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Temecula - at the Crossroads of History

I've been in and out of Temecula since the 1970s. Like Orange, it's a modern community with a sense of its past. It sits -- as I called one of my books -- "at the crossroads of history."

--Phil Brigandi

The First National Bank of Temecula

Temecula in 1913 might seem an unlikely place for a bank. The little town would have been hard-pressed to muster 200 souls. But in those days, cash was still the main medium of exchange. Many people were even paid in cash. And that need for cash meant the need for a bank.

Planning for the Citizen's Bank of Temecula (as it was originally called) began in 1913. The principal promoters were E.E. Barnett, a local rancher, and C.P. Shumate, who seems to have had the banking experience.

The promoters began by selling stock. Some of the early stockholders included local businessment Mac Machado, George Burnham, Joe Winkel, and Frank Fernald, along with Angelo Cantarini Alex and Peter Escallier, and Hugo Guenther, of Murrieta Hot Springs (who served on the board throughout the entire 30-year history of the bank).

Next they bought the old McConville livery stable at the corner of Front and Main, and hired an architect to design a 25x60, two-story, reinforced concrete building.

Construction took about nine months. In the meantime, the stockholders filed for a national bank charter, with capital stock listed at $25,000. Their application was approved on June 8th, and on June 10, 1914 the First National Bank of Temecula opened its doors for business.

The Lake Elsinore Valley Press reported:

"Several months ago a number of the progressive citizens of Temecula decided that a bank was one of the great needs of their community, and they accordingly went to work to get one. A fine concrete bank building was erected, which is a credit to a town of several thousand population. All modern equipment was put in, including the installation of a fire and burglar proof safe, in a concrete and iron vault amply large to care for the needs of the several hundred depositors."

E.E. Barnett was elected president of the board of directors, with C.P. Shumate serving as cashier, and responsible for the day-to-day operation of the bank.

But in 1917, Mahlon Vail, one of the owners of the massive Vail Ranch which surrounded Temecula, bought up all the stock in the bank except $1,000 worth, which E.E. Barnett held on to. Vail then became the president of the bank.

Shumate died a year later, and Ed Greenfield took over as cashier until 1929, when John Chisholm was hired.

Chisholm and his bookkeeper, Agnes Freeman, were both on duty on August 13, 1930, when a Miguel Diaz, a local ranch hand, walked in with an empty paper bag and a gun. Diaz demanded all the ready cash - about $1,200 - and then ordered Chisholm and Freeman into the vault, planning to lock them in. But the door didn't close tight, and they were able to escape.

As Diaz sped away in a stolen car, Chisholm grabbed a revolver, and fired two shots into the air. Local rancher John McSweeny had his car at the curb. The two men took off towards the bandit, chasing him almost to Murrieta Hot Springs before they got close enough to Chisholm to fire two more shots through the getaway car. Diaz pulled over immediately and surrendered. He was convicted and served three years. Chisholm and McSweeny were presented rings by the grateful community in honor of their brave efforts.

The First National Bank of Temecula survived the Depression, but not World War II. In the spring of 1943, the bank closed its doors. Some later sources claim the bank was shut down by the bank examiners, but in fact, the directors simply felt the time had come to close, and made a voluntary liquidation.

The bank building stood empty for a few years before it was purchased by Herbert Leatham in 1949, who rented out rooms on the second story.

Since 1978, the historic building has been home to a Mexican restaurant called - appropriately enough - The Bank. Today the "amply large" vault holds diners instead of dollars.

The High Country

The High Country was born in Temecula in the summer of 1967, "published, just for the hell of it, when the spirit moves its publishers who are a group of associated writers making their homes in the Luiseño Country...". The founders were Elsinore newspaperman Tom Hudson, Sam Hicks, the manager of Erle Stanley Gardner's Rancho Paisano, Al Newhart, an insurance salesman turned author (and uncle of comedian Bob Newhart), freelance writer Bill Cox, Parker Kimball, and Temecula historian Horace Parker, with Ralph Love, who opened a studio in Temecula in 1958, as "staff artist".

The two Parkers, Horace and Kimball, soon bowed out of the "High Country Associates" (as the group came to be known). Al Newhart followed a few years later. By the second issue, Tom Hudson had emerged as editor, a title he held until 1980. The little magazine was published four times a year, "with the seasons", and by the sixth issue had more than 1,500 paid subscribers.

