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The Expedition of 1781

In July and August of 1781, two separate legs of an expedition arrived at the San Gabriel Mission with the intention of establishing a new Spanish settlement called “El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de Los Angeles,” nine miles west of the mission.  After a journey of 950 miles from Álamos (Sonora) through hostile Indian territory, fifty-six soldiers and eleven settlers (pobladores) and their families had arrived in San Gabriel and among their ranks were:

  • 55-year-old Luis Quintero, his 45-year-old wife María Petra Rubio, along with four of their unmarried children and three daughters married to soldiers on the same expedition
  • 20-year-old Manuel Ignacio Lugo (a soldier and native of Villa de Sinaloa) and his wife, Gertrudis Limon (30 years old and a native of Sinaloa), as well as their two-year-old son Josef (Jose) Miguel Lugo
  • Ildefonso Dominguez (a soldier and a native of Villa de Sinaloa and the widower of Maria Ignacia German), along with two of his children, one of whom was Jose Maria Dominguez, a 16-year-old born in Sinaloa
  • Juan Victorino Feliz (a 30-year-old soldier) with his 29-year-old wife, María Micaela Landera and their four children (which included 10-year-old María Marcela)
  • José Rosalino Fernandez (a 30-year-old soldier from Villa de Fuerte in Sinaloa) with his new bride, María Josefa Quintero – the daughter of Luis Quintero and Petra Rubio (mentioned above)

These 12 individuals – as members of one of the most important Spanish expeditions to California in the Eighteenth Century – are truly the first pioneers of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Ventura – the three settlements that were inevitably established by this expedition during the next eight months. However, it is ironic that these 12 pioneers are also the direct ancestors of another American pioneer – a pioneer of the Rock ’n’ Roll culture of the United States: Ritchie Valens.

The Pueblo of Los Angeles

After the founding of the Pueblo of Los Angeles in September 1781, many of the soldiers provided support for the new settlers, which included Ritchie Valens’ great-great-great-great-great-grandparents, Luis Quintero and Petra Rubio.  Historian Meredith Stevens wrote that “the soldiers…built pole and mud huts with earthen roofs, and made corrals of willow poles laced with rawhide. They dug wells, cleared land for planting and set up an irrigation system fed from the river by zanja madre (mother ditch).” Their role in helping the small pueblo get off to a good start is beyond doubt.

Moving on to Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara lies along the Pacific Ocean almost 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles. In those days, the Santa Monica Mountains, Tehachapi Mountains, and the San Gabriel-San Bernardino Mountain range represented a formidable barrier to north-south travel for all travelers, Spaniard and Indian alike. Southeast of present-day Santa Barbara, the Santa Monica Mountains drop off abruptly into the Pacific Ocean. 

On March 26, 1781, the Santa Barbara Company consisting of fifty-seven officers and men under the command of Lieutenant Ortega left San Gabriel for the northwest.  However, if you include the Indian auxiliaries and the wives and children of the soldiers, the entire expedition numbered some 200 people and also included about 200 horses and mules. Joining the soldiers on the journey north was Luis Quintero and Petra Rubio who had not adjusted properly to life at the Los Angeles Pueblo. 

Threading their way carefully along the coastal Indian trails in the beach area, the soldiers travelled north, reaching San Buenaventura on March 29, 1782, where they would establish a new mission.  All the soldiers took part in the construction of the chapel and dwelling places during the next few weeks.

Then, on April 15, 1782, forty-two soldiers resumed their trek up the coast to their ultimate destination. The expedition marched twenty-seven miles along the coast between the Pacific Ocean and the high cliffs flanking the shoreline.  For much of the first ten miles, the soldiers had to walk through the surf at the base of the cliffs. After arriving at their destination, the soldiers spent the next few weeks building the presidio by cutting down nearby oak trees in order to build the 165-foot square enclosure. 

