Historic superintendent recalls moment lost in translation at the old Capistrano school house  

Moments in Time By Jan Siegel
Moments in Time By Jan Siegel

By Jan Siegel

Two things are certain in the month of September—a new school semester has just begun, and the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society will have its annual heritage barbecue toward the end of the month.

In 1902, W.M. McFadden reflected on his 30 years as Superintendent of Schools in the area. When McFadden first arrived, there were only three schools in then-south Los Angeles County—Anaheim, Santa Ana and San Juan Capistrano. Professor Kuelp taught in Anaheim and T.J. Scully taught at the school in Capistrano. McFadden started teaching in Santa Ana. Despite Spanish being the primary language spoken by the students at that time, not one of the teachers was fluent.

McFadden stated, “To my surprise, with but little or no knowledge of English on the part of the students and no knowledge of Spanish on the part of the teachers, the children soon acquired a good knowledge of English as well as mathematics, geography and history.”

McFadden recalled an incident following the opening of the Capistrano school house—which was dedicated in 1871—that illustrated the language barrier and difference of culture between the teachers and students.

The students had taken their seats, placing their lassos under their desks, when a little fellow suddenly appeared at the door crying, “Dominguez, los coches estau fuera!” (Dominguez, the pigs are out!)

Immediately, the lassos were secured and there was a wild scramble for the door. Before the astonished teacher—who did not understand Spanish—could stop the stampede, the room was almost entirely deserted, while juvenile yells and pig squeals filled the air outside.

After the porkers were “scientifically” returned to the corral, the young scholars filed back into their rooms still armed with their trusty lariats—which they knew so well how to handle—their faces beaming from the exercise they had undergone.

The teacher then gave them their first lesson in school discipline, and there was great consternation among the hitherto unrestrained youngsters at learning they must not leave the room without permission, even though “los coches estau fuera.”

At the Historical Society Heritage barbecue on Sunday, September 27 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., visitors will have the opportunity to talk to the old-timers who have grown up in San Juan Capistrano and can relate wonderful stories as to what the way life was like in our community generations ago.

This year, the society is paying special recognition to Don Tryon, Ted Rosenfeldt, Tom Bogdanski and The Rancho Mission Viejo Company for all that they have done for our community over the years. For the first time, the barbecue will be held at the O’Neill Museum on Los Rios Street. Cost is $35 per person or $60 per couple. Reservations are a must.  For more information, please call Gwen at 949.493.8444.

Spend a “Moment in Time” at the barbecue enjoying the stories of old San Juan told from the families that were part of the story. You will come away even more amazed at what a unique history and heritage we have in San Juan Capistrano.

Jan Siegel is a 27-year resident of San Juan Capistrano. She served on the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission for 13 years and has been a volunteer guide for the San Juan Capistrano Friends of the Library’s architectural walking tour for 17 years. She was named Woman of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce in 2005, Volunteer of the Year in 2011 and was inducted into the city’s Wall of Recognition in 2007.

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