The Origins of Anaheim High School's "Colonist" Name - Fact Vs. Fiction
Anaheim High School, 1929
Today marks a huge point in my career as a historian and investigative journalist. In fact, it feels like I have come full circle in many different ways. You see, I was born and raised in Anaheim. This is my hometown. My love of history began here. My love of research began here in our Anaheim Library. My love of solving mysteries or getting to the root or origins of a story began here. You could say, all that I am as a historian came to be, because of this wonderful town.
So today, I post what will probably be one of the most important blog posts I have posted on here to date. Why? Because I am going to make my best effort to explain to the world the history of Anaheim High School's "Colonists" origin and settle the debate over the "Colonist" name once and for all.
One might wonder, "How can that be subject be that important?"
Oh, but it is.
You see, a very small group of students/former students from Anaheim High started a petition a little over a week ago on Change.org's website accusing the Colonist name to be racist, oppressive, to represent genocide, rape and theft. They claim that the mascot represents the Colonists from the New World, whom they feel are guilty for wrongs done to the native peoples over 400 years ago.
Their petition was so emotionally driven with hate, in fact, the artwork they posted was not only debase and degrading, but downright slanderous, accusing our early settlers of Anaheim of such heinous acts such as rape, murder, racism and looting.
When I first read their petition, I was immediately upset that anyone could come to that conclusion when there is absolutely no basis in fact to back up such a claim. I cannot deny it, I was angered by the disrespect they were showing not only to the school itself, but to our forefathers who founded Anaheim.
These petitioners not only went forward with promoting such nonsense and hate filled rhetoric, they started to get a following of other students who signed their petition, simply believing their theory at face value without checking the facts for themselves.
I started a counter-petition and within only 2 days, I managed to not only match but surpass the number of signatures that took their petition 8 days to reach. To date, my petition is still leading strongly by at least 1,000 or more signatures.
Still, that is not enough, so, I am here today to give you the facts. To share with you the reasons that the Colonist name was chosen, and to give you a run down on the history of the mascot over the years so you can come to your own conclusions and form an educated opinion yourself.
The Beginnings of Anaheim
In Anaheim, the term "Colonist" has always represented the early settlers who founded the "Mother Colony" of Anaheim. The Los Angeles Vineyard Society which was established specifically for this purpose, sent George Hansen to the area to purchase a small amount of land (1,160 acres) from Juan Pacifico Ontiveros in 1857. Ontiveros owned the Spanish Land Grant "Rancho San Juan Cajón de Santa Ana" which consisted of 35,971 acres in its entirety. The Ontiveros family had been deeded that land from Mexico, by Governor Juan Alvarado in 1837.
From its very beginnings, Anaheim consisted of German, European and Hispanic settlers, many intermarrying within the community. A good example was Petra Ontiveros, daughter of Juan Pacifico Ontiveros, who married Augustus Langenberger. Langenberger came to the United States from Germany in 1849. In 1850, Augustus married Petra. He also became the very first merchant in Anaheim's history.
Another example is the Rimpau family. Theodore Rimpau also came from Germany, arriving to California in 1848. He traveled from San Francisco to Los Angeles, where he eventually became very good friends with the Alcade of Los Angeles, Don Francisco Avila, who was also one of the richest ranchers in Los Angeles. A native of Sinaloa, Mexico, Don Francisco owned the "Rancho Las Cienegas" and the the Avila Adobe on Olvera Street (which is the oldest standing house in Los Angeles).
After asking Don Francisco for permission to marry his daughter, Theodore Rimpau and Francisca Avila were married December 23, 1850 at the Church known as "La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles." After the marriage, Don Francisco put Theodore in charge of many responsibilities in the family, including supervising the family estate while living in Los Angeles. By the mid 1860's, the Rimpau's moved from Los Angeles to Anaheim settling there and establishing roots that would last generations.
Anaheim's First Schools
To be technical, the first official "Anaheim High School" was established originally in 1898, when the very first students attended high school classes in an upstairs room on the second floor of the Central School; However, I must add that there were students living in town who attended school in Anaheim even before then.
Back in 1860, the first school opened in an adobe structure that was located on a lot owned by Augustus Langenberger, one of Anaheim's earliest Colonists. The first group of students were as follows: Ernesto Guillermo Frederico "Fred" Langenberger and his two sisters, Carola and Regina; Tomas and Felipe Yorba; Elmina and Louise Lorenz; and Pifanio and Antonio Burreuel. Anaheim's first school teacher was Fred William Kuelp.
Matilda Rimpau c/o APL Archives
The first person to earn a high school diploma in Anaheim history in 1880, was none other than Matilda Rimpau, daughter of Theodore Rimpau and Francesca Avila. By 1901, the funds had been appropriated to construct and finish an actual school dedicated solely to the older grades, making it the very first Anaheim High School building in town. The first location was located at 608 W. Center Street (later Lincoln Avenue). The building was later sold to the elementary school district in 1911, and even later one in 1937 it was demolished and became the site of Fremont Junior High. The newer site, where AHS currently is located at 811 W. Lincoln Avenue was built in 1912.
