the fall caravan in 1839, settling near Martinez, and in 1841 Lorenzo Trujillo decided to stay as well7

Note 1: The 1841 New Mexican caravan group included Francisco Estevan Quintana who came to California to seek a grant from Governor Alvarado. His petition was well received, but he apparently couldn’t acquire enough colonists to settle on the land for which he had applied. Hafen and Hafen, Old Spanish Trail: Santa Fé to Los Angeles, pp220-221.This Quintana was likely a relative of Hipólito as his mother was Maria Rita Teodora Quintana, 

Note 2: The Rowland-Workman party of Anglo-Americans utilized the desire of some of the Genizaros of Abiquiu to become immigrants to California. Hence, several of their leaders accompanied this group in the fall of 1841. This was a separate group from the New Mexican colonists who immigrated with Espinosa in 1842. There has often been confusion in the literature linking the two groups together. The 1841 New Mexican pack train left Abiquiu a few days ahead of the Rowland- Workman party.  Joyce Carter Vickery, Defending Eden, pp18-22.

Note 3: As the Pueblo of Abiquiu was granted to the Genizaros, it might be assumed by other researchers that anyone from Abiquiu was a Genizaros. However, Genizaros were Native Americans whose heritage remains unknown as many were captives who were later adopted and given their Spanish surname, or married Spaniards, as the process of assimilation was encouraged.Hipólito and the Spanish caravan traders were mostly from the area a few miles away known as El Rito.  

Hipólito returned to Abiquiu, to accompany the colonists to California. Many of them were his relatives. Most, like himself, were from the nearby “suburb” of El Rito just a few miles north. The Atencios, Martinez, Espinosas, and possibly other kin folk made up the group. (Their baptismal records are from Santa Tomás del Apostle Church in Abiquiu.) Hipólito was accompanied by Lorenzo Trujillo who left his sons at Politana to build homes for the additional settlers, to plant crops, and acquire additional supplies from the pueblo of Los Angeles. 

Jose Antonio Martinez (de la Rosa) was in charge as the Comandante of the colonist expedition to California. He stated that, “…there were 19 families who left Abiquiu in September of 1842, probably just ahead of the Rowland party, but the list, alas, was lost….”. Hipólito Espinosa, with his many years of experience handling the vast number of pack animals necessary for such a journey, served as foreman in charge of the livestock which required great responsibility. 

This painting by Bill Singleton of Tucson, Arizona, depicts what it must have been like in the early fall of 1842 as the first New Mexican colonists prepared to leave their homeland of Abiquiu, New Mexico. The 19 families on this journey were comprised of 35 individuals which included children of all ages. They gathered in a dry grassy field along the Chama River below the Pueblo of Abiquiu. Most all their worldly belongings were loaded on their mules, burros and horses, as their livestock waited nearby which also included the hardy Churro sheep (not pictured). Their leaders may have looked like the leaders pictured here – Comandante Jose Antonio Martinez (de la Rosa), in blue military jacket, and Muleteer Cayetano Hipolito de Jesus Espinosa in brown riding suit. They were ready for the grueling two to four-month long journey ahead.

The roughly 1200-mile, one-way trek, was arduous and difficult, and in many places wide enough only for one mule or horse to traverse. Wagons could not be taken on the Spanish Trail, so one either rode or walked the whole way. The necessity of maintaining control and health of the animals was paramount. The pack mules carried from 200-400 lbs. each and required water and pasturage daily along the way. Every night they had to be unloaded and grazed; then in the early morning hours they were gathered and repacked, with each animal normally carrying a specific load. Trujillo served as wagon master (a loose Anglo term here), likely in charge of setting up camp and managing the settlers. 

The Archivist for the Archdiocese of San Bernardino, R. Bruce Harley, Ph.D., later writes that by his calculations, there were “…12 families and included at least 35 persons. There were but eight male surnames, and some of the wives were related to each other…8”

Note 4: Mary Anne Pentis and June Espinosa Rosales are directly related to six of these 12 families mentioned. 

