Lawrence "Baby" Ramos

baby at Trabuco baby makes a spear At left, view "Baby" Ramos at the now channelized Trabuco Creek, at the foot of Ramos Street 200 yards from his boyhood home in the now Historical District of downtown San Juan Capistrano. This is where he speared 24"-30" steelhead in the 1930's. At right, view Baby making a spear out of "bamboo"--in actuality the non-native noxious weed arundo donax introduced by the Spaniards 200+ years earlier. Baby also had some "traditional uses" for the non-native anise (licorice flavoring) and for non-native castor beans (gopher repellent). Baby and his brothers speared fish in both Trabuco Creek and San Juan Creek, which meet in what is now downtown San Juan Capistrano. For the complete interview, click here. (Photos by Terry Rodgers)


TIME: 9:00 A.M.

PLACE : At Walnut Grove Restaurant, in San Juan Capistrano, and a field trip led by Babe Ramos which went through the historic district and over and along Trabuco Creek.

INTERVIEWERS: Mike Pottorff (of the San Diego County Fish and Wildlife Commission), Terry Rodgers (of the San Diego Union), George Sutherland (of Trout Unlimited), and Allen Greenwood (of San Diego Trout)

We asked Babe to talk about his life and to especially recall his or his brothers experiences around the steelhead in both the San Juan Creek and Trabuco Creek.

I am 65 years old. I was the baby of the family that's why they called me baby - my wife changed it to Babe. My given name is Lawrence, but nobody uses it - I have to think to remember it.

In 39 there was a big flood on the Trabuco, but lots of steelheads - they caught steelhead into the 1950's. The last one I remember was in 58.

Julian Ramos was my Father - born in 1885. He was a gardener at the Mission.

The Spanish called us Juanenos - all the natives around the San Juan Mission. The Federal government still hasn't recognized us.

The river was lined with willows and bamboo and up there the sycamores (Babe motioned upstream)

I remember back oh, starting at 7 or 8 years old, with my brothers, Julian Junior, Aurelio, and Rudy, we wore uniforms to the Mission school. We weren't supposed to - well Mother was strict about our uniforms, but one day after school before coming home we followed the creek, and jumped in - jumped in on a 30" fish, a steelhead. We just had our pocket knife, and would jump in to them and bring them home. Mom, she saw us all wet and had that look - we were in for it, but when I took that big steelhead out from behind my back she showed a small, a little smile. They were very good to eat.

I retired four years ago - I worked in customer service for the South Coast (Laguna ) Water District.

One time when returning home - I was in the service- we all did our duty for it was Korea - we wanted to - it was the proper thing to do - even my brother went back in , when I joined up - I brought home some friends for the visit, well a black and a Mexican. My Mom and the rest accepted them all right. We went out on Saturday night to the bar to have a few beers, and the bartender served us - no problems. The next morning we were up and off to church, and after Mass, one of the guys thought he needed a beer - I think he had a hangover. A little later we went to the bar and order up a round of beers, but there was a different bartender. He called me over and told me , "we don't serve niggers or Indians". My friends asked me what had happened and I told them, he said he wouldn't serve niggers or Indians. A little later I saw the owner and he knew me, so I asked him if his till was a little short for the day. He replied he didn't' think so, but would look. Yes it was low and how did you know? Then I told him the morning bartender told me he doesn't serve niggers or Indians. Boy, he went in there and fired that man on the spot - we all gave him a salute on his way out!

The plants were used for medicine - the malva weed cures poison oak and poison ivy. The elderberry bush cures a fever, put anise seeds in for a cough. Oh, we used the big tubers, celery, crawdads, watercress, turtles and steelhead for food. Yes you know the watercress is bitter now, not like before when it was fresh tasting.

There was water year around , except in the dry years. I think there was more water then.

My Dad and uncle would go up, oh over to the big pond for that is where the big turtles lived. We made turtle soup. We always left the little ones. It was the same thing for the steelhead - there were lots of little ones but we never touched those. They were about (Babe showed us a length of about 10" to 12").

We would pick up bunches of acorns to take to Pala for the ceremony - for the shaman or doctor. That was fun to go to Pala. Yes, the river was running there.( This is the San Luis Rey River at Pala, Ca.) It always seemed to run backwards, that's funny but that is the way we saw it.

