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Juaneño Elder Brings Past and Present Together

Juaneño elder Wick Lobo shared his research into the lives of the San Juan Capistrano Mission Juaneño Indians during the time of the great earthquake of 1812,

San Juan Capistrano history came alive this week as descendants of the early settlers and people who just wanted to learn about them came together. 

At San Juan Capistrano Historical Society’s semi-annual meeting, Thursday Nov. 8, a Juaneño Indian Native American local, Wick Lobo, gave a presentation about the 40 Juaneños who were killed in the great earthquake of 1812, which destroyed most of the Great Stone Church.

The meeting attracted around 100 San Juan Capistrano history enthusiasts to the San Juan Capistrano Community Center for answers to the long-asked questions about what really happened during the 1812 earthquake.

Lobo is an elder of the Juaneño Indians and a Mission docent. His family has lived in San Juan Capistrano for many generations. His presentation, “El Temblor de San Juan Capistrano,” based on extensive research into the lives of Juaneño Indians who were killed by the earthquake, gave members a detailed look into the challenges of San Juan Capistrano residents during the early 19th century.

Building the Mission San Juan Capistrano

Lobo told the group in statistical detail about the daily lives of the 1,000 Juaneños who moved south from what is now Long Beach to the Mission San Juan Capistrano.

The Juaneños worked the 55-acre land, along with their 23,578 sheep, goat, pigs, horses and cattle. During the Mission Period, 1776-1834, Father Junipero Serra helped the tribe make what would become San Juan Capistrano their home.

On Oct. 4 1778 the Juaneños, with the help of Spaniards, built the mission. A chart Lobo created showed the division of labor: agriculture, food preparation, animal husbandry.

“And somebody decided, why don’t we build a stone church,” he said.

On Sep. 2 1797 the tribe laid the first stone of the Great Stone Church.

“Try to imagine what this would require,” Lobo said. Juaneños trekked the six miles to the nearest sandstone quarry. A cubic foot was 150 pounds and a cubic yard was a crushing 4,000 pounds. The crowd responded with gasps at the unimaginable weight the builders had to carry on their backs.

“That’s the miracle I’m telling you. It took us nine years, but we finished it,” Lobo said.

The Great Earthquake of 1812

Around 7 a.m. on Tuesday Dec. 8, 1812 on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Juaneños holding Mass in the Great Stone Church experienced the earthquake which crumbled three of the seven domes and the bell tower onto the Great Stone Church, killing 40 Juaneños.

The epicenter of the earthquake was in Wrightwood, near Los Angeles County. The 7-7.5 quake had the energy of a helium bomb,, Lobo said.  

Lobo offered details of those who perished, according to an early 19th century Juaneños burial book. It did not go unnoticed.

“He just did an amazing job of research and connecting the dots and crossing Ts. And his charts, all of them, they’re just fabulous; he goes through each of the 40 people. He traced what happened to each of the families,” Jan Siegel, Historical Society member and chairwoman of the San Juan Capistrano 50th Anniversary Celebration Committee said.

Surviving Decents and the New Beginning

Hopes to restore the Mission motivated Juaneños to push forward. In 1813, just a year after the earthquake, a new set of arches replaces the bell tower, housing the bells that Mission visitors see today. 

On July 5, 1910, the resident Father O’Sullivan, called “The Great Restorer” for his work in helping restore the Mission San Juan Capistrano, held the first wedding ceremony of the modern Mission church. It just happened to be the wedding of Lobo’s parents. 

Lobo also pointed out that the first elementary public school in Orange County was built that same year.

Lobo took the audience through detailed lineages of the surviving Juaneño grandchildren: the Crispiniana, Teodosia, Madelena, Rios, Materna, and Doram families. The Madalena family tree was important to this presentation because a Madalena descendant, Nathan Banda, was in attendance with his wife, Mikah Sommers, another Juaneño descendant. In September, their daughter, Nevaeh, was baptized at the Mission.

“Her lineage goes all the way back to those two people. To me that is a miracle.You can almost see the history of San Juan Capistrano in her eyes,” Lobo said about Nevaeh, when he introduced the “historical family” to the audience.

“Connecting it the way he did to Nathan and his family was just so emotional. I got a tear in my eye," Siegel said after the presentation "It’s just an amazing story. He has given them recognition and the fact that they have been around for thousands of years.”

Dedication to Restoration of San Juan Capistrano's History

Also at the society event, Siegel presented $6,727 donation from the excess 50th Anniversary Celebration Committee funds to the restoration of the Silvas Adobe.

Newly elected councilman and former city mayor in the 1970’s, Roy Byrnes said “It’s a historical night, it’s important.”

The San Juan Capistrano Historical Society biannual meetings host a historical presentation in the fall and a community barbeque in the spring.

Francie Kennedy, whose family has lived in San Juan Capistrano for more than 30 years, living in Los Rios Street Historical District for most of that time, said that other historical presentations in the past have been “at arms length.” She was pleased to see that Lobo’s presentation about the Juaneños “made the whole event come alive, especially with continuity of decedents here in the room.” 

Her mother, Marguerite Kennedy said, “It was lovely to see the little baby.”  

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