The Coastal Post - June, 1997

Dr. Pablo Briones


Pablo Briones was the oldest son of Gregorio and Ramona Briones. He was born at Mission Dolores, San Francisco (which was called Yerba Buena then), and was named after Governor Pablo de Sola, then Mexican governor of California.

He went to Rancho Baulinas in 1837 and in 1838 his mother and her other children joined him. He was only 14 when he first came to Bolinas, but he did a man's work supervising the erection of an adobe building to house the family. In 1839 his father, Gregorio, joined the family, and from then on he took on the job of ruling the roost.

Pablo, like his aunt, Juana Miranda in San Francisco, took to the medical profession at an early age. He never had a real license to practice medicine, as Dr. Taliaferro did. His license, issued in the 1850s, entitled him to carry on the occupation of physician, with only surgery excluded. He was called a "natural doctor," using the herbs and salves his aunt had told him about. Herb medicine flourished in those days. Dr. Gunn's Home Book of Health, which many people (pioneers) brought with them across the overland route, treated a sore throat with a tincture of myrrh and cayenne, followed by a spoonful of hop yeast. Bolinas, or the few people who lived there then, believed in Pablo.

"A small, kind, courtly man, Pablo had a healing way about him," Jack Mason writes. "Arthur Bourne once watched him set a broken leg. 'He would spit on his fingers and work the bones back into place,' a successful technique twice used on Albert Ingerman's grandson George. 'And look at George,' the family used to tell disbelievers. 'He walks as good as new.' " He was a natural doctor and was depended upon in times of epidemics, accidents, natural disasters and childbirth.

Pablo was called on in the summer of 1837 in the earthquake of that year, and in typhoid epidemics. At the time of the earthquake, the adobe house built by Pablo had only been slightly damaged, but in San Francisco the damage had been much more severe. Marin Pepper wrote that "many buildings of the mission were destroyed," so Gregorio decided to go to his sister Juana. He found that her house had been severely cracked but Juana was "busy as ever giving aid to the needy."

While Gregorio was visiting his sister, she told him a story that the Indians had told her. "A solid mountain chain once connected Sausalito to San Francisco. A large river ran down it as far as San Jose and then it went into the sea. But another earthquake came at a time in the distant past, and the river cut through and out what is today called the Golden Gate.

Don Gregorio stayed with his sister until the news reached him that his son Felipe Briones had been killed in an Indian raid. There was always that danger, because the Indians resented the Mexican settlers who had received land grants.

Pablo had a friend named Juan Santilla who was an old hunting friend and also a patient. As the patient, he had been injured in an accident. There were complications beyond Pablo's knowledge to treat, but Pablo could give relief from pain, and this he did.

Santilla's daughter Rafaela had known nothing but her father's illness. She was described in the 1880 History of Marin as "an only child to whom children were strangers." Pablo was touched by the devotion of this child, and after a time, he came to love her deeply. As for Rafaela, she was perfectly at ease with Pablo, the kind friend who brought aid to her beloved father.

As though it was inevitable, Senor Santilla's greatest desire was to see Rafaela married to Pablo, although he was twice her age. Pablo was born in 1823 and Rafaela was born in 1840. But the 20 or so age difference made no difference. They were married at Senor Santilla's bedside. His wife and Don Gregorio, the father of the bridegroom and his son-in-law Charles Lauff witnessed the wedding. The whole thing was unusual, because weddings were usually a time of festivity and feasting.

Pablo brought the bride and her mother to Woodville, the Dogtown of today. "The roaring days of the boomtown had passed away, leaving empty shacks and a few well-built houses," wrote Marin Pepper. "Into one of these they settled. Besides his herb garden, Pablo soon had a flourishing vegetable patch, which rewarded him liberally. This, with a great abundance of wild game, supplied a larder which a gourmet would envy: venison, quail, many species of duck and wild geese, and always a variety of seafood."

(Incidentally, the house they lived in was recently demolished by fire.)

Pablo and Rafaela had eight children-one of whom died at eight months-three boys, five girls. Pablo lived a good life. He got along well with the Americans who came later, among other things donating a school site which was to be used for religious and temperance meetings if not used for school purposes. But Jack Mason wrote, "But he must have bridled at see how fast and thoughtlessly the Briones order was phased out. The picture Bancroft draws of the Californian in his prime-"expert with lariat and rifle, hair brushed and braided, cuffs of silk and breeches secured with a crepe sash"-is no more.

After the death of her husband Gregorio, Donna Ramona went to live at Dogtown near her son Pablo, but she never lived with them. Pablo never learned to speak English; in this regard at least, he adhered to the past.

We know when Pablo died, but we don't know when Rafaella died. He died at age 74 and is buried at the Catholic church in the cemetery his father Don Gregorio had willed to the church.