Engaging the gendered elements of Californio ranchero culture, this article shows how Californio liberalism influenced sociocultural determinations of respectable womanhood and propriety in early nineteenth-century Los Angeles. By examining the testimonios and court cases of elite and nonelite women engaged in or accused of transgressive gender behavior, the author centers the lives and experiences of women within Californio ranchero culture to argue that despite patriarchal regulation, elite Californio women, or rancheras, used their racialized class privilege to define a hegemonic ranchera femininity while simultaneously influencing, reinforcing, and circumventing Californio discourses of gendered respectability and proper womanhood. The article shows how these discourses and sociocultural systems—such as the court, community, and family—together determined whether a woman stood within the boundaries of gender propriety as a “good woman” or outside them as a “bad woman.” It shows the interrelatedness of the gendered dynamics of nation building at a localized level, specifically through women’s experiences, and illustrates women’s integral role as complex and consequential participants in the discursive contouring of hegemonic womanhood.

All nations depend on powerful constructions of gender.…Women are typically construed as the symbolic bearers of the nation but are denied any direct relation to national agency.

—Anne McClintock, “Family Feuds: Gender, Nationalism and the Family”

After Mexico achieved independence from Spain in 1821, liberal ideology and policy served as the political foundation of the early Mexican Republic. Founded on political and economic liberalism’s ideals of individual liberty, equality, property rights, and free trade, liberals supported the growth of a constitutionalist, secular state free from the influence of the church or military. As the nascent republic took shape, liberalism’s ideals fractured along conservative, moderate, and radical lines, each with their own understanding of power and the roles of church and state.1 While liberals articulated a dominant liberal ideology, or what Karen Caplan terms “official liberalism,” and jockeyed for control of Mexico City, liberalism found its way into the political and economic realities of rural areas.2 As liberalism took shape in these areas, it was accompanied by gender and sexual discourses that defined social ideals and expectations of masculinity and femininity framed within localized understandings of official liberalism.

In this article, I examine the gendered and sexual discourses of early nineteenth-century California as framed through Californio liberalism. Specifically, I show how, within what appeared to be the exclusive domain of men, elite women of the Californio class—whom I term rancheras—also articulated settler colonialist and heteropatriarchal ideals and discourses of gender and sexuality.3 While Rosaura Sánchez posits that societal pressures often forced rancheras to consent to expectations of marriage, motherhood, and patriarchal deference, I contend that, despite their regulation and restriction through patriarchal subordination, rancheras’ racialized class status gave them the societal power to influence, reinforce, and sometimes circumvent ideals of proper femininity and womanhood within Californio culture.4

Located within the Californio rancho home, hegemonic ranchera femininity was based on women’s bearing of children and raising of large families, punctuated by submissiveness and subordination to ranchero patriarchal authority. Originating among the ranchero elite and reflecting Californio liberalism’s racialized, classed, and gendered ideals, these expectations for women were imposed on the lower and landless classes. The ranchero elite contoured and regulated these expectations through a good woman/bad woman paradigm whose parameters were based on patriarchal control of women’s behavior, sexual or otherwise, defined as either restrained and honorable or unrestrained and dishonorable.5 Rancheras’ conformity to patriarchal expectations of wifehood and motherhood, albeit forced, translated into a publicly articulated complicity that detailed and sustained a broader discourse of hegemonic ranchera femininity. It was this ranchera femininity that defined the contours of proper womanhood. Consequently, rancheras’ social privilege allowed them to wield a limited patriarchal authority. Through their discursive articulations and public enactments of hegemonic femininity, they utilized and sustained the good woman/bad woman paradigm to define and assert honorable femininity and control public perceptions about their gender behavior.

This article contributes to scholarship on women’s negotiation of Californio gendered and sexual dynamics by elucidating rancheras’ participation in sustaining Californio patriarchal discourses.6 Examining rancheras’ nineteenth-century words through their testimonios (life accounts) and through court documents provides insight into women’s public articulations and discursive enactments of gender ideologies. Although crucial to historians’ understanding of Californio culture, these sources are not without their limitations. Californio women’s testimonios, assembled during the 1870s as part of Hubert Howe Bancroft’s efforts to collect California oral histories, are imbued with the interviewers’ colonialist, white supremacist, and gendered perspectives about Mexican and Indigenous peoples.7 The interviewers were instructed to locate documents and record recollections of the Californio elite, but the subjects of only thirteen of the 125 testimonios collected were women, the majority of whom were from prominent Californio families; two of the subjects had worked at missions, and only one was an Indigenous woman. As Genaro Padilla found in his study of Mexican American autobiography, because Bancroft’s interviewers’ intentions were to center men’s words, they marginalized “women’s narratives and the social knowledge they contained.”8 As a result, women’s interviews reflect a tone of patriarchal dismissiveness and condescension.9

In civil courts, officials—male judges, lawyers, and recorders—replicated these dynamics by determining the importance and relevance of women’s words. In charge of the proceedings, court officials’ discretion of what to include in the court record played an important part in publicly defining women’s and their family’s respectability. Although an exertion of patriarchal authority, the filtering of women’s words was measured by sociocultural power dynamics. For instance, prominent women’s economic and social privilege afforded them multiple opportunities—including through testimonios, land transactions, wills, and court testimony—to interject their voices and provide an added dimension to their public identity. Comparatively, the voices of Indigenous, landless, and less prominent women—who were not readily privileged by court officials and whose opportunities to speak were limited or completely denied—are hardly present in these records, often mentioned only as the objects of accusations and punishments leveled against them, interactions in which they were rarely allowed to respond. These women’s brief appearances in court documents constitute the majority of what we know about them.

These dynamics produced archival silences and gaps that pose a challenge when trying to locate and recuperate women’s words and lives, especially those of nonelite, racialized women. As Ann Stoler contends, because colonial archives and records privilege “upper class” discourses, we must read critically “against the grain” to examine how they were used to create an official (hi)story.10 In this article, I counter those gaps by reading court proceedings alongside family genealogies and institutional documents, such as baptismal, marriage, and death records, to piece together the women’s life stories. These efforts constitute a historical recuperation that utilizes our existing knowledge (albeit limited) about these women to build what Karen Roybal terms an “alternative archive” that complicates and challenges patriarchal narratives about women.11 I read these records alongside each other to analyze the unseen elements of court interactions—that is, the racialized and classed standards of Californio morality and respectability interwoven into court determinations of women as either “redeemable” or “bad” women. Reading these determinations as discursive enactments of power, I define “redeemable women” as those whose redemption the patriarchy considered critical to maintaining Californio ideals of morality and propriety.12 Conversely, the elite imposed the determination of “bad women” on those whom it had no interest in claiming as its own.

With all this in mind, I read women’s words in these documents within the context of Californio liberalism and culture to extrapolate their meaning within Californio society. Building on Padilla’s contention that women used testimonios to assert themselves “as agents in the social world they inhabited along with, not at the side of men,” I read past the imposed Euro-American colonialist and patriarchal framings of this history.13 I look for what these testimonios and civil documents reveal about Californio settler-colonialist assertions of power, and women’s role in those assertions. Historians have interpreted ranchero men’s words as a means of creating their identities, culture, and histories for posterity, and I consider rancheras’ words as part of a similar production. Rather than weighing only men’s words for their political and sociocultural value, as Bancroft and court officials did, I see rancheras’ words as their way of creating, asserting, and preserving their own identities as honorable, proper, good women. By controlling narratives about their behavior, rancheras ensured articulations of their adherence to patriarchal Californio ideals. More broadly, rancheras delimited the contours of hegemonic femininity and defined themselves as its models, while directly or indirectly labeling as “bad women” those who transgressed normative gender roles and expectations of ranchera femininity.

In the early years of Mexican independence, California’s economy was dominated by Franciscan-run missions. Rooted in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Spanish colonialism, the missions controlled vast acreages dedicated to agriculture and cattle.14 During the 1820s, aided by political and economic instability and a growing reliance on mission goods in the war for independence, as well as by their continued exploitation of Indigenous people’s labor, missions such as those at Santa Barbara and San Gabriel grew extremely wealthy.15 Capitalizing on mission wealth and trade networks, a small handful of ex-military officers turned merchants, such as José de la Guerra, gained access to the mission economy and production and amassed tremendous wealth.16 By 1830, missionaries’ economic dominance had garnered the resentment and ire of an increasingly liberal-minded elite. Schooled in concepts of citizenship, liberty, and economic autonomy, Californios who aspired to the landed class sought access to the wealth connected to land ownership.17 In the 1830s, Californios articulated a localized, rural Californio liberalism that defined land ownership as the means to economic liberty.18 These views drove Californio demands for federal secularization or distribution of mission lands into privately held rancho tracts.19 After secularization of the missions in 1833, Californios—many of whom belonged to the territorial deputation, or local legislature, whose responsibilities included passage of land policy and distribution in the region—blocked federal attempts to distribute lands to former mission neophytes and migrants from the Mexican interior by passing policies that limited land distribution to local people, specifically Californios.20 This ushered in California’s rancho era and facilitated the development of a regional seigneurial, oligarchical system.

