Saddleback Valley, From the Girls' Point of View

Introducing the Moulton sisters, Charlotte and Louise, who will tell what it was like growing up on their father's ranch.

I’ve always loved the idea of horse-drawn carts. Today, however, I admit to putting the cart before the horse.  

The natural sequence would have been to introduce you first to Lewis F. Moulton, owner of Saddleback Valley’s magnificent Rancho Niguel, then his wife, Nellie Gail, and finally their two daughters, Charlotte and Louise.

But in addition to being a fan of pony carts, I confess to being bowled over by photos of ladies in Victorian finery, not to mention stories of humble schoolteachers who end up marrying well. So last month Nellie Gail Moulton——became my initial subject.

Then a week ago I made a detour back to the Whiting family. This time around, however, the story focused on Dwight and Emily’s youngest son, George, and his reminiscences about the .   

So given that we’ve learned about a boy’s-eye view of old El Toro, today it seems only fair to give some time to the girls—most specifically, the Moulton sisters.

First, the Photo 

Here’s what Louise, the youngest Moulton sister, said during a 1994 interview conducted under the auspices of the Orange County Pioneer Council and the California State University at Fullerton Oral History Program:

“When I was around five years old and my sister Charlotte was nine or ten, my father bought us a beautiful sorrel pony, complete with a wicker-seated pony cart from the parade entries at the historic Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena.  We named him Dickie, and I for one was with Dickie for many years, even teaming him with a gentle mule named Kitty to pull buggies and things.”

That’s Louise wearing the broad-brimmed hat, with older sister Charlotte sitting next to her. Upon closer examination one can see that it is a triumphant-looking Louise who holds the reins, while Charlotte squints into the sun and smiles at the photographer, her own hands folded neatly in her lap.  

The photo, by the way, was taken not on the Moulton property, but near the Daguerre family home. Jean Pierre Daguerre, originally from France’s Basque country, had formed a business partnership with Lewis Moulton and owned a one-third interest in Rancho Niguel. Yet another story to be told in a future El Toro & Before installment!

For the time being, however, I’ll simply point out that if you look closely at the center of the photo, you’ll see a ladder leaning up against the most distant palm tree, and a man standing up on that ladder. Who is he, and what is he doing? Ah, the questions that old photos raise...  

Not Exactly Peas In a Pod 

After reading both oral history interviews, the one with Charlotte conducted in May 1991, and Louise’s in March 1994, I realized I’d be writing about two very different personalities, each with her own unique experiences.  

Even their birthplaces seem to point out the difference. Two years after Lewis and Nellie married, their first daughter, Charlotte, entered the world on January 21, 1910, at the Clara Barton Hospital in Los Angeles. Louise, on the other hand, proudly tells the oral history interviewer that “I was born in El Toro, at the Moulton ranch, on December 30, 1914.”

And did you notice Louise’s comment about her attachment to Dickie, the sorrel pony? Charlotte admits that “I’d ride once in awhile, but not a great deal.” Louise, on the other hand, talks about riding to just about everywhere, including :

“We children in those days rode horses or ponies or donkeys to school—well, quite a few of us did. Of course, I went to school that way . . . I went on one pony, standing up on two ponies, or in a buggy with two ponies, or in a buggy with one pony—anything to be different.”

The less exuberant Charlotte, however, did not attend the newly-opened  schoolhouse, telling the interviewer that “for some reason, when I entered school I was sent to Santa Ana. I stayed with friends there, and they put me right in the second grade.”  

Then just about the time Charlotte reached her ninth year, the 1918 influenza pandemic swept through Orange County. Among those afflicted was Charlotte.

Next week we’ll learn about the repercussions of Charlotte’s illness, and how they how affected her educational experience, as well as that of her little sister Louise.


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