Soto family honored as grand marshals

August 30, 2012 

Many Cambrians remember well when Soto’s Market still was owned by the pioneer Soto family, such as Karen Soto Snow and her husband Curt Snow, and before that, Joaquin Soto and Pico Soto. Others recall sisters Margaret and Lila Soto, who had groundbreaking military careers during World War II.

Nearly two dozen Sotos are expected to ride in the 2012 Pinedorado Parade, including five who are nearing or in their 80s, who are sharing the honors of being parade grand marshals: Vernon and Althea Soto, Betty Soto Williams, Jim Soto and Carol Soto Lowry.

Their places in local lore are perhaps especially appropriate for the honor because the family background reads like a California history book.

The Soto family has been in this state since 1776.

In fact, Robert “Bobby” Soto of Cambria, a retired restoration specialist who worked at Hearst Castle, has written a Soto-specific book about that family his-tor y, “An Old California Family: The Sotos of Cambria.” He and his family are to be in the parade, too.

As The Cambrian wrote about him in 2001, “The family’s long-term ties with the area and Robert’s own intense interest in all things historical have shaped him into a self-admitted genealogical wonk. The two most important things in his life are his family today and his family in the past.

‘I get tears in my eyes just saying that,’ Soto said.”

He outlined his family’s history for Cambria Lions Club members at an Aug. 14 dinner honoring the 2012 parade marshals. Soto told them that in early January 1776, Ygnacio Soto, wife Barbara Espinosa and their two young children were among those who entered Alta California near what is now San Diego from New Spain (present-day Mexico). Accompanying explorer Juan Bautista de Anza, they were headed for what would become San Francisco.

“There would be no wagons on this expedition; there were no roads,” Soto told the Lions. “Only horses, mules, cattle and the approximately 240 brave explorers” made that trip. “These volunteers became soldiers and were outfitted with all the necessary equipment to defend Spain’s honor in the New World,” Soto said.

When Ygnacio Soto’s son Francisco Soto was born, the baby was the first non-indigenous birth recorded in San Francisco, and he was the first to be baptized at Mission Dolores. Francisco would grow up to become a famous Indian fighter and military man in early California history, also owning a large Mexican land-grant in today’s Santa Clara area.

Francisco had many children. His sixth child was Isidoro Soto, “who lived through the romantic period of Spanish influence, when honor, horsemanship and your word was your bond,” Bobby Soto said.

Isidoro’s son, Lazaro Soto and his son General Soto “experienced the great influx of the Yankees or Ang-

los” brought in by the discovery of gold in 1849.

Then, in 1850, “California was accepted into statehood and became a part of United States. Now the Californios were American citizens. In just 75 short years, Californios had been citizens of Spain, Mexico and now United States. But they didn’t understand the new American laws; they were raised by the code of honor and a hand-shake; written documents were not required and a man’s word was his bond.”

In the 1850s, General Soto became the first of his family to live in the Cambria area, moving to the upper reaches of Green Valley, just south of what would become Cambria. Eventually, he wound up homesteading 160 acres east of Cambria in the hills of Adelaide.

General Soto died in 1906, and is buried in the Cambria Catholic cemetery at Santa Rosa Chapel on the hill above East Village.

“General’s son, Cipriano, was the first of the Sotos to learn to speak English. Cipriano worked for Pheobe Apperson Hearst beginning in 1887 and became her trusted coachman, often driving her with a team of four horses to SLO for church and other events,” Bobby Soto said of his great grandfather, who often is considered the patriarch of the Cambria branch of the Soto family.

Since then, 25 members of five additional Soto generations have worked for the Hearsts, and Soto family members live throughout the North and Central Coast, including on ranches along Santa Rosa Creek and Green Valley roads.

Soto urged others at the Lions’ dinner to document their own family histories. “It is never too late. You will achieve a fantastic feeling of satisfaction, and generations down the line will be so grateful for your efforts. Please don’t allow your family stories to be lost!”

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