PLEITO THE NAME

Pleito: the Name

The word “pleito” is a Spanish word meaning “contest” or "wordy war" (see Moreno 1916and Mot 1926). In particular, it is used in a legalistic sense, as in a dispute or litigation(Gudde1960:238). Jose Lopez gives the following account (Latta 1976:215):

"I have heard it claimed that these arroyos were named for silver mines supposed to be situated on them. Although there were antimony mines operated very early by the Spanish.... I am sure they did not take their names from these mines. Pleito is a Spanish word for an argument or debate, such as lawyers make. Old Indians, familiar with the locality, told me that the arroyos were named because of an argument their ancestors had with the priests when the priests wanted them to go to the mission at Santa Barbara. I believe there can be no question but this was the actual origin of the names."

The precise event behind this name is elusive; it probably stems either from the early attempts to harvest children or more probably from the revolt of 1824. While this research indicates that the location of Pleito associates it with Indian/mission tensions thus bolstering Lee’s hypothesis, recent analysis of the pigment from the site suggests it was not mission derived and was prepared and applied using pre-existing indigenous practices (see Scott et al.2002). However, the critical premise of Lee’s hypothesis is the use of rock-art in crises as a form of revivalism.

Scarcely 1 km east of the mouth of Pleitito canyon is the mouth of Pleito: pleitois Spanish for “dispute or contest” (Mot 1926), or “litigation; fight; argument; wordy war” (Moreno 1916). José Lopez, the majordomo of Tejon Rancho for 65 years beginning in 1885, states (in Latta 1976:215):

"‘Pleito’ is the Spanish word for an argument or debate, such as lawyers make. Old Indians, familiar with the locality, told me that the arroyos were named because of an argument their ancestors had with the priests when the priests wanted them togo to the mission at Santa Barbara. I believe there can be no question but this was the actual origin of the names."

What was this dispute and why attribute it to Pleito Canyon? Given that the word has a legalistic aspect, and following Lopez’s account,there are two historic possibilities.

First, the most likely “argument” occurring in the region stems, of course, from the revolt of 1824 when Portilla engaged in negotiations with the runaways near San Emigdio at a place south of Buena Vista Lake (Cook1962:155). After the fugitives agreed to return to the missions, a representative of the runaways named Jamie went “eastward, and reached the village of Julala, 6 leagues distance” (Cook 1962:156). Here, Jamie “pacified” a band of fugitives who returnedthe next day. If Jamie had travelled in a south-easterly direction (instead of strictly east), 6 leagues (approximately 12 miles, 19 km) may have placed him in the vicinity of the mouth of Pleito Creek. It is conceivable that the negotiations between Jamie and the band at Julalawere the source of the name Pleito. Besides the ambiguity regarding the location of the village of Julala, the problem with this speculation is that Lopez specifically mentioned an argument with priests and there is no mention of a priest accompanying Jamie to Julala.

Second is Ruiz’s 1804 San Emigdio expedition “to take Indian children to the missions to be educated” (Boyd et al.1982). According to Boyd et al. (1982), “A native chieftain defeated the plan, and the expedition probably left by way of Tejon Pass.” We know Ruiz traveled in the back-hills of San Emigdio around this time as he was to take Zalvidea looking for a watering place in 1806. It may well be that an argument between Ruiz and the “native chieftain” ensuedwhich is the genesis of the name Pleito. Again, the problem with this scenario is that it is not known if Ruiz was in company with a padre during his 1804 foray.

There seems no way to identify the exact event behind the name Pleito. Indeed, there were many forays by the Spaniards into the region and any or many may have involved an “argument” insignificant to the Spanish but remembered by local inhabitants. The important aspect of the term Pleito and the account by Lopez is that the drainage was a focusfor a dispute between the indigenous population and the Santa Barbara Mission as an event important enough to be recalled in local lore.

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