Alongside the economic and land policies of the rancho system, Californios instituted their own social order, rooted in Spanish colonialism’s patriarchal and paternalist ideologies, and thereby consciously restructured the gendered contours of local culture.21 Relying on the heteropatriarchal institutions of marriage and family—already long in use on the Spanish-Mexican frontier from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century—to control the composition of the body politic, Californios shaped a racialized and gendered ranchero identity and culture contoured by their liberal ideals of land ownership and patriarchal authority.22 They articulated a gendered discourse, centered on the control and dominance of the heteropatriarchal rancho and its familial networks, that delineated the gendered expectations of hegemonic ranchero masculinity and femininity.23 Ranchero masculinity was tied to patriarchal authority, paternalism, and land ownership. As such, the liberal ranchero asserted dominance over his wife, their children, and the rancho’s largely mestizo and Indigenous workforce. In this ordering, Californio liberals defined women’s roles as mothers of the nation and purveyors of Californio culture, and asserted a strict patriarchal domination aimed at controlling rancheras’ sexuality and reproductive roles.24 This produced a heteropatriarchal gender and sexual dichotomy in which ranchera femininity complemented ranchero masculinity, tethering honorable womanhood and gender propriety to expectations of feminine subordination and submissiveness. These expectations materialized through faithful wifehood and motherhood within the rancho home and family and extended from the home into broader Californio society and culture.

Californio gender ideologies and structure made rancheras indispensable to Californios’ cultural growth and permanence.25 As the physical reproducers of society, rancheras were also integral to delimiting the racial/ethnic contours of Californio identity—a factor that further cemented patriarchal control over women’s sexuality. The racial elements of Californio identity, mainly their self-constructed designation as a non-Indigenous, culturally Spanish-Mexican class, prompted the use and monitoring of intermarriage to carefully craft the citizenry of the developing Californio state.26 As Erika Pérez suggests, Californios’ “intimate colonialism,” or their control of intimacies ranging from control of marriage to quotidian interethnic encounters, reflected their wariness of interethnic and interclass unions that could threaten elites’ social and political power.27 It is not surprising, then, that Californios attempted to maintain order by controlling gender and sexual behaviors through discourses about propriety.

As members of the landed class, rancheras were invested in California’s development; their adherence to gender propriety and normative gender expectations were inextricably linked to creation of Californio sociocultural discourses. As Steve Stern contends, ignoring women’s involvement in the production of gender codes and discourses results in the idea that only men were responsible for creating gender ideals and their accompanying stereotypes and archetypes.28 Therefore, by examining rancheras’ varying degrees of bodily enactments and public articulations of femininity, we centralize women’s role in building Californio culture and critically engage rancheras as complex and consequential participants in the discursive contouring of hegemonic womanhood. This critical engagement, however, is premised not simply on whether rancheras conformed to or deviated from patriarchal gender expectations, but also on how their public discursive enactments reflect their power to define gendered and sexual propriety. It grapples with the results of these discursive and performative exertions of power—mainly, the creation of the honorable woman, and the stigmatizing and punishing of other women as dishonorable.

During the 1830s and ’40s, the Los Angeles Prefecture court presided over cases pertaining to wills, debts owed, child abandonment, disputes over horse races, and other matters. Several of these proceedings, including those of Domitila Ruiz, Tomasa Talamantes, Marina García Limón, and Simona López Mesto, arose when young women’s guardians, male relatives, or husbands sought help for or complained of transgressive behaviors. While the specifics vary, and often court records provide only limited details about the accused, each case reflects Californios’ racialized and classed ideals about women’s respectability. They provide insight about types of behaviors that garnered accusations of gender and sexual impropriety, describe community efforts to eradicate transgressions of local norms, and illustrate court officials’ efforts to control the behavior of certain women, especially those on the fringes of elite Californio society. The following examples illustrate these principles in action.


On December 10, 1842, the Los Angeles prefecture court addressed the custody of Tomasa Talamantes, a young woman disowned by her mother because of “the evil life she was leading.”29 Intending to “save her from ruin,” her cousin Sérvulo Varelas petitioned the court for custody of Tomasa. The court agreed and ordered the young woman to live with Varelas so that he could “show her how to mend her ways” and “teach her principles of morality and decency.”30 Reminiscent of the colonial practice of recogimiento (enclosing), Californio courts placed “bad women” into “respectable” homes as a means of moral redemption; by controlling women’s alleged sexual and moral transgressions, male court officials furthered liberalism’s gendered discourses.31 Although enclosure relied on masculine presence as a corrective to errant femininity, rancheras’ participation in the practice reveals their important role in defining proper femininity.

In a similar case, on July 26, 1847, Doña Ascención Villa approached the court requesting that her fourteen-year-old goddaughter Domitila Ruiz, daughter of Agatón Ruiz and Gertrudis Varelas, be “confined in a respectable home.”32 According to Villa, her goddaughter had been “leading a life of prostitution and committing disgraceful acts in the city.”33 The court agreed and ordered that Domitila be confined in the home of “Don Antonio Ignacio Ávila, a respectable family with a well-known reputation and religious habits…and near relative of the girl.” But Domitila Ruiz resisted moral regulation: on July 31, she escaped the Ávila home. She was later apprehended and confined to the home of another Californio family.34

The June 10, 1847, case of Marina García Limón presents a different scenario, one in which a man on the fringes of the Californio elite employed the discourses of gender to enhance his own position. Matías García appeared before the court on behalf of his sister, twenty-year-old Marina. Born in Los Angeles in 1827 to José Antonio Esteban García and Guadalupe Uribe, Marina was descended from an early California soldier. Her grandfather, Felipe García y Romero, had served in the military in Baja California in the 1760s. In 1774 he migrated to San Diego as part of the Anza expedition and worked as a blacksmith at Mission San Diego.35 Marina’s father was born in San Diego in 1791. In 1813 he married Guadalupe Uribe at the San Gabriel Mission, and together they had eight children.36 By 1844 José Antonio had died, leaving Matías as the family patriarch. When Matías petitioned the court on Marina’s behalf, he described her as the widow of Francisco Limón, who had left her “with a child and without means of support.”37 As family patriarch, Matías sought permission to sell his sister’s land to “satisfy a mortgage Señor Limón had placed on their house” and to provide financially for Marina and their child, Francisco Limón.38 Because it was common for family patriarchs to conduct court business on behalf of female relatives, the records do not say whether Marina was present for the proceedings or if she agreed to them. After hearing the case specifics, the court authorized Matías to sell the property for 125 pesos and, in the process, signed away Marina’s rights to the land.39

Living Malas Vidas

As stated above, elite Californios defined ranchera femininity through a good woman/bad woman taxonomy that detailed women’s social and cultural obligations. In this structure, women achieved propriety through commitment to patriarchal values, which included marriage, motherhood, and submission to male dominance. Although all women, regardless of ethnicity and class, were expected to support the patriarchal order, elites expected women of the ranchero class to (re)produce a civilized and strong Californio society. As illustrated in the testimonio of former governor Juan Bautista Alvarado, Californio liberal discourse described women as “necessary to populate” the territory and to “contain the heathen Indians.”40 As the wives and daughters of landed, liberal-thinking men, custom obliged rancheras to embody and publicly enact honorable femininity in their words and actions. In cases of enclosure like those discussed above, rancheras were the unacknowledged presence in “respectable” households upon whom the patriarchy relied to provide errant women with models of proper Californio femininity. Rancheras’ complicity, whether forced or chosen, represented a broader societal enunciation and enactment of Californio gender paradigms and discourses which defined theirs as the ideal femininity of Californio patriarchal society. Rancheras’ support of the good woman/bad woman paradigm helped sustain a hegemonic order in which women who followed the example of elite rancheras were “good women” and those who did not were “bad women.”

In the recogimiento cases above, it was young women’s guardians who sought the court’s support. Sometimes, however, men complaining of wayward partners enlisted the court’s aid. In August 1848, Maríano Roldán addressed the court regarding “la India,” Simona López Mesto, and contested the court’s order that he give her custody of the couple’s youngest daughter, María Victoria. Roldán contested an order requiring that he “deliver the girl María Victoria to la India Simona.”41 He identified López Mesto as a bad mother, relating such examples as not “suckl[ing] the child at her breast” and “dragging her like a dog.”42 He also accused López Mesto of being a “prostitute of bad reputation.”43 Roldán further accused López Mesto of engaging daughter Luisa in prostitution, saying she had “taken their first child, away from him…to start her on the evil road to perdition.”44 Positioning himself as an honorable father with “good intentions of properly educating the said children,” he promised that his youngest child “would not suffer like” Luisa, to be guided “along an evil path” and “perverted by the power of the prostitute.”45 Cases like that of Simona López Mesto illustrate Californios’ combined individual and community efforts to control what they considered transgressive female behavior.46

Framed by the good woman/bad woman paradigm, Californio society publicly admonished women who fell outside of respectable womanhood. In the cases of young women such as Tomasa Talamantes and Domitila Ruiz, family members sought the court’s intervention to compel the women to change their behavior. Although their stated intention was saving the women from moral perdition, families’ decision to engage court help was also a public performance intended to rescue familial honor and to restore young women’s reputations. Family efforts to portray some errant women as temporarily led astray allowed for corrective measures to bring them back in line with societal expectations. Conversely, some court proceedings identified women such as Marina García Limón and Simona López Mesto as permanently beyond correction, having chosen to follow a bad path. Families and authorities identified them as “bad women” living malas vidas (bad lives).

