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Miguel Leonis

Also Known As: "Don"
Birthplace: Cambo-les Baines, Basque Province, France
Death: September 20, 1889 (64)
Cahuenga Pass, Los Angeles, California, United States (Intoxicated, fell from his wagon and was crushed beneath its wheels)
Place of Burial: Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, United States
Immediate Family:

Husband of Maria de Espiritu Leonis
Father of Marcellina Leonis
Brother of Miguel Leonis

Occupation: rancher
Managed by: Erica Howton
Last Updated:

About Miguel Leonis

Find a Grave

Birth: Oct. 20, 1824, France

Death: Sep. 20, 1889 California, USA

Leonis was born in the small village of Cambo-les Baines, France. Cambo-les Baines, in the Basque Province, was situated high upon the Pyrenees Mountains, near the border of Spain. Leonis was known as "El Basque Grandee" and later "The King of Calabasas". He arrived in Los Angeles about 1858 and with hardly a possession to his name, he became the third richest man in California. At the time of his death his estate was valued over $300,000. He had over 10,000 acres of land, including seventeen and a half acres of prime real estate in the City of Los Angeles. This was orchard property with a single-story, wood frame house. This site is now the Aliso Village Housing Projects. Other assets included were 3,000 head of cattle, $85,000 in cash, a store, a saloon, and a two-story adobe home in Calabasas.

The Leonis family was wealthy and greatly respected. Leonis' father was a high ranking official in the government. When Leonis was a young man he became involved in the smuggling trade. By the time he was twenty years old, he led a profitable operation, trafficking contraband back and forth across the mountainous and isolated border dividing France and Spain. His reputed illicit activities brought shame to the Leonis family name and he was compelled to leave the country at his father's request. It was also possible that the authorities were after him and he fled to avoid prosecution. When Leonis arrived in Los Angeles, he went to work as a sheepherder for a man named Joaquin Romero, who owned half of Rancho El Escorpion.

Leonis, as both a legendary and historical figure, was one of the most colorful of the early land settlers and pioneers of Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. A Basque who stood six-feet, four inches tall, with piecing green eyes. He was dauntless and physically powerful and possessed shrewdness and drive. For years during the late 1800s, he controlled and ruled much of the west end of the San Fernando Valley and part of what is now adjoining Ventura County. His home and headquarters was the Leonis Adobe, which he guarded like a feudal baron with his army of around one hundred Mexicans and Indians.

Leonis married Espiritu Chijulla, a Native American Indian widow who had inherited the Rancho El Escorpion upon the death of her husband. She was the daughter of the former mission Indian Chief Oden. The couple were married in the traditional Gabrielino, by a contractual agreement. Although there was no record of a marriage taking place between the two, they affirmed their contractual marriage in court, while testifying during the many land dispute cases involving Leonis. Through this marriage, Leonis came into possession of the cattle, sheep and horses, and 1100 acres of land belonging to Espiritu's family. The land was the El Escorpion rancho and was carved out of the San Fernando Mission lands. Today it is the Platt Ranch subdivision, just north of Calabasas. Their marriage was one of convenience and Leonis treated Espiritu more like a servant than a wife, often treating her poorly. He even refused to allow her son, by a previous marriage, within the threshold of their home. Leonis and Espiritu had one child, a daughter, Marcellina who died at the age of 20 from smallpox.

Leonis took control of the 1100 acre estate and added to the ranch, growing rich and powerful and was often in trouble with the law, hiring gunmen to expand his lands, bribing witnesses, judges, and threatening nearby settlers. In 1875, a dispute between Don Miguel and a band of squatters resulted in a bloody confrontation that raged on for two weeks through what is now Hidden Hills, Ca. Only when the leader, a Civil War ex-Union soldier named Andrew Banks, was finally killed did they disperse, and Leonis was left in possession of the land.

Leonis died in wagon accident in Cahuenga Pass while on his way home to Calabasas, following a celebration after winning one of his lawsuits. Later that evening, while driving through the Cahuenga Pass heading towards home, an intoxicated Don Miguel fell from his wagon and was crushed beneath its wheels. On the morning of September 21st, the lifeless body of Miguel Leonis was discovered in the pass.

Family links:

  • Espiritu Chijulla Leonis (1836 - 1906)

Burial: Evergreen Cemetery Los Angeles Los Angeles County California, USA

Created by: KRW Record added: May 20, 2006 Find A Grave Memorial# 14339287

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Miguel Leonis's Timeline

October 20, 1824
Cambo-les Baines, Basque Province, France
California, United States
September 20, 1889
Age 64
Los Angeles, California, United States
Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, United States