We didn't need a key for the house, it's not like now. I lived in Los Rios, over there - its now the historic district, oh, they have moved in some of those houses - they moved in the Forster house. Mostly natives with a lot of Bask lived here - the Bask had the sheep on the ranches, over there that's Little Hollywood - I guess they named it that because it was mostly Mexicans and the girls liked to dress like the movie stars. Los Rios though is the oldest neighborhood.

I guess 13 or 14 - I needed an operation right away, so my Dad took me to the closest hospital. Yes my appendix. This was up in Anaheim, and we didn't have money to pay for the doctor or hospital bill. Well that doctor told my Dad don't worry about the hospital bill. Mom told me my end of the bargain was to take the doctor a steelhead once a week. Mom made sure to remind me to take that steelhead - which I did! That was in 46.

I could run to the river and catch a steelhead for my Mom in 30 minutes. I ran the 440, 880, 1320 and mile in school.

Down there, that is were the old bridge was - the original bridge. The abutments would cause a big hole on the downstream side, and that's where the big ones would be. My brother, my friend and I made a small pipe gun - we used the powder from a miner's light, but it blew the fish up, that ended that.

Did most of my fishing in Trabuco Creek, but we would go to the ocean and catch octopus, lobster, abalone, grunion - we would fry those, and steelhead. We caught those where the sand bar broke. We just cut a bamboo spear-- here if I had a knife ( I then gave Babe my pocket knife and he ran over to a stand of arrondo (that's what Babe calls bamboo), and cut a stalk off), here we would cut a point like this and notch a barb, just like this, only we used the dry stalks. Look, then throw it - see (the spear went perfectly into the middle of the river and sticking)

Oh, we had no trouble finding fish, they were mostly around 20" to 24". We didn't bother with the first year fish they we small 10" to 12" - Father said to leave them alone.

Yes we would fish up the San Juan once in a while, but Mother didn't want us to go to far. there were fish up there. Now the mining company has a dam, and the concrete. ( I then asked Babe what he thought about the concrete channels that line both Trabuco Creek and San Juan Creek) That concrete - they never asked us , the people who live here, it killed the river, "it is a piece of shit!"

I would like to see the steelhead back. Check with Joe Nieblas - he is one of the oldest, he is pushing 90. You can find him at the church, he is an usher, he was already Joe - a grown man when I was just a boy.

End of interview.

Louise Foussat

Louise was born on the Pechanga Reservation in neighboring Riverside County, but spent much time, south of the mountain in the San Luis Rey Valley. Ultimately, she married into the French pioneering family, the Foussats. The Foussats are the "French" for whom French Valley and [the trout bearing] French Creek are named. Not allowed to attend public schools with the white children, Louise was packed off to the Indian School in Riverside County, but soon returned. She recalls that there was fish in all the streams, although she has no recollection of fish or anyone fishing in Pala Creek. Fishing, being largely a man's activity, she recalls camping along the San Luis Rey in the 1920's on family outings and that the men caught fish in the Spring.

Paul Valenzuela

(interview to be scheduled)

Tom Lucas

Tom Lucas was the last Indian to live in the Pine Valley Creek/Nobel Creek drainage. He saw many steelhead runs up the Tijuana River and related the story of a lost Salmon that made it up to the mountains, witnessed by his grandmother. For the text of Mr. Lucas's recollections in conversations with Allen Greenwood, click here.

Henry Rodriguez

Henry is a walking chronicle of History, and what he hasn't seen, he has noted. He has viewed the disappearance of fish, trees, water, and the condors that used to fly into the San Luis Rey Valley. For the text of the interview with Henry, click here.


TIME: 10:00 A.M.

PLACE: At the tribal offices of the Pauma Indian Reservation, San Diego County.

INTERVIEWERS: Terry Rodgers of the San Diego Union, Mike Pottorff of the San Diego County Fish and Wildlife Commission, and Allen Greenwood of San Diego Trout

We asked Henry to talk to us about his recollections of the San Luis Rey River, its tributaries and its steelhead, and the habitat that supported the fish. We explained to Henry that there were people today that were disputing some of the historical data that others had recorded about the San Luis Rey River, and we needed his recollections to set things straight. The following is Henry speaking about a variety of subjects that he experienced first hand.