The ancestors of Ritchie Valens spent the next few years in Santa Barbara. In August, 1790, Captain Felipe de Goycoechea prepared a census of the Santa Barbara Presidio.  According to this census, the total population of the presidio was 230 and the following ancestors of Ritchie Valens were among them:

  • 27-year-old José María Domínguez, a mestizo originally from Villa Sinaloa and his 19-year-old wife Marcelina Féliz, española from Cosalá, Sinaloa – the great-great-great-grandparents of R.V.
  • 32-year-old Rosalino Fernández, a mulato from El Fuerte, Sinaloa and his 27-year-old wife, Juana Quintero, a mulata from Alamos; along with their six children – which included seven-year-old María Isabel. Rosalino and Juana are the great-great-great-great grandparents of R.V.
  • 34-year-old Manuel Ignacio Lugo, español from Villa Sinaloa, and his 40-year-old wife, Gertrudis Sánchez, española from Villa Sinaloa and their three children – which include an 11-year-old José Miguel. Manuel and Gertrudis are the great-great-great-great-grandparents of R.V.
  • 65-year-old Luis Quintero, a mulato working as a tailor allegedly from Guadalajara (Jalisco) and his 48-year-old wife, Petra Rubio, as well as one son (the rest of their daughters had been married by this time). Luis and Petra are the great-great-great-great-great-grandparents of R.V.

Coming Together

In addition to protecting the presidio against a possible Indian attack or foreign invasion, the soldiers at Santa Barbara had many duties: “to explore the interior country, catch horse thieves, care for the animals and fields of the King, create their own food supplies and carry the mail” [Barbara Schneidau, A Guide to Old Santa Barbara: The Spanish and Mexican Periods (Santa Barbara, 1977), pp. 6-7].  While the soldiers attended to their duties, their families played support roles at the presidio, tending gardens, feeding the livestock, keeping their homes clean and performing their religious duties.

Living at close quarters within the Santa Barbara Presidio – and later in the small community that developed outside the presidio, many of the children of soldiers became acquainted. They attended the same church functions and developed relationships. Eventually some of them were married and raised their own families.

Jose Miguel Lugo and Ysabel Fernandez

Growing up within the presidio community, Jose Miguel Lugo and Maria Ysabel Fernandez – the children of soldiers – were engaged and on February 4, 1799 were married at the Santa Barbara Mission. They represent one set of great-great-great-grandparents of Ritchie Valens. Their marriage record is a beautifully written document describing Joseph Miguel Lugo as a “soldado” of the Presidio of Santa Barbara who was originally from La Villa de Sinaloa. Likewise, Maria Ysabel Fernandez is described as a single woman originally from Villa del Fuerte.

The Next Generation

As the new century dawned, Jose Miguel Lugo and his wife raised their family in Santa Barbara as he continued to serve in the military as his father had before him. Twenty-six years after the marriage of Jose Miguel and Ysabel, their son Jose de la Trinidad Lugo was also married at the Santa Barbara Mission to Maria del Rosario Dominguez. The marriage record indicated that Jose de la Trinidad Lugo, a native of that presidio, 19 years of age, the legitimate son of Miguel and Maria Ysabel Fernandez and a soldier of the presidio company, was married to Maria del Rosario Dominguez, a native of the same presidio, the legitimate daughter of Jose Maria Dominguez and Marcelina Feliz. 

This marriage united the Fernandez, Quintero and Lugo ancestors of Ritchie Valens with his Dominguez and Feliz forefathers. The children of Jose Trinidad Lugo and Maria Rosario Dominguez carried a proud legacy of service with seven immediate ancestors who were California soldados serving in the Southern California area over a half-century. The seven soldado ancestors were Manuel Ygnacio Lugo, Jose Miguel Lugo, Jose Trinidad Lugo, Jose Maria Dominguez, Ildefonso Dominguez, Rosalino Fernandez and Victorino Feliz.  In addition, their great-great-great-grandfather Luis Quintero had also served as the tailor to the soldiers at the Santa Barbara Presidio for almost three decades (1782-1810).

