Site  by Lynne Landwehr © 2001





Features and Information:


Exerpts from
Lopez Canyon

by Mary Trejo
as told to Betty Clemens
@ 2000 Mary Trejo and Betty Clemens.

[Note:  Mary Trejo's heritage includes Chumash Indians, Spanish/Mexican Mission settlers, and English adventurers. Born in Lopez Canyon in 1917, Mary's stories of growing up are infused with memories of her grandmother Juana Olivas de Trejo, who followed many of the ways of Chumash and Spanish life from earlier days. Mary's vivid and detailed memories provide a rare glimpse into that vanished time.   Thanks to editor/publisher Betty Clemens for her kind permission to reproduce the excerpts below.     --Lynne Landwehr]

(Photos reproduced from book's cover
with the permission of Betty Clemens)

Happiest Days (pp. 2-3):

"The happiest days of my life, growing up, were up on the ranch in Lopez Canyon living with Grandma and Grandpa Olivas.  We turned left when we got where the dam is now to go to the ranch in Lopez Canyon that was about where Grandma’s sister Julia Rodriguez lived—right at the turn.  The road ran alongside the creek past Routzahn Park, past the Jatta two story house, past the little cemetery, and past Vasquez Canyon toward Little Falls and Big Falls.  Now if you go to the falls you have to go right near the entrance to the park and go all the way around and take the Upper road.

"When I was little and lived at home with my mother and dad, Grandma would arrive at our house in a horse and buggy, and I would go home with her and stay—I don’t know how long.  When my mother and father rented Dan Martinez’s place further up the canyon toward Big Falls and Little Falls many times Grandma came walking down the trail from the ranch and along the creek, and we’d go back together hand in hand.  Those two places were only about half a mile apart.

"Grandma told us, “There’s no such thing as can’t.  Try and you can,” and she’d tell us when we made a mistake, “When kids make mistakes, well, that’s all right.  Mistakes are what make you perfect.”  She was so small but she could do so much.

"Grandma was no bigger than a piss ant.  4’ 10” tall.  She had a hump on her back.  She made her own blouses—chaletos she called them.  Button down.  She always lined her blouses and made a ruffle about six inches wide around the bottom which came to just over her hip.  Always long sleeves.  She had long hair and combed it back if not in a braid she’d put it in a bun.  She cut her own hair.  She always wore a hat which she made herself and only wore a boughten hat when she went to town.  The ones she made were from material.  The brim was stiffened all the way around and was a sun hat with a round top and a ribbon to tie it on when the wind blew.

"Grandpa Olivas would do certain things—plant and cut wood to sell.  Other than that he wasn’t a lot of help.  Grandma did just about everything else.  Well, she organized her army—us kids—into getting all the work done that had to be done."

Gathering Medicines (pp. 36-38):

"Sometimes Grandma just walked around the ranch looking for certain plants that she used for various purposes.  When se found a plant that she wanted she would show us kids the plant and tell us its name then we could help look, too.  Unfortunately, I don’t remember many of the plants because by the time I was a teenager and might have been looking on my own we were living in Oceano and didn’t have a way to get to Lopez Canyon or the Huasna area to look for herbs.

"Grandma did all the gathering.  Us kids would be playing mostly, but if we saw the plant she wanted we ran to tell her.  “Grandma, Grandma, I found some.”  Of course, Tim would say, “Momma.”  He’d race me to be the first one to tell her.  I could run pretty fast so he didn’t beat me very often. If I saw the plant and he didn’t I wouldn’t tell him and just run tell Grandma.  He tried to do that to me, too, but Tim got distracted pretty easily by a lizard or special rock or seeing how high he could jump to catch a limb of a tree.

"We helped gather button mushrooms—big round ones—that grew near the trunks of trees.  Grandma showed us how to know which were the good ones.  of course, we ate the mushrooms cooked in spaghetti sauce or in stew or in whatever Grandma was cooking….

"When elderberry bushes were in bloom Grandma gathered and dried the blossoms on her willow rack in the kitchen over the cook stove to use for brewing tea for headaches.  When dry, she stored them in jars in the pantry until someone had a headache.  She dried food that way too, to store away for later.  She gathered willow bark for pain, but since it was always available she didn’t dry it.

