Camp Pendleton – History of the Land

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MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — Names such as Tarawa and Lejeune are seen on street signs or in housing areas throughout Marine Corps’ Installations, but some may wonder where Camp Pendleton’s unfamiliar camp names originated.

Camp PendletonWhen explorers discovered modern-day Camp Pendleton, it was common for Catholic missionaries to name points of arrival or rest stops for the patron saint whose holy day coincides with time they arrived. A majority of Camp Pendleton locations can be traced to these Spanish padres and voyagers who traveled to Southern California in the late 18th Century.

“The land we know as Camp Pendleton has a rich and colorful history that extends over 230 years,” said Richard B. Rothwell, president, Camp Pendleton Historical Society. “From the Spanish mission days, through its service as a working ranch under Mexican and United States rule, to its present role as an amphibious training base for U.S. Marines. Several historic sights serve as reminders of Camp Pendleton’s rich and colorful past.”

In 1942, The Marine Corps bought 125,000 acres of land in southern California for nearly $4.25 million. The very same undeveloped beachfront, valuable ranch land and scenic mountain vistas would later become the base we know today.

Remaining true to the heritage of this historic land, base officials decided to keep the names given to geographic locations by Spanish explorers and the native descendants after the purchase.

According to the CPHS, examples of these geographic names include:

Cristianitos: Seventeenth century Spanish priests of the Portola-Serra expedition named this area as they made their way through this land on their way to northern California. The site of their encampment was named after St. Apollinaris, but since priests conducted California’s first known Christian baptisms for two dying Indian infants, the soldiers referred to it as Los Cristianitos, or “the little Christians”. Today, the baptismal site is an official California Historical Site.

Santa-Margarita-Ranch-House

Las Pulgas: Eighteenth century soldiers accompanying a survey party for the San Luis Rey Mission were constantly bothered by fleas, or Las Pulgas, while camping here. The area was then named after the tiny pests that made a stronger impression than the physical beauty of the area.

Las Flores: The way station or assistance to Mission San Luis Rey was established in 1827 near what is today the Las Pulgas exit to Interstate 5. Seeing wild roses and flowers at the mouth of the canyon and remembering the name given by Father Crespi years earlier, the name Las Flores, meaning “the flowers,” was given to the area.

Chappo: The name is believed to be derived from the word Chapala that was the thick undergrowth found in the area.

Horno: This is the Spanish word for the clay oven or kin used by early settlers. Camp Horno is nestled below the coastal mountains, which block the cooling ocean breezes. As any Marine stationed there can attest, it can get hot as an oven in the summer.

San Onofre: In keeping with the padres’ tradition of naming areas after patron saints, this area was named after the obscure Egyptian, Saint Onuphrius.

San Mateo: This was derived from Saint Matthew, a saint whose name was a favorite with the Catholic missionaries.

Deluz: An Englishman by the name of Luce kept a corral of horses in the area north of the village of Fallbrook. The Spanish-speaking neighbors knew it as Coral de Luz, which was later shortened to the name we use today.

Lake O’Neill: This is a man-made lake created for the irrigation of the fields on Rancho Santa Margarita in the late 1800s. It is named for Richard O’Neill who managed the ranch and later became part owner.

Vado Del Rio: At one time the Margarita River was much deeper and wider. Small trading boats actually sailed up the river from the ocean to trade goods behind the base’s Historic Ranch House. When a bridge was constructed so that travelers could easily cross the river the area overlooking the bridge was named Vado Del Rio, or river crossing.

Amazingly, much of Camp Pendleton would be recognizable today to Richard O’Neill, John Basilone, and other historical figures whose stories are intertwined with the land, said Rothwell.

By Lance Cpl. Daniel Boothe , Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton

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