The Rafter M Ranch
Long ago the land was occupied by the Juanenos and Gabrielinos Indians. They were hunters and gatherers and did not plant crops. Then the Spanish Missions took over. Later, when Mexico won its independence from Spain, the Mexican government gave out “land grants.” One of those land grants went to Pio Pico, who later became Governor of Alta, California.
In those days, for an Englishman to own land in California, he had to swear allegiance to Mexico, convert to Catholicism and marry a Mexican citizen.
These John Foster did. In 1837 he changed his name to Don Juan Forster and married Ysidora Pico, Pio’s sister. By 1864 Forster had bought out the Pico Brothers. It was Don Jun Forster who actually acquired Rancho Mission Viejo in San Juan Capistrano.
In 1870 the farmers got a law passed requiring California ranchers to “fence in” their stock. Forster had to spend $40,000 just for wire and posts. Trains between San Francisco and San Diego had to open a gate where the tracks entered the ranch and close the gate behind them. The train crew had to go through the same process where the train left the ranch. After his death, Forster’s heirs decided to sell the ranch.
About 1850, two Irishmen, James Flood, Sr. and Richard O’Neill, Sr., arrived in San Francisco. Flood ran a bar.
O’Neill ran a small meat market, which meant he was more than a butcher; he knew everything about marketing beef.
Flood was one of O’Neill’s customers and they became good friends. The bar was across the street from the mining exchange. Flood invested in mining shares. In 1871 he invested in the Consolidated Virginia which became the richest mineral strike in the history of North America. He was also a partner in Nevada’s legendary Comstock Lode. And, he owned some banking interests that became Wells Fargo Bank. Flood’s bank foreclosed on a 100,000 acre California ranch and Flood talked O’Neill into running it. By 1880, O’Neill knew as much about the cattle business as anyone.
In 1882, on a hand shake, Flood put up $450,000 and O’Neill agreed to put in his labor and together they acquired 230,000 acres of land, including Rancho Mission Viejo.
When Flood died in 1907, his son, James Flood, Jr., carried out his father’s promise and turned half of the land over to Richard O’Neill, Sr.
In 1910 O’Neill died. The two ranches were then run as one by Richard’s son, Jerome, who reported to his good friend, James Flood, Jr. Like their fathers, Jerome and James, Jr. never had a serious argument.
In 1926, on his death bed, Jerome O’Neill insisted he had just seen his friend, James Flood, Jr., who was in San Francisco. Jerome laid back and died shortly thereafter. A few minutes later, the O’Neill’s received a phone call from Northern California informing them of the death of James Flood, Jr.
The families began to drift part and in 1941 the land was divided; the Floods got the south half of the old ranch, the Baumgartner’s, a branch of the O’Neill family, got the north half of the old ranch and the O’Neill’s got the Orange County property, which included Rancho Mission Viejo.
It’s reported that in 1942, Major General Joseph Fegan arrived at the old ranch house and announced the government was taking possession of the property, for the duration of the war, to use as a military base. It became Camp Pendleton. After the war the Marines stayed on. The U. S. government paid the Baumgartner’s and the Floods $4,100,000 for their portion of the land. The O’Neill’s continued ranching.
Tony Moiso, Alice O’Neill Moiso Avery and Richard O’Neill, Tony’s Mother and Uncle, and other family members are owners of Rancho Mission Viejo. Gil Aguirre, Ex-V.P., is in charge of daily operations; he has been at the ranch for 38 years. Buck Bean, I love that name, is Director of Corporate Relations; he has been at the ranch for 36 years. Together they hosted another great CAA trail ride.
We ate, rode, held meetings, ate, roped, team sorted and enjoyed some campfire entertainment by Baxter Black.
Trail ride HOST buckles were awarded, trail ride pins were handed out (Joe Beeler has attended thirty-five CAA trail rides) and the MAD DOG BAIZE REFRIGERATOR MAGNET AWARD was presented to Wayne Baize.
It is said that years ago California would place a cross on a hill above the ranch house. The cross indicated a Christian family lived there and travelers were welcome. We didn’t see a cross, but all of the CAA trail riders are sure there’s one someplace in the hills above Rancho Mission Viejo.