Frank Woolley of Hemet joined the magazine as "staff writer" with issue #21, and had at least one article in every issue right up to the end. Sam Hicks and Bill Cox stayed with The High Country until 1979, when Hicks died and Cox moved to Santa Barbara. Ralph Love retired at the end of that same year, and Roy Morrissey, another Temecula artist took over the duties.

But the great change came in 1980, when Tom Hudson became editor emeritus and Sam Hicks' daughter, Nancy Carmichael, took over the editorial chair, with Bill Harker, the editor of the Rancho News as her assistant. That order was reversed a year later, when Bill Harker became editor and publisher, with Carmichael as his associate.

Over the years, The High Country attracted a string of regular contributors, including Cloyd Sorensen, Jr. of Vista, who specialized in history of northern San Diego County, Bennie Hudson (Tom's wife), Robert de Roos, a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, Arthur Sill, a retired California State Park ranger, George Winkels, the nephew of legendary Temecula saloonkeeper Joe Winkels, Hamp Sanford, Marcus Lytle, and (for the last few issues) August Fredy. Other articles were written by noted California historians including Aurora Hunt, George P. Hammond, Charles D. Swanner, John Brumgardt, Evelyn Banning, Paul Wilhelm, Esther Boulton Black; and there were even occasional contributions from Temecula's most famous author, Erle Stanley Gardner (which we hope to reprint at some future date).

At one time, The High Country had several thousand subscribers, and also did a steady business in back issues (many early issues are still available at the Temecula Valley Museum). The first issue (published in a run of just 600 copies) was reprinted at least four times over the years, to keep up with the demand.

But publication grew spotty in the last few years, and the original High Country finally breathed its last with issue #62 near the end of 1984.

Then in 2002 it was born again, thanks to the support of the Temecula Valley Museum, and began by staking the same claim that The High Country did more than 30 years before:

"Let others fuss and fume with what's happening in this frustrating age of computers. The present is too complicated; the future is too vague. Only the past is reasonably clear, and the field into which The High Country naturally fell."

Two Temecula Cemeteries

Temecula is home to two historic cemeteries. Both have an interesting history, and each of them is connected to the larger story of the Temecula Valley.

The Temecula Graveyard is located near Apis and Wolf Store roads, and now protected by a high fence.

The Temecula graveyard had its beginnings in the "Temecula Massacre" of 1847. Though casualty figures vary, it was by all accounts the deadliest single battle of the Mexican War in California.

The battle was culmination of a string of events that began with Mexican resistance to American take-over of California in 1846. Several battles occurred between U.S. and Mexican forces, and eventually the Indian population began to take sides.

In December, 1846, shortly after the American defeat at San Pasqual, a group of Luiseño Indians under the command of Manuelito Cota and young Pablo Apis attacked a group of Californios on the Pauma Ranch, on the west side of Palomar Mountain, killing nearly a dozen of them. Some of the Indian forces then moved to the hills between Temecula and Aguanga.

In retaliation, José del Carmen Lugo enlisted the help of Juan Antonio, a powerful leader of the Cahuilla Indians, who set up a clever ambush in the Vail Lake area, which led to a running fight back towards Aguanga. Lugo later said that about one hundred Indians were killed. Juan Antonio was left in charge of the prisoners and, according to Lugo, killed them all.

"I reproached him for these acts of cruelty," Lugo later recalled, "and he answered me very coolly, that he had gone to hunt and fight and kill Indians who kill him; that he was sure that if they caught him they would not have spared his life but would have burned him alive."

With so many dead, the Temecula Indians started a new graveyard, across the creek from the village. "The battle of Temecula," pioneer Southern California historian Benjamin Hayes later noted, "- they made a new grave yard, to bury their relations slain in this battle by the Cahuillas, under Juan Antonio."

When the Mormon Battalion passed through Temecula in late January, 1847, they found the people still burying their dead. Burial was a Catholic custom, introduced by the missionaries. When the Spanish arrived in 1769, the Indian of Southern California cremated their dead.

The graveyard is thought of today as an Indian cemetery, but there is evidence that it was later used and improved by the other local residents. In May, 1867, the San Bernardino Guardian reported:

"TEMECULA. - We understand the citizens in locality set on foot a subscription, from the proceeds of which they enclosed the graveyard with a neat and substantial fence. A very creditable proceeding certainly."

Hardly the way most people wrote about Indians in 1867. Nor would one expect the villagers to raise money by subscription. If they had wanted a wall, they simply would have built it.

