The first historically recorded inhabitants of the Santa Maria Valley were the Chumash tribe. Township and road names that exist today, such as Lompoc, Zaca, Nipomo and Tequepis, are words that find their origin in the Chumash language. Although it is often recorded that the Chumash tribe, and other similar Native American tribes, benefited from the influence of European explorers, in point of fact, the Chumash saw their tribesman perish at the hands of diseases to which they had not grown immune. These diseases were introduced to them by Europeans. Father Payeras, who cultivated his vocation at the La Purisima Mission in Lompoc, wrote in the 1800’s that many Chumash infants were stillborn, and that numbers of Chumash were dwindling.
William Benjamin Foxen, a sea-faring Englishman, found his way to Santa Maria Valley in the early 1800’s. He was renamed Don Julian by the Indians, who considered the name William to be yet another version of the name Julian. He wed a woman named Eduarda, and together they had six children, Guillermo, Martina, Ramona, Francisca, Juana and Alejandro. In 1838, Rancho Tepesquet was granted to the Foxen family by way of Mrs. Foxen and Eduarda’s step father, Tomas Olivera.
Eduarda’s sister, Martina Osuna, married Juan Pacifico Ontiveros. Juan Pacifico purchased the Tepesquet Land Grant from Toman Olivera. Santa Maria was given its name by Don Juan Pacifico Ontiveros. Don Juan gave this name to Santa Maria Valley in honor of Mary, Mother of Jesus.
In 1859, Ramona, Don Julian’s middle child, wed Frederick Wickeden. They exchanged their vows at the San Luis Obispo de Tolosa Mission in 1859. Wickeden, talented in the ways of animal husbandry, was granted a portion of canyon land by his father-in-law, Don Julian Foxen. By this time, Don Julian’s fortunes had turned to the raising and selling of horses for the finest horse-drawn carriages in San Francisco. While Don Julian was still a vibrant and strong man, he was felled by a spider, whose poisonous bite killed him at the age of 78. He was buried at his hillside home, the first home in the area to be built by a white man.
Don Juan Pacifico was, at this time, enjoying his homestead: the Ontiveros Adobe. He had begun building it in earnest in 1857. In 1858, the Adobe was completed, and it became the home not only of Don Juan’s children, but also his grand children and great-grand children.
“When Juan Pacifico Ontiveros came to Rancho Tepusquet in 1856, Juan Nicolas and Patricio Ontiveros remained on Rancho San Juan Cajon de Santa Ana in Los Angeles County [now Orange County, between Fullerton and Placentia]. Juan Pacifico had deeded to them [for the sum of $1.00!] 3,900 acres of Ranch San Juan Cajon on May 22, 1863. At this time, they were both married. Juan Nicolas and Patricio did not keep their share very long for on May 10th, 1864, both deeded their share to their brother-in-law, Augustus Langenberger, for $3,480. [According to family legend, they really lost it all on a gambling debt.]”
Meanwhile, Ramona grieved her father’s passing. She longed for a church wherein she could properly mourn his loss. Her husband, Frederick, found a knoll in Santa Maria Valley, and proceeded to build a church and church yard there.
In 1875, Don Julian’s body was moved to that very same church yard, at the behest of his family, and laid there to rest in permanence. Today, visitors may still view his grave, which is marked, rather simply, by a slab of marble intended to mirror the mast of a ship. It reads “Benjamin Foxen, Born in England in 1796, Died Feb. 19, 1874.” Beside him, in an unmarked grave, lies his wife, Eduarda. Eduarda herself requested an unmarked grave, the reasons for which remain unknown.
“Up to 1869, the Santa Maria Valley was known to the Spanish people as “ El Llano Large de Laguna”, or the long valley of the lagoon. The reason the Spanish people had not taken up the Santa Maria land was that it was very dry. There was no water for either men or stock. The Spanish cattlemen liked to settle near good springs, rivers or lakes, so that it was not necessary to drive their stock to water….”
“I remember the incident about 1868 when Sheriff Cook of Santa Barbara was killed by a man who had a grudge against him. Sheriff Cook and his deputy rested at the rancho of Jose Chiquito Olivera, and the deputy was too tired to go on so Jose Chiquito took his place. They – he and the sheriff – road to Guadalupe where some cattle, horses, and other stock were to be sold at auction. Sheriff Cook had finished the auction and they were returning to the Olivera home when a man on horseback accosted them about a mile north of Casmalia and shot the sheriff. This man was apprehended many years later and was being brought back to Santa Barbara for trial when he jumped overboard and drowned.”
The Santa Maria Valley began growing at alarming rates when local homesteaders and farmers learned that they could unload cargoes of lumber and other materials at Point Sal. Point Sal soon became a busy port, with potatoes, grain and well-salted butter finding its way to and fro the waters of Point Sal and the San Francisco Bay.
Although Ontiveros had named Santa Maria Valley, many townsfolk used the name Central City, to describe where they lived and grew their still new enterprises of farming and shipping. Still, in 1882, Santa Maria officially replaced the colloquial name of Central City. The reason for this is decidedly unromantic; there was already a Central City existent in Colorado, where mail intended for Santa Maria Valley residents was being mistakenly sent. Therefore, the name of Santa Maria, though used for many years prior, was officially adopted in 1882.
“In 1906, C.E. Converse was digging a foundation for his home in Santa Paula when he unearthed a branding iron in the shape of an anchor. In 1924, he donated this iron to the Ventura Museum. A grandson of Benjamin Foxen, living in Ventura Country, identified the branding iron as belonging to his grandfather.”
In 1906, the city of San Francisco was nearly destroyed by a devastating earthquake. The humble, young city of Santa Maria was also nearly destroyed that year; the Santa Maria Bank, which funded many growing farms and businesses, nearly folded and failed, leaving in its wake many residents suffering the devastating blow of near financial ruin. The Santa Maria Bank managed, though, to skirt eminent danger and remain a viable financial institution.
In 1908, with the financial assistance of Andrew Carnegie, the City of Santa Maria erected its very first library.
In 1927, yet another crucial financial institution was born in the Valley; the Santa Maria Building and Loan Association. Today, the newly named Santa Maria Savings and Loan Association still thrives, due in part to Col. Jim Glines, whose forefather, James Glines, was an employee of the original National Bank of Santa Maria, founded in 1905, just prior to the financial difficulty of 1906.
In 1911, history changed forever for Santa Maria Valley. The Santa Maria Railroad was built, unfolding as it did from Betteravia to Roadamite. It was used principally for the hauling of oil. After the railroad was built, Santa Maria Valley would never be the same.