The official census, or padrón, of Los Angeles identified bad women with the letters “MV” for mala vida, thus publicly marking them as guilty of incorrigible behaviors. The acronym was used throughout colonial Mexico and in the early Mexican Republic to stigmatize and shame women for living in ways that transgressed socially defined gender norms.47 As arbitrarily determined by church, court, and local officials, depending on the period, women’s supposed impropriety and immorality were defined through a bevy of behaviors, including sexual promiscuity, extramarital affairs, prostitution, unmarried cohabitation, and bearing of illegitimate children. Additionally, nonsexual behaviors such as female outspokenness and resistance to patriarchal authority might also result in an official designation of MV. Regardless of the alleged bad act or behavior, an MV designation could result in a woman’s mistreatment, ostracization, and marginalization.

The 1836 and 1844 padrones attached the MV label to forty-two women.48 Many were single, some were widowed, and most were mothers.49 The pueblo’s small size ensured that women designated MV were known to the larger community, which was the point of the designation. Authorities intended labeling to serve as a deterrent, a caution to other women to avoid transgressing the community’s gender and sexual norms.50 As members of that community, so-called MV women were more than the designation would suggest: besides appearing in court documents in which authorities admonished women for alleged misbehavior, some of the women also surface in city records as neighbors, debtors, and witnesses. And MV women’s actual placement in the good woman/bad woman taxonomy of this sociocultural gender policing was complicated by a variety of social power dynamics. As Deena González found in her work on the Spanish-Mexican women of Santa Fe, New Mexico, the policing of women depended on varying social, economic, and political contexts. It occurred at multiple locations as community leaders, the church, and local secular authorities sought to control female behavior.51 The same was true as Los Angeles emerged in the context of Californio liberalism: women’s regulation took shape in a society in flux, in the hands of a Californio oligarchy determined to establish and maintain its economic and social power, political control, and patriarchal authority.

Californios’ centering of women as reproducers of culture caused a shift in the types of transgressive behaviors that resulted in MV designations during the 1830s and ’40s. For example, Miroslava Chávez-García found that during this period the census identified 115 unwed mothers in Los Angeles, most of whom the census did not identify as MV.52 While many of those designated MV were mothers, the fact that the majority of unwed mothers were not so identified indicates that the label was attached to behaviors beyond single motherhood.53 Chávez-García contends that, although it is unclear why census takers and civil and religious authorities in the 1830s and ’40s did not designate all single mothers as MV, it may be attributed to the undesignated women’s success in hiding “the birth of their child” and to their giving “birth during a time in which personal and public scrutiny of sexual behavior was less intense.”54 While that explanation is plausible, I posit that the rise of Californio liberalism during this period—and, in particular, women’s role as cultural (re)producers—shaped this era’s sociocultural definitions of acceptable female behavior.55 As Rosaura Sánchez contends, it was women’s responsibility to bear children or run the risk of being labeled “deviant and even unpatriotic.”56 As such, the rise of Californio liberalism may explain officials’ shifting perception of women who bore illegitimate children.57 Officials may have been more concerned about controlling female sexuality than about the fate of children born of illicit encounters. This shift did not translate to blanket acceptance of single mothers, of course. Rather, as the case of María Guadalupe Talamantes shows, the selective use of the MV designation reveals that officials tolerated a certain amount of female indiscretion, within limits, as part of a larger project of Californio cultural reproduction. The MV designation became a way to identify women who threatened men’s authority over their family, as we saw in the case of Simona López Mesto. It could also identify women who defied patriarchal supervision, such as sex workers or women with multiple sexual partners. The labeling of women as good or bad through the MV designation is emblematic of the attempt to establish order by regulating female behaviors, sexual or otherwise, that fell beyond physical reproduction and threatened the larger patriarchal order of the nation.58

As part of the larger project of defining Californio culture, the good woman/bad woman paradigm reflected the complexities of Californio society and the power dynamics involved in establishing hegemony. In comparing the cases of Tomasa Talamantes, Domitila Ruiz, Marina García Limón, Simona López Mesto, and Josefa Carrillo, it becomes clear that definitions of propriety and honor rested in the hands of the Californio elite and the institutions that supported the patriarchy. Women of the Californio class and their families used their social status to control how their behaviors were publicly perceived, but judges and court officials determined the correctability of transgressive women. As Kathryn Sloan found in Oaxacan court cases dealing with transgressions of gender behavior, judges rarely explained their verdicts and offered “very little to elucidate their decisions,” yet “their conclusions spoke volumes about public morality.”59 Similarly, Los Angeles judges and court officials, often members of the Californio class, determined whether young women such as Tomasa and Domitila, as hijas de alguien (literally “daughters of someone”), were redeemable. Rooted in Californio-specific norms and ideals, judges’ determinations were informed by their own ideas about race, ethnicity, and class. Judges’ understandings of gender and sexual propriety were both classed and racialized, an influence that can be extrapolated from the determinations in the cases described below.

Hijas de Alguien

Local records reveal that, on December 29, 1828, Tomasa Talamantes was born the “illegitimate daughter of María Guadalupe Talamantes” and an “unknown father.”60 Brought before the court in 1842 by her cousin Sérvulo Varelas, Tomasa’s case illustrates another way in which the public narrative regarding women of the Californio class was controlled. Tomasa’s mother, María Guadalupe Talamantes, was the daughter of Felipe Talamantes and María Yldefonsa Ávila, colonists who arrived in Los Angeles in 1794. In 1839, Felipe, along with his son Tomás, became a grantee of Rancho La Ballona, and land ownership immediately increased the family’s social status.61 When Tomasa appeared in court in 1842, the Talamantes family was apparently living together on Rancho La Ballona.62 Interestingly, María Guadalupe Talamantes appears as “MV” in the 1844 padrón. Although the census offers no explanation for the designation, her children’s baptismal records provide clues to her alleged impropriety. In baptismal records for María Gregoria, María Tomasa, and Pedro, María Guadalupe is identified as “soltera” (unmarried) and the children’s father is listed as “padre no conocido” (father unknown).63 Although her children’s illegitimacy is only a possible explanation for Guadalupe’s MV designation, the latter was undoubtedly a stain on her family’s honor.

The fact that María Guadalupe and her illegitimate children were allowed to live on her father’s rancho indicates familial tolerance, though not necessarily acceptance, of her sexual transgressions. That tolerance reveals three important elements of the case. First, the family’s attempt to avoid further dishonor speaks to why Tomasa’s surname and her mother’s name were not included in the court record. Secondly, it shows how patriarchal authority functioned in the case. For instance, when Varelas presented Tomasa to the court in 1842, he stated that her mother had disowned her. This positioned the men in the family as her guardians and served as a public indictment of Guadalupe’s bad mothering. Presenting Varelas in the patriarchal role allowed Felipe—Guadalupe’s father and Tomasa’s grandfather—to publicly save face for having tolerated his daughter’s indiscretions, while asserting patriarchal authority to correct his granddaughter’s errant behavior. Lastly, trying to anonymize Tomasa by not including a surname illustrates the family’s invocation of Californio ideals of propriety. As Ann Twinam showed in her study of elites in Spanish America, “elites lived in two worlds, the first private—where family, kin and intimate friends share confidences and trust…and promoted each other’s status in the outside world…the second [a] public world inhabited by everyone else, where maintenance, enhancement, or loss of reputation (honor) was determined by imperial and local elites.”64 Because the Talamantes were members of the landed class, officials surely knew Tomasa’s family name; leaving it out was an attempt to hide her behavior. Collectively, these dynamics influenced the court’s decision that Tomasa was a redeemable woman who, under the custody of Sérvulo Varelas, could correct her behavior and thus preserve familial honor.65

