The Feliz Curse

By Richard Duree (Col. Richard Dodge, SASS 1750 Life)


Ruth Levin Duree and Richard Duree

Major Horace Bell, author of "Reminisces of a Ranger" and "On the Old West Coast" gives us this interesting story involving old Don Antonio Feliz, a name familiar to all who live in the City of the Angels.

It seems that the old don was the very wealthy and proud owner of 8,000 acres of prime ranch land north of the pueblo of Los Angeles. His fields were the richest, his cattle the fattest, his horses the finest in the land. His bucolic acres were surrounded on three sides by the rippling waters of the Los Angeles River, providing water that made his orchards and vineyards the most productive of any. Don Antonio was also wise with his finances and when other ranchero were losing their immense lands to the loan sharks of the City of the Angels, he remained financially sound, owing no one.

Alas, the old don was struck down when a smallpox epidemic decimated the countryside. And therein lies a tale of greed, avarice – and revenge.

It was reported that at 1:00 p.m. in the afternoon, Don Antonio was abed and unable to speak. At 3:00 p.m. a well-known citizen of the Angels, Don Antonio Coronel appeared at the Feliz rancho. This respected official of the Angels proceeded to take a seat in the room adjacent to the sick room and write for some twenty minutes. When finished the document was read to Don Antonio by another, who attested that though Don Antonio had not spoken for several hours and had indeed been unconscious, he agreed with the terms of the "will and testament." The Feliz signature was even affixed to the document, though by whom is uncertain.

Filing of the document revealed that to his godson, Juan Sanchez, was bequeathed "twelve gentle mares with the pinto stallion and a foal for each mare." Household furniture, moveables, and bedclothes were to be divided equally between the deceased's sister, Soledad Feliz, and sister-in-law, Juana Valenzuela. The rest of the vast estate was to be ". . . administered, governed and directed by my good friend, Antonio Coronel, and that when the time and price are convenient that he shall sell the property and 'employ the proceeds in the sufferages of my soul and that no bond shall be required of my said executor.'"

Don Antonio had been a bachelor. His sister, the aforementioned Soledad Feliz, had served him for decades as his housekeeper and was left with the "furniture and moveables."

There was a niece named Petronella who had been close to Don Antonio for her entire life and he had loved her as his own daughter. She had been encouraged to be away from the rancho during the don's last days and had been absolutely and completely left out of any mention in Coronel's version of the will. As had the entire dedicated staff of the rancho: vaqueros, maids, tradesmen – all.

Imagine the shock when Petronella returned to the rancho to be confronted by strangers living in the house who informed that she no longer lived there. The lady was understandably upset; how much so would soon be revealed.

She was only seventeen, a mere wisp of a girl, tall, slim, graceful, beautiful, and educated. But there burned within her a terrible resolve. Her eyes darkened as she turned on her heel and walked dazedly to the end of the veranda where she stood for a moment, gazing across the lush land to the towering Tujungas that bordered on the north.

She turned her wrath on the unfortunate master of her house.

"Señor, at the expense of the Feliz family, you have become a rich man. Now you turn me away from the home that has sheltered me from the day I was born. This is what I hurl upon your head: Your falsity shall be your ruin. The substance of the Feliz Family shall be your ruin. The judge and the lawyer who assisted him shall fall beneath the same curse. The one shall die an untimely death, the other in blood and violence! You, señor, shall know misery in your age and though you die rich your substance shall go to vile persons! A blight shall fall upon the face of this terrestrial paradise, the cattle shall no longer fatten, but sicken on its pastures, the fields shall no longer respond to the toil of the tiller, the grand oaks shall wither and die. The wrath of Heaven and the vengeance of Hell shall fall upon this place!"

Turning once more to the end of the veranda, she cast a far-flung gesture.

"See," she cried, "Cast your glance to the dark entrance of the great Canyon of the Tejunga and what do you see – a myriad demons floating like vultures. They are lashing the clouds – the sky darkens – the thunder rolls – the lightning flashes – the rain falls. The rain falls in torrents! Do you hear the thunder of the descending flood? Boulders grind and crash! It is coming! See! The demons ride the crest of the storm! The great oaks are withering in tongues of flame! The fire from the clouds have destroyed them! Woe, woe, woe to you and yours, señor! The meadows are gone; only the hills remain, the mere bones of the rancho and no man shall ever enjoy peace or profit from what is left of this once beautiful spot. Misfortune, crime, and death shall follow those who covet these remains."

Emotionally spent, the frail woman spread her arms wide and shrieked, "Woe, woe unto the Despoilers" whereupon she collapsed in a faint upon the tiled floor.

They carried her into the house and lay her on a couch. Fearing that she was lifeless, they summoned a priest who managed to revive her momentarily, assuring her that there was no storm and that all was well.

"Fools," she spoke quietly, "I can see what you cannot see. Give me absolution, Father, for I am dying." And as the priest held her hand, she did.

For reasons best known to himself, Don Antonio Coronel conveyed the entire property to his lawyer. After selling the water rights to the Los Angeles City Water Company for eight thousand dollars, the rancho was sold to a wealthy American named Leon Baldwin, who spared no expense to remodel the rancho to his own fancy. Fences closed off open range, a dairy was begun, the old Feliz home was remodeled and the Baldwins settled down to a life of rural luxury.

Suddenly the cattle began to sicken and die; the dairy became a dismal failure and fire destroyed the ripening grain. Grasshoppers invaded the green crops and the vineyards were stricken with a strange blight and perished. The Baldwins were forced to take a mortgage on the place and then abandoned the accursed place.

The next owner was the Prince of Wales – not really the Prince of Wales, though many believed him to be. He was a Welsh nobleman by the name of Col. Griffith J. Griffith, a prominent citizen of the Angels with plenty of money and princely air about him. So this Welsh prince, or whatever he thought himself to be, purchased the Feliz rancho.

Almost immediately, bad fortune fell upon him. Storm clouds gathered in the recesses of the Tejungas and, as Petronella had predicted, a terrible flood descended in a rage upon the rancho in an unprecedented fury of lightning and thunder. The great oaks were devoured in flame and the rancho was stripped bare as the waters carried all to the sea, leaving the land a disfigured corpse.

Tales were told by the vaqueros of seeing the ghost of Antonio Feliz riding the crest of the flood, accompanied by the demons of Petronella's vision, lashing the storm to its fury. The place was abandoned, even by the prince, who never returned to the place.

He rented a corner of the property to a man who started an ostrich farm; in the night the ostriches became terrified and fled their enclosures. Woodcutters fled, reporting sightings of Don Antonio's ghost striding along the river. Col. Griffith was the unfortunate owner of a land that bore no income, was infested with demons – and was heavily indebted for taxes. What to do? No one would purchase it or even live on it.

A suggestion was put forth: "Give the land to the City of Los Angeles as a park! The municipal council will rise up and call you blessed. With resolutions and what-not, they will immortalize you!"

The deed was tendered; the offer was welcomed and a time was set for the council to accompany the Baron to the ranch, at which time the deed would be transferred. There was great ceremony in the giving and receiving of three thousand acres of mountainside, all that was left of the original eight thousand acre rancho.

It seems that the city fathers tarried with the refreshments in the old ranch house into darkness, when suddenly Don Antonio's fleshless ghost appeared, settled in the chair at the head of the table and invited the city fathers to dine with him in Hell. A mad rush was made for the exits of the house of Feliz and the city fathers returned home, already turned old and gray.

And that is the story of the Feliz Curse and the beginnings of the great Park of Griffith.