These later colonists arrived in the fall of 1842, accepting the Lugo offer first, and established their homes there. This first settlement soon became known as Politana, probably from Hipólito Espinosa’s given name7.

Marjorie T. Wolcott, ed. Pioneer notes from the Diaries of Judge Benjamin Hayes, 1849-1874, Los Angeles, 1929, pp. 269, 277, writes: 

“Also, one of the first immigrants to California was named Hipólito Espinosa (1800-1885) – “La Placita Story,” as told by an original pioneer to a descendent of the Alvarado family ca. 1890, in Patterson Papers, a private collection, Riverside, CA.  This Espinosa already occupied a farm along the Santa Ana River as early as 1840, so the settlement might have been named to honor him as the first resident; his rancho was known as “Apolitano”.”  

Note 5: The above by Wolcott is the (21) reference made by Harley, R. Bruce, Ph.D.: The Agua Mansa Story– San Bernardino County Museum Association Quarterly Volume 39 (1) Winter 1991, Pg. 8, “The first settlement near San Bernardino was called La Politana, possibly from the surname Ypólito (21)    

Note 6: Pentis, Mary Anne: Also, in the literature Hipólito takes many spellings including Apólito, Ypólito, Pólito.

Rancheros’ complaints were so numerous all over California that by 1839, the authorities required New Mexican caravans to gather at the base of the Cajón Pass for inspection. 

Joyce Vickery writes in her 1977, Defending Eden, p15:  

““…Complaints from rancheros all over the state increased until 1839.  Then, in an effort to control the situation, the authorities in California required the New Mexican trains to gather in the San Bernardino Valley just south of the Cajón Pass each spring for an inspection before leaving California.11In addition to the brand already on the animal, an additional mark was placed on the shoulder to certify that the animal had been purchased and inspected.  This great spring rendezvous regularly brought many animals and men to the area thereby increasing its importance as a region of good grass and water.  The forced roundup also served to spread the word of the desirability of the valley.”  

Legally required to stop, widely diverse travelers were forcibly acquainted with the available geographical riches.  And supervision of the hundreds of mules, horses, and attendant packers, drovers, and traders required men with a knowledge of both animals and traders. Hipólito Espinosa, a native of New Mexico, supervised this event.  He is recorded as having lived on a farm near the Santa Ana River as early as 1840.12 Permanently located in the valley and knowing of its assets in the way of water and soil, as well as its liability in the form of constant danger of Indian raids, Espinosa was also well acquainted with the regular leaders of the New Mexican caravans. It was probably through him that word of the desires of Juan Bandini and the Lugos to encourage settlement of the area reached a particularly well qualified group of farmers and frontiersmen in Abiquiu, New Mexico…”

Hipólito, with his ranch at Politana, was an ideal match for managing a staging area. It was just below the “pinch point” on the trail to and from the Cajón, as well as along the Santa Ana River, allowing for grazing of the vast herds and their inspection. Serving as chief brands inspector, Hipólito would have had to oversee the entire operation which provided not only for the shoulder branding of vents, he would likely have had to accommodate the Mexican authorities in some capacity, who were there to inspect bills of sale, and passports.9

This was no small twice yearly event and Hipólito’s Politana rancho soon became the well-known rendezvous place for the caravans coming and going to and from New Mexico. For example, on April 18th, 1842, Francisco Estevan Vigil and 194 men made their departure from La Puerta del Cajón (gateway of the Cajón Pass), with 4,150 animals legally acquiredand inspected at Politana10. It is of some interest that Hipólito was also kin to the Vigil clan as his mother’s grandfather was also a Vigil.  Politana was also a much welcome site for those on their way to Los Angeles. There they could refresh themselves and exchange news with each other and have their trade goods inspected. 

By 1848, things were changing both in New Mexico and in California, and the annual trade caravans were coming to an end. With the ceding of the territorial provinces from Mexico under the Treaty of Guadalupe de Hidalgo, both were now under US rule. The Gold Rush had also come to California and treasure seekers were pouring into the area. The economic structure was in flux. The Union Army led by General Kearny had marched into New Mexico and taken control of New Mexico without a fight—the New Mexicans had wisely accepted US rule and avoided a war. 

