Ramona Avenue

Helen Hunt Jackson documented the history of the United States Government's mismanagement of Indian affairs in a book published in 1881, called A Century of Dishonor. She presented a copy of the book to every member of Congress. She was then appointed special commissioner to investigate Indian affairs, and dutifully endured many hardships touring the West, inspecting Indian reservations.

When her novel, Ramona, was published in 1884, the plight of the Indian was brought to the forefront of public conscience. Elliott's History of San Bernardino County, published in 1883, reveals "a growing awareness of injustice in the American treatment of the Indian - yet an ambiguous attitude toward the Indian is also apparent. The Indian is described as a hard worker at one point and lazy at another. He is unclean - yet indolently spends his time bathing in sweathouses. He leads a live of vagrancy - and keeps 'well-fenced and cultivated farms' in San Timoteo Canyon."1

Image of the "real" Ramona
The "real" Ramona

San Bernardino Serrano Indians had long since been confined to the San Manuel Reservation in the foothills above Highland. Whether or not a real Ramona ever existed has been the subject of speculation for many historians. However, the Cahuilla Indian pictured, whose home was in the hill country of Hemet, is believed by many to have been the prototype of Mrs. Jackson's fictional heroine.

In 1963, Martha Chacon of the San Manuel Reservation gave testimony to Dr. Gerald Smith of the San Bernardino County Museum. Mrs. Chacon stated: "My mother used to see Ramona - she wasn't pretty, she was ugly. They tried to make a movie star out of her and she ran away. She walked home barefoot from Hollywood." Ramona was made into a successful motion picture in 1928.

Image of Ramona at grave of Alessandro
Ramona at grave of Alessandro

1 Elliott, op. cit., p. V.

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