An Irish Rancher in Baja

Baja Bernie - 10-16-2007 at 08:52 PM

From Bouncing Around Baja

Philip Crostwaite came to the beautiful valley of La Mision Baja California in the year 1861. He left his native Dublin, Ireland, in the year 1845 when he shipped out of London, England, on a voyage of adventure to visit his relatives in Philadelphia. He and a new found friend decided to sign on to the schooner Hopewell for what they both thought was a fishing trip out of Newport, Rhode Island, to Newfoundland. It was only after several days at sea that they found themselves being tossed about the in the violent seas at Cape Horn at the southern most tip of South America. They had been duped and were not going fishing—they were heading for San Francisco. Talk about going the wrong way!

When they entered the harbor at San Diego it did not take them more than a minute to decide that they would jump ship and become deserters. Kicking around the docks they found that a ship was pulling out that same day for the east coast—but it only had room for one more passenger. As the story goes Philip turned to his friend and with a great grin exclaimed, “Let’s flip a coin”. They did and Philip lost.

Philip almost immediately became a favorite of all of the young ladies in town. His tall, sturdy Irish build, coupled with his wonderful singing voice and his wide handsome smile captured the hearts of all he met. It wasn’t long before he met and married Josefa Lopez Rosas in 1848. They had many handsome sons and four daughters while he was making a larger and grander name for himself. His Irish gift of gab and his natural ability to lead people saw him become the County Treasurer, Sheriff, and Justice of the Peace. No! Not all at the same time.

His restless spirit caused him to continually seek out new and more interesting challenges. Baja California was a new and interesting place. He made numerous trips looking at land in the Guadalupe and Santo Tomas valleys. No U.S. or Mexican customs officer were on the border. People just wandered back and forth at will. No Tourist Cards, no inspections, nothing. They just crossed at will wherever they wished. There certainly was no waiting going in either direction. And do not forget that he was in a bone jolting old buckboard and had to carry all of his own food and water. No McDonalds on every corner—no corners! Rosarito Beach was still only a twinkle in someone’s eye. Toilet paper had not even been invented! A real rough trip.

Riding along the hills that rimmed the Pacific Ocean at just about where La Fonda’s Hotel in La Mision de La Playa is now located, he turned east and saw a small river flowing out to sea from a beautiful green valley surrounded by craggy low laying mountains. This was it! The place he had been dreaming about for years. In 1861 he purchased, yeah he got to “buy it,” the entire valley and even some grazing land up over the hills in Guadalupe Valley. (There were no restrictions on foreigners owning land. Well, sure I guess a 30-year lease is better than nothing,) He bought the entire San Miguel Rancho lock stock and barrel.

At some point that muddy river became the Crostwaite River. Now, a little over 140 years later, the river seldom if ever is able to break its way out to the sea.

Behind the ranch house the native Indians tended a garden consisting of corn, squash, peppers, beans, potatoes and yams. The cattle provided an ample supply of red meat for the family and all of the neighboring families. They were completely self-contained as far as foodstuffs were concerned. They routinely harvested clams, mussels, abalone, fish and lobster from the sea. Salt was gathered from the ponds in La Salina—just a three-hour ride over the hills.

Josefa and Phillips four daughters and seven sons did an excellent job of populating almost the entire area between Rosarito Beach and Ensenada to the south. Various members of the clan would make the three or four-day trek to San Diego for what manufactured goods and clothing that they could not produce in their valley.

Most of the modern Crostwaites have lost the ability to converse in the native tongue of the gregarious Irishman who started the whole thing. They do still have that wide Irish smile, a gift of gab and blue eyes.

By the time Phillip died in 1903 he had buried his wife, two of his daughters and a grandson. They are all buried in the Crostwaite Family Cemetery on a windy hillside with a view of the Pacific Ocean and the La Mision Valley.

Some of the old timers, like Gus Arrellanes, still remember round ups in the La Mision Valley and the cattle drives south to Ensenada in the late 1930’s and early 40’s. I’m told that these drives, as well as those beginning in the 1860’s, took about the same four to five days before they arrived in Ensenada. There were a few bars, but no Papas and Beers; Hussong’s Cantina was around before the turn of the century. So the cowboys had someplace to wet their whistles after a long dry cattle drive.

Now we don’t even need an excuse to frequent the same bars.

Vince - 10-17-2007 at 09:35 AM

Very interesting, Bernie. I used to frequent that valley as a kid with my uncle who befriended some of the White Russians. They fed us some of their great russian bread and stew. Thanks for the report. Vince

Gnome-ad - 10-17-2007 at 01:01 PM

A great story once again, Bernie! Thank you so much.

Ahh, an open border – both ways!! But buckboard and no toilet paper … hmmm … these are things to ponder. I so admire the strength and persistence of the settlers of those old days. Thanks for taking me there.

DENNIS - 10-17-2007 at 01:05 PM

Originally posted by Vince
I used to frequent that valley as a kid with my uncle who befriended some of the White Russians. Vince

What's a White Russian? I thought they were predominantly white? I think it's a drink. The only Black Russian I've ever seen, other than in a glass, was Angela Davis.

Von - 10-17-2007 at 01:19 PM

Awesome story never knew that one! Thanks 4 sharing:yes:


Baja Bernie - 10-17-2007 at 03:41 PM

You got it correct...many 'White Russians' left Russia after they were defeated while fighting the 'Red' Army during their civil war and many of them settled in the Guadalupe valley and the eastern part of La Mision Valley. Also down around San Vicente.

