Chapter History

The Don Jose De Ortega Chapter, NSDAR, was organized October 9, 1970, at the Andres Pico Adobe in Mission Hills, with 24 charter members and Muriel Drew Fisher as the organizing regent. Members came from Simi Valley, Saugus, Newhall, Los Angeles, and the San Fernando Valley.  Named for Don Jose (Francisco) de Ortega (1734-1798), ancestor and 5th-generation grandfather of a member, the chapter was eventually located in the West San Fernando Valley city of Canoga Park, California.

Organizing Members

Sheila Rae Anderson Helen Hubbart Grandison Marilyn Fisher Onderdonk
Betty Williams Cornick Wilda Hall Gretzinger F. Elaine Arnett Pegg
Nancy Pierce Daruty Josephine Criser Hall Elizabeth Overall Reuter
Myra Campbell Drew Susan Franklin Highbarger Evelyn Allen Salisbury
Theodosia Sabin Ellison Janet Jones Hof Jane Bodine Sekela
Muriel Drew Fisher Carol Mae Meyers May Day Folk Shewmaker
Edna Lawrence Franklin Grace Hale Minnecci Ailene Smith Vire
Jean Kelley Gordon Frances Brownell Moore Marianna Howard


Charter Members

Viola Taylor Bus Shirley Ford Marshall
Ruth Gray Choushorn Carol Keller Martin
Irma Hamilton Gaylord Agnes Holman Moore
Virginia Thayer Lowry Lucille Fitch Wright



 An Important Man in California's History  


Born in 1734 at Celaya, State of Guanajuato, New Spain, Ortega joined the Spanish Royal Army in 1755. During his military career, he is credited with the first sighting of San Francisco Bay and the exploration of the California coast; participating in founding the missions at San Diego (1769), San Juan Capistrano (1775/1776), San Fernando, and San Buenaventura (1782); and being in command of Monterey and the Presidio of Santa Barbara where he laid out the waterworks. His 26,529-acre Rancho Nuestra Senora del Refugio was the only land grant made under Spanish rule in what is today's Santa Barbara County.  The original buildings were burned and sacked by Bouchard the Pirate in 1818, but the adobes at Arroyo Hondo and Canada del Corral remain.  A copy of Jose de Ortega's signature is in the Huntington Library, San Marino.  A replica of his patron saint, St. Anthony, given to him by Father Serra, is in the adobe museum adjacent to the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles.  His Madonna statuette in the Santa Barbara Museum is usually exhibited at Christmas time. The San Juan Capistrano Mission holds an account of his military record. Ortega gave 36 years of dedicated service to his God and the king of Spain. In 1758, at the age of 24 years, Don Jose married Dona Maria Antonia Victoria Carrillo, who was then 17 years old.  Dona Maria resided on the Refugio Rancho with their 10 children.  She died in 1803 and is buried at the Santa Barbara Presidio.  Don Jose died February 3, 1798, en route from Santa Ynez to Santa Barbara and was buried the next day at the Santa Barbara Mission cemetery.  The original grave marker disappeared many years ago, so on February 26, 2000,  our chapter placed a memorial stone and plaque in the Santa Barbara Mission cemetery to commemorate this hardworking, greatly trusted, and much-traveled "comandante."  Shown below in greater detail is the history of this exceptional man who contributed so much to the history of California. 

Forty Years of Service    Ortega was born May 25, 1734, in Celaya, State of Guanajuato, New Spain, son of Francisco de Ortega and Maria Magdalene Francisca Guerra.  Not much is known about his childhood years, but we can make some assumptions:  he was the first male child, enjoyed good family life, and grew up in an upper-class environment.  Guanajuato was a booming area of silver mining.  Many of the elegant stone and adobe homes have been beautifully restored and are occupied today. Ortega had a superior education, as was later revealed in his letters and reports. He also had good physical and leadership skills that prepared him for the role he would play in our great state of California. 

It would be interesting to know how Ortega went from the mountains of Guanajuato to the desert of Loreto, which is about in the middle of Baja, California.  It was there at the Presidio of Nuestra Senora de Loreto, Antiqua, that he enlisted in the Spanish Royal Army on October 1, 1755, at the age of 21 years. He was promoted to corporal less than one year later on August 3, 1756. Then, just six months later, he was elevated to the rank of sergeant on February 9, 1757.  In Loreto, he met and wooed a lovely young woman, Maria Antonia Victoria Carrillo, daughter of Lt. Juan Jose Carrillo and Lucia Efigenia Millan.  They were married sometime between 1758 and 1759. She was 17 years old, he was 24. His duties on the Baja Peninsula lasted for 14 years.  In the beginning, he served as a kind of alcalde (sheriff or mayor) of all the mining camps, and soon afterward, was placed in charge of the royal warehouse. He was 35 years old and the father of five children.