Going back to the subject at hand, as you can see, from Anaheim's very beginnings it was a mixture of European and Hispanic culture and many of the descendants of the original settlers were of mixed heritage being both of Hispanic and European (mainly German) descent.
Why the Colonists?
It has been well known by long time residents of Anaheim that the reason for naming the mascot at Anaheim High School was after the Colonists who moved to the area in 1857, who set up the "Mother Colony."
At no point whatsoever was the term Colonist meant to represent the New World Colonists or Pilgrims who came to America in the 1600's.
The Latin word colere, from which the word Colonist is derived, simply means : "to inhabit, tend or guard." In English, the definition of a Colonist is "a settler or inhabitant of a colony." It can also mean, "a group of people of one nationality or ethnic group living in a foreign city or country." There is no mention of oppression, racism, genocide or theft anywhere in those definitions.
What people might not know is that originally the mascot for the school was actually called the "Mother Colonists," as you can plainly see by my attached photos below of various news clippings from the early 1920's. From the beginning of using the term Mother Colonists, leading up to the mid 1920's, it stayed the same.
According to "One to Twenty-Eight: A History of Anaheim Union High School District," written by Louise Booth (1980) it states, "The school officially adopted the Colonist symbol and flag (designed by Clayes*) in 1928, in keeping with the Mother Colony heritage." * long time Principal, Joseph A. Clayes Another lesser known tidbit of history is that although many high school's throughout the country had nicknames per se, it wasn't until the mid to late 1920's that school's started actually adopting mascots or logos. It appears that it was in 1928, when the acting Principal Joseph A. Clayes brought the attention to the school as to why the Mother Colonists were so important to our history when he says: "The spirit of the true Colonist still lived, when in 1857, a group of 50 men set out from San Francisco Bay and crossed the mountains to the Santa Ana River, bringing the nucleus of the Mother Colony. This later developed into the city we love, whose romantic name was developed from the linking of the beloved word "Home" and "Ana", the patron saint of the river. How appropriate, then, that we, the descendants of these sturdy men, should adopt a title that means so much to every true American heart and resident of our Mother Colony- The Colonist." This is the same year they introduced the logo on the inside of the yearbook. By the mid to late 1920's the school dropped the "Mother Colonist" name and shortened it to just "The Colonists." By 1929, the Colonist also appears on the cover. According to Melvin Aguilar, aka. "Mr. Colonist", (Student Body President, Class of 1975) who has been collecting Anaheim High School yearbooks for decades, the 1929 yearbook's foreword explains the reasoning behind the name "Colonist." (The attached photos below were given to me to use by permission from Melvin Aguilar.)
Foreward: 1929 Yearbook
AHS 1929 Yearbook
The Foreward reads:
"We have chosen "The Colonists" as our school name. We would now consider the significance of this name and find what is our right to bear it.
It is true that Anaheim was founded by colonists who braved the dangers and hardships of the desert, men who in spite of untoward circumstances overcame all obstacles and established homes and constructed our town. These men are our forebearers, and we stand in reverence as we contemplate their struggles and their victories.
Their work is done. It now remains for us to carry on. Are we willing to endure hardships, to suffer deprivations, for the good of others? Have we in us the qualities that make for noble, honest, sturdy character? Have we that persistency that surmounts all obstacles?
As colonists, we have chosen as the motif for the art work of our year book the desert and its symbolism. Our forefathers knew both the beauty and the dangers of the desert, and we can but wonder how much their contact with and conquering of the desert had to do with the sturdy character they revealed.
We follow in their wake, enjoying the fruits of their labors, but we, too, would have that sturdiness of purpose, that dependability of character for which they were recognized. As they overcame the desert and made it blossom as the rose, thus would we overcome the difficulties that lie in our way, and so shape our lives that we may be of the greatest service to mankind."--- Miss Bella J. Walker, Yearbook Advisor.
Inside of the 1929 AHS yearbook
So as you can clearly see, the school's reference to "Colonists" at Anaheim High School was not about the early Colonists to the New World. It was named after the early settlers who came here in 1857 to start Anaheim, their "Mother Colony." These settlers came to a barren area and built it up, first by cultivating the land and growing vast vineyards. Then when the blight of 1884-1888 took out over 400,000 grapevines, they had to think fast and chose to plant citrus trees which later became what Anaheim was best known for, orange groves.