The Californio elite’s use of familial networks—including the practice of compadrazgo (godparenting)—to influence the court is also evident in the case of Domitila Ruiz. The connection of Domitila, born to José Agatón Ruiz and María Gertrudis Varelas on November 21, 1835, to the ranchero class is not immediately evident.66 For example, the 1836 padrón lists all her paternal male relations, in both her immediate and extended family, as having no occupation.67 By July 1847, when her godmother, Doña Ascención Villa, petitioned the court for Domitila’s enclosure, her parents appeared to play no role in her life. The court and Domitila’s extended familial networks mobilized the effort to place her under patriarchal control.68 In his ruling, Judge Enrique Ávila indicated the importance of correcting transgressive gender and sexual behavior, stating that “the court should not be indifferent to complaints of this nature.” He ordered Domitila’s confinement to the “respectable home” of Don Antonio Ignacio Ávila, one of the region’s oldest, most respected families and a “near relative” of both the judge and Domitila, as a necessary corrective measure.69

The case illustrates how extended familial networks afforded elites the necessary parental authority to reform a woman like Domitila and “reincorporate her into respectable society.”70 Domitila Ruiz was connected to the Ávila family through her mother, María Gertrudis Varelas.71 María Gertrudis was the daughter of María Hilaria Ávila and the granddaughter of clan patriarch Cornelio Ávila. The family connections went further: Cornelio was the father of Antonio Ignacio Ávila, the husband of María Rosa Ruiz, and so the Ruiz and Varelas families were connected by marriage. Judge Enrique Ávila was himself related to the family, as the nephew of Antonio Ignacio.72 These complex and powerful connections, along with Domitila’s godmother’s efforts, provided the social capital necessary for Domitila’s public designation as a redeemable, rather than a bad, woman. In both Tomasa’s and Domitila’s cases, their direct or indirect connections to elite Californio families, as well as their status as gente de razón (“people of reason”), spared their families from the shame of public naming as MV women. For other women, such as Simona López Mesto and Marina García Limón, the path to redemption and honor appears to have been out of reach.

As previously mentioned, Marina García Limón’s brother Matías petitioned the court’s permission to sell her property in 1847. At the time, Marina was a twenty-year-old woman living in Los Angeles with her two children, her mother, and siblings.73 With her father’s death in 1844, Matías had assumed the role of family patriarch. That December, Marina married twenty-nine-year-old Francisco Limón.74 A disreputable character, Limón was an ex-military officer who had served two years in the presidio after being convicted of “an outrage” against an Indigenous girl at the San Fernando Mission “resulting in her death.”75 The census listed him as a “layabout” in 1836 and as a laborer in 1844.76 By January 1847, Limón had abandoned Marina; he left for Sonora and ultimately died en route.77 Left with no means of support, Matías petitioned the court on his sister’s behalf.78 Unfortunately, the voice of Marina herself does not appear in these proceedings, and prefecture records make no further mention of her thereafter.

Elements of Marina’s life prior to the case illustrate how the MV designation could affect social status in Mexican California. In 1844, “MV” appears next to Marina García’s name in the Los Angeles census.79 The census again fails to explain the label, but other residents of the household, especially one-year-old Epitacio de Celis, offer clues.80 As the only woman of childbearing age in the home, census takers probably surmised that Marina was the boy’s mother, a surmise supported by the child’s different surname.81 However, as previously discussed, single motherhood usually was not enough to result in the MV label. Telling, here, are the timing of Matías’s later actions on Marina’s behalf and, by extension, his own. When Marina García married Francisco Limón in 1844, she had already appeared in the census as “MV.” Her marriage may have been Marina’s attempt to alleviate that social stigma and to raise her status in the community. Unfortunately, she chose poorly: in 1845, after only a few months of marriage, Marina was complaining that Limón was living openly with another woman, María Manuela Villa, also designated “MV” in the 1844 census.82 Interestingly, while Marina disappeared from prefecture records after the 1847 hearing, her brother Matías García’s presence grew more visible. Identified as unemployed in 1844, within three years Matías had come up in the Californio world. By September 1847, he had married Presentación Duarte, daughter of the landed Duarte family.83 Marriage provided Matías with a social status that demanded protection, especially when it became clear that Marina’s husband had abandoned her. Matías’s appearances on Marina’s behalf were the actions of a patriarch attempting to regain social respectability for his sister, to remediate the stain on the García family name, and to maintain his tenuous access to the landed Californio class. Her brother’s intervention may have preserved his status, but it rendered Marina landless. Now a landless dependent, Marina had little power herself to remove past or future MV designations.

Race and the Mala Vida

The 1847 case of Simona López Mesto and Mariano Roldán illustrates how racial status influenced court perceptions of good and bad women. Simona López Mesto was born on October 28, 1802, to Narciso and Feliciana, neophytes at the Mission San Juan Capistrano.84 Before entering the relationship with Mariano Roldán that brought her before the prefecture court, Simona married a San Juan Capistrano neophyte named Diego in 1826, with whom she had three children.85 By the early 1830s, Simona had entered into a relationship with Mariano Roldán. Although they never married, the couple had two daughters, María Luisa and María Victoria. The 1844 padrón shows Mariano and Simona living together in Los Angeles with their two daughters and two children from her previous marriage.86 Simona’s ambiguous marital status and her cohabitation with Roldán most likely contributed to her MV designation in the 1844 padrón. Indicative of the double standards that prevailed in Californio society, authorities labeled only Simona’s behavior as improper; no censure attached to Roldán’s name when he fathered children with other women. His daughter with Victoria Nepe, Merced Roldán, was born in 1846. Later the same year, Roldán married Emerenciana Alvarado, and a year after that they baptized their son Francisco Antonio Telesforo.87 Saddled with the MV label, Simona was an easy target in 1847, when Roldán used allegations of prostitution, immorality, and bad mothering to justify his claim for custody of Victoria, the couple’s youngest daughter.88

Intriguingly, rather than focusing solely on Simona’s alleged transgressions, Roldán used the patriarchal discourses of Californio liberalism to convince the court to award him custody. The grantee of Rancho La Habra centered his claims on patriarchal authority and his ability to protect Victoria’s honor and “defend the sacred rights of home and family” that were his due as an honorable ranchero male.89 While Roldán was a member of the elite Californio landed class, Simona was an Indigenous woman whose racial status placed her outside the lines of social acceptability. Roldán utilized his status as a Californio to delimit the boundaries of propriety and respectability that he and members of his class permitted to Indigenous women like Simona. Referring to her as “la India Simona” and using words like prostitute, greedy, scandal, and perverted to center her sexual transgressions—behavior that seemed to bother him only after their relationship ended—Roldán enhanced his status by belittling Simona.90 His racialized and sexualized descriptions of her ensured that the court would see Simona as lacking respectability.

Despite her lack of social status, Simona resisted Roldán’s efforts: she physically took custody of her children against court orders and succeeded in “influencing [her children’s] intimate decisions.”91 In one such instance, Roldán was angry that Simona influenced daughter Rosalía to reject “three opportunities for marriages…in one of which Rosalía could have been happy.”92 This tantalizing detail shows Simona not only challenging Roldán’s and the court’s authority, but also contesting Californio culture’s insistence that its daughters serve as wives, mothers, and domestic support to that culture. However, as Erika Pérez shows, despite Simona’s continued success in challenging Roldán’s characterizations and attempts to deny her access to her children, his status and social position outweighed her efforts and local records continuously (re)imposed her status as a bad woman.93 Because the court’s records present only Roldán’s perspective, we know only what he and the court thought important to document. Simona lacked the cultural resources required to define how her story would be told. The ability to control Californio narratives of gender propriety belonged to rancheras.

Rancheras and Controlling the Narrative of Respectability

Deemed “mothers of culture” by proponents of liberal Californio ideology, rancheras served as public examples of honorable womanhood. As the bodily representation of honorable womanhood, rancheras were to ensure that their words and actions supported elite Californio gender ideals. Although these expectations resulted in increased patriarchal scrutiny of rancheras, the women’s social status afforded the resources necessary to control public portrayals of their character and behavior. More importantly, able to speak for themselves in court documents and testimonios, wealthy rancheras used the discourses of Californio patriarchy to publicly assert their status as good women, even when their behavior might have earned them MV status. Josefa Carrillo is an excellent example of a ranchera using the tools of the patriarchy to negotiate her own place within it.

Josefa Carrillo was the eldest daughter of Joaquín Carrillo and María Ignacia López, one of the largest and most prominent families in California. When Josefa eloped in April 1829 with Massachusetts sea captain and merchant Henry D. Fitch, she used Californio liberalism’s gendered discourses to defend her honor.94 The couple were mutually smitten when they first met in 1826, but they were careful to respect Don Carrillo’s patriarchal authority to decide whom Josefa should wed. Josefa and Henry followed all the courtship protocols appropriate to daughters of Josefa’s social class. Joaquín Carrillo granted them permission to marry and arranged for the wedding ceremony and celebration to take place in the family home. Josefa later recalled how her wedding day was disrupted on the orders of Governor José María Echeandía, whose proposal of marriage she had earlier rejected. Angry over Josefa’s rejection, Echeandía forbade the marriage.95 Fitch, however, was determined to marry Josefa. Along with Pío Pico, his close friend and Josefa’s cousin, Fitch plotted their elopement. Josefa described how Pico came to her house and, “using several arguments that touch the soul of a young woman in love,” easily convinced her to come with him to meet Fitch nearby.96 The couple sailed to Valparaiso, Chile, where they married.97

Figure 1.

