El Toro and Its History

Charlotte Moulton
Orange County History Series, Volume 2 (1932)

El Toro did not officially come into being and was unnamed until the Santa Fe Railroad went through it is 1888. At this time it was named “Aliso,” a Spanish word meaning sycamore, which was the name that had been given the creek which courses down Trabuco Canyon amid many beautiful sycamore and live oak trees, through Rancho Niguel to the sea. Shortly thereafter, however, when application was made to the Federal Government for a post office, it was denied on the grounds that the name Aliso was too much akin to Alviso, a small town in the northern part of the state, and would therefore doubtless lead to a confusion of the mails. Because of this the name was then changed to El Toro, or translated, The Bull.

However, if we consider El Toro only from the time she was thus officially recognized, we lose much that is both picturesque and of historical importance. As my father, Lewis F. Moulton, has been my chief source of information, I can go back only as far as 1874, the year in which he came to California, although he had little to do with El Toro until the latter seventies, and did not settle here permanently until 1884.

In ’74 there was no railroad as yet between San Francisco and Los Angeles, but in 1877 the Southern Pacific had reached and was building in San Fernando, and in 1877 it came into Santa Ana.

The year 1874 in El Toro found the Serranos still owning and occupying the eleven thousand acre ranch which had been granted them by the Mexican Government, and which eventually came into the possession of Dwight Whiting. Rancho Niguel had been granted by Juan B. Alvarado, Mexican Governor of California, to Juan Avila and his sister Concepcion, widow of a certain Pedro Sanchez, on June 21, 1842. From them it passed, sometimes in its entirety, other times in parcels, through many hands, among them the Yorbas, but by 1874 the greater portion of it was owned by Cyrus B. Rawson, from whom father eventually bought it. Jonathan E. Bacon had also come into possession of sixteen hundred acres of it.

As I have said, father did not come to El Toro for several years after his arrival in California. He came from Boston on a Pacific Mail steamer to Christobal, crossed the Isthmus of Panama by train, and took another Pacific Mail vessel to San Francisco, where, after a few days he caught a San Diego bound boat which landed him at Wilmington, from whence he proceeded by stage to Santa Ana. He arrived there at midnight on May 6, 1874, and was befriended by William O. English, who shared his bed with him for the remainder of the night.

The next day, father secured a job on the San Joaquin Ranch, working under Charles French. In a few months he and Mr. French bought a flock of sheep from a Mr. Lockhart in Orange, but after about a year father bought out Mr. French’s interest and began his career of sheep raising, running his flocks on various rented lands from Oceanside to Wilmington. He used to carry with him a seven piece portable house, and when he was renting land, on the present site of Long Beach, his was the only house between Alamitos Bay and Wilmington! Incidentally, he and his sheep herders used to nonchalantly cook their bacon and eggs over the natural gas jets on the land which later became the Bixby’s Alamitos Ranch, little dreaming of the “black gold” beneath their feet!

In 1876 Don Juan Forster contracted to sell to the Chicago Street Car companies three thousand wild horses to draw their cars, for the horses’ hoofs, toughened by their life in the California mountains, were able to withstand the Chicago cobblestones. The horses were driven back fifteen hundred at a time, the drives being made in 1876 and 1878. Father sold his sheep and joined these treks. Each man had to ride six of the wild horses each day in order that they might be reasonably broken when delivered in Chicago. Many hardships were endured, especially when the party was caught in desert sand storms, and the cook wagon was lost for two or three days. Upon reaching Chicago, the men shipped their own saddle horses and took the train to Texas, from where they drove cattle home. The round trip took a year and a half. In 1881, father bought Jonathan Bacon’s band of sheep and rented his sixteen hundred acres for pasturage, and then in 1884 he rented the rest of Rancho Niguel, comprising seventeen thousand acres, from Cyrus B. Rawson.

moulton el toro community hall
El Toro Community Hall
Courtesy the First American Corp.

It was about this time (1884) that Dwight Whiting came to El Toro from England and laid the foundation of the English colony, which through the years proved itself perhaps the greatest single factor toward community progress and betterment. He bought his ranch from the various people to whom the Serranos had sold it, a thousand acres from Cook and Victor, eighty-five hundred from a man named Eldridge in Santa Monica, six hundred and forty from a Frenchman, et cetera. The tenants on his ranch were engaged in sheep raising, as were all the men in this vicinity. In fact, from 1874 until 1888 sheep raising was the only enterprise this side of the foothills between Santa Ana and San Juan Capistrano, with the sole exception of the farming engaged in near Tustin by Mr. Andre and “Eddie” Utt’s uncle, Charles Platt.

Dwight Whiting preceded the rest of his countrymen to El Toro by several years. His wife’s parents, Judge and Mrs. Keating arrived in the course of a few years, and Captain and Mrs. Huddy and family, William Hoyle and family, and Mr. and Mrs. A. C. Twist arrived from England about 1893. They all purchased land from Mr. Whiting, upon which they erected spacious country homes, and engaged in farming and orcharding. It was this colony which was mainly instrumental in the erection and upkeep of the St. George Episcopal Church in El Toro.

