1874: Into the West

You’re cordially invited to the see Moulton Museum! Our first exhibit will be 1874: Into the West.  We are featuring part of our collection from Wells Fargo Museum and the Moulton Family. Don’t miss an opportunity to learn about the journey into West. Complete our exhibit passport for a prize from the Museum Store.

Enjoy our exhibition film featured in the museum as four chapters.

1874: Into the West

1874 was a historic year for the nation. It marked the opening of the Southern Pacific Railroad, General Custer led an expedition, the patenting of barbed wire and Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis jeans. The QWERTY keyboard was first used by Remington typewriter. Mr. & Mrs. Jesse James married, and President Ulysses S. Grant’s daughter, Nellie, married at the White House.

1874 was also a significant statewide year in Orange County history. The county had not ceded the Los Angeles County until 1888, but the interest groups were ready to part ways from the metro city jurisdiction. Back East, Lewis F. Moulton decided to leave home at twenty years old on a daring adventure to California. His future business partner, Jean Pierre Daguerre, journeyed to California as a French Basque sheepherder. It was not an easy journey during those times as it required many forms of transportation. Lewis ventured into the west as an eager and formidable businessman.

The western landscape shaped a man’s philosophy and engineered new opportunities. Lewis maintained strong connections to his Bostonian roots. The Fenno cousins invested into the enterprise in the early years and helped mature this business into an economic market that sustained agriculture, sheep, and cattle. They operated a weekly wool report that helped the market determine the value of this natural material which was used from clothing to bedding. This wool knowledge and capital prepared L. F. Moulton & Company to mature into a 21,723 acre enterprise.

Lewis’ rapport with California neighbors extended from San Diego to San Francisco where his brother Irving Fenno Moulton resided. Irving provided financial advice as the President of the Bank of California. The brothers would maintain a life-long friendship and business partnership.

Spanish and Mexican Ranchos of Orange County

Southern California had a vibrant rancho system. Rancho Niguel changed owners through the various Spanish, Mexican, and California periods. Did you know that Niguel is an original Native American word spelled “Niguili”? It was pronounced Ne-well in their oral tradition society. This is a derivative from Ango translation that mean lagoon.

Map Collection Highlight

Hand-drawn mapping collections are referred to as Diseños ranging from 1866-1871. 

Diseño map of Rancho Niguel which was 13,000+ acres. (2017.09.43)

Gold Rush

The Mexican-American War (1846-1848) led to a new government that owned all the territory lands of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Nevada, and Utah. This meant that Mexico ceded 55 percent of its total land. The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed by the Mexican government. It ended the war and created peace between our borderlands.

At the end of war, a new period was marked by the California Gold Rush (1848–1855). It began on January 24, 1848, when gold was found by James W. Marshall at Sutter’s Mill.

Wells Fargo & Co. insured and transported this fortune to the east coast via stagecoach. This mining lifestyle generally attracted young, single men set out to make their fortune. Some cowboys turned to this industry instead of cattle as they could potentially earn higher profits.

The stagecoach industry grew due to the need to secure gold. A team would ride “shotgun” with an armed passenger to fight off bandits.

California was admitted as the 31st state on September 9, 1850. The 1850 U.S. Federal Census tallied California’s population at 92,597.

People from all over the world were heading to California for opportunity. The train helped move goods and a large population of people to this state.

The Southern Pacific Railroad was incorporated on December 1865. Congress passed a bill on July 1866 which authorized the Southern Pacific Railroad Company to build a southern transcontinental line. It ran from San Francisco to meet the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad Company, building westward from St. Louis.

Portrait of Don Juan Avila, known as Don Juan "El Rico" at San Juan Capistrano, ca.1874, Courtesy of USC Libraries

Rancho Niguel

“Don Juan Avila, the wealthy resident of San Juan Capistrano, and his sister Doña Concepcion, raised sheep on their Rancho Niguel. Avila built his first home here before building his large residence in San Juan Capistrano.”

“The year 1874 in El Toro found the Serranos still owning and occupying the eleven thousand acre ranch which had been granted them by the Mexican Government, and which eventually came into the possession of Dwight Whiting. Rancho Niguel had been granted by Juan B. Alvarado, Mexican Governor of California, to Juan Avila and his sister Concepcion, widow of a certain Pedro Sanchez, on June 21, 1842. From them it passed, sometimes in its entirety, other times in parcels, through many hands, among them the Yorbas, but by 1874 the greater portion of it was owned by Cyrus B. Rawson, from whom father eventually bought it. Jonathan E. Bacon had also come into possession of sixteen hundred acres of it.”


Lewis' Journey to Califonria

Lewis and Irving Fenno

Lewis Fenno Moulton was born in 1854 in Chicago, Illinois. When he was 10 years old, his parents separated and he went to live with his mother and brother Irving to Boston to be close to her family, the Fennos.


The Fennos were well established in Boston as bankers and merchants, and it is certain Lewis that could have done well there. Boston was a port city. It had a population of 350 thousand—nearly half that of the entire state of California. Its major industries were dry goods, nautical supplies, metalworking, and publishing. Forty banks called Boston their home. 

The Fenno Family were major players in both financing and wool, both of which were important to Lewis later in his life. They helped predict market trends with the Weekly Wool Report. Lewis’ sheep would be valued based on the quality and quantity of his wool.

Lewis Fenno Moulton in his thirties, circa 1880 (2018.02.03)

“In 1874, when Father was twenty years old, he came from Boston on a Pacific Mail steamer and across the Isthmus of Panama by train. He took another Pacific mail vessel to San Francisco. After a few days he caught a San Diego-bound boat which landed him at Wilmington, from whence he proceeded by stage to Santa Ana.”

Travel across the Isthmus of Panama took approximately 5 weeks. Yellow Fever or malaria was the primary danger. The Transcontinental Railroad, completed in 1869, was the other common route west.

Shearing Sheep & Shipping Wool

Lewis ran sheep from Oceanside (San Diego) to Wilmington (Long Beach). The sheep herd were dipped in a powder containing sulfur a the “dip” station near modern day Aliso and Wood Canyon Park (2018.34.2034.05)

By the 1900s, The wool was removed with “Sheep Shear for Wool — Improved Clippers” in the spring months. These tools had electricity and increase efficiency rather than manual shearers. Charles S. Hardy, the general manager of the Rancho Santa Margarita in San Diego, helped distribute the wholesale merchandise: sheep and carloads of wool via the train at $1.00  (2018.36.1858) The ranch industry was already shifting towards cattle in these years as drought and other seasonal changes were taking place. It would take a change in ownership for this enterprise to shift permanently.

Santa Ana Register, Santa Ana, California 25 Sep 1928, Tue • Page 98

Moulton Ranch

“In 1894 Father purchased Rawson’s seventeen thousand acres, and a few months later Mr. Daguerre bought a third interest in it. In 1899 they bought Bacon’s piece, and from time to time they acquired other bits of property, not belonging to the original grant, until the ranch now comprises between twenty-one and twenty-two thousand acres.”

Santa Ana Register Santa Ana, California 25 Sep 1928, Tue • Page 98