In his account of the Temecula Massacre, historian Horace Parker quotes a letter from a Catholic priest (probably Father José Mut) to his Bishop in June, 1867, who notes:

"...they have fenced the cemetery which will be five or six hundred feet square, with a wall of adobe, well boarded door and all arranged nicely. I would wish that your Excellency would grant me the authority to bless it, if you would judge it opportune. They have many and great desires to have it blessed, and I believe that it is suitable because it is in reality worthy of it...."

Unfortunately, the quote does not make it clear just who "they" were. By 1890, the adobe wall around the cemetery was already in ruins. The line of it is just barely visible today.

For many years, a single tombstone stood in the graveyard - "George Cuishman, Died April 20, 1882, Aged 56 years." Indian author Gordon Johnson reports that Cuishman had apparently married an Indian woman from Temecula, and his descendants lived at Pechanga in later years.

With no other cemetery in the Temecula Valley in the 1860s and ‘70s, simple necessity may have led to the joint use of the Temecula graveyard. But that was about to change.

The Temecula Valley Cemetery is located at the north end of C Street, above Santiago Road. It was apparently established in the late 1880s (the earliest surviving tombstone today dates to 1894). The land was a gift from the owner of the Rancho Temecula.

The Rancho Temecula was a Mexican land grant. After later passing through Anglo hands, it was purchased in 1873 by a group of sheep ranchers - Domingo Pujol, Francisco Sanjurjo, and the Murrieta brothers, Juan and Ezekial. In 1876 they divided their holdings, with the Murrietas taking the area near the town that now bears their name, and Domingo Pujol receiving much of the land where downtown Temecula is today.

Pujol was from Spain, and returned to marry there. He died in 1881, and his widow inherited his Temecula lands. Shortly thereafter she made a deal with the California Southern Railroad, deeding them the right of way for their line from Colton to San Diego. In 1882, the new town of Temecula (today's Old Town) was founded alongside the tracks, with Pujol and the railroad each owning half the lots.

Mercedes Torres de Pujol made just one visit to Temecula, in 1884. Bessie Barnett, the daughter of Pujol's bookkeeper, recalled in letter to Horace Parker in 1953: "after Domingo Pujol died his widow came here with her father and sister to settle the estate, and my father helped her. They stayed at our house most of the time and I was about five years old. My mother drove them to the [Murrieta] Hot Springs every day to take the baths."

In 1886, as boom prices began to sweep Southern California, Pujol sold off most of her Temecula holdings.

But she still had some land left around the townsite, and in December, 1887 she deeded six acres to the community - two for a school, two for a church, and two for a park. The assumption is that the cemetery was established on one of the parcels. The school property is now part of Sam Hicks Monument Park and the site of the Temecula Valley Museum.

The old tombstones in the cemetery - many cut in the local granite quarries - are a who's who of Temecula pioneers, including merchant George H. Burnham (1866-1935), Justice of the Peace A.B. Barnett (1879-1950) and his wife Bessie (1879-1969), rancher Angelo Cantarini (1855-1939), Pujol's bookkeeper and Bessie Barnett's father, José M. Gonzalez (1835-1921), ranchero Juan Machado (1825-1902), who family owned the Rancho La Laguna at Lake Elsinore, barber Ole Larsen (1886-1966), rancher Franklin Cobb (1858-1907), butcher William Friedemann (1887-1967), quarryman Charles McVicker (1870-1949), pioneer merchant John Magee (1826-1901), Constable Preston Swanguen, shot in 1907, hotelkeepers Richard (1833-1922) and Mary Jane Welty (1840-1937), saloonkeeper Joe Winkels (1879-1939), ranch owner Mahlon Vail (1890-1965), and many, many others.

Dr. Horace Parker (1913-1977) is buried there as well - though he almost didn't make it. "Doc" had lived in Temecula as a boy, when his father was station agent for the railroad. He had always hoped to be buried there, but to his chagrin, discovered that only local property owners could be buried in the Temecula Cemetery. So he tried to find a vacant lot in town to buy, so he would be a property owner, too.

But there were no single lots for sale, so he ended up buying a group of lots from Grace LaClare, the owner of the old Hotel Temecula. Then almost as a joke, he added, when you're ready to sell the hotel, let me know. A year later, LaClare was finally ready to sell. "I am one of the few fellows who started out to buy a cemetery lot and ended up with a hotel," Parker joked.

Parker and his wife, Leverne, restored and refurbished the old hotel and made it their home for many years. Now Leverne (1914-2004) has joined him again in the Temecula Valley Cemetery.

"There is nothing new under the sun, but there are lots of old things we don't know." - Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?)

© Phil Brigandi