Times Past

Dan Krieger: Museum raises a glass to matrimonial legacy

The first Christian wedding to take place in California occurred here in 1773 between Salinan Indian Margaretta de Cortona and Spanish soldier Juan María Ruíz. Descendants of this union are still living in Monterey and San Luis Obispo counties.

Pedro Fages married Barcelona-born Eulalia Callis in 1780 in Mexico City. Fages brought his bride to California’s primitive capital at Monterey in 1782 when he became governor.

Doña Eulalia loved fashion and believed in charity. At Mission San Carlos, she gave away her wedding trousseau after observing the lack of clothing worn by the Indians.

She apparently thought that she could easily replace the elegant garments. When she could find neither dressmakers nor appropriate fabric, she became enraged.

She locked herself in her quarters, and no amount of persuasion from her husband or Father Junipero Serra could reconcile her to her role as “gobernadora” of Alta California.

This, combined with the loss of two of her children, drove her over the edge. She petitioned the viceroy to be returned to Mexico City. In 1790, her wish was fulfilled. So ended the most famous marital dispute in early California history.

On Friday, the San Luis Obispo County Historical Museum will hold a celebration of Bells, Belles, and Beaux: Wedding Traditions in San Luis Obispo County from the 1870s to 1950s.

The exhibit revolves around a collection of 20 historic wedding dresses from San Luis Obispo County dating from the 1870s to the 1940s. There will be food, wine, a silent auction and of course, a cake cutting. The event will run from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. This is the culminating event for Cal Poly history student Ilana Winter’s senior project as guest curator.

In 1945 there were a great number of weddings performed in San Luis Obispo. Young men who had trained at Camp San Luis Obispo and Camp Roberts went off to fight in Europe and the Pacific. At the end of the war, they returned to marry local girls.

In 1981, my student assistant and I were interviewing one of these young ladies for a chapter in a County Historical Society publication titled “War Comes to the Middle Kingdom.” My assistant’s eyebrows raised visibly when Arlene Villa Zanchuk said, “and we were all entitled to wear white!”

The exhibit does not depict many elegant dresses catching on the nails in the wooden floor of the-then unrestored interior of Mission San Luis Obispo.

But the exhibit does have 15-year-old Stella Chan-du-lar’s dress from her “arranged marriage” to Young Louis, the eldest son of pioneer Chinese store owner Ah Louis in 1912. The marriage lasted until Young died in 1988.

The exhibit commemorates the story of Manuel Francisco Avila and Josefina Vieira Sequiera da Rosa. Married at the mission in September 1906, they had their wedding photo taken at Lewis Studio and a wedding breakfast at a Chiesa’s restaurant at the corner of Chorro and Monterey. After the reception, they took their buggy out to Price Canyon Ranch and Manuel Francisco went back to work in the fields.

Also pictured are the nuptials of twins Hillis and Willis Truesdale of Shandon, who married twins Nora and Zora Grainger in 1895, plus the foursome at their 50th wedding anniversary taken in the same pose and wedding finery.

Dan Krieger is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly and president of the California Mission Studies Association.