María Amparo Ruiz, a woman of that century

Estela Davis


In 1880, Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton wrote to her friend George Davidson to tell him that she was working on a new literary project, but that the manuscript was so long and her notes so abundant that she had become discouraged and had begun to think of abandoning it. An illness, another of her daughter, Nelly, and the change of residence to the Jamul Ranch, prevented her from dedicating herself to finishing the project. However, by 1884, the project had become a novel: The Squatter and the Don, which begins with the following paragraph: “The wisdom of others arises from good advice; own wisdom emerges from experience…”

According to Rosaura Sánchez, one of Maria’s scholars, this novel not only involved an ideological and literary challenge but a commercial question, judging by the letters of Maria Amparo to George Davidson, from which we translate:

I have been writing a book and I hope you do not accuse me of being lazy. I do not know if I should publish it under my real name. That is why I have kept it a secret. Only two or three friends know that I am writing. I want to publish this fall, maybe in September. This is another reason why I want my three months of extra payment and an increase of my pension a little, so I have money for the publication. Will you try to help me? Please. If I can pay for the printing plates, then I will get something. Otherwise, all the profits will go to the pile of publishers and booksellers. I would like to have it ready in August. So, see what you can do to have the money in July, please.

This happened after the death of her husband, when she returned from the east to live in California with her two children. It should be noted that these were not the only literary works of Maria Amparo.

The author, born to an aristocratic California family, was a prominent member of the Spanish-speaking elite that lost its privileges after the United States occupied the Californian territory during the 19th Century. In her books, she expresses the bitterness of a ruling class dispossessed of its lands by the invasion of the Yankees and further subdued by the industrial expansion of the capitalist system.


Who was Maria del Amparo Ruiz?

Born in Loreto, Baja California on July 3, 1832, Maria was the daughter of Isabel Ruiz Maytorena, who also had a son, Federico. The father’s identity is not clear. It is only known that his surname was Arango. There is a good possibility Maria del Amparo was born out of wedlock, or perhaps, was given the last name Ruiz by her grandfather, a prominent man in California in the first half of the 19th Century. The point is that, according Rosaura Sánchez, her name appears on her marriage certificate as Maria del Amparo Ruiz Arango.

Don Jose Manuel Ruiz, originally from Loreto, and grandfather of Maria del Amparo, was the commander of the northern border of Baja California and then, between 1822 and 1825, the governor based in Loreto. In recognition of his services, Don Jose Manuel would have received two land sites, some 3500 hectares around Ensenada. These lands would occupy an important place in the life of his granddaughter in the last years of her life.

In July 1847, Captain Henry S. Burton, an officer of the United States Navy, arrived in La Paz aboard the frigate Lexington from Santa Barbara. He commanded an expedition of 115 volunteers from New York. The Americans took possession of Baja California. A good number of citizens headed by the political chief, Francisco Palacios Miranda, surrendered to the invaders and signed a capitulation, lured by the offer that they would become citizens of the United States of North America and would benefit from its laws. María del Amparo Ruiz and Henry S. Burton met during the development of these events.

It’s well known the invaders faced strong opposition in the Californians who rose up in Mulege under the command of Captain Pineda, and in the south, with Mauricio Castro, Father Gabriel Gonzalez, Jose Matias Moreno and Jose Antonio Mijares, to mention some. However, the peninsula remained under the control of the Americans and in 1848, the governments of Mexico and the United States signed the Guadalupe-Hidalgo Treaty, which excluded Baja California.

Under a promise made to a group of traitors, considered so by the patriots when the United States withdrew in the fall of 1848, two ships were reserved to transport those who were said to betray their country. A total of 480 Baja Californians left for Monterrey, in Alta California, among them, the under-16 Maria del Amparo Ruiz, and her mother, Doña Isabel. Some members of the group returned, others stayed in the area around San Francisco, becoming citizens of the United States.

In 1849, Maria del Amparo Ruiz Arango and the 28-year-old widower Henry S. Burton were married in Monterrey, first by a civilian and later by the Presbyterian Church in a ceremony officiated by the minister Samuel Wiley. The love story of Burton and Maria del Amparo is contained in the California pastoral of Huber Howe Bancroft, in the following terms:

“Captain Burton fell in love with the elegant Californian, Maria del Amparo Ruiz, 16, born in Loreto. A servant reported it to a rancher who courted Maria but was rejected and saw fit to tell Father Gabriel Gonzalez, claiming that a Catholic should not marry a Protestant. Father Gonzalez thanked him through a letter to the disgusted man, who then took out his grudge through offensive language, because his beloved had rejected him.”

Anyway, the girl, Loretana, married the Yankee captain and the marriage of this unequal pair served as the long time subject of newspaper articles, poems, songs and plays.

Fragment taken from the book: Historical Remnants and Evocations of Loreto, by Author Estela Davis.


Let us cry for the spilt milk, by all means, if by doing so we learn how to avoid spilling any more. Let us cry for the spilt milk, and remember how, and where, and why, we spilt it. Much wisdom is learnt through tears, but none by forgetting our lessons.”
– María Amparo Ruiz de Burton, The Squatter and the Don

Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

The treaty established that Mexico would grant more than half of its territory, comprising what are now the states of California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Texas, and parts of Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas and Oklahoma. Mexico. In addition, would cease any claim on Texas and the border would be limited to the Bravo River. The United States would pay $15 million dollars for damages to Mexican territory during the war, as compensation.



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