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Archiver > NORCAL > 1998-06 > 0898383548

From: "The Darling's" <>
Date: Sat, 20 Jun 1998 15:59:08 -0700


Some prioneer Spanich Californians consider Centinella one of the oldest
ranchos in the San Joaquin Valley. It is entirely possible that they are
right. But, in view of the fact that no village or pueblo was established
there, the place does not have the significance of San Emigdio, or Las

It was probably at Centinella that the first horses brought into the valley
went wild. About 1810 pioneer stockmen from San Juan Bautista and Monterey
decided that the place would make an ideal horse range. So they brought
over several hundred horses and turned them loose on the plains. Pioneers
say that they were never able to catch these horses.

These early rancheros included the father of the bandit, TIBURCIO VASUEZ,
(?) AGUILA, SIMEON JUTUJU - ( Hoo'-too-hoo ) and one other whose name is
not remembered. Their headquarters was at Centinella. *** this is all
handwritten and difficult to read *** Over a period of many years I
interviewed JOSE ANTONIO AGUILA, of Newman, and grandson of the AGUILA who
was an original locator at Centenilla. AGUILA, stated that the place was
first occupied as a herder's camp from which a watch was kept over the
horses. It was due to this first establishment that the name Centinella
was used. It means " lookout " or " place of sentinels ".

The place is located about 3 miles downstream from the present San Luis
Station at the east end of Pacheco Pass road and is situated on the south
bank of Arroyo de San Luis Gonzaga.

As soon as VASQUEZ and his partners found that they were never to catch
their horses again they left Cententilla. In the 1860's the place was
occupied by several Basque sheep men including JUAN GRANDE ( JUAN ETCHEVERY
were cousins, Big John, Little John and Cousin John,

Before the comming of the three John's a find two story adobe house had
been constructed, presumably by the first occupants. This was long a
landmark in the locality. At or near the same time other adobes were
constructed at Rancho San Luis Gonzaga and on west bank of the San Joaquin
river about 7 miles northeast of present Los Banos. The last two adobes
still stand but the Centinella building was torn down to make way for a
board and batton shack which is now also in ruins.

Centinella was probably the best supplied with water of any of the west
side locations. During the succession of dry years ( during the 1920's
)there remained at the place three large water holes on high land near the
channel of the San Luis creek. In times of ordinary rainfall one of the
water holes or springs creates quite a large lake upon which hundreds of
wild ducks and other waterfowl used to live through all seasons of the

The old stage road from Hill's Ferry which connected with the Pacheco Pass
road at San Luis Ranch crossed the San Luis Creek at Centinella. The old
ranch became a stopping place for stages although horses were not changed
there. The old barn where travelers fed their horses still stands and the
marks of the old road are still plain.

The main room of the old adobe was quite large and was often used for
dances and local theatricals.

Centinella has had a full share of tragedies. Before the old adobe was
torn down a recess behind a cupboard yielded parts of a human body. At
another time a sheepman who had just received payment for a band of sheep
became insane and was unable to find where he had placed his money. As a
result the entire yard and portions of the nearby fields are still being
torn up with pick and shovel although pioneers say that the money was found
and removed many years ago.

In the late 70's a Castillian Spanish sheepman named MURIETA was running
sheep at Santa Nella. He planted a number of mulberry trees with the idea
of growing silk worms. Some of the trees are still growing. MURIETA
afterward disappeared under mysterious circumstances and it has been
thought by many persons that he was murdered and that it was a portion of
his body that was found behind the cupboard.

The last tragedy at Santa Nella took place in 1928 when RALPH AMABILE (SP),
of Los Banos, while standing in the door of the barn was shot in the back
and killed. Many stories have been told of this affair. It is probably
best not to repeat them. The final chapter in the tragedy was written at
San Quinten prison when a brother-in-law of AMABILE was hung for the dead.

*** Note: there is no indication of when Latta changed from Centilla to
Rancho Santa Nella, it might be safe to assume both are one and the same,
but will leave that to someone who knows better than I. ***

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