La Graciosa

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Date: 1860
Location: Santa Maria Valley, Californiamap
Surnames/tags: one_place_studies homesteaders
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La Graciosa, approximate location

Considered the first settler village in the Santa Maria Valley section of Santa Barbara County, California. Although the main road, El Camino Real, crossed it, the Santa Maria Valley did not benefit from the establishment of a Spanish mission in the 1700's and remained an open grassland, annexed among several ranchos, for the time of Spanish and Mexican occupation. La Graciosa was a brisk little settlement amongst the hills, southwest of the Santa Maria Valley, on the road from Los Alamos to Guadalupe, fourteen miles from the former and twelve miles from the latter place. [1]

Three Englishman, William Edward Petty Hartnell, Capt. William Goodwin Dana, and William Benjamin Foxen gained Mexican land grants in the area by virtue of service to Mexico, marriage, and naturalization. Settler migration into the area started in about 1868 although a stage way-station was probably established before that. In 1868, Patrick O'Neil operated a way station and general store at the house of Francisco Vidal, upon the border of a laguna, three miles long and one wide[2] (possibly at Rancho Punta de la Laguna) then later operated at the Todos Santos rancho.

Graciosa was an early stage stop

On Aug. 31, 1769, Fray Juan Crespie, diarist for the famous Portola expedition wrote, “(We) traveled north over sand dunes and shells, which we soon left behind and went through level country with low hills. After three hours travel, we arrived at a camping place near a large pond of fresh water, more than 80 varas across, with banks well grown with tule willows and other trees.

“Indians entertained with dancing, and here, for the first time, we saw women dancing. I called it “El Baile de las Indias,” though others called it 'La Graciosa,' because of the remark made by one of the soldiers that he had seen a pretty lagoon. It is in a hollow, surrounded by hills, not very high. The water comes from a spring at whose source there is good watercress, tender and savory.”

On 21 July 1846 the military expedition of John C. Fremont camped at the area which became known as Brookshire Springs and inquired about passage through the mountains towards Santa Barbara[3]. Benjamin Foxen led Fremont's company over San Marcos pass directly into Santa Barbara, avoiding a possible ambush at Gaviota Pass.

The stage way station was operated there on the Hartnell rancho Todos Santos. The land adjacent to the north of the rancho had been surveyed as public land in 1861.[4] Althought the rancho had been lawfully granted to W.E.P Hartnell under Mexican rule the US patent was not completed until 1876. Between 1868 and 1876 the settlers staked out their claims lawfully in Township 9 Range 34 West Sections 15, 16, 22, and 23 along the rancho's border. Some of that area included 40 lots for the town itself.

Original homesteaders to the area included Abe and Nancy Stubblefield, Thomas Brookshire, Alexander Sansom, James Drum, Malcolm Foster, David S Foster, the Holloways, and Samuel Hobbs. By 1873 it was estimated there were 40-50 families living in the area. By 1876 the town contained the saloon, stage station, blacksmith, restaurant, post office, Wells Fargo Express office, and wash house (all in one two-story 60x30 building). In 1877 the voting precinct counted 125[5].

Around 1868, Martha Ann and William A. Haslam brought their family to California from Woburn, Massachusetts, by way of Panama and by 1875 took up a 160-acre claim in La Graciosa, Santa Maria Valley’s first settlement. (This cannot be confirmed by GLO patent, more on this below - JH). Possibly at the same time, 1868 or 1869, Patrick O'Neil was beginning business at the saloon and stage stop at La Graciosa.

In the 1870s, Haslam, accompanied by his young son William, took a job of carrying the mail by horseback, often meeting the stagecoach at the Suey crossing and receiving the mail pouch for distribution to the homesteaders all over the Valley.

When the elder Haslam was killed after being thrown from his horse, young William took over his job.

The town’s post office, the first post office in the Valley, was built in August 1872, with Charles South serving as postmaster. After it closed in 1881, the mail was sent to Central City.

Irish immigrant Don Patricio O'Neill ran the town’s store, saloon and stage station. The saloon also served as a courtroom where the Justice Court had jurisdiction over all the land between the Santa Maria River and Santa Barbara.

A story is told of one of the Arrellanes men (perhaps Ramon Arellanes) entering the saloon of Don Patricio and ordering a drink while an inquest was in progress. A magistrate named Green (probably John Wheeler Green) was presiding. Empowered to attend to the duties of Justice of the Peace - in fact, to represent the law in La Graciosa - Green immediately fined Arrellanes five dollars for contempt of court, remitting the fine on condition that the culprit stand treat for the crowd.[6]

When the Coast Line Stage Company opened a stagecoach line between Guadalupe and Los Alamos, the enterprising O’Neill built a stage station in town.

