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History of Vallecito

In 1782, Pedro Fages, a Spanish Army Commandant, discovered the springs of Vallecito and the Indian village of Hawi while returning to San Diego from the Colorado River. Although the Spanish and later the Mexican governments lacked sufficient man power to utilize the site as a Presidio, explorers, traders and colonists camped at Vallecito on their way to settled areas.

During the Mexican-American War of 1846, Stephen Watts Kearny and a small contingent of men from the Army of the West became the first of many groups of United States soldiers to camp at Vallecito. Less than two months later, the Mormon battalion, following in Kearny's wake, brought the first wagons to the oasis.

When gold was discovered in northern California an expected slow immigration turned into a great rush. Many people used the southern route from Texas to the Pacific in order to get an early start, and Vallecito became a vast campground where the desert weary men and animals could rest before making the last leg of their trip. (Some historians say that as many as 200 wagons at a time would camp here.)

In 1850 the army established Camp Yuma on the Colorado River to assist and protect the immigrants and travelers. The camp had to get supplies from San Diego, approximately 200 miles away. Since the last 100 miles of the route passed over the Colorado Desert, where there was little grass for mules, a sub-station was established at Vallecito to store fodder for the crossing. Although they lived in tents, the soldiers built a sod warehouse to protect the supplies.

The army abandoned the sub-station in 1853. The following year James Lassitor built a larger sod structure, incorporating it into the existing warehouse, to make a home for his family. They sold supplies to travelers and raised livestock, turning Vallecito into a store and ranch.

When the steadily increasing population of California demanded overland postal and passenger service to and from the eastern states, the Post Office Department subsidized two overland mail lines. Both of them ran on the southern emigrant route and Vallecito with its water and grass became a stage station.

Unfortunately, the Civil War put an end to stage traffic along the route. Lassitor and his stepsons continued ranching at Vallecito and soldiers once more camped by the springs as they traveled to and from the Colorado River. In 1868 Lassitor was murdered in Arizona and his widow moved to northern California in 1866.

Vallecito changed hands a number of times in the next twenty-two years and various people tried to make their living ranching. In 1888 the last family to live in the sod house moved out.

By 1933 it seemed the house would completely disappear and that the oasis of Vallecito, then off the main routes of travel, would be forgotten. Then, however, a small group of people realized Vallecito's potential as a historic monument and began the work that created the park, which we still enjoy today.


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