Besides the orange groves, Anaheim's early settlers had success with chili peppers, sugar beets, walnuts, cabbages, potatoes and strawberries. Had it not been for Timothy Carroll, Anaheim's first nurseryman, most of all our trees would not be here today, including the famous Moreton Bay Fig tree that stands tall at Founder's Park on West Street, literally backing up to the property of Anaheim High School. Timothy Carroll brought that tree over from Australia in 1876, and it was planted by the Horstmann family. Both the tree and the Mother Colony house, the oldest house in Anaheim, sit on the same land just behind the high school.
The Anaheim Gazette, dated August 5, 1926 states:
"Previous to laying out the colony, in 1858, there were no trees about Anaheim except a series of scrub oak.....some of the old-timers planted sycamore trees and later on eucalyptus trees."
So, Ms. Walker's explanation of the Colonists conquering the desert makes absolute sense; They made the land beautiful with vegetation!
There has been at times through the years "logos" or artist interpretations of the Colonists that have been portrayed on emblems for the school on banners, yearbooks and such, some of which portray what look like a pilgrim, but this was not the origin of the namesake for the high school.
So one might ask why have the man on the cover of the yearbook (logo) look like a "Pilgrim" instead of a German vinyardist?
At the time of designing the mascot for the school the United States had just finished the first World War with Germany. It is the writer's belief that the school board didn't want to offend anyone, given the time period and the possibility of residual anti-German sentiment that was still prevalent in the country, so they opted for what would have been a "safer choice" for a design. If the artist's depiction had looked like a German man in lederhosen, it might have sparked serious controversy at the time. We also have to take into account that it wasn't until the late 1920's that they even considered bringing back teaching the German language, so there was an anti-German sentiment going on there, no doubt.
The school wanted to honor the German Colonists of the 1850's, not the Germans of that time period, thus again, that is why I believe they used a safer choice at the time, a 17th century looking man in a hat with a musket.
In conclusion, I hope that all of this information I have carefully presented to you proves that the term Colonist in Anaheim history had nothing to do with white supremacy, racism, genocide or any other reason. History proves that these settlers who came and established Anaheim did not take part in any sort of genocide against the native peoples of this area, or any other groups of people for that matter.
They also didn't "discover" the land they built on due to the fact that they purchased the land from Juan Pacifico Ontiveras in the first place. There was no conquering, no pillaging or plundering. Our "Colonists" were honored as namesakes at Anaheim High School because they set up their colony on land they purchased and built into the city that stands today.
It would be a complete disgrace to remove that name and dishonor the blood, sweat and tears they put into moving halfway across the world, coming to a new country to start a new life, and working hard together as a community to establish a new town out of literally nothing.
I think that the younger generation who believes in the hateful rhetoric spread by these petitioners, especially those who come from immigrant backgrounds, should be ashamed of themselves for disregarding this part of Anaheim's history just because they want to change a name to appease their cries for "social justice," a subject that really has nothing to do with this school or its mascot.
To all the those who are complaining about the school's nickname, I ask you this:
Do you have any family members who traveled from another part of the world to come here for a better life?
Did your ancestors, grandparents, parents move to California to better themselves, start businesses and have better lives?
If so, then how can you demonize the representation of these people, immigrants themselves who lived here long before you ever existed?
These were people who worked harder than you or I will ever comprehend in our lifetimes. How can you sit here and complain about the school's mascot that allegedly offends you, when has absolutely nothing to do with you or your heritage?
I do not believe that we should remove our history based on the assumptions and misinformation of the younger generation today, who think it is okay to remove something if it offends them, even if they are completely ignorant of the real history to begin with.
The Colonist name does not represent anything negative in Anaheim history whatsoever, and I hope that the Anaheim Union High School District will dismiss the nonsense of Ms. Luevano and Daniel Allatorre De-Liva's claims.
Author, Historian and the founder of "The History of Anaheim" Facebook History Group, (and the granddaughter of a former President of the Anaheim Historical Society.)
THANK YOU to Melvin Aguilar (Mr. Colonist) for allowing me to use the photos from your copy of the AHS Yearbook, 1929.
And thank you to everyone, including my "colleagues" who have helped compile info from the archives, and those who have added their knowledge and comments towards my counter petition on Change.org to save Anaheim's namesake. (link below)
Some of my sources:
Santa Ana Register
3/1920; 3/6/1920; 11/8/1920; 2/19/1925; 10/18/1928
Los Angeles Times
Anaheim High School Yearbook, 1928 &1929
Forewards by: Ms. Bella J. Walker, and Joseph Clayes
"One to Twenty-Eight: A History of Anaheim Union High School District."-Louise Booth (1980)
"Early Anaheim"- Stephen J. Faessel
"A Hundred Years of Yesterdays"-- Orange County Historical Commission
"History of Anaheim" booklet - Anaheim Historical Society
"History of Orange County, California with Biographical Sketches"- Samuel Armor.
Photo of Matilda Rimpau from Anaheim Public Library Archives
other historical content can be found here: https://anaheimhistory.blogspot.com/