The real name of my people is Pinonchrimen. Spell it however you like. We were one people, all of us from up here down to Oceanside up over to Hemet. It was the Spanish that called us Lusenos. They were the ones that broke us up. Our people were at the Mission San Luis Rey, that's why they called us Lusenos. This area was all our lands, not broken up into bands as it is today.

I was born on Palomar Mountain in 1919. We went to the Rincon school, but the government closed the Rincon school and sent us to the Pauma school-down there (motions over towards the direction of the Pauma school.) They didn't want us at the Pauma school, what were we to do? Later we went to school in Fallbrook. This was during the 20's and 30's.

My Mother went to Oceanside for fish, all the way, which followed the stream. Those were ocean fish. . We would travel the whole way- the river- there was a forest along the whole river. There were willows, alder, the elderberry, sycamores, with no bridges and you couldn't cross in the rainy season. The forest was so thick, right up here, you couldn't take your horse through it.

You know, most reservations were created around 1875. There were approximately 116 reservations - 40 of them were terminated in the 1950's. The Barber treaties were never ratified by Congress, this was the early 1900's- the Indians embarrassed the government.

We had to vote under a compensatory voting law. You had to bring 2-3 people to be allowed to vote. We didn't get to vote for a long time.

There was running water in the San Luis Rey River, with large pools, even down at Rancho Corrido and the narrows - these pools held fish. I am not sure I know trout for sure, I am not a fisherman.

You know the Yumans would come over a steal our women and horses. My Grandmother showed me the trees that they were hanged. We caught five of them. Two on that tree and the three others on the other tree.

There were the government marshals, not like now. If an Indian killed an Indian they wouldn't do anything. It was like no law, as they would say, oh its not our jurisdiction - Indian land, but if an Indian killed a white man, they were here, and wanted him punished. Now its different with the sheriffs.

The water has gradually been reduced as all the downstream users draw more and more from the basin. I will tell a story. When I was young I would go up to Rincon Springs - you know where that is. On the Post Ranch. Oak trees, huge oak trees with a swamp. and thick with grape vines. Well, the water was taken, and one day I was walking and this huge, and I mean big oak was toppled over just from the wind. the roots were sticking up - just up. Well this is what happened to the river, no they didn't chop the trees, for they killed the trees. The trees had grown and aged with shallow tap roots, spreading near the water table. As the table receded the trees were weakened until they collapsed. It used to be a forest.

Up at the Maurey Ranch there were fish. There still may be some now.

In the 1930's the intake was built at Henshaw, the canal always had fish at the diversion. There are trout above the diversion now, but I suppose these are from planted ones, as they plant the stream.

This place used to have a lot more animals. There were Condors - we call them Li-kua-was, these were in the area - until 1926-28.

I helped to build the truck trail - Cutca- oh the other one too, the one that ends at Aqua Tibia. Yes there might be fish there.

Pala used to have more water. Our "Womens Corn Roasting Ceremony", this is very important - our most important ceremony, as our girls became of age with this ceremony. We used a special moss, only place you could find it was at Pala. It was wet there. We would cut it like a mat, and dig this big pit and make a fire for coals, this special moss would cover it. The moss is no longer there- it is gone. We don't hold the ceremony. There is less surface water in the San Luis Rey today.

I will tell you a story about a monkey. A Mr. Boatie who lived over at the garden area, would take some bananas down to the garden. His son and daughter-in -law did not know why. They noticed he did this every few days. They thought this was very strange behavior. Then one day he asked them for some bananas. This was very strange - was he crazy? They followed and saw him feeding a monkey. It was a pet that had escaped from Oceanside. If a monkey can find his way up the river so can a fish.

The ponds are gone today but a fish could stay there over the Summer.

Yes, I'll help you to fight these people that want to take more water. The fish and the other animals should be here. You know I used to be a rabble rouser, that's when I guess I was young. Even was thrown out of some reservations. We, I mean myself and some other young college kids would want to inform the Indians of their rights as so many did not know. People did not know, they lost a lot of land because they did not know on their land they had to pay taxes. They shouldn't have had to pay taxes , as this was their land not the government's.

Thank you Henry, you confirmed what others have said and written. That the trees were here, and the fish were here.

End of interview.