“Old Matías Reyes lived in Mission Cañon. He used to bring wood to town and sell it.”
—Santa Barbara: Tierra Adorada, A Community History (1930)
In her book, “Canyon Voices: The Nature of Rattlesnake Canyon (2006),” Santa Barbara resident Karen Telleen-Lawton writes of local historian, Jim Blakley:
“Blakley uncovers a sheath of fragile, yellowed paper wrapped in heavy parchment. One document dated 1875 shows the transfer of title of much of the land in Rattlesnake Canyon to Matías Reyes. Reyes’ wife Griselda, an American Indian from a tribe near Riverside, California, signed the title with an “X.” The Reyes homestead encompassed the lower part of the canyon, including some relatively flat areas above the immediate flood channel that could provide building sites.”
Telleen-Lawton also writes of Frank Van Schaick who had lived in Santa Barbara since 1936. He was a teacher of natural history, among many other subjects, wrote the column “Nature Walks” for the Santa Barbara News-Press, and co-authored a couple of books with Dick Smith, after whom the Dick Smith Wilderness was named. Van Schaick had built with his own hands a home in Rattlesnake Canyon made of redwood and sandstone. Rattlesnake Creek is a tributary of Mission Creek. Regarding his home Telleen-Lawton continues:
“Van Schaick shifts focus and strides purposefully to the front door. He gestures to the sandstone slab doorsill, noting it came from the original adobe dwelling on the 19th century Spanish land grant of which this was a part. The Spaniard’s name, he says, was Matías Reyes.”
A seldom used and unkempt backcountry campsite located a short walk from the Santa Ynez River, beside a sunny patch of grass on the north slope of the Santa Ynez Mountains, takes its name from Mr. Reyes: Matías Potrero Camp. Reyes had staked a claim and built a cabin there, according to Blakley.
Bald eagles and osprey would have been working the stream for fish and perhaps an increasingly rare grizzly bear or wandering wolf, both heading toward extinction. When in 1887 Jacinto Damien Reyes (no relation to Matías) arrived in Ventura County not too far away he said the forest “was infested with wolves, coyotes and grizzly bears.” (Gladiator Games of Bulls and Bears: Recollections of Jacinto Damien Reyes )
Today the fish eagles still fly and we’re left with coyotes, but only a meager steelhead population of about one to two percent of its former size. “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds,” wrote Aldo Leopold. “Nostalgia for the good old days when everything was abundant is almost universal among conservationists.” Sorry for the sorrowful digression, but we can’t rightly dream of what the world can be if we don’t keep in mind what it once was.
Aside from the natural splendor surrounding Matías Potrero Camp, an old weathered handcrafted sign placed in an oak tree by Boy Scouts is perhaps the most notable human-made feature of the campsite nowadays, where the old rotten picnic bench has finally collapsed and a small stone fire circle lies rarely used.
(Author’s note: Several sources identify the man in the historic photo featured here as being Matías Reyes. Among those sources are two mentioned here: The book, “Santa Barbara: Tierra Adorada, A Community History”, as well as historian Jim Blakley. However, it should be noted that the man is said to be Don Diego Guiterrez by somebody associated with the Black Gold Cooperative Library System and University of California.)