A portrait of Josefa Carrillo Fitch in her later years. She was the eldest daughter of Joaquín Carrillo and María Ignacia López, one of the largest and most prominent families in California.

Courtesy of University of Southern California Libraries and California Historical Society

Figure 1.

A portrait of Josefa Carrillo Fitch in her later years. She was the eldest daughter of Joaquín Carrillo and María Ignacia López, one of the largest and most prominent families in California.

Courtesy of University of Southern California Libraries and California Historical Society

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Figure 2.

Title page of Josefa Carrillo’s testimonio. Dictation of Mrs. Captain Henry D. Fitch.

Courtesy of the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

Figure 2.

Title page of Josefa Carrillo’s testimonio. Dictation of Mrs. Captain Henry D. Fitch.

Courtesy of the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

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Local opinion held that, as a woman of the elite class, Josefa’s behavior in eloping with Fitch was dishonorable.98 In disobeying Governor Echeandía’s orders and traveling abroad without her family’s knowledge or consent, Josefa had brought shame upon her family and herself, opening her to charges that she was a bad woman. When the couple returned to California one year later with their young son, Josefa’s mother informed her that her father was “resentful and angry” over her elopement and “promised to kill her” on sight. Josefa, “preferring to risk death than live in anger with the author of her days,” immediately went to the family home to plead her father’s forgiveness.99 Upon entering the residence, Josefa found her father sitting by a “small desk with a rifle by his side.” She quickly begged him to “forgive her for having left his home.” Seeing her words received with silence, Josefa recalled that she knelt down and crawled toward him while pleading for forgiveness, stating that “had she disobeyed him, it was only to withdraw from the hateful tyranny” of “laws and customs” that forbade her marriage.100 After a long silence, her father “arose from his chair, lifted her in his arms and said, ‘I forgive you my daughter, for it is not your fault that our governors are despots.’”101 Josefa then “motioned to her mother and friends to come and congratulate her” upon her marriage and motherhood. Soon “the most highly respected women” of the community came to the family home to celebrate with them “her happy return.” Later that evening, having “obtained the required permissions to marry,” the Carrillos held a grand baile (dance) to celebrate Josefa’s marriage and her return to the family home.102

But the couple’s troubles were not over. A few days later, Josefa and Henry arrived in Monterey, where Governor Echeandía issued orders to detain them on the basis of an illegal marriage certificate. The two remained in custody for three months, with Fitch imprisoned and Josefa held separately for a depósito, or “the practice separating a couple who had eloped to ascertain whether the woman had consented of her own volition to the union.”103 Next, local authorities sent the couple to Mission San Gabriel, where they underwent an ecclesiastical investigation that included the threat of annulment.104 Ultimately, “ecclesiastical authorities found the marriage valid but not legitimate under canon law” and they ordered the couple “to perform penance” at the mission, to “hold lit candles while attending High Mass…and pray the rosary for thirty days.”105 After a three-month separation, Josefa and Henry were finally “allowed to live as husband and wife.”106

Reading this story—now a well-known and often (re)told romance of Mexican California—through the prism of Californio liberal, nationalist thought illustrates how gendered power functioned within that society.107 It also shows how rancheras such as Josefa Carrillo Fitch were able to tell their own stories and restore their status as honorable women, even when they had clearly transgressed local norms. Josefa Carrillo Fitch’s testimonio regarding her reconciliation with her father is central to her success in (re)asserting her public image as a good woman. In detailing her pleas for her father’s forgiveness, Josefa played into three key elements of liberal, ranchero masculinity. First, she humbled herself and used deferential language in approaching her father, even crawling across the floor to plead for forgiveness. In so doing, she upheld his authority as ranchero patriarch and—more importantly—restored the gendered order of his home, authority she had undermined in her decision to elope.108 Secondly, she used the language of romantic love when describing how Pico used “several arguments that touch the soul of a young woman in love,” leaving her so stirred by love that she agreed to elope with Fitch. Most importantly, however, in her testimonio Josefa shrewdly engaged the language of Californio liberalism, presenting her elopement as opposition to the tyranny of Echeandía, not the authority of her father—invoking the patria, or love and affection, that liberal Californios felt for their homeland.109 Josefa skillfully used the language of patriotic emotion that emerged in Californio discourse in the years following Mexican independence, in which elite Californios stood opposed to tyrannical governmental authority.110 Rather than the misdeeds of a bad woman, this stratagem defined Josefa’s actions as patriotic.

Reading Carrillo Fitch’s explanation through what Chicana theorist and historian Emma Pérez terms “feminism-in-nationalism” allows us to hear the “double voice discourse” through which she (re)interpreted and (re)deployed patriarchal, nationalist discourse to negotiate her position “within and between dominant male discourses.” Carrillo Fitch deftly used Californio nationalist discourse to reassert her honorable womanhood within the Californio patriarchy.111 Framing her disobedience as a response to tyrannical power, specifically Echeandía’s punitive assertion of a patriarchal authority higher than that of her father, Josefa framed her transgression in a way that her father—and, by extension, the elite Californio class to which they both belonged—would understand.112 In this discourse, Josefa’s misdeed appears as a forced response to a despotic governor, not unlike the resistance that Californios had previously mounted against the tyrannies of Spain.

The celebration of Josefa’s marriage at the Carrillo home was another important element in restoring Carrillo Fitch’s public honor. Analysis of this event must consider two important parts: the event at the time it occurred and Josefa’s later decision to include it in her narrative. In 1830, the celebration was a performance demonstrating the physical restoration of patriarchal order, or Joaquín Carrillo’s authority, within his household. This restoration begins with Josefa’s deferential apology, during which her mother and other women stayed outside the home, acknowledging the patriarch’s control of that space. Once patriarchal order had been restored, Josefa’s female relatives and those women she identifies as “respectable” were allowed into the home to welcome her back. Because rancheras like Josefa defined the contours of respectable womanhood, their presence constituted a public enunciation of Josefa’s claims to hegemonic feminine respectability. For Don Carrillo, obtaining the local authority’s permission for his daughter’s marriage validated the union, while holding the fiesta to celebrate his daughter’s return to the family home was a performance of his authority as patriarch.113

A further performance occurred in 1875, when Josefa related her narrative to one of Hubert Howe Bancroft’s oral historians, Henry Cerruti. Here, Josefa’s elopement emphasized equally her deference to patriarchal authority and her commitment to the Mexican republic.114 The telling allowed Josefa to again assert a respectable public reputation, positioning herself as a good woman. This time she spoke to a new audience, one now dominated by English-speaking Americans, reframing again what might have appeared as a dishonorable action as an act of patriotism and filial devotion. Her testimonio also ensured that her father would be remembered as an honorable Californio patriarch. Both in the contemporary and later retelling of her story, Josefa meant for her narrative to secure her position in the patriarchy as a good woman, thus ensuring that her honor, and by extension that of her family, was protected.

The case of Josefa Carrillo Fitch shows how women of the elite class used the ideas of Californio nationalism to speak for themselves and thus to control the narrative regarding their public image. She used her social capital and her connection to other elite women to downplay her transgressive behaviors—resources unavailable to women outside the landed, Californio elite, women such as Domitila Ruiz, Tomasa Talamantes, Marina García Limón, Simona López Mesto, and María Guadalupe Talamantes. When their relatives, godparents, or partners asked the court for help in controlling errant women, they permitted a patriarchal network solely comprised of men to determine the women’s status and eligibility for redemption. For Josefa Carrillo Fitch, her social position and the support of similarly elite Californio women allowed her to regain her status of honorable womanhood. Although redemption of her public reputation required some finesse, there was no question about her eligibility for redemption: her status made it a given.

Determining whether a woman was inside or outside of the bounds of respectability was part of the gendered project of Californio nation building. Women’s respectability and honor was determined through interrelated sociocultural systems and networks. On one side were judges, court officials, and priests; on the other, family, friends, and community. These various elements collectively determined whether a woman stood within or without the boundaries of Californio honorable society. However, the decision was not without bias. These networks were often composed entirely of men of the Californio class. As a result, a woman’s connection to that class was central to her reputation as respectable or, at the very least, redeemable. As such, control of the discourse of good/bad womanhood was integral to assuring a woman’s social position. Although women of all classes faced the loss of respectability, it was often poor, landless, and Indigenous women who were most likely to be denied that status.

