Life on the Old Ranchos

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If we lived during the time of the early settlers in the 1800s, we might have lived in an adobe house. To make the adobe bricks, the rancheros combined dirt and water, to make mud, then added straw. Especially in the case of the missions and presidios, the soil was often brought in to insure perfect consistency. The adobe bricks were laid out to dry in the sun after they were formed. Homes were constructed of the adobe bricks and then finished or plastered with more adobe. After the adobe was dry, it required a whitewash made from crushed seashells. The roof was often made of wood, fastened by nails. There was usually one big house, for the owner of a rancho, and then several smaller ones. Many families lived on each rancho. Some would be family, some workers, and some of the workers might be Indians and their families. 

Families were close, so children knew their aunts (tías) and uncles (tíos). They traveled with their families on horseback, in horse and buggy, and with carretas (carts) to other ranchos for celebrations (fiestas). Daily life was very predictable: early to bed and early to rise to get the work done. Preparation took days for special celebrations, like weddings, and other family gatherings. 

 small_letter Old Ranchos
Letter from Mercurial (Melcurial) Lugo asking or the hand of Rita Reyes

The early settlers had many children, who were actively part of the workforce on the ranchos. The education on the first ranchos was by tutors. As you will see later, the first school was built in 1865. Children went to La Ballona for elementary school. At the time La Ballona School was established, notice that school was in session only seven months of the year. This shortened schedule accommodated farming duties. Girls, even into the early 1900s, rarely had the option to attend secondary schools. They worked at home. 

The days on a rancho stared before dawn, with everyone dressed and assembled in the living room (sala) for prayers. According to an account by Jose del Carmen Lugo written in 1878, breakfast (desayuno) was eaten while it was still dark, and it was determined, as all meals, by the wealth of the family, and their workday chores. Wealthier rancheros might begin the day with Spanish chocolate made with milk or water, and corn or flour tortillas with butter. Poorer people often had milk with cornmeal porridge (atole). Others would only have beans, while those who could only eat two meals a day often started with a solid meal of roast or stewed meat with chiles, onions, tomatoes and beans. 

In the very early times, the Spanish settlers brought their foods, which meshed with the ways of the Indians, and yielded the Mexican flavor of food common to California. Plates and utensils were scarce in early times, so the settlers used tortillas to scoop their food, or rolled meat or beans within (burritos). 

Often the men were on horseback all day, except when they broke for meals and sleep. These men were the vaqueros, or cowboys. Boys assisted their fathers, while the girls helped the women in the kitchen, cooking on woodburning stoves. Girls also learned to be proficient with the sewing. Their herb gardens near the house supplied the seasoning for cooking as well for medicinal use. 

Ranchos typically had apricot and other fruit and nut trees. Other crops included barley, corn, wheat, beans, and more vegetables. The Machados were known for their vineyards and fine wines, and crops like celery as well as the cattle they grazed on Rancho La Ballona. Boys assisted in the branding of their herds, and in the very early times, often slept outside after they were about six years old. The brands, registered with the state, showed the ownership of the animals. Crops received irrigation water that was rationed by the Zanjero (Sanjero) or water overseer, from the Ballona Water District. The Higueras also grazed sheep, which were sheared to make clothes. The early settlers traded their goods and services for others. They also took their goods to San Pedro to trade for luxury items. 

In those days, the men were clean-shaven, and wore their hair long, except for soldiers. Their hair was pulled back behind their ears, and kept neat with a scarf/bandana, then covered with a hat. Some tied their hair in a queue. They wore cotton shirts under their jackets and their pantalones were cut just below the knees. 

Women wore skirts, blouses, or dresses, shawls and stockings. Their long hair was generally parted in the center and drawn back, and often braided and pinned up. 

Wealthy landowners rode their horses in fancy outfits trimmed in silver on Sundays and special occasions. Marriage was arranged by parents, or at the very least, a man asked the father of his intended for her hand. This practice was still commonplace in the late 1800s as you can see in the letter from Mercurial Lugo to Antonio Reyes, asking permission to marry Rita Reyes in 1886.

Even after 1900, life was simple, with few luxuries, although clothing was more relaxed, and children attended school more. Vicenta Lugo used her mother's recipe to make flour tortillas on the Lugo Ranch in what became Culver City. Although she cooked over a woodburning stove, the recipe is still in family use today. A cast iron griddle works almost as well as the woodburning stove.

This "nonsense rhyme" was one Uncle Frank Lugo used to teach to his nieces and nephews. (provided and translated by Doreen Lugo Job)

"Luna, Luna
Comiendo tuna,
Tirando las cascaras
en la laguna."

The rough translation:
"Moon, Moon,
eating prickly pear (cactus),
throwing the skins (shell)
in the lagoon."

Another game/verse remembered mostly by the pinching of little hands: (provided by Doreen Lugo Job)


Pico de Gallo
Pico de gallo,
De gallo montero,
Paso un caballero
Veniendo puchero.
Le pedi un poquito,
Para mi burrito.
No me quiso dar,
Me dio una patada,
Que me hizo volar
Hasta las puertas de
San Miguel.
Translation:

"The rooster 
from the mountains
passed a gentleman
selling puchero 
(a soup with vegetables for babies)
I, the rooster, asked for a little bit for my little burro.
He, the gentleman, didn't want to give me any.
He gave me a kick.
It made me fly past the doors of San Miguel."