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Jose de la Guerra y Noriega (1779 - 1858)

Jose de la Guerra was just thirteen years old in 1792 when he sailed from his home in Cantabria, Spain to live with and work for his uncle Pedro Gonzales de Noriega, a wealthy merchant in Mexico City. He learned much from his uncle and became a shrewd businessman, a trait that would serve him well throughout his life. But the New World held more for young Jose, and he joined the Spanish Army in 1793.

Arriving in the frontier territory of Alta (Upper) California as a cadet at the Presidio of San Diego in 1798, he followed on to Monterey as a Lieutenant in 1800. While serving at the Presidio there, he married Maria Antonia Carrillo, the daughter of Raymundo Carrillo and Tomasa Lugo, in 1804. Fray Junípero Serra, founder of the California missions, had married the bride’s parents at the mission San Carlos of Monterey in 1781.

During Jose de la Guerra’s military tenure, Mexico suffered tremendous political upheaval, primarily as a result of the Mexican War for Independence from the Spanish crown, which commenced in 1810. That year, de la Guerra and his family sailed for Mexico City, as he had been appointed to serve in an elevated position in the colonial bureaucracy. However, upon their arrival at the port of San Blas, Jose was captured by a rebel faction hostile to the Spanish crown, separated from his family, imprisoned and sentenced to death. Spanish troops soon freed Jose and reunited him with his family, but his eldest daughter Rita did not survive the ordeal. De la Guerra and his wife returned to California, facing an uncertain future.

During the turbulent years of the revolution, the California frontier faced hardship as supplies and provisions were scarce. De la Guerra established himself as a generous patriarch during these years by providing for his soldiers’ well being, despite the lean resources flowing from Mexico City. He dipped into his own coffers to pay and feed his troops, thanks to wealth gained through his thriving trade business.

The Mexican war for independence finally ended in 1821. According to laws established by a newly independent Mexico, de la Guerra should have been expelled from the fledgling nation because of his European birth. Despite the lingering prospect of his deportment to Spain, and against the advice of friends, in 1828 he again journeyed to Mexico City to assume a seat as California’s deputy to the Mexican Congress. He was accompanied to the capital by two of his sons, Francisco, age 11, and Pablo, age 9. However, upon his arrival, he found that his alternate had assumed his seat and the entire Congress convinced that de la Guerra harbored lingering loyalties to the Spanish crown. De la Guerra was allowed to leave the capital, but only after convincing the legislature of his loyalty to Mexico. His political career in shambles, he returned to California yet again, this time for good.

De la Guerra’s first posting to the Presidio of Santa Barbara had been in 1806, but that assignment was short lived when he was reassigned to San Diego the following year. Nevertheless, his time in Santa Barbara must have made a significant impression on the young officer, as in 1815 he returned to Santa Barbara, which he would call home for the rest of his days. Popular not only with his troops, but also with the local populace, “el Capitan” was promoted to Comandante of the Santa Barbara Presidio in 1827, a position he held on and off until he retired from military service in 1842.

An admirer of many English speaking educational institutions, in 1826 de la Guerra sent his son Juan, to study at Stonyhurst, a Jesuit college north of Liverpool in England. In 1832 Jose funded the establishment of California’s first non-mission school, conceived by his son-in-law William Hartnell, and situated near Monterey, on the coast. Enrollment consisted of 8 white and 4 Indian students. Juan returned from Liverpool and was a teacher there during the first year of the school.

Because of California’s isolation during the War of Mexican Independence, in 1817, through negotiations with the padres of the nearby Missions of la Purisima and Santa Inez, de la Guerra had established the Rancho of San Julian under the management of the Presidio of Santa Barbara as a source of meat and income for the presidio soldiers. It was the first of what would become four “nationalized” ranchos (Ranchos National) connected with each of the presidios in California during that period. In 1837, as part of the California’s liberal revolution and a major shift from missionary control to private possession of lands, Alta California Governor Juan Alvarado granted de la Guerra ownership of Rancho San Julian. The Rancho has remained in the hands of his descendents ever since.

Like many Californians, de la Guerra anticipated the inevitability of the American conquest. His expectations were realized when, after two years of hostilities, the Mexican-American War resulted in California becoming part of the United States in 1848. By that time, de la Guerra had accumulated significant holdings, to include four other ranchos in addition to the San Julian—Rancho Simi, Rancho Las Posas, Rancho Los Alamos and Rancho El Conejo—placing over a quarter of a million acres of prime California ranch land under his control

Jose de la Guerra died in 1858 and was buried along side his wife Maria at the Santa Barbara Mission. Upon his death, Rancho San Julian passed to his sons, including noted California statesman, Pablo de la Guerra.

Today, Rancho San Julian is still a working family ranch. Hundreds of cattle roam the remaining 13,000 acres, fruits and vegetables flourish in the flatlands, and extensive honeybee colonies inhabit the valley. The San Julian has been placed in "agricultural preserve" status and serves as a refuge for a variety of local wildlife.

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