The position within the patriarchy of elite women, those who possessed the social status to influence and control narratives about their own behavior, rested in the approval of the ranchero patriarch and of other elite women. As Tamar Mayer puts it, the defining of respectability and the creation of a nation often lies in the hands of an elite “who have the power to define the nation in ways that further their own interests,” and thereby the “same elites are also able to define who is central and who is marginal to the national project.”115 In the world of the Californio elite, women negotiated their power within the ranchero family and, because liberal Californio ideology held that morality and respectability rested on women’s shoulders, it was the rancheras who contoured and reinforced ideas of respectability for all women. This position allowed rancheras the power to define—and speak for—themselves.


For extensive discussion of the formation of nineteenth-century Mexican liberalism, see Charles A. Hale, Mexican Liberalism in the Age of Mora, 1821–1853 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1968).


Karen D. Caplan, Indigenous Citizens: Local Liberalism in Early National Oaxaca and Yucatán (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press), 2010, 3.


The terms hegemonic masculinity and hegemonic femininity are often used to describe Euro-American white supremacist and colonialist gender ideals imposed on Mexicans during the nineteenth century. Here, I use these phrases to describe Californio imposition of their own understandings of gender and sexuality on the lower and landless classes. Because these gender and sexual ideals were rooted in racialized and classed understandings of Mexican-Californio settler colonialism, they reflect a dominant form of gender order that determined larger societal gender and sexual expectations.


Rosaura Sánchez, Telling Identities: The California Testimonios (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995), 192, 197.


In this work, I use “contour” as an analytical and conceptual fulcrum to convey the ranchero elite’s intentionality and power in the production of gendered discourses. I distinguish “contouring” from “shaping” because I see Californios’ articulation of gender discourse as part of multiple intersecting systems of power taking shape during a transitional period. For example, the processes of Californio worldmaking and nation building required the intentional reframing of the sociocultural order within the contradictory ideals and realities of economic and political liberalism and settler colonialism. These dynamics required an active intentionality or contouring of various sociocultural values and ideals, including gender, to create a hegemonic Californio society and culture that sustained and legitimized the power of the elite. Specifically, as part of these processes and as members of the elite class, rancheras countered the meanings and articulation of gender discourse to suit their specific needs—as a way to legitimize their privileged social position. This included maintaining the good woman/bad woman paradigm.


For works examining Californio women’s experiences and negotiation of patriarchy in nineteenth-century California, see Sánchez, Telling Identities; Antonia Castañeda, “Engendering the History of Alta California, 1769–1848: Gender, Sexuality, and the Family,” in Ramón A. Gutiérrez and Richard J. Orsi (eds.), Contested Eden: California before the Gold Rush (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 230–259; Miroslava Chávez-García, Negotiating Conquest: Gender and Power in California, 1770–1880s (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2004); María Raquél Casas, Married to a Daughter of the Land: Spanish-Mexican Women and Interethnic Marriage in California, 1820–1880 (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2007); Linda Heidenreich This Land Was Mexican Once: Histories of Resistance from Northern California (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007); Louise Pubols, The Father of All: The de la Guerra Family, Power, and Patriarchy in Mexican California (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009); Erika Pérez, Colonial Intimacies: Interethnic Kinship, Sexuality, and Marriage in Southern California, 1769–1885 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2018); Yvette Saavedra, Pasadena before the Roses: Race, Identity, and Land Use in Southern California, 1771–1890 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2018).


Sánchez, Telling Identities, 29–30.


Genaro M. Padilla, My History, Not Yours: The Formation of Mexican American Autobiography (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993), 111.


For a discussion of the limitations of the testimonios, see the general and individual introductions to each testimonio in Rose Marie Beebe and Robert M. Senkewicz (eds. and trans.), Testimonios: Early California through the Eyes of Women, 1815–1848 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2015).


My reading of these sources is informed by Ann Stoler’s discussion of “reading colonial archives against the grain” and reading “upper class sources upside down”—that is, “reading against the languages of rule,” to locate “histories that demonstrate more than the warped reality of official knowledge.” See Ann Stoler, Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007), 46–47.


Karen R. Roybal, Archives of Dispossession: Recovering the Testimonios of Mexican American Herederas, 1848–1960 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017), 25. For recent Chicana feminist works that engage with the process of reading the archival silences, see Anita Huizar-Hernández, Forging Arizona: A History of the Peralta Land Grant and Racial Identity in the West (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2019); Vanessa Fonseca-Chávez, Colonial Legacies in Chicana/o Literature and Culture: Looking through the Kaleidoscope (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2020).


Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex (New York: Routledge, 1993), 13.


Padilla, My History, Not Yours, 26.


For a detailed discussion of the economic development of the San Gabriel Mission and land use from the Spanish colonial period to Mexican independence, see part I of Saavedra, Pasadena before the Roses, esp. 44–47.




For a discussion of the links between missionaries and early California elites, especially José de la Guerra, see Pubols, Father of All, 13–56.


For a discussion about the development of political identity in Mexican California, see Louise Pubols, “Becoming Californio: Jokes, Broadsides, and a Slap in the Face,” in Steven W. Hackel (ed.), Alta California: Peoples in Motion, Identities in Formation, 1769–1850 (Berkeley: Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West and University of California Press, 2010), 131–155.


This builds on Karen D. Caplan’s contention that rural areas developed their own localized forms of Mexican liberalism based on local interpretation of economic realities. See Karen D. Caplan, Indigenous Citizens: Local Liberalism in Early National Oaxaca and Yucatán (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press), 2010, 6–7.


Saavedra, Pasadena before the Roses, 59–60.


For a general discussion of land and Californios, see Douglas Monroy, “The Creation and Re-creation of Californio Society,” in Gutiérrez and Orsi, Contested Eden, 230–259. For a discussion of localized land distribution in the Los Angeles area, see Saavedra, Pasadena before the Roses, 59–93; Lisbeth Haas, Conquest and Historical Identities in California, 1776–1936 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 33–34.


For a discussion of masculinity and rancho/land ownership, see Saavedra, Pasadena before the Roses, 75–80. For a discussion of patriarchy in the rancho family and larger community, see, generally, Pubols, Father of All.


Casas, Married to a Daughter of the Land, 24–25.


Rather than suggesting that the physical rancho itself was the exclusive domain either of men or of women, I posit that Californio men’s and women’s uses of liberal discourse to define masculinity and femininity (albeit in different ways), as seen through their testimonios, indelibly marked the rancho as the site where sociocultural gender ideals were made legible within the context of nineteenth-century California. I conceptualize the rancho as the physical materialization of, and basis for, both hegemonic masculinity and femininity, within a broader Californio gender dichotomy. I am developing this concept further in another in-progress project. For a discussion on Californio testimonios and their role in defining identity, see Sánchez, Telling Identities, 1–5.


Chávez-García, Negotiating Conquest, 27–28; Pérez, Colonial Intimacies, 77; Saavedra, Pasadena before the Roses, 102.


For a discussion of gender norms and the patriarchal family’s integral role in California’s development during the Spanish and Mexican periods, see Castañeda, “Engendering the History of Alta California,” 230–259.


Over time and based on the specific context (early colonization, Californio nation building post–Mexican Independence, increasing American presence, etc.), marriage and intermarriage have long served as the means of colonization, nation building, and the creation of cultural, economic, and social networks. For a detailed discussion of marriage, especially Spanish-Mexican women’s exercise of agency through interethnic marriages in Mexican and early American California, see, generally, Casas, Married to a Daughter of the Land. For an examination of intermarriage during the Spanish colonial period, see Castañeda, “Engendering the History of Alta California,” 230–259.


Pérez, Colonial Intimacies, 4.


Steve J. Stern, Secret History of Gender: Women, Men, and Power in Late Colonial Mexico (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005), 19.


The court document does not include a surname for Tomasa. Prefect Santiago Argüello to Second Court of Los Angeles, December 10, 1842, vol. 1, 621–623, Los Angeles County Prefecture Records (LAPR) (English translation), The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.




Recogimiento has its origins in Renaissance Spain and was implemented throughout colonial Latin American, beginning in the 1500s. Rooted in sociocultural gender codes, the meaning, interpretation, and enactment of the practice had a complex history influenced by the specific social contexts in which its used. For a detailed discussion, see Nancy Van Deusen, Between the Sacred and the Worldly: The Institutional and Cultural Practice of Recogimiento in Colonial Lima (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001).


Padrón de la Cuidad de Los Ángeles y su Jurisdicción, Año 1836; José Salazar to Second Court of Los Angeles, August 12, 1847, LAPR, 2:572; Enrique Ávila to Second Court of Los Angeles, October 29, 1847, LAPR, 2:578.


Enrique Ávila to Second Court of Los Angeles, October 29, 1847, LAPR, 2:578–579.


Ibid. Court records show that the court sent Domitila Ruiz to the home of José Antonio Carrillo. Domitila disappears from court records thereafter.


Ancestry.com, Find a Grave Index, 1600s–Current [database online] (Lehi, UT: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012), Felipe García y Romero, https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/44828/person/-2137489978/facts.


José Antonio García and María Guadalupe Uribe Marriage Record, ECPP database, http://missions.huntington.org/MarriageData.aspx?ID=2664.