Here is a link

DENNIS - 10-17-2007 at 03:44 PM

Good link. Thanks. I'd never heard the term before.

bacquito - 10-17-2007 at 04:45 PM

Very interesting story. I have heard of the Russian population before but was not familiar with Philip Crostwait. In reading your story I'm left with the impression that perhaps these people got more joy and appreciated life better than most of us do today-I include myself. Imagine not having to worry about crossing the border or buying toilet paper. Do you suppose "mordida" existed?


Baja Bernie - 10-18-2007 at 03:41 PM

Yes, there was mordida but it was very rare because there were very few officials to have their hands out.............Mostly it occurred in Mexico City and had to do with registering land.

Dave - 10-18-2007 at 05:29 PM

Originally posted by Baja Bernie
You got it correct...many 'White Russians' left Russia after they were defeated while fighting the 'Red' Army during their civil war and many of them settled in the Guadalupe valley and the eastern part of La Mision Valley. Also down around San Vicente.

Weren't the Russians the first group to suffer from land expropriation? Interesting to note that the 1919 Constitution specifically prohibits large private land holdings. Wonder how the Crosthwaite family escaped? ;)

Fourth generation Crosthwaites include a local land "developer", artist, concert pianist and journalist/author.

And...Didn't John Stocker buy his ranch from the Crosthwaite family?

DENNIS - 10-18-2007 at 06:05 PM

Who is John Stocker?

David K - 10-18-2007 at 06:05 PM

The Russians who came to Guadalupe Valley were known as 'Malakans'... a religious group. They settled there in 1905... well before the revolution of 1917.

See more from when visited the museums there in August, 2001 with Fishin' Rich, elgatoloco & Baja Barb and David Eidell:

DENNIS - 10-18-2007 at 06:08 PM

So... Who is John Stocker?

John Stocker

Baja Bernie - 10-18-2007 at 08:11 PM

Who knows but I think he was the father of Eve Stocker who owned a huge home in La Mision and owned La Fonda's for many years. (there are many stories here but not to be shared on this public arena)

She died when she stumbled over one of her cats while in her gardens in the dead of the night and broke her least that is what the cops said.....and then everyone began to call Tequila Pancho.....El Gato.

David, Your are correct that the Molokans (Milk Drinkers) settled in 1905 and were joined by many other Russians in the 1915-20's The difference in spelling is because the Armenians spelled it one way and the Russians another

The Russians and even more the Italians settled in La Paz when El Duce took over Italy.

DENNIS - 10-18-2007 at 08:22 PM

Originally posted by Baja Bernie "He who is blind to my soul shall never know me"

How many men know their own soul?
How many men know they have one?


Baja Bernie - 10-18-2007 at 08:49 PM

I noticed you mood indicated an open mind and a good listener..........both are highly regarded by one who know his own soul.

DENNIS - 10-18-2007 at 08:54 PM

Thanks Bernie.....

I'm off to bed to ponder that. I have a feeling I'll awake with a smile.

Gnome-ad - 10-19-2007 at 10:04 AM

Glad I keep re-visitng this thread ... really wonderful and thoughtful interaction leading to interesting information and soul searching ...

Thanks - leaves a smile on my face for sure.

Von - 5-16-2009 at 01:05 AM

This is a story to be read once in a while really cool im always riding my motorcycle back there through San jose dela Sorra to Guadalupe so beautiful.

DENNIS - 5-16-2009 at 06:08 AM

That's really good, Mike. First time we've seen the poet in you. How about some more..........

capt. mike - 5-16-2009 at 06:50 AM

are you flying in mexico single eng VFR at night??!!
please go on. i wanna hear how this ends.

Mexitron - 5-16-2009 at 07:12 AM

I've always been intrigued with the La Mision area--thanks Bernie for enriching our knowledge a little more...good story! I wonder how the Crostwaites fared under Pancho Villa? I suppose by then the family had been pretty well integrated into the culture so maybe it wasn't a problem (unlike the Nordhoffs and the International Company in Maneadero which was kicked out of Baja).

bacquito - 5-16-2009 at 02:35 PM

Interesting, thanks for the report.

SKIDS - 5-16-2009 at 08:30 PM

Neat story Bernie , we used to camp at Arturo Croswaite's across the freeway from the beach. We would ride horses up the valley. He was an excellent vaquero . We would sit around the camp fire drink tequila and listen to his stories. He passed away a few years ago. Blue eyes and hair like a borrego.

DanO - 6-9-2009 at 02:03 PM

Originally posted by DENNIS
That's really good, Mike. First time we've seen the poet in you. How about some more..........

I agree.

Very informative thread, Bernie, thanks for starting it. A little more about John and Eve Stocker, predecessor owners of La Fonda before the Dmytriw's, can be found here starting at page 103:

Cypress - 6-9-2009 at 02:24 PM

fishbuck!:bounce: Good story. You, Osprey and Bernie ought to write a book.:yes:

SteveD - 6-27-2009 at 11:40 AM

Rene Croswaite was a bartender at La Fonda's back in the 1960's and then he managed the hotel until he retired a few years ago. He still lives in La Mision. In the late 1950's and early 1960's we would rent horses from his dad.

fishbuck - 6-29-2009 at 11:15 PM

I'm moving my story out of Bernie's thread. I didn't mean to hijack it. I was inspired by his writing and got carried away.
Thanks Bernie.

GPSinBaja - 7-15-2010 at 04:39 PM

Great read Bernie,
Thanks for sharing.