The coming of the Pacific Coast Railway in 1882, however, brought an end to local stagecoaches.

During its heyday, the town of La Graciosa was a bustling little community.

Dr. Owen Hugh O'Neill served as physician in the county from the 1860s to the time of his death in 1875. His son, Owen, was born in La Graciosa and later became the Santa Barbara County surveyor.

La Graciosa school district, established on May 14 1870, encompassed all of the surrounding territories, areas that later formed their own districts, such as Pine Grove, Careaga, Bicknell, Newlove, and others. La Graciosa School was built north of the Graciosa Pass.

When a voting precinct was established and a town site was surveyed, 40 lots were laid out and put up for sale. The proposed town was ready to roll, and probably would have if Henry Mayo Newhall, owner of the land, hadn’t put his foot down.

Not only did plans for his property not include a town called La Graciosa, but those settlers were squatters, and he wanted them out. (squatters is not the term I would use, since the inhabitants at La Graciosa had obtained their land when it was surveyed for public use prior to 1870 - JH)

Although the district lasted until around the turn of the century, the days of the town of La Graciosa were numbered.

An editorial of farewell was printed in the Guadalupe Telegraph: “Goodbye, La Graciosa. We understand the little town is soon to be effaced from the map of our county. H.M. Newhall has had the land on which stands confirmed to him and has serve suits of ejectment on all inhabitants, besides claiming some $40,000 damages.

“We believe a large number of inhabitants of the vanishing town intend to locate in Guadalupe, and the balance will probably seek homes elsewhere in the county.

“We sympathize with our unlucky neighbors, but such is life among Spanish grants.”

(Rancho Todos Santos Y San Antonio was a Mexican Land Grant. It was originally granted to Salvado Osio and was later regranted to William Edward Petty Hartnell, an English hide and tallow merchant. Henry Mayo Newhall bought 5/12 of the Rancho Todos Santos y SanAntonio on March 3, 1876, purchasing it, according to the County records, from John Conway of the City of San Francisco (Deeds P-463) [7]. H.M. Newhall acquired 7,000 acres of the property in 1879. ) The primary resident of Rancho Todos Santos was William Hartnell's son Guillermo Antonio Hartnell, counted in the 1867 Great Register of California.

The Rancho Todos Santos Y San Antonio was patented to the heirs of W.E.P. Hartnell in 1876. As part of the patent the rancho was re-surveyed in 1874 and the area previously surveyed as public land was annexed to the rancho. [8] The homesteaders in those sections of land, including the village of La Graciosa, essentially lost their homestead claims and were forced to move under threat of a lawsuit brought by Newhall. Similar actions had been carried out on other nearby ranchos (Santa Rosa to the south and Laguna to the north) and in both those cases the homesteaders lost their claims, such is the life among the Mexican grants.

What isn't clear is to how the extra land became annexed to the rancho. But what is clear is that La Graciosa's principal store keeper, Don Patricio O'Neil, lost his store and on the 10th of December, 1876, lost his life as he was headed towards Arizona.

Some say that the residents of the town created a “New Graciosa,” on the northwest corner of Clark Avenue and Highway 1.

That could be true as a second Graciosa school was built on the corner of Clark and Marcum in 1884. Then again, since other sites in the area were also dubbed Graciosa, it’s anyone’s guess.

The actual location of La Graciosa settlement is a mystery, and it doesn’t seem as though anyone has ever seriously tried to find it.

However, somewhere between Los Alamos to Guadalupe, “14 miles from the former and 17 miles from the town of Guadalupe” lies property that figured deeply in the history of our Valley.

One final thought on the history of the town with such a beautiful name. The burial ground for the area was donated by Abe Stubblefield in 1888, Pine Grove Cemetery. The cemetery was in general disrepair when my mom took up the cause to create a historical monument for the cemetery and give it much needed care. I've included the flyer for the ceremony to dedicate the landmark in 1976.


  1. Mason, Jesse D. History of Santa Barbara County, California, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men and Pioneers. (Thompson & West, Oakland, California, 1883) p. 323.
  2. Daily Alta California, Volume XX, Number 6739, 28 August 1868 California Digital Newspaper Collection, University of California, Riverside.
  3. History of San Luis Obispo County and Environs, California: With Biographical Sketches of the Leading Men and Women of the County and Environs who Have Been Identified with the Growth and Development of the Section from the Early Days to the Present Annie L. Stringfellow Morrison, John H. Haydon 1917 pg 190
  5. History of Santa Barbara county, California, with illustrations and biographical sketches of its prominent men and pioneers by Mason, Jesse D; Thompson & West. 1883 Pg 215
  6. History of Santa Barbara county, California, with illustrations and biographical sketches of its prominent men and pioneers by Mason, Jesse D; Thompson & West. 1883 Pg 97

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