View Other Entries

  • Title: Espiritiu Chijulla Leonis - Leonis Adobe
  • Location: Calabasas, CA
  • View Full Size

Espiritu Chijulla (1836-1906) was the Chumash/Tongva common law wife of one of the most fascinating figures in 19th century Los Angeles, a litigious, wealthy French Basque rancho owner and land grabber named Miguel Leonis. Espiritu was equally remarkable. Their 30-year union stood against Basque tradition as she was a Spanish-speaking Native American woman, essentially a non-citizen with no legal rights. When Leonis died in 1889, the bulk of his estate was left to relatives in France. Espiritu was designated as Leonis’ “faithful housekeeper” and awarded a small sum to be distributed over time and guaranteed only if she agreed not to challenge the will. Espiritu took the highly unusual step of contesting the estate. She sued to remain in the adobe home they shared, to be legally recognized as Leonis’ wife, and for a wife’s share of the assets. After a protracted 16-year battle, she won her case in 1905. Her courage, fortitude and legal victory were groundbreaking feats for the time.