"She gathered horehounds and boiled it down to a syrup with lemon and honey and flax seed juice to have ready in case any of us had a cough.  Sometimes she made it into candy.  She bought the flax seed in bulk most likely at Muscios [Muzio’s] in San Luis Obispo.

"Sometimes we took the horse and buggy to the Huasna area to look for Yerba Buena and Yerba Pasmo and other herbs.  We took a lunch and spent the day searching and gathering.  Tim, Aunt Flora, and I had fun, but I think Grandma did, too.  One time when we were going out Huasna way and the sun was just coming up Grandma told us a beautiful Indian story of how the sun lit up everything at once—the ocean—the flowers—the trees, and when it first came up it was beautiful and that was what made it all beautiful.  When it came it was everywhere at once.  It made the flowers and trees grow, made the life in the ocean.  I’ve been trying to remember the whole story because it was so beautiful, but I can’t remember any more.

"Especially in the Huasna area Grandma found Yerba Pasmo which had long twigs that she dried then boiled in water to make an antiseptic for cuts.  It grew mostly in wet fields that weren’t exactly marsh lands but were at times a lot wetter than a normal field.  Don Cordoza from Oceano gathered it and gave Tim some nearly every year.  We called the area behind Lopez to the southeast the Huasna area.  Grandma and Grandpa had land in there for awhile that they sold to the Porters. 

"Anyone who got into poison oak she had bathe with fels naptha soap, “so it wouldn’t be too bad.”

"She crushed a whole clove of garlic and sprinkled a tiny bit of sugar on it then put the mixture over a boil to make it come to a head.

"We always gathered watercress for salad or soup, but Grandma also boiled it in water to make a drink for us kids.  She told us it was good for kidneys.  It had a peppery taste. 

"She put coal oil on a cut to stop the bleeding. 

"She used moss hanging on oak trees for an open wound.  She pressed the moss in then wrapped the wound.

"She made atole out of almonds or oats soaking, whichever she had, in water then straining the mixture and used the water with honey and vanilla, added and gave it to us kids as a tonic to help us get well quicker.  She even added chocolate sometimes….

"The Prickly Pear Cactus was used to make a  paint for the base of fruit trees to keep ants away.  The leaves were gathered and chopped and put in water to soak.  The mixture soon began to ferment.  The leaf was removed leaving only the liquid.  Lime was added which made it white then it was painted on the trunks of the fruit trees or bathed on the end of a limb where the tree was pruned.

"To get rid of aphids, Epsom salt was put in water and sprayed on the leaves.  It wiped out aphids.  Grandma thought the aphids god diarrhea. 

"Ashes were also sprinkled around plants to keep aphids off.

"Sometimes we took the horse and buggy to Davis Canyon which branched off See Canyon and went to see aunt Soto.  Aunt Kate was Grandma’s half sister.  She and Grandma would look for herbs together.  I know they got snake weed from which they made an herbal tea they enjoyed drinking.  There was chamomile in Lopez and Davis Canyons which they gathered and used for tea to enjoy.  There are two chamomile plants that look exactly alike, but one smells like a skunk and is no good for tea.  The other, of course, smells like chamomile.

"A big bay leaf tree grew in Davis Canyon and was still there not long ago.  I gathered by leaves from it just as Aunt Kate and Grandma did.  We used the leaves for cooking and for putting around the house if someone had a cold so others wouldn’t catch it.  Eucalyptus leaves were also put around the house to keep away moths and fleas."

© 2000 Mary Trejo and Betty Clemens.  
All rights reserved.

     [Note: The Trejo property in Lopez Canyon was part of the area sacrificed to to the Lopez Dam and Recreation Area.  Key dates in that chronology are as follows:
       1941:  Report on flood control potential in Arroyo Grande Creek watershed by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
       June 1962: Planning advance of $40,000 for preliminary planning of Lopez Project approved by U.S. Housing and Home Finance Agency.
       September 1965: General Obligation Bond issue approved by vote of 2,724 to 1, 108.
       May 1967: Groundbreaking Ceremonies for Lopez Dam.
       January 1969: Construction of Lopez Dam completed.
       April 1969: Lopez Reservoir fills and spills, due to heavy winter and spring rains.
       May 1969: Dedication of Lopez Dam and Recreational Area.         

     --These details taken from Program of Events for the Dedication of Lopez Dam and Recreational Area, published by San Luis Obispo County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, May 1969.    -- Lynne Landwehr.]


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