Warner Spring Ranch History - Julio Ortega
As written by Kathryn Fletcher, Warner Springs Historical Society, October 2009
Old timers did not say a person died, they would say "he has gone West."  They felt in the country where so many people moved west, there would be an opportunity to meet again someday.  Julio Ortega was one of the last great Indian-European cowboys who worked cattle in the days when it was all done on horseback.  He was an old man when I was a child at Warner Hot Springs and used to sit on the porch of the trading post, telling stories and greeting people. 

Of Spanish and Diegueno, blood he had the features of a Spanish grandee nobility with blue eyes, white hair and a great mustache, along with the dark skin of a native American.  He was the great-great-great grandson of Sergeant Jose Francisco Ortega who in 1769-1770 broke trail for Don Gaspar de Portola en route from Loreto to found the first European settlement in California at San Diego and Monterey. 


Julio was born May 6, 1882 in nearby Santa Ysabel, and his ancestors lived in the Valle de San Jose when Don Juan Jose Warner lived there.  As a child, he attended the Indian School at Mission San Diego de Alcala, and the school for Indian boys at Perris in Riverside County.  He ran away from the strict military discipline there and returned to Warner's Ranch in 1894-1895.  There, he learned the work of the vaquero, his occupation form age 10 until his late 80s, when due to two broken hips, he could no longer ride.  He spoke of the work of the cowboy saying, "It was a 24 hour job.  I was in the saddle most of the time.  I slept in the open with my head in the saddle." 

When he was 20 in April 1903, the government of the United States moved the Cupa Indians from Warner Springs to Pala.  Commissioner Charles Lummis pinned a star on Julio and made him an officer.  He guarded the roads, keeping the curious away from the Native Americans who had to make the move, then he returned to the ranch.  Later, Julio worked for Walter Vail whose properties came to include not only the 47,000 acres of Warner's Ranch, but the Empire Ranch in Arizona and the vast tract of land called Rancho California.                                                        Julio Ortega continued >


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