Dwight Whiting’s heirs still own a great portion of his ranch, although they do not live here, but the other English families have gradually sold their holdings and moved to nearby towns. Captain and Mrs. Huddy were the last to go, removing to Orange about 1919. The older citizens of El Toro have fond memories of the Captain’s sea-going tales, of Mrs. Huddy’s afternoon teas, and her annual Easter Egg hunt for all the children of the community.

In 1892 Jean Pierre Daguerre and his family came to El Toro, Mr. Daguerre bringing his band of sheep to Rancho Niguel, where he took a third interest in the rent of the ranch. Mr. and Mrs. Daguerre were both natives of the Basque country, and had come on the same boat from Europe, although unmarried at the time, in 1874. Mr. Daguerre was employed immediately in the sheep business, and after eight years, having become experienced and more proficient in this line, he went into it for himself. He rented land on the San Joaquin for a time, and was also in partnership with Don Marco Forster in Capistrano.

In 1894 father purchased Rawson’s seventeen thousand acres, and a few months later Mr. Daguerre bought a third interest in it. In 1899 they bought Bacon’s piece, and from time to time they acquired other bits of property, not belonging to the original grant, until the ranch now comprises between twenty-one and twenty-two thousand acres. Upon Mr. Daguerre’s death in 1911, his third interest passed to his wife, and since her death in 1931 it has been held by her three daughters. During Mr. Daguerre’s lifetime, when dry years made the ranch pasturage insufficient for the needs of the sheep, he and the herders used to drive the flocks sometimes up into the Bishop country, sometimes up to Big Bear to feed in the meadow which has since become Big Bear Lake. Soon after Mr. Daguerre’s death, father sold the sheep and restocked the ranch with cattle, one of his reasons being that with Southern California’s rapid development it would soon be well nigh impossible to drive the flocks to distant pasturage.

With the exception of the Serranos, who live in Aliso Canon, I have not mentioned the group of pioneers who lived in the foothill canyons several miles above El Toro, many of whom were among the very early settlers of this vicinity. Perhaps the first to be spoken of is Joseph E. Pleasants, who came here in 1861, and is still making his home in Santiago Canyon. He has devoted some of his time to raising livestock, but is more often identified with the bee industry, which he introduced into Orange County. Mr. J. C. Joplin, for many years treasurer of this county, settled in Bell Canyon in the middle seventies, and was a contemporary pioneer there. Mr. S. T. Miller, Jesse Adkinson and George Rowell, all dead now, were early residents of Trabuco Canyon. Mr. Adkinson was the grandfather of our present county superintendent of schools, Ray Adkinson. Mr. Martin, Jim Shaw, and Andrew J. Cook lived in the Aliso Canyon for many years. Mr. Cook bought his property in 1883 from a Mr. Frame who had taken it as a government claim. Descendants of both these men are still living in the hills. George Fox and George Harris came to the mountains as children with their parents, and have stayed in the vicinity ever since; Mr. Harris still lives in the old home place; Mr. Fox on an orange ranch in El Toro. Two other pioneers deserving of mention are Mr. Straw and Don Lyons of Live Oak Canyon.

And then, there was El Toro’s one celebrity, the great Polish actress, Helen Modjeska. She came to Santiago Canon in the middle eighties, and purchased two hundred acres of land there from Joseph Pleasants in 1888, and built a home in which she lived, when not playing, for over twenty years.

In later years other men came into the foothills and leased land on the great Santa Margarita Ranch, owned by Jerome O’Neill and James Flood. The more prominent of these were Milo Stevens and Billy Waller, and the latter’s partner for several years, James Sleeper, who is at present County Assessor.

There are several families identified with the immediate town of El Toro who came here in the nineties or the early years of this century and have done much for the community. John Osterman came in 1893 and in the course of a few years bought two hundred and forty acres from the Whiting ranch, which he farmed for years, together with other property that he leased. He is now living in Santa Ana, but his ranch is owned by his son, Bennie, who has planted it to citrus trees, while his son George owns and operates the El Toro store.

Harvey Swartz also arrived in 1893 and was the first man to break sagebrush and set plow to portions of the Whiting ranch. He farmed on lands leased from the Whiting, the Santa Margarita, and the Niguel, and finally purchased William Hoyle’s home and property, where he resides with his family.

Sam Munger brought his family to El Toro in the middle nineties, and became manager of the warehouse owned by Newmark and Edwards. He passed away suddenly in the early years of this century, leaving his wife with a young family of ten children, all of whom she raised to be prosperous and upstanding citizens of Orange County.

Juan Gless, dead now for several years, had been in this part of the country, engaged in the sheep business, since early days, and in later years he bought A. C. Twist’s property, where he went in for both sheep raising and orcharding. His wife and son are still following these pursuits. Incidentally, Mrs. Gless’ brother, Mr. Carle, is a pioneer resident of El Toro.

William Woodhouse has been here since the nineties, farming on a piece of property originally belonging to the Whiting ranch. Mrs. Van Whisler, a member of the Buchheim family, has been in El Toro for many years, and she and her husband live on a portion of land adjoining the old Whiting homestead.

Warren Gray and Harvey Bennett came about 1902, purchased land from Mr. Whiting, and are now successfully engaged in the citrus industry. Barney Clinard and Eugene Ahern came to El Toro about the same time, and until recently were tenants on Rancho Niguel.