Matías García Petition to Julián Chávez, Acting Alcalde of Los Angeles, June 10, 1847, LAPR, A:331–333.


Ibid. Nine-year-old Francisco Limón appears in Marina’s household in the 1852 California census.


In her study on New Mexico, Deena González argued that women publicly deferring to their husband or male relatives in court was part of a performance of patriarchal deference meant to demonstrate their, and their families’, adherence to honorable gender norms/roles/practices. See Deena González, Refusing the Favor: The Spanish Mexican Women of Santa Fe, 1830–1880 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 18–19.


Juan Bautista Alvarado, Historia de California, 1876, California Cultures: Selected Documents from the Bancroft Library, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, BANC MSS C-D 2, 32; Calisphere.org, https://calisphere.org/item/ark:/13030/hb1z09n8qz/.


Mariano Roldán to Stephen Foster, August 24, 1848, LAPR, 1:764. In the 1844 padrón, Roldán and López Mesto’s household consisted of themselves and four children: Oronato, age twenty; Felicitas, fifteen; Luisa, ten; and Victoria, five. Padrón de la Cuidad de Los Ángeles y su Jurisdicción, Año 1844.


Mariano Roldán to José Vicente Guerrero, August 28, 1848, LAPR, 2:768; Mariano Roldán to Stephen Foster, August 24, 1848, LAPR, 1:764.


Mariano Roldán to José Vicente Guerrero, August 28, 1848, LAPR, 2:768–769.


Mariano Roldán to Stephen Foster, August 24, 1848, LAPR, 1:764.


Mariano Roldán to José Vicente Guerrero, August 28, 1848, LAPR, 2:769; Mariano Roldán to José Vicente Guerrero, August 28, 1848, LAPR, 1:765.


Deena González found that, in Santa Fe during the transitional periods between 1830 and 1880, cultural mechanisms such as community surveillance based on Catholic gender ideals intermeshed with the increasing secular courts to police and enforce gender norms. González, Refusing the Favor.


Between the Spanish colonial period and the early nineteenth century, the phrase mala vida underwent significant semantic change. At first, ecclesiastical and later civil courts used the term to describe the bad conditions or unhappy married lives of women whose husbands were not meeting the ethical obligations and responsibilities of marriage. Women could publicly accuse their husbands of excessive (meaning noncorrective) physical abuse, financial neglect resulting from drinking, gambling, or support of a mistress, maintaining a casa chica (second household), blatant extramarital affairs, neglect, abandonment, and a variety of other behaviors. In other words, the term described the means by which church and court protected women from abuse of husbands’ power. By the nineteenth century, however, the term appears in church and court records as a means of publicly shaming women for alleged transgression of societally imposed gender norms and behaviors. For a discussion of la mala vida and marriage dynamics in colonial Mexico, see Richard Boyer, “Women, La Mala Vida, and the Politics of Marriage,” in Asunción Lavrin (ed.), Sexuality and Marriage in Colonial Latin America (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989), 252–286.


The number of Spanish-speaking women included in the 1836 census was 427; in 1844 it was 500. Although the census counted Indigenous persons, the enumeration did not record last names or identify them as men, women, or children. Chávez-García, Negotiating Conquest, 46.


Ibid., 46–48.


Ibid., 48.


Deena González asserts that although policing occurred at these multiple levels, women negotiated these gendered spaces to carve out their survival. See, generally, González, Refusing the Favor.


Chávez-García, Negotiating Conquest, 48.






Liberal education in 1820s Alta California under Echeandía consisted of the inclusion of illegitimate persons, as well as others, in the building of the nation. See Sánchez, Telling Identities, 111.


Ibid., 208.


Chávez-García shows that the number of illegitimate births in Los Angeles was low during this period. Rather than contending that the occurrence of illegitimacy was high, I am engaging with the changing conceptualization of motherhood and why women who gave birth to illegitimate children were not regarded as living malas vidas. For discussion of illegitimacy, see Chávez-García, Negotiating Conquest, 47.


My examination of la mala vida within the context of Californio nationalism is part of a larger project currently in progress.


Kathryn A. Sloan, Runaway Daughters: Seduction, Elopement, and Honor in Nineteenth-Century Mexico (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2008), 5.


Interestingly, officiant and recorder Father Gerónimo Boscana recorded Tomasa’s surname as “Cantuariense.” This may be a baptismal name in honor of Santo Tomás Canuariense. María Tomasa, Baptismal Record, Los Angeles Church Records, Baptisms 1826–1864, FHL no. 00783381.


They were co-grantees of this land along with Agustín and Ygnacio Machado. Felipe was listed as a labrador propietario (owner farmer) in the 1836 padrón, and as a ranchero in the 1844 padrón. See Hubert Howe Bancroft, California Pioneer Register and Index, 1542–1848: Including Inhabitants of California, 1769–1800, and List of Pioneers (Baltimore: Regional Publishing, 1964), 235, 350.


Padrón de la Cuidad de Los Angeles y su Jurisdicción, Año 1844.


María Gregoria, the eldest child, is not listed as living with the family on Rancho La Ballona in 1844. For the marriage record, see José Manríquez to María Gregoria, Marriage Record, May 5, 1840, ECPP database, http://missions.huntington.org/MarriageData.aspx?ID=3427; The Early California Population Project: A Database Compiled and Developed at the Huntington Library (general editor: Steven W. Hackel; lead compiler: Anne M. Reid; The Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, California, 2006); María Gregoria Talamantes, Baptismal Record, December 14, 1825, ECPP database, http://missions.huntington.org/BaptismalData.aspx?ID=15181; María Tomasa, Baptismal Record, Los Angeles Church Records, Baptisms 1826–1864, FHL no. 00783381; Pedro Regalado Talamantes, Baptismal Record, May 13, 1831, http://missions.huntington.org/BaptismalData.aspx?ID=2410.


Ann Twinam, Public Lives Private Secrets: Gender, Honor, Sexuality, and Illegitimacy in Colonial Spanish America (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999), 29.


Although the outcome of Tomasa’s case is unknown, we can gather that her behavior did not change. The 1844 padrón lists her with a ten-month infant named María de Jesús. This child was Tomasa’s daughter, born June 24, 1843. María de Jesus’s baptismal record lists her father as “unknown.” Interestingly, officiant and recorder Fr. Francisco Sánchez noted the words espuria (false) and legítima (legitimate) on the record; what he meant by this is unclear. Tomasa is not listed as MV in the padrón; see María de Jesús, Baptismal Record, ECPP database, http://missions.huntington.org/BaptismalData.aspx?ID=3227, June 24, 1843.


María Domitila Ruiz, Baptismal Record, ECPP database, http://missions.huntington.org/BaptismalData.aspx?ID=2252, November 21, 1835.


Persons with no occupation were designated with an “N” for ninguno (none). Padrón de la Cuidad de Los Angeles y su Jurisdicción, Año 1836.


Her father died in August 1847. I could find no record of María Gertrudis between 1844 and 1850. She reappears in California’s state census of 1852 as living with Domitila. She died in 1860. See California State Census of 1852, microfilm, M/F 144, Reel 2 (Sacramento: California State Library).


Enrique Ávila to Second Court of Los Angeles, October 29, 1847, LAPR, 2:578.


Pérez, Colonial Intimacies, 192.


María Hilaria Ávila, baptismal record, ECPP database, http://missions.huntington.org/BaptismalData.aspx?ID=11712; Antonio Ygnacio Abila and Rosa María Ruiz, Marriage Record, ECPP database, http://missions.huntington.org/MarriageData.aspx?ID=62.


The judge’s father was Anastasio Ávila, Antonio Ignacio’s brother.


The ages of Marina and her siblings are approximations. From comparing information in census records and various family genealogies, it seems that 1836 and 1844 census takers miscalculated the ages of the people in the household. Records suggest a margin of error of ±4 years.


Francisco Limón and María Marina García, Marriage Record, ECPP database, http://missions.huntington.org/MarriageData.aspx?ID=3629. The couple’s son, Francisco Limón, nine years old in the 1852 California census, was likely born in 1843 or 1844, around the time of Marina’s marriage.


This information was synthesized by Brent Dickerson from sources in the LAPR as well as materials from various works of Hubert H. Bancroft. See Brent C. Dickerson, Narciso Botello’s Annals of Southern California 1833–1847 (Bloomington, IN: iUniverse Press, 2014), 274.


Listed as “Francisco Limón.” Padrón de la Cuidad de Los Ángeles y su Jurisdicción, Año 1836; Padrón de la Cuidad de Los Ángeles y su Jurisdicción, Año 1844.


Dickerson, Narciso Botello’s Annals of Southern California, 274.


Matías received permission to sell Limón’s property to María Dolores Valenzuela. See Marina García de Limón to María Dolores Valenzuela, Sale of Property, LAPR, A:957c.


