Chapter 5: San Diego's Mexican Community, 1850-1910

7. Who was Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton and why was she important?

Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton was the first Mexican American author in the United States to write novels in English. Maria wrote two novels:

  1. Who Would Have Thought It? Philadelphia: J.B. Lippencott and Co., 1872 and
  2. The Squatter and the Don. San Francisco: S. Carson and Co., 1885

under the pen name, C. Loyal. She became a resident of San Diego.

Maria was born in La Paz, Baja California and came to California. In 1849 she married a military officer, Henry Stanton Burton. Maria's great uncle, Francisco Ruiz had been the comandante of San Diego in the early 1800s. In California she studied English under a tutor and was a life-long friend and correspondent with Mariano Vallejo, a respected Californio in Sonoma.

In 1852 Maria and her husband lived at an army post at Mission San Diego and together they purchased Rancho Jamul. She wrote to Vallejo of her aspirations: "...I am persuaded that we were born to do something more than simply live, that is, we were born for something more, for the rest of our poor countrymen."

Living on Rancho Jamul, the Burtons made improvements on it and submitted its title to the Court of Land Claims. For the next few decades Maria would be involved in dozens of lawsuits while trying to retain title to her land. After her husband's death she moved to New Town where she wrote her novel, The Squatter and the Don. It was published in 1885.

All the while she was involved in litigation over Jamul and eventually her attorney fees for the litigation and the costs of unpaid mortgages forced her into bankruptcy. She traveled to Chicago to find help for her fight for her rights to another rancho that had been in her family, Rancho Ensenada de Todos Santos. There she died in 1895 trying to get political support for her claims.