- Journal of SD History
Pío de Jesus Pico (1801-1894)
As a resident of San Diego who became governor, Pio Pico is a figure of much interest. He was born at San Gabriel in 1801, and removed to San Diego after his father's death, in 1819. He kept a small shop there. Gambled with Father Menendez with varying fortune; lost all he had at San Vicente, Lower California, and later won twelve mules and stripped the padre, at San Diego. Built a house at old San Diego in 1824. Once on going to Los Angeles for a visit, he was ordered by Alcalde Avila, described as an ignorant fellow who ruled by the sword, to go to work on an aqueduct; but being on horseback and armed with a musket, he escaped and returned to San Diego. In 1821 he put up a hide hut at Los Angeles and opened a dram shop, the price of a drink being "two-bits." Introduced the use of an ox-horn to drink from, with a false wooden bottom to reduce the quantity of liquor.
Mrs. Carson once met him going to the races; he had his mule panniers loaded down with silver which he was taking to bet on the horse.
Was clerk in a trial at San Diego, 1826. Senior vocal of assembly, 1832, and chosen political chief after expulsion of Victoria same year, but only acted twenty days. Majordomo San Luis Rey Mission, 1834. Candidate for alcalde, December, 1834, but defeated. Elector, 1836. 1837-9, active against Alvarado's government and more than once a prisoner. Played an active and not always creditable part in troubles of this time. Became governor in 1845, and was the last Mexican governor.
In 1841, grantee of Santa Margarita and Las Flores Ranchos. Conveyed the former to his brother-in-law, John Forster and there was a noted contest for it in later years in the courts, but Forster won and retained the valuable property. He married María Ignacia Alvarado in 1834. He spent his later years in Los Angeles and wrote quite a little concerning California history. His character has been variously estimated and he has been much abused for various causes. It is not possible to discuss these matters here. He seems to have been a man of little education and only moderate intelligence; fairly honest but without any gifts of statesmanship which would have qualified him for important achievements in the difficult times in which he lived. Nearly all the magazines have contained, at various times, "write-ups" of the Pico family, and attacks or defenses of his administration.
[the above is an excerpt from William Ellsworth Smythe's History of San Diego, 1907]
Pio Pico's ancestry is said to have included a mixture of ethnicities, including Mexican, African, Indian, and Italian. His father was Jose Maria Pico.
Pico fled to Mexico to prevent the conquering Americans from capturing him and taking him prisoner. He later reclaimed his title to the land he had previously acquired and invested in more real estate, becoming wealthy and influential. Pico became a private citizen, successful businessman, and served on the Los Angeles City Council.
Around 1850, Pio Pico bought the Rancho Paso de Bartolo Viejo [near present day Whittier] from the heirs of Juan Crispin Perez. He built his mansion in 1852 and lived at "El Ranchito" from 1852 to 1892. According to some accounts, the house at one time included 33 rooms. El Ranchito was a gathering place for his neighbors as well as business acquaintances traveling the large distances between settlements. In 1883 a flood wiped out most of the mansion, leaving only the foundation and a few walls. Pico borrowed money and rebuilt the house, this time on a more modest scale. Bad weather, bad luck in business, and other businessmen conspired to deplete his assets. Despite the fact that it appeared fraud was perpetuated against him, Pio Pico's land was subdivided and his fortune was wiped out. He died shortly after, on September 11, 1894.
Pio Pico State Historic Park was re-opened to the public in September of 2003 after 3 years of renovation. The adobe has been earthquake-proofed and surrounding grounds have been restored to 1870s agricultural usage. The park is located in Whittier, west of the 605 freeway at Pioneer and Whittier Boulevards.