Times Past

A Californio wedding to remember at the Dana Adobe in Nipomo

“The Fandango,” an 1873 oil painting by artist Charles Christian Nahl (1818-1878).
“The Fandango,” an 1873 oil painting by artist Charles Christian Nahl (1818-1878).

Fandangos went on for days, especially when they were connected to a wedding.

The Californios took celebrations seriously. They ate, drank, baited bulls and bears and danced until they dropped to their knees. Revived by a few hours’ sleep, they’d party again.

The social event of the 1850 “season” in coastal California celebrated the union of the beautiful Josefa Dana and Judge Henry Tefft.

The best man was Tefft’s good friend, William Rich Hutton. He was one of the few surveyors in California. Hutton had just completed a survey of Los Angeles. He was in the process of doing the first survey of our county seat and Capt. John Wilson’s Rancho La Cañada de Los Osos.

Hutton’s diaries, now at the Huntington Library, tell the story of the wedding at Nipomo’s Dana Adobe:

“By noon, two days before the wedding day, the relatives began to arrive.

“Hosts of beautiful and graceful girls and handsome matrons arrived, men young and old, all cousins of the bride’s mother … The women came in ox carts — a lumbering two-wheeled machine — the wheels being sections cut from a large tree. The men invariably on horseback — and such horsemanship!

“On the day before the wedding, the parientes (relatives) of the bride began to come early in the day. Relationships in California are counted as in Virginia; consequently, the house was soon filled up.”

The adobe was sufficiently large for a family, but far too small to fit such a large crowd.

“The girls, 30 or 40 of them, slept in the sala, on the tables or on mattresses or on rugs upon the floor. The young men slept in the corridor with a hide to keep them from the ground, each wrapped in his serape, and perhaps with his saddle for a pillow.

“It was a merry crowd … In the morning early, the boy who had gone to (gather) the horses … reported that he had seen three (grizzly) bears. In an instant, there was mounting (of the horses) and in a few minutes 20 men were careening over the fields.

“From the house the chase could be seen. It was short. The bear, a young one, was soon lassoed, a hide was placed under him, and he was dragged to the house.

“It was proposed to have a bull and bear fight. But the little fellow had been too roughly handled and he died before noon.”

The family insisted that Hutton return to his regular room on the night following the wedding. The Dana Adobe’s rooms were laid out so that you had to pass through one room to enter the next. Hutton was disturbed by this, noting that “the entrance to my room was through the bridal chamber.

“In the morning, it was not easy to get out as I came in. So, I waited, listening to hear movement in the next room. It was late. The sun was high. No movement.

“Supposing they were two early birds and gone out long before, I ventured out. As I stepped into the bridal chamber, the bride was in the act of getting out of bed.

“But I was not squeamish. I said, ‘Good morning’ and passed on.”

Hutton had grown up in Washington, D.C., and the lessons of diplomatic behavior were not lost upon him.

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You can visit the Dana Adobe, 671 S. Oakglen Ave. in Nipomo on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. For information, visit www.danaadobe.org, email dana@danaadobe.org or call 805-929-5679.

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Correction: In last week’s “Times Past,” I wrote: “By 1849, blessed with many eligible daughters, Capt. Dana invited a young attorney, Henry Tefft … ” Colleen M. Beck, a docent/volunteer at the DANA Cultural Center, noted that Capt. and Mrs. Dana had only two surviving daughters by 1849: Maria Josefa Dana and Adelina Elisa Dana. The Danas had 11 surviving sons from their 21 children.

Dan Krieger is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly and past president of the California Mission Studies Association, now part of the California Missions Foundation. He can be reached at slohistory@gmail.com.