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Xavier Timoteo Martinez
Five Views: An Ethnic Historic Site Survey for California



Mexican War
World War II
Chicano Movement

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A History of Mexican Americans in California:

Cuyama District Ranger Station
Los Padres National Forest, Ventura County

Jacinto Damien Reyes (or J. D., as he was affectionately known) deserves public recognition for his outstanding contributions to forest management and conservation in Ventura County. During his 32-year tenure as a forest ranger in the Cuyama District of the Los Padres National Forest, Reyes supervised firefighting units at such major disasters as the June 1917 Matilija-Wheeler Springs fire, which burned 30,000 acres and threatened the town of Ojai; the 1919 Tujunga fire, with a loss of 80,000 acres; the 1921 Branch Canyon and Big Pine fires, which together decimated 25,000 acres; the 1922 Kelly Canyon fire, which destroyed 100,000 acres; and the 1928 Aliso Canyon fire, which ruined 43,000 acres. In addition to these major conflagrations, innumerable smaller blazes were extinguished under Reyes' supervision.

Despite the destruction caused by these fires, the ever-present danger of injury or death, the extreme heat, and the horrendous hours that usually extended into days (it took, for example, 35 consecutive days of firefighting to put out the Branch Canyon and Big Pine fires), as well as the makeshift support facilities maintained for early firefighters, Reyes never lost a man from one of his units. That is a remarkable record considering how many firefighting units Reyes supervised, the number and intensity of the blazes they fought, and the often treacherous terrain, slashed by canyons and ravines, over which the men moved. Experience in the field enabled Reyes to explain:

A ranger has to watch his men every minute to keep them from getting into trouble, and this is especially true when working with an inexperienced gang of fighters. A sudden change of wind, a lowering barometer or the fire jumping from one kind of vegetation to another can change the whole complexion of a fire quicker than a Spaniard can say "Hasta la vista. "If you do not watch your business, you can get all your men trapped in the fire as easily as starting a forest fire. (J. D. Reyes, Touring Topics, p. 55)

Reyes' concern for his men was matched by his concern for the environment. He was an early advocate of reforestation, a policy not officially adopted by the Forest Service until approximately 1910. But Reyes, a native of San Buenaventura whose father, Rafael Reyes, had first migrated to the Cuyama Valley in 1854 in search of feed for his stock and whose maternal uncles were noted vaqueros in the area, was intimately aware of the importance of the forests, not only to native wildlife but to farmers in the San Fernando Valley. His conservation and reforestation efforts created a debt that few have acknowledged and that none can repay.

Accepted by the Forest Service in 1900 as a temporary employee, Reyes received a permanent appointment on October 4, 1900. The following year, Reyes and other rangers in the area escorted President William McKinley through Ventura during a parade arranged in honor of the President. In 1905, Reyes was again present at a parade held in honor of another President, Theodore Roosevelt, and rode through the streets of Santa Barbara on "the right side of the president's carriage." (Touring Topics, p. 54) While such celebrations no doubt provided a welcome respite from the daily round of the ranger's duties, Reyes spent most of his time in the Cuyama District itself. He lived with his mother and brothers on their homestead at the mouth of Reyes Creek.

His father and uncles had built a set of adobe buildings on the land in 1855. After J. D.'s marriage in 1915 to Glendora G. Butke, he and his wife built a home for themselves only a quarter of a mile away from the Reyes' homestead.

During Reyes' tenure as a ranger in the Cuyama District, he witnessed and occasionally implemented impressive changes in the area under his supervision. In an interview, copyrighted in 1939 by the Automobile Club of Southern California, he described some of these changes:

When I went to work with the Forest Service, we had practically no roads and very few trails. In fact when I became a ranger, we only had one primary trail and a pretty poor trail at that, that led across the mountains to the town of Ojai. We and all the early settlers used to get out mail and supplies over that trail by pack train. . . . Now we have a road that is passable for automobiles most of the year although it is only a winding dirt road up the Cuyama River. . . . (Reyes, Touring Topics, p. 55)

Reyes, although apparently a good story-teller, was a self-effacing man who never boasted of the work he had done to open trails through the Cuyama District, preferring instead to comment that "it is with considerable pride that I have watched the gradual development of the Cuyama District. . . ." (Ibid.) Others, however, were quick to acknowledge the role he had played in making the Cuyama District more accessible to the public. Forest H. Cook, Headmaster of the Thacher School, wrote a letter at the time of Reyes' retirement, in which he noted:

that for twenty years Thacher camping parties enjoyed J. D. 's hospitality and that the success of their trips was due to his fine work in keeping the mountain trails open. The Thacher boys often remarked that when they got into J. D.'s district, trails were well ditched and in good repair . . . and J. D.'s career . . . has been a great lesson to Thacher boys. (Ibid.)

Similarly, Morgan Barnes, another Thacher teacher, noted "that the Thacher students look forward to visits to the Cuyama and look backward upon these occasions with the most delightful recollection." (Ibid.) Reyes obviously was popular with visitors to the Cuyama District, and may be the only ranger in the service ever to have had an ode published praising his work.

Certainly, the responsibility for campers, hunters, and fishermen is an important part of any ranger's duty, but a good ranger, as Reyes knew, is much more: "coroner, detective, court witness, Red Cross nurse, fireman, policeman," all rolled into one. What sets Reyes apart from his contemporaries and from those who followed him was that he was the only ranger in the U.S. Forest Service to work 30 years in one district, a district that included 450,000 acres (reduced in 1928 to 400,000).

Chicanos have made important contributions to the entire community by their work in a variety of fields, and Reyes is an outstanding example of a Chicano humanist, environmentalist, and conservationist. His efforts to preserve and protect the Los Padres National Forest deserve recognition.

Cuyama District Ranger Station
Cuyama District Ranger Station (left),
Los Padres National Forest (right), Ventura County

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