Before the Vails
Home Up


Setting the Stage for the Vails

By Rebecca Marshall Farnbach

         Tract homes and shopping centers spring up where the names Redhawk, Vail Ranch and Wolf Road reveal layers of the past that are hidden from view. An historic ranch headquarters, once the seat of financial power and influence in the Temecula Valley, is also obscured, covered by a plywood construction barrier.  This article will reveal underlying history of this area, and perhaps by autumn of 2005 the refurbished ranch will be opened to public view.

             Long ago, mastodons and other prehistoric animals grazed in the lush fields of the verdant Temecula Valley.  Later, when Native Americans migrated from the north, they found a paradise with a temperate climate, abundant water, and ready food sources of game, nuts and seeds.

            The Indians lived along the Temecula Creek for several hundred years, hunting game and gathering the foodstuffs the valley richly supplied them.  Willows growing along the riverbanks provided branches for building their kichas, small domed structures they slept in.  They traveled with the seasons to nearby mountains to gather different acorn varieties for their dietary mainstay, a mush called weewish, but they always returned to their creek side homes.

            Temecula Indian parents taught their children to be good and to show respect, lest evil attack in the form of a snake bite or the mauling of a bear.  They taught about a god who sent a son to walk among them, who died and rose to the heavens to become the new moon showing himself in the sky thirteen times a year to remind them of his teachings.

            Spanish padres arrived in San Diego in 1769.  A few ambled over the mountains from the Mission San Luis Rey and discovered the Temecula Valley paradise.  The verdant area became a chief grain producing station for the mission, and a granary, chapel and home for the majordomo, overseer, were built.  The Temecula Valley was considered a valuable mission holding until the secularization of missions in1834, when the padres left and the buildings fell into disrepair.

            When the Mexican government took charge, mission holdings were granted to Mexican citizens.  In 1844, Felix Valdez received the Big Temecula Rancho of 26,608 acres, Vicente Moraga received the 26,597-acre Rancho Pauba and Juan Moreno received title for the 45,000-acre Santa Rosa Rancho. 

Pablo Apis, a Native American who was schooled at the mission, made application for a deed to the Little Temecula Rancho.  It was a daring request for a Native American, as none had ever asked or received property titles before, but it was just a small 2,283-acre area.  Although it was not obvious, Apis had a plan. It was a small plot, but it was the most fertile farmland in the valley.  It contained an ample water supply and was situated at the crossroads of trails promising commercial trade from both Indians and American emigrants. 

First, Apis swore the prerequisite allegiance to Mexico, and then he filed the formal request, complete with a map and description of the land.  Governor Pio Pico promised the Little Temecula Rancho to him, but Apis never received a deed for the property.

Apis built an adobe home, planted a vineyard, fields and orchards.  He acquired 300 head of cattle, horses and sheep, and established a trading post and stagecoach stop which eventually became the Overland Mail Station.  Every traveler coming along the Southern Emigrant Trail or going from San Diego to points north stopped at the Little Temecula Rancho.

During the Mexican War, relationships were strained between the Luisenos, as the Indians here who were influenced by the San Luis Rey Mission were called, and the Cahuilla Indians, who lived east of Temecula.  A sequence of events led to the bloody ambush that killed forty to one hundred Luisenos.  They were buried in a cemetery across the creek from Apis’ rancho.

In January 1852, when Indians were at odds with Americans settling in the new state of California, Indians raided newcomers’ ranchos.  Eager to assure the new government of the loyalty of the Temecula Indians, Apis wrote to officials in San Diego saying the Temecula Indians revered the laws of the land and would not participate in the raids. 

To quell the growing tide of Native American discontent, United States Indian Agents invited leaders of 27 Indian tribes to meet at Apis’ adobe home.  It was the first and only time all the tribal leaders met together in one place, some who had recently been in conflict with each other, now united to face the outsiders who coveted their lands.               The two factions reached an agreement and signed the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, outlining the plan to exchange large quantities of livestock and goods for land held by the Indians.  Expectations that ran high with the signing of the treaty were dashed when the United States Senate refused to ratify it.