Luis Ponce and Maria Antonia Lugo

In the next generation of Ritchie Valens’ family, Maria Antonia Lugo – one of the many children of Jose Trinidad Lugo and Maria del Rosario Dominguez – married a foreigner.  A miner from Chile, Luis Ponce came to San Francisco during the California Gold Rush (1848-1849).  Ultimately, his attempt to profit from the gold mining business failed and he moved south to Santa Barbara where he met a local girl – Maria Antonia Lugo.

It is not clear how Maria Antonia’s parents felt about a foreigner entering the family circle but, over time, Luis was probably accepted as an in-law. In October 1857, the Santa Barbara Mission records recorded the marriage of Luis “Ponse” – a “Chileno” (from Chile) – with Maria Antonia Lugo, the daughter of Trinidad Lugo and Rosanna Dominguez. Antonia’s brother, Ygnacio, was one of the witnesses.

Luis Ponce and Maria Antonia Lugo are the paternal great-grandparents of Ritchie Valens who – exactly a century later in October 1957 – would make his performing debut and soon after revolutionize the American music industry.

Nine months later in July 1858, at the same mission, Luis and Maria Antonia baptized their 23-day-old daughter, Maria Agripina Ponse, the paternal grandmother of Ritchie Valens. Luis and Maria Antonia would continue having children for the next 14 years, all of them baptized either at Mission Santa Ynes or Mission Santa Barbara.

In the 1860 census, Trinidad Lugo headed a household of eighteen individuals in Santa Barbara that included their children, 40-year-old Luis and 27-year-old Antonia, their children and one boarder. By 1870, Luis and Maria Antonia had moved into their own residence in Township 2 of Santa Barbara County.  Their household consisted of nine children.

Agripina Ponce and Marciano Valenzuela

It was during the 1870s that the children of Luis and Maria Antonia started their own families. Agripina met a gentleman named Marciano (Mariano) Valenzuela who had come from Sonora.  According to Santa Barbara County records 25-year-old Mariano Valenzuela – a resident of Santa Maria – was married to 23-year-old Egripina (Agrippina) Ponce – a resident of Santa Ynes – on November 23, 1875.  Over the next few years, the family of Marciano and Agrippina would grow quickly with the first few children baptized at San Ramon Chapel:

  • Mateo Valenzuela, born Sept. 20, 1877, baptized Nov. 18, 1877
  • Esperanza Valenzuela, born June 22, 1879, baptized June 29, 1879
  • Pablo Valenzuela, born March 2, 1880, baptized Aug. 1, 1880
  • Jose Marciano Valenzuela, born July 15, 1880, baptized Aug. 21, 1881
  • Maria Romualda Valenzuela, born Feb. 17, 1883, baptized April 20, 1883
  • Catarina Lastemia Valenzuela, born Dec. 24, 1884, baptized Feb. 15, 1885

As their family grew, Marciano Valenzuela established his own credentials within the community. On December 21, 1886, Marciano declared his intention to become an American citizen. He was officially admitted as a naturalized American in February 1889 at the Santa Barbara Superior Court (Santa Barbara County Naturalizations, No. 1480056).

Then, on Sept. 29, 1890, Marciano Valenzuela registered to vote. The 1890 Register of Voters lists Marciano Valenzuela as a 37-year-old native of Mexico residing in Sisquoc. During this period, Marciano was also listed in the Santa Barbara City Directory, but the spelling of his first name always varied, from Marciano to Mariano to Marino.

In the 1888 Santa Barbara Directory, Mariano Valenzuela was listed as a hostler residing at the east corner of Santa Barbara and Figueroa Streets.  A hostler in the horse industry is a stableman who is employed by a stable to take care of horses. In the 1893 City Directory “Marino Valenzuela” was listed as a laborer, residing at 1034 Santa Barbara Street.

