Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Warren family excavates 19th century homestead

Mark and Sylvia Warren stand in front of the homestead they built in Morongo Valley in the 19th century. (Stacy Moore, Hi-Desert Star)

By Stacy Moore
Hi-Desert Star

MORONGO VALLEY — “We have pioneering in our blood,” Mike Arnett told his family, and the proof was right before them: a new monument marking the spot where their ancestors Mark and Sylvia Warren built a homestead in 1885.

The Warren homestead is on San Bernardino County land a short walk from Covington Park. The building is gone, destroyed by a 1929 fire and simply the work of passing time, but the Warrens’ descendents recently found out where it had stood and began a restoration project.

Larry Turner spearheaded the project. The grandson of Lela Warren Arnett, the youngest of the Warrens’ 11 children, Turner organized his family into a labor force to excavate the footprint of the old homestead, clear away brush and clean up the footpath leading to the site.

“It’s been a project of love, saving this place for history,” Turner told his family when they gathered Saturday morning to see the fruits of their labor.

The family placed a concrete and granite monument that tells visitors the story of Mark and Sylvia Warren and their homestead. The guests of honor for the monument unveiling were the Warrens’ three surviving grandchildren: Lois Arvicson, the daughter of Ed Warren, the first of the children to be born at the Morongo Valley home, and Mary Ellen Grimes and Marion Arnett, the daughter and son of Lela Warren, the youngest of the 11 children.
“Grandpa raised cattle and Grandma raised kids — 11 of them!” Grimes said.

Turner also thanked Donna Muñoz, general manager of the Morongo Valley Community Services District, Mike Lipsitz, who facilitated permission for the project when he was field representative for county Supervisor James Ramos, and the Morongo Basin Historical Society, which also helped.

The San Bernardino County Fire Department provided a 14-man crew to help tear out brush.

Couple met when wagon train stranded

The story of Mark and Sylvia Warren is tale about making a paradise in a wild land, the power of hospitality and the human spirit, but it begins with a truth uncomfortable in today’s America: When Mark Warren first met Sylvia Paine, she was 12 years old. They were married two years later, in 1866. He was 35 and she was 14.

Chuck Warren, an emigrant from Maine who made a living driving a freight wagon, first saw Sylvia Paine as he drove from the Port of Los Angeles to Prescott, Arizona, Arnett said. Encountering a wagon train lost near Baker, he gave them directions and went on his way. When he returned, he found the Paine family was still there,
stranded in the desert on their months-long migration from Texas to California because of the death of their ox. He loaded them into his wagon and took them to his San Bernardino ranch, where they lived for two years.

Chuck Warren at first wanted to marry the oldest daughter, but she was promised to someone else. Instead, he married Sylvia.

Arnett gave his perspective on Sylvia’s age to his family members.

“This 14-year-old had endured privations,” Arnett said. “She knew how to survive on the meagerest provisions. She knew how to take care of her family.”

The two remained married for 51 years, until Chuck Warren’s death in an automobile accident in 1917. Sylvia bore 11 children, living some of the time at the Morongo Valley homestead and other times in Banning and Yucaipa so the children could go to school.

A sound home where strangers were welcome

Chuck Warren found the land for his Morongo Valley homestead on one of his freighting trips, describing it as a beautiful oasis.

The stream ran year-round,” Arnett said, gesturing to a ravine behind him, now dry. “This was a lush area.”

Around the house, built with adobe brick, the Warrens created a ranch that provided amply for their children and the miners and cattlemen who passed their way.

Arnett quoted his grandmother Lela’s words: “The family never suffered any real hardship for there was a sound, protective house for them to live in and always an abundance of food,” she wrote.

With cattle, crops of vegetables and sugar cane, fruit orchards, chickens and a hog, the Warrens lacked for little.

“There were beautiful alfalfa fields, apple trees with red apples peeping through the leaves and grass covered the ground everywhere,” Lela Warren wrote.

In the winter, they could depend on an abundance of wild game, including rabbits, quail, dove, ducks and deer.
“Whoever came by was always asked to eat with them,” the pioneers’ daughter remembered.

“Pioneering isn’t so bad when everyone works together and for the good of all,” she told Arnett. “Mark and Sylvia were not great as most people value men and women, but their greatness was in their goodness.”