Padrón de la Cuidad de Los Ángeles y su Jurisdicción, Año 1844.


The 1852 California state census lists Marina living with her children Epitacio, age seven, and Francisco Limón, age nine. See California State Library, Sacramento California, California, 1852 California State Census, Roll no. 2, Repository Collection no. C144:2, page 61, line 4, Ancestry.com, California, U.S., State, 1852 [database online] (Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010).


To date, I have been unable to locate birth and baptismal records for Epitacio de Celis. However, the surname “Celis” was uncommon in Los Angeles at the time. Based on this, I posit that Epitacio’s father could be Eugelio Celis, a well-known businessman who settled in Los Angeles in the 1830s. He was also the only person with this last name in the area at the time. Although I have not located a record connecting him to Epitacio, aside from his surname, Eugelio did have other known illegitimate children. In 1839 he gave his name to María Antonia de Jesús García de Celis, a child he had with María de Jesús García. See Padrón de la Cuidad de Los Ángeles y su Jurisdicción, Año 1844; María Antonia de Jesús García Celis, Baptismal Record, EPCC database, http://missions.huntington.org/BaptismalData.aspx?ID=28638.


For mention of Limón’s cohabiting with Villa, see Dickerson, Narciso Botello’s Annals of Southern California, 274; for María Manuela Villa’s MV designation, see Padrón de la Cuidad de Los Ángeles y su Jurisdicción, Año 1844.


Matías García and Presentación Duarte, Marriage Record, ECPP database, http://missions.huntington.org/MarriageData.aspx?ID=3212.


Simona’s father’s native name was Culiti and her mother’s name was Yuga. They lived at the Mission San Juan Capistrano at the time of Simona’s birth. See Simona [López], Baptismal Record, ECPP database, http://missions.huntington.org/BaptismalData.aspx?ID=38646.


Diego and Simona Marriage Record, ECPP database, http://missions.huntington.org/MarriageData.aspx?ID=9503. The records say nothing more about this relationship.


The Roldán and Mesto household in 1844 consisted of Mariano, Simona, and Oronato, age twenty; Felicitas, fifteen; Luisa, ten; and Victoria, five. Padrón de la Cuidad de Los Ángeles y su Jurisdicción, Año 1844.


In addition to Francisco Antonio, Roldán and Alvarado had four other children, Francisca (born 1849), José (1851), Francisco (1852), and Ygnacio (1866). I have been unable to locate a marriage record; however, Francisco Antonio’s baptismal record lists Roldán as the boy’s (legitimate) father. Additionally, a property sale transaction names Emerenciana Alvarado as Roldán’s widow. See Francisco Antonio Telesforo Roldán, ECPP database, Baptismal Record, http://missions.huntington.org/BaptismalData.aspx?ID=3494. See Emerenciana Alvarado to Don Felipe Rehm and Doña María del Rosario Diaz, Deed of Sale, April 5, 1850, LAPR, 1:1005–1006.


Mariano Roldán to José Vicente Guerrero, August 28, 1848, LAPR 2:768–769.


Mariano Roldán to Stephen Foster, August 24, 1848, LAPR, 2:768–769. In 1839 Governor Juan Alvarado granted Mariano Roldán the 6,698-acre Rancho Cañada La Habra. See Ancestry.com, California, U.S., Spanish Land Records, 1784–1868 [database online] (Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014).


Mariano Roldán to Stephen Foster, August 24, 1848, LAPR, 1:764–765; Mariano Roldán to José Vicente Guerrero, August 28, 1848, LAPR, 2:768–769.


Pérez, Colonial Intimacies, 171.


Mariano Roldán to Stephen Foster, August 24, 1848, LAPR, 1:765.


For a detailed discussion of Simona Mesto’s assertion of parental authority in this case, see Pérez, Colonial Intimacies, 170–171.


There are several variations and analyses of this story as told in the testimonios of Californios such as Pío Pico and Mariano Vallejo. In this work, I focus on how Josefa related her own narrative. For discussion of Pico’s and Vallejo’s recollections, see Casas, Married to a Daughter of the Land, and Sánchez, Telling Identities. For Josefa Carrillo Fitch’s testimonio in its entirety, see “Dictation of Mrs. Captain Henry D. Fitch, Healdsburg, Calif.,” ms.S, November 26, 1875, C-E 67:10 (518:17), California Cultures: Selected Documents from the Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library, Calisphere.org, https://calisphere.org/item/ark:/13030/hb109nb1sg/.


Josefa believed that Echeandía’s action was rooted in his jealously after her rejections of his romantic interests. Beebe and Senkewicz posit that, while jealousy did play a role in Echeandía’s behavior, he was also angry at Fitch’s participation in smuggling, and impatient with the increased incursion of Americans into the region; see Beebe and Senkewicz, Testimonios, 72.


Author’s translation, “Dictation of Mrs. Captain Henry D. Fitch,” C-E 67:10 (518:17, frame 0774); C-E 67:10 (518:17, frame 0775).


Ibid. (frame 0777).


Elopement as marriage strategy was used by couples across socioeconomic classes; however, for elite women, the social consequences included a stain on their public honor and status. This was compounded by the financial implications that an unwise marriage choice could have on their family. For a discussion of elopement as a marriage strategy in rural Mexico, see Sloan, Runaway Daughters.


Author’s translation. I have chosen to translate “autor de sus días” literally, as “author of her days,” rather than change it to “man who gave her life” as Beebe and Senkewicz do, to illustrate the level of patriarchal deference Josefa implied in her testimonio.


“Dictation of Mrs. Captain Henry D. Fitch,” C-E 67:10 (518:17, frame 0776).


Ibid., 518:17, frame 0778.




Casas, Married to a Daughter of the Land, 91.


The investigation into Fitch and Carrillo’s marriage evolved into an examination of Echeandía’s actions. As María Raquél Casas contends, the situation and trials represented a power struggle between the church and state concerning mission secularization. For a discussion of the case’s political implications, see Casas, Married to a Daughter of the Land, 93–94.


Ibid., 95.


For a copy of the marriage investigation, see “Dictation of Mrs. Captain Henry D Fitch,” C-E 67:10 (518:17, frame 0781).


For an analysis of how Californios relate the Carrillo-Fitch narrative as an allegorical story about the 1846 U.S. invasion of California, see Sánchez, Telling Identities, 213–216.


As Kathryn Sloan contends, “when a man successfully seduced or eloped with a young woman, he boosted his own masculinity and in turn emasculated her father.” Sloan, Runaway Daughters, 36.


Scholars such as Maurizio Viroli argue that the stirrings and development of the languages of patriotism and nationalism are directly tied to emotion and sentiment. I apply this idea here in examining patriarchal discourses that frame women as emotional or irrational. See Maurizio Viroli, For Love of Country: An Essay on Patriotism and Nationalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995). For a discussion of emotion and the stirring of elite nationalisms in Spanish America, see Rebecca Earle, The Return of the Native: Indians and Myth-Making in Spanish America, 1810–1930 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007).


After independence, Californios increasingly described Mexico as their “stepmother” and developed a regional identity separate from that of Mexicanos in Mexico. As Monroy states, “California became their patria, and Mexico a foreign place.” This sentiment, supported by the spread of liberal ideologies, cast Mexico’s attempts to assert governmental authority in California as foreign encroachment, and resulted in rebellions against governors Chico and Gutiérrez. For a discussion of patria, liberalism, proto-nationalist sentiment, and Californio rebellions, see Monroy, “Creation and Re-creation of Californio Society,” 180–181.


Emma Pérez, The Decolonial Imaginary: Writing Chicanas into History (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 32–33.


Contemporaries viewed Echeandía as a liberal, due to his resistance to imposition of Governor Victoria as well as his support of secularization and land distribution. However, approval was generational: men like Carrillo and José de Jesús Vallejo regarded Echeandía as a despot and tyrant. See Sánchez, Telling Testimonios, 110–111.


In the rancho period, high-profile fiestas, sometimes lasting for several days, allowed ranchero hosts to highlight their affluence by providing abundant food and drink for their guests. These celebrations displayed the ranchero’s wealth to other high-status persons while simultaneously performing the role of paternal ranchero to folks from the lower, landless classes. For a discussion of Californios’ use of the fiesta to assert social status, see Saavedra, Pasadena before the Roses, 111–114.


This supports Hayden White’s assertion that, when writing narratives, historians arrange events in a certain order and decide what to include and exclude. As I have argued elsewhere, the process of relating their narratives to Bancroft’s interviewers made Californio men and women “into historians whose recollections became part of a history” that they were both telling and making. As such, Californios’ “roles as historians allowed them the latitude” to create the story however they wished. See Saavedra, Pasadena before the Roses, 109–110.


Tamar Mayer, “Gender Ironies of Nationalism: Setting the Stage,” in Tamar Mayer (ed.), Gender Ironies of Nationalism: Sexing the Nation (New York: Routledge, 2000), 12.