Joe Steven Valenzuela

However, after 1893, the conditions of the Valenzuela family changed dramatically.  Suddenly they moved to Los Angeles County.  It was in Los Angeles that Stephen Joseph Valenzuela was born. On April 15, 1895, Marciano and Agripina baptized Stephen Joseph at Our Lady Queen of Angels (La Plaza) in Downtown Los Angeles.

Most of the Valenzuela family continued to reside in Los Angeles during the early Twentieth Century, where several of the children of Marciano and Agripina (Po) were married. Joe Steven Valenzuela – the future father of Ritchie Valens – registered for the draft during World War I probably in 1917 and was listed as a 22-year-old farmer living in Bell, California and employed in Hollywood. 

Joe Steven Valenzuela and Concepcion Reyes

Joe Steven Valenzuela married Concepcion Lopez Reyes on September 15, 1939 in a ceremony performed at a residence in Pacoima by Reverend Charles F. Dunn. In the marriage license that was filed on September 20th at the County Recorder’s office, Joe Steven Valenzuela was described as a 41-year-old farmer, the son of Marcino Valenzuela (from Sonora, Mexico) and Agrippina Ponce (of Santa Barbara, California).

Concepcion Lopez Reyes was registered as a 24-year-old housekeeper born in Jerome, Arizona, the daughter of Frank L. Reyes (a native of Nogales, Arizona) and Refugia Y. Lopez (of Silverking, Arizona). Joe Steven Valenzuela did not live to witness his son’s fame. He died in 1952.

Yaqui Roots

It has been stated widely that Ritchie Valens was of Yaqui Indian descent. My own research has not actually proven this. However, when we consider that nearly all of Ritchie Valens’ father’s ancestors were from southern Sonora and northern Sinaloa, it is very likely that he is a descendant of both the Yaquis and the Mayos (whose territory was immediately south of the Yaqui lands).

The family of Ritchie’s mother Concepcion Reyes came from Yavapai County, Arizona. Many of the Mexican-American families living in this area are descended from Sonorans who crossed the border during the Nineteenth Century, so the likelihood that they are Yaqui descent is also quite plausible.

Concepcion’s grandfather Luis Reyes came from Mexico around 1870 and raised his family in Jerome.  Luis – the son of Dolores Reyes and Josefa Lopez – was a saloonkeeper after coming to the U.S. and raised a good-sized family with his wife Josephine, who was two decades younger than he. Luis passed away on January 23, 1914 in Jerome, Arizona.

A Rock ’n’ Roll Pioneer

Ritchie Valens was born in Pacoima on May 13, 1941, a year-and-a-half after his parents’ marriage. He made his debut as a performer in October 1957 and quickly rose to national prominence. However, at the height of his fame, 17-year-old Ritchie Valens – along with Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper – lost his life in a devastating plane crash, inspiring singer Don McLean’s popular 1971 ballad “American Pie,” which immortalized February 3, 1959 as “The Day the Music Died.”

Ritchie Valens’ life has inspired several books including Beverly Mendheim’s “Ritchie Valens: The First Latino Rocker” (published in 1987 by Bilingual Press).

Pioneer Roots

Ritchie Valens’ claim to fame is his short but spectacular career and his dedication to that career. But Ritchie Valens also belongs to a small group of people who are descended from the members of the Expedition of 1781 that laid the foundation to the modern cities of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Ventura.

Copyright © 2019 by John P. Schmal. All Rights Reserved.


Mason, William Marvin, The Census of 1790, A Demographic History of California, Ballena Press, Menlo Park, California, 1998.

Schneidau, Barbara. A Guide to Old Santa Barbara: The Spanish and Mexican Periods. Triple R Press, Goleta, California, 1977.

Stevens, Meredith, The House of Olivas. Charon Press, Ventura, California.

Vo, Jennifer and Schmal, John P., A Mexican-American Family of California: In the Service of Three Flags. Heritage Books, Westminster, California.

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