Thursday, December 10, 2020

Before and After the Mast



                                   The Marquez-Reyes Cemetery in the Santa Monica Canyon

     Forrest Marquez Freed (RIP) met me at a coffee shop in West Los Angeles to tell me what he knew of his family’s history in California. A Spanish teacher at Santa Monica High School most of his adult life, Forrest’s maternal family settled Los Angeles and the coastal ranchos back in the 1830s, when it was still virgin land, inhabited by the Togva people, who created their own civilizations along creeks and riverbeds.

     I’d read Richard Henry Dana’s classic Two Years Before the Mast (1840), his account of a trip he’d taken on the trading ship, the Pilgrim, sailing up and down the California coast, and his impressions of the land and its people. Needless to say, not a very glowing image, as he used words for Mexicans like “hungry, drawling, lazy half-breeds,” and, “…if the ‘California fever’ (laziness) spares the first generation, it is likely to attack the second.”

     This was Dana’s attempt to tell Americans in the east that California was too beautiful and too bountiful to waste on Mexicans, and Indians, who lacked the initiative to develop the land. Many of the stories Dana tells about the early Californios are based on secondhand accounts, or stories he heard from others, especially when it comes to justice, as if only Yankees know how to administer it.

     Forrest’s relatives, Californios, handed down their own accounts, stories of friends and relatives, for they were here before and after the mast.

      Of his family, he told me his mother Albertina Marquez de Freed attended Harding High School in West Los Angeles before it became, what we know today as, University High School. However, he added, before the Marquez children attended public schools, all the way back to his grandfather Perfecto Marquez, they attended the one-room schoolhouse in the Santa Monica Canyon.

     Albertina was of Mexican-French stock. Her mother, Tranquilina Moynier, was the daughter of Emin Moynier, an early French immigrant to California, who married Eduviges Pena, a Mexican Californio, whose mother’s last name was Valenzuela. She had married Jose Pena, whom Forrest’s grandmother Tranquilina described as, "Un indio alto y vayo, y buen fuerte, con pelo colorado y ojos verdes."

     Since Tranquilina had a slight stutter, Forrest said it wasn’t until years later that he realized his grandmother’s pronunciation of the word, ‘mo-‘mo-'sillo meant Hermosillo, Jose Pena's original home in Sonora, a region that bred the first Mexicans who came north to settle California in the 1700s.

     Piecing together a complex family tree, Forrest said, “Now, I do know Francisco Marquez (patriarch of the Marquez clan in Los Angeles) married Roque Valenzuela, and they had five kids. Roque Valenzuela’s sister was my great-great-great grandmother who married Jose Pena, and she was also a partera, a mid-wife, to everyone in the whole area. But also, Roque Valenzuela—I believe it was her sister who donated the land where the Placita church stands [adjacent to Olvera Street]. So, the Valenzuelas were already here [in Los Angeles]. In fact, the Valenzuelas were the only ones that might have been,” he repeated, “…I say, might have been--pure Spaniards.”

     Forrest, as if unraveling a knot, told how Tranquilina explained to him that Jose Pena had homesteaded eighty-eight acres at Big Rock Canyon, up the coast from Santa Monica, and isolated in the mid-1800s. "How he, as an Indian, ever got that," Forrest said, referring to the land, "I don't know…very interesting…very interesting."

     According to Forrest, "Jose Pena ended up in San Quentin."

     He said it as if he knew after 1848 Indians and Mexicans had a difficult time holding on to their land holdings. One way or another, the new Yankee land barons found ways to take land.

     Forrest said two family stories revolved around Jose Pena's incarceration and loss of land. Tranquilina’s version was that Jose Pena, while walking up Santa Ynez Canyon (Sunset Canyon), had been the victim of an attempted ambush by two Yankees. Shots rang out. In the melee, Jose picked up a rock and threw it, hitting one of the men in the head and killing him. The other man fled but returned later with the authorities. They arrested Pena and sent him to prison.

     The man who was to become Forest's great-grandfather, Emin Moynier, came on the scene. Emin, who had blonde hair and blue eyes and had arrived from France, married Eduviges Pena, Jose’s daughter, and, soon after, took control of what remained of the Pena ranch. 

     The second version of the story came to Forrest from his uncle Emilio's wife, Adie, who said about the first version, "Aw, that's a crock of shit."

     According to Adie, in the 1800’s, Santa Monica Canyon had at least seven cantinas because, at the time, it was being used as the port of Los Angeles and the Canyon was a "…rip roaring western village." Rugged men looking for a good time disembarked from the boats moored in the harbor. Fights, shootings, and stabbings were common. Addie told Forrest that Jose Pena "…se emboracho y con pistolazos mato a un gringo." (He got drunk and blasting his gun killed a gringo.)

     A Mexican killing a Yankee was a grave offense, and hard to defend in court, in front of an all-Yankee jury. Often, it the law dragged its feet, a lynching was another quick solution.

     Forrest said that Adie used the word gringo. In his grandmother's version, she used the word Yankee. He pointed out that for the two women there was a clear distinction between the two terms.

     Forrest accepted his grandmother's story rather than his aunt's, “Because my grandmother was not prone to fabrication. Besides, it was well known that they had been hunting Indians up in the San Bernardinos at the time." And in Forrest’s mind, his Indian great-great grandfather had become another victim of cowboy justice, which really meant—a way to steal Mexican land, after the mast.

1 comment:

Elias said...

Great stories Daniel, Santa Monica/West LA Chicano-Mexican history. I met Forrest Freed several times in the 90's at AMAE events or LULAC meetings. He attended a Dia de los Muertos event at the Woodlawn cemetery around 2001; I believe Sal Galvan did his talk on Mexican ranchos on the Westside, right there in front of the Marquez graves. Walking away afterward, Forrest Freed told me, "you know ____ Marquez rode with Joaquin Murrieta." And Three-Fingered Jack and the other "Jacks." I asked him, was he like a follower or side-kick in Murrieta's group. Forrest responded with a twinkle in his eye, "He was the smart one. You see what happened to the rest of the group." Write on, Daniel.