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By Jeff Pack
Special to the Village News 

Temecula Valley Historical Society learns the history of Camp Pendleton


Last updated 8/6/2018 at 3:35pm

Barbara Greenbush from the Camp Pendleton Historical Society shares the history of the land on which Camp Pendleton now sits with members of the Temecula Valley Historical Society during a presentation, July 23.

Did you know that even though the United States Marine Corps had purchased the 125,000 acres that would become Camp Pendleton in 1942, there was a civilian family that lived on the base until 1967?

That was just a small fraction of historical information that Barbara Greenbush from the Camp Pendleton Historical Society shared with members of the Temecula Valley Historical Society during a presentation, July 23.

She told the story of Camp Pendleton's rich and varied history – starting with the time when Native Americans lived on the land, to the Spanish settlements and subsequent Mexican takeover, to the formation of Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores. Finally, she told the story of how Camp Pendleton has become the world's largest amphibious military base.

The green rolling hills, steep mountainous regions and deep canyons that can be seen while driving along Interstate 5, Greenbush said is very similar to way it may have looked hundreds of years ago.

"It's so wonderful that it's not really spoiled or touched, with houses and things on there," she said. "The Marines are very good stewards of the land that they are occupying.

"I really believe that if some of the family members that lived there hundreds of years ago in those hills and in those canyons could visit today and it would still be very familiar to them."

Greenbush told the story of how Capt. Gaspar de Portola came to the area to establish Franciscan missions throughout California. When the expedition came to the area on the holy day St. Margaret, they baptized the land in the name of Santa Margarita.

It wasn't long, she said, until the Mission San Luis Rey was established and became one of the largest controlled land swaths in the area.

"The area that they used was huge, how do you even keep control of that?" Greenbush said. "So what the Spanish did, is they actually broke it into ranches. And when they did that, then they could kinda know who was doing what."

When Mexico gained its independence from Spain, Governor Alvarado awarded land grants to prominent businessmen, officials and military leaders.

"That's when Pio and Andres Pico came into the picture, in 1841," Greenbush said. "He made them private owners of the land, and once we did this, it became one of the largest ranches in California."

The Picos ran into bad luck, sold it to John Forster, who had married the Pico brothers' sister, but then the Forster family sold the property to cattleman James Flood in 1882.

In the early 1940s, both the Army and the Marine Corps were looking for land for a large training base. But while the Army had decided to pass on acquiring the property, the Marines still weren't sure.

"Just think, it could have been an army base," Greenbush said. "But then, that fateful day, Dec. 7, 1941, happened and Pearl Harbor, as we know is attacked."

It was at that point, the government had a change of heart.

"All of these things are happening and people in the government are saying, 'Wait a minute, maybe we need a presence on the West Coast,'" Greenbush said. "I mean, jeepers, Japan is just across the Pacific Ocean."

It was in April 1942 that the government announced that Rancho Santa Margarita and Las Flores would become the Marine Corps base in the country, paying $4,239,062 for the land.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the base Sept. 25, 1942, in honor of World War I Maj. Gen. Joseph H. Pendleton.

"Unfortunately, Gen. Joseph H. Pendleton, passed away six months before it was named for him," Greenbush said.

Currently, the Camp Pendleton Historical Society manages, in cooperation with the U.S. Marine Corps, several historical sites on the land – including the Las Flores Adobe and the 8,500-square-foot Ranch House.

The Temecula Valley Historical Society has already scheduled a tour of the property.

And what about the family that lived on the base until 1967? Well, Greenbush said, the Las Flores Adobe dates from 1864 and was leased to the family of Jane Magee.

"She was known as the 'Lima Bean Queen,'" Greenbush said. "She had 3,000 acres of lima beans planted right up to her door."

When the Marines took ownership of the property in 1942, Magee was told by Roosevelt that her family could live on the site for as long as the current generation survived.

"It is another great example of how the Marines have worked with the land," Greenbush said. "And in this case, the people that were living there, in order to preserve it and take care of it in the spirit of cooperation."


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