By this time, big events were developing along the California coast:  Don Gaspar de Portola would begin his historic explorations and conquest of Alta California for the king of Spain, while Father Junipero Serra would build the missions to educate and convert the Indians to Christianity. From Loreto, Ortega joined Portola and Serra as commander of the rear guard on the march from Velicata, Baja, California, to San Diego, arriving there July 1, 1769, bringing Christianity to Alta California with the founding of San Diego on July 16, 1769.

It was during the march from San Diego to Monterey that Don Jose distinguished himself by his tireless activity. As commander of the advance guard, it was his duty to explore and plot the way. He would scout ahead of the company, retrace his steps, and then set out with his company on the next day's march, traveling the route three times to the company's one. Father Serra wrote, "His soldiers would be replaced, but Ortega never." When the party reached Monterey, they did not recognize it but continued to the bay of San Francisco. It is said that Ortega was the first Spaniard to see the bay. It took them about four months to travel 500 miles, then retracing their steps, they went south until they reached Monterey Bay, but still did not recognize it. Though the men did not realize it, their mission was accomplished, and Ortega had made the El Camino Real (now known as Highway 101) to Monterey. 

Ortega spent the next few years between Loreto and Alta California until he led his own and other families from Loreto to San Diego. His wife, Maria, gave birth to their sixth child--a son and the first white child born in California.  They named him Jose Francisco.

Jose Ortega was a great favorite of the missionaries, especially of Father Serra, who urged the Spanish viceroy to appoint Ortega as the next comandante of Alta California.  Politics being what they were, Don Jose de Ortega was instead promoted to lieutenant and assigned as commander of San Diego, where he served for eight years. He spent turbulent years carving out the highways and towns that became the backbone of our state. He established mission sites, the pueblo of Los Angeles, and in 1781, was ordered to build and command a presidio at Santa Barbara. Not only did he oversee the construction of the buildings, but he designed and oversaw the building of a system of water infrastructure to bring water into Santa Barbara.

Four years later, Ortega, at age 48, petitioned the Spanish crown for his retirement and some land. Instead, he was sent to command the presidio at Monterey, and then later sent back to Loreto. He was finally given retirement as a brevet captain in 1795, at the age of 61 years. 

From the Spanish archives of Alta California, it is noted by Governor Arillaga: 

"The Lieutenant Don Jose Francisco de Ortega: His character: Honest;  Valor: Well known; His Health: Broken; Service: 40 years. In the expedition to San Diego and Monterey, he had the commission of explorer of roads which the expedition had to follow. In the execution of this duty, he was frequently threatened and surrounded by large bodies of Indians, who he always forced to retire. During his command in San Diego, he prevented various uprisings of Indians, arresting the Chiefs and reducing them to peaceful conditions. He founded the Missions of San Juan Capistrano and San Buenaventura, and the Presidio of Santa Barbara. He has exercised, and exercises with honesty, the functions of Habilitado."

This brief history of a remarkable man during a remarkable period of California history was compiled from a number of different writings by other authors.  Please contact the chapter webmaster if you would like a list of the sources.  

Grave Marker

When Don Jose de Ortega's descendant, Marcia Havens Stowers died, she generously left an endowment to the chapter. As a memorial to her and her fifth-generation grandfather, one of the first withdrawals from the endowment fund was used to purchase and set a memorial plaque at the Santa Barbara Mission cemetery. The original grave marker of this hardworking, greatly trusted, and much-traveled comandante had long since vanished and knowledge of the exact site of his grave along with it. The mission padres selected a peaceful corner site under a tree as the best place to set the stone and bronze plaque. Members of the chapter and local dignitaries attended the installation of the plaque on the mission grounds on February 16, 2000, 202 years after the Don Jose de Ortega's death on February 3, 1798.


Don Jose de Ortega's Signature
Joseph Fran Co Ortega
Courtesy Henry E. Huntington
Library and Art Gallery









 Photos courtesy of chapter archives

National Society Daughters of the American Revolution

California State Society Daughters of the American Revolution