Richard O'Neill was born in 1824 in
Mitchelstown, County Cork, Ireland. It was a fortuitous meeting
when Richard O'Neill met James Flood on a ship leaving Ireland for
the USA. It led to a great friendship that resulted in great rewards
for both. They stayed on the east coast for a while until they decided
to try their luck in the great California Gold Rush. After sailing
for California and they found that the “diggin's” weren't
always that productive. O'Neill, an experienced butcher, set up
shop in San Francisco while Flood set up a saloon. However O'Neill's
fortunes fluctuated while Flood went on to become the “King
of the Comstock Lode,” a founder of Wells Fargo Bank, and
had many other highly successful endeavors. But their friendship
always remained constant.
Later O'Neill successfully managed
a ranch up north for the owner and later on operated one for Flood.
In 1882 he agreed to inspect some prospective ranch properties in
Southern California for Mr. Flood. After he took the SP train to
Santa Ana, he rode the Seely & Wright stage to San Juan Capistrano.
When that stage stopped in an alleyway between two buildings, little
did he realize that one day these two buildings would be joined
and eventually become the El Adobe Restaurant, owned by his grandson,
Richard Jerome O'Neill. He then booked into the French Hotel, a
two-story adobe next door.
Don Juan Forster had passed away and
his heirs, strapped with a huge mortgage, had decided to sell the
vast Ranchos Santa Margaritas y Las Flores, Mission Viejo, and Trabuco.
It was a ranch land extending from Oceanside to the Lake Forest
area, and from the Pacific to the Santa Ana Mountains. O'Neill determined
to see this prospect, saddled up after his arrival and began to
inspect this property. He liked what he saw and went back to convince
James Flood about the possibilities. Flood invested the capital
to buy it and formed a partnership with his friend, O'Neill, on
a handshake. Two months later a title was recorded with Flood's
name and the purchase price set at $457,000 to reflect the $207,000
mortgage that the Forster heirs transferred as part of the sale.
O'Neill became the ranch manager for these 205,000 acres. Flood
stayed in San Francisco but occasionally came to visit, mainly for
Tom Forster, grandson of Don Juan Forster,
once remarked about O'Neill's appearance that…”He was
very slight of build and very short, but you almost stood at attention
when he came around. He gave orders constantly and no one dared
disobey him. He worked hard himself, getting up all hours of the
night, and everyone on the ranch had to work. He wore boots and
denim trousers most of the time because he actively worked the ranch.
He generally had a short stubble of beard. He was a little man in
stature, but big in personality.”
By 1888, O'Neill's good managing brought
Flood an annual income of $100,000. Flood passed away in 1891, leaving
the ranch to his son, James Flood Jr. An excellent relationship
remained with O'Neill and Flood Jr. He honored his father's commitment
and in 1906, Richard was given one-half interest in the ranch as
a reward for his 24 years of faithful management.
In 1907 Richard gave his half interest
to his crippled son Jerome, and then passed away in 1910 at the
age of 83. Jerome was crippled from polio, but this did not slow
him down. He was well known for horsemanship and rode more, and
better, that any vaquero. He became more successful than his dad
and netted a half-million dollars profit in one year.
...more History & Mystery on SJC.net
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