In the mid-1860s when emigrants John Magee and Louis Wolf saw Apis’ profitable trading post on the well-traveled route, they each set up nearby stores.  Later Magee and Wolf went into business together, until 1868, when Magee lost his share to settle a debt.  Magee set up another store about three miles away on the road to San Diego.

In 1872,when new owners bought the Pauba Rancho and the Big Temecula Rancho, Maria Apis finally received the deed to the Little Temecula Rancho that was promised to her father twenty-two years before.  The new ranchers were unhappy that Indians squatted on the choice land in the Little Temecula Rancho, so they obtained a decree in 1875 to resettle the Indians along the Pechanga Creek.

Wolf bought the Little Temecula Rancho piece by piece between 1868 and 1876.  Wolf’s Store became a center known as the town of Temecula.  His store provided a saloon, livery stable, legal services, hotel, general store, stage stop, post office, school and employment agency.  Wolf drafted a planned community to be called Louisville southwest of his store.  His planned community was not to be, at least not then, and not by that name, because when train tracks were built about three miles west of his store, people moved closer to the train station to build what is now known as Old Town Temecula.

After Wolf’s death in 1897, his family sold the Little Temecula Rancho in parcels.  Jacob Ludy bought most of it and sold to the Vails in 1905. 

The ownership of the larger Rancho Temecula passed from Felix Valdez to a Frenchman Jean Louis Vignes in 1846.  Vignes also bought Rancho Pauba, then sold both ranchos to Northern California businessmen in 1853.  The businessmen sold to Francisco Sanjurjo, who sold to a Spaniard named Domingo Pujol in 1873.

After Pujol died, his widow came from Spain to settle the estate.  In 1884 she donated land to make a public cemetery and sold the rest to The Pauba Land & Water Company.  The San Francisco Savings Union Bank later acquired the land and sold it to the Vails in 1905.     

Juan Moreno sold Rancho Santa Rosa to Agustin Machado in 1855, who sold it to English investors in 1873.  Parker Dear, the son of one of the investors took it over.  He married into the San Diego Bandini family and built a beautiful rancho home and held legendary May Day picnics for all their neighbors.  Dear, like Wolf, designed subdivisions and tracts, which he called Linda Rosa and Rosita, but they also were never more than a dream.  In dire financial straits Dear watched the San Francisco Savings Union Bank take his property in 1893.  The bank formed the Santa Rosa Cattle Company with Jim Knight, a former Vail family employee, in charge.  The Vails purchased the ranch in 1905,          

The four ranchos together formed a massive ranch of 87,500 acres.  The Vails owned land that now spans from south of our present Highway 79 South to Clinton Keith Road, west to Camp Pendleton and east to past the Vail Lake Resort.

 Wolf was buried on a hilltop plot, which is now just one obscure lot in a tract of homes.  If he were to awaken from his mortal sleep and look from atop his ornate grave monument, he would probably smile to see his dream of Louisville, almost as far as his eyes could see.  Then he would check his pockets to see if he was rich.  He might shield his eyes to look through the misty valley sunshine toward the northeast to see the Wolf Store adobe still standing.

Every trace of the Apis adobe and the surrounding Indian village is gone, except for a raised mound of earth, the old Indian cemetery, a reminder of early days in Temecula Valley.  


Bibb, Leland E., “The Location of the Indian Village of Temecula,” Journal of San Diego

History, Summer 1972, pages 6 – 11; Letter to editor, Journal of San Diego History, Summer 1975, pages 74 – 76; “Pablo Apis and Temecula,” Journal of San Diego History, Fall 1999, pages 256 - 271

Brigandi, Phil, Temecula at the Crossroads of History, Encinitas, CA, 1998

 Boyce, Mary Alice Rail, Murrieta Old Town, New Town, Murrieta, CA, 1995

 Hill, Joseph, The History of Warner’s Ranch and Its Environs, Los Angeles, CA, 1927

 Hudson, Tom, A Thousand Years in Temecula Valley, Temecula, CA, 1981

 Stern, Norton B., “King of Temecula Louis Wolf,” Southern California Quarterly, Spring 1976, pages 63 - 74

 Van Horn, Kurt, “Tempting Temecula: The Making and Unmaking of a Southern California Community,” Journal of San Diego History, Winter 1974, pages 26 – 36