Riding over the Old Spanish Trail in April 1848, Kit Carson overtook the returning New Mexican trade caravan composed of 200-300 wranglers who were driving nearly 1000 head in their “caballada” (horse herd). Carson, who was later to become an infamous Indian fighter, was a Union Cavalry officer who was detailed to take a life-changing order to the US Commander in New Mexico from the Commander of the 10th Military Department of Upper California. The letter contained instructions that now, all traders leaving New Mexico for California would “have to pay a duty” on goods when they reached the first military post on their trek. A way of life for the caravan traders would soon come to an end.

This is a photograph of Hipólito’s grandson, Manuel Espinosa who had the same fair hair and light eyes and is said to have resembled his grandfather.

Note 6: Pentis personal genealogical research.

Hipólito would remain in California with a large family surrounding him. One of his sons, Manuel Espinosa, who had accompanied him on to California in 1842, was listed with the original colonist settlers age 21 with his wife Maria Ygnacia de Jesus Atencio, age not known. She was an infant at that time; they married in 1854 and had eleven known children in Agua Mansa (now today’s Colton).

Hipólito Espinosa died in 1885 and is now buried along with several of his relatives at the Campo de Santo Cemeteryin San Bernardino, not many miles from Politana.    

1Vigil, Pablo, personal account of Francisco Estevan Vigil, who was his great, great granduncle, published 2001, “Four Thousand Horses to Santa Fe, New Mexico: Caravans of 1841 and 1847 over the Old Spanish Trail”, p8.

Hafen, Leroy R. and Haffen, Ann W., Old Spanish Trail, Santa Fé to Los Angeles, Glendale, California, 1954, by Arthur H. Clark Company, p178, citation 19 – copy of document signed by Carrillo, is found in the Los Angeles Archives (City Clerk’s Office, City Hall, Los Angeles), III, 131 (official translation).

3Harley, R. Bruce, Ph.D., The Story of Agua Mansa: Its Settlement, Churches and People First community in San Bernardino Valley 1842-1893, Dioceseof San Bernardino Archives, and Complilation of 33 Chapters of published articles over a 12year period, p4-5.

4Vickery, Joyce Carter, Defending Eden: New Mexican Pioneers in Southern California 1830-1890, Department of History, University of California Riverside, Riverside, CA, 1977, p16.

5Harley, R. Bruce Harley, Ph.D., The Story of Agua Mansa: Its Settlement, Churches and People First community in San Bernardino Valley 1842-1893, (1998) Dioceseof San Bernardino Archives, a Compilation of 33 Chapters of published articles over a 12-year period.Based on a document written by David Santiago Garcia, Sr., from an oral history passed down to him by his father, Jose Antonio Garcia who was on the 1838 trek, and one of the 1842 settlers, p11.

6Beattie, George William and Beattie, Helen Pruitt, Heritage of the Valley, San Bernardino’s First Century,1939, San Pasqual Press, Pasadena, California. p59.

7Harley, R. Bruce Harley, Ph.D., The Story of Agua Mansa: Its Settlement, Churches and People First community in San Bernardino Valley 1842-1893, Dioceseof San Bernardino Archives, Compilation of 33 Chapters of published articles over a 12-year period, p3, p12.

8Harley, R. Bruce Harley, Ph.D., The Story of Agua Mansa: Its Settlement, Churches and People First community in San Bernardino Valley 1842-1893, Dioceseof San Bernardino Archives, Compilation of 33 Chapters of published articles over a 12-year period, p14-15.

9Beattie, George William, and Beattie, Helen Pruitt, Heritage of the Valley: San Bernardino’s First Century, San Pasqual Press: Pasadena, CA, 1939, p56.

10Vigil, Pablo, personal account of Francisco Estevan Vigil, who was his great, great granduncle, published 2001, “Four Thousand Horses to Santa Fe, New Mexico: Caravans of 1841 and 1897 over the Old Spanish Trail”, p9.

Featured Image: Painting by Bill Singleton of Tucson, Arizona, from his Juan Bautista de Anza series.

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