a merchant, doctor and rancher
by David Mason
"a resident of San Buenaventura, a
man of Spanish blood, would advertise a realty subdivision here in the
papers of New York? That was Jose de Arnaz; and the subdivision was advertised
in Leslie's Weekly and in the Scientific American in 1846 - almost before
the Mexican war had ended."
- "History of Ventura County" Sol N. Sheridan, 1926
The present Rancho Arnaz, now known for its apple orchards and apple
juice, surrounds the old adobe ranch home of Don Jose de Arnaz. It is but
a small part of the original 21,522 acres of land once owned by Arnaz.
The Province of Santander, Spain was the birthplace of Arnaz, but by
the time that he had reached his 16th birthday in 1837, he left his Spanish
home and set out on an adventurous journey to see the world. His first
stop was Havana, Cuba. In 1841, he arrived in California aboard one of
the merchant ships that would come to furnish the inhabitants with clothing,
jewels, sugar and brandy in exchange for hides and tallow.
Soon after coming to California, Arnaz opened a general merchandise
store in the pueblo of Los Angeles. It was a year later that he first came
to San Buenaventura on a visit and, having enjoyed himself in the new surroundings,
he made plans to settle there.
Arnaz was highly educated and destined for leadership in his new home.
Through his early years of education, he had received a medical degree
before starting out to see the world. What he found in the new country
was a great need for a physician. Prior to his arrival, the only administrators
to the sick were the Franciscan missionaries. Over the years, he gave of
his services to the sick and furnished medicines when he could, never taking
a cent for his labors. Arnaz, as an aristocrat in manner and appearance,
and then as a public benefactor, received an immediate high standing in
With the many new opportunities to acquire property, he became a large
landowner - his holdings not only being in San Buenaventura, but also in
various other parts of the state. At one time, he even held title to an
island in the San Francisco Bay known as Yerba Buena, over which the San
Francisco-Oakland Bridge now passes.
In the small town of San Buenaventura, Arnaz opened the first general
merchandise store, even before the county was established. In 1845, he
was the lease holder of the Mission of San Buenaventura, having leased
the property from the Mexican government for the sum of $1,630 per year.
The lease included 1,407 head of cattle, 19 yoke of oxen and 2,158 head
of sheep. The orchard at the mission contained 582 fruit trees, one vineyard
of 1,510 vines and another vineyard of 3,800 vines.
The next year, he purchased the mission property for $13,000. The land
totaled 48,822 acres. However, ownership by Arnaz was not recognized during
the time that the Mexicans and the Americans were struggling over the possession
of California. Once Arnaz had secured the title from the Americans, he
sold the old San Buenaventura Mission to Dr. M.R. de Poli.
It was while living in San Buenaventura that Arnaz had his dealings
with Col. John C. Fremont.
Fremont had come to be a thorn in the side of the Mexican authorities
of California. He came with secret instructions from the Washington authorities
of that day to make observations and institute preliminary steps for the
seizure of the province by the Americans.
As Fremont marched southward from Monterey in the winter of 1846, he
found that the Mexicans were waiting for him in ambush at the Gaviota Pass
where, at the narrowest part of the pass, men were concealed on the tops
of the cliffs ready to roll rocks down on Fremont and his men. Fremont
decided to avoid the Gaviota Pass and, instead, traveled over the San Marcos
Pass through the Santa Ynez Mountains. Arriving in Santa Barbara after
the difficult passage, the American flag was once more raised over the
Leaving a small group of soldiers in Santa Barbara, Fremont marched
the main body of his soldiers southward along the Rincon toward San Buenaventura.
News of his coming had preceded him, and there was a mass exodus to the
Arnaz, who was responsible for the mission workers, remained at his
post. The family residence was just a short distance away, with a pear
orchard between the house and the street on which Fremont would be traveling.
When Fremont arrived, Arnaz furnished him with fresh horses and pack
animals. Fremont gave him unsecured notes for each of the animals, but
Arnaz was never able to collect from the American government. The bill
was never paid.
Arnaz was also a great success in the field of agriculture. He planted
the first field of wheat and raised the first crop of lima beans in Ventura
County. Arnaz was not only a merchant, doctor and rancher, but he was also
an energetic influence in establishing the township, which was incorporated
in 1864 as San Buenaventura. Arnaz was also a supervisor from Santa Barbara
County, which, at that time, included San Buenaventura. He was also one
of the owners of the Santa Ana Water Company.
It was about this time that Arnaz acquired his Santa Ana Rancho holdings,
a small portion of which is now known as Rancho Arnaz. Besides the adobe
Arnaz home, there are other spots of interest nearby. The Arnaz School
was built on land donated by Arnaz, and directly across the San Antonio
Creek is the spot where Thomas R. Bard lived.
Bard came to California to start the oil developments, using oil rights
which were owned by Thomas S. Scott, assistant secretary of war under Abraham
Lincoln. The Bard house was also used by Scott and some of the officers
of his firm and their families. The little house on the mountainside was
very picturesque and a landmark of those times.
When Bard, who later became U.S. Senator from California, lived in
the house, Arnaz was his nearest neighbor. As was the custom of the times,
he bought milk and other food supplies from his neighbor, as well as borrowing
various articles occasionally.
In a letter written to his sister on Jan. 3, 1866, Sen. Bard told of
having to make a trip to Santa Barbara and wrote: "Old Don Jose de Arnaz
and I have quarreled many times over the price of sheep or his monthly
bill for milk, etc., still we are friends and I knew he would not hesitate
to hire his carriage to me if I wanted it. So, though it was late, I called
to see the old fellow, hired his coach for three days for the modest sum
of $25.00. 'Now that sounds a great deal of money, but you must know that
at one time,' Arnaz reminded me, 'this was the carriage of the former Mexican
governor of California, Alvarado, and used by him and his family long ago,
before the conquest by Americans, under Fremont, of Alta California.'"
Many famous people became a part of the life of Don Jose de Arnaz.
At the time that Joaquin Murietta was frightening people all over the country,
he made a visit to the Rancho Arnaz adobe. It was very late at night and
one of the Arnaz daughters heard the sound of water being drawn from the
well that was just outside her window. She cautiously peeked out and, recognizing
the noise makers as Murietta and his bandits, she warned her father, who
with his sons, took up their positions with guns at various windows to
guard their home.
Murietta and his men walked around the house, saw that it was too well-guarded
and left without disturbing the family. However, the bandits took with
them the Arnaz cattle, driving them toward the Ojai Valley. Arnaz and his
sons organized a posse with their neighbors and started in pursuit. They
overtook Murietta somewhere between the ranch and the Ojai Valley, recovering
the stolen cattle while Murietta and his men escaped into the Sespe.
Today, the Rancho Arnaz adobe and cider barn are constant reminders
of a bygone era. The buildings have been well-maintained by their owners
and each remains a treasured Ventura County landmark.
© 2000 The Ojai Valley News
to the news
ADOBE HOME OF Don Jose de Arnaz, once the center of a 21,522-acre ranch,
is known today as Rancho Arnaz - 1888.
HILLSIDE HOME of Sen. Thomas Bard across the San Antonio Creek from Rancho
Arnaz - 1866.
BENEFACTOR and original owner of Rancho Arnaz, Don Jose de Arnaz - 1864.