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Juana Briones of Nineteenth-Century California
By Jeanne Farr McDonnell
288 pp. / 6.00 in x 9.00 in / 2008
Paper (978-0-8165-2587-4) [s]
Related Interest
  - Women's Studies
  - History
  - Biography

Juana Briones de Miranda lived an unusual life, which is wonderfully recounted in this highly accessible biography. She was one of the first residents of what is now San Francisco, then named Yerba
Jeanne McDonnell unpretentiously evokes the spirit of Native, Spanish, Mexican, and American California through the life of a remarkable woman, Juana Briones, who absorbed and blended these four cultures. Briones, an ordinary woman, wife, and mother of no particular acclaim, lived then and lives now through her force of personality. The headstone of Juana Briones sums up her life: 'She Cared.' Beginning in the 1830s, those who came under her influence recorded that caring. McDonnell, inspired by an ordinary life led well, transforms Briones' story into something extraordinary.

--Robert J. Chandler, author of California: An Illustrated History

Buena (Good Herb), reportedly after a medicinal tea she concocted. She was among the few women in California of her time to own property in her own name, and she proved to be a skilled farmer, rancher, and businesswoman. In retelling her life story, Jeanne Farr McDonnell also retells the history of nineteenth-century California from the unique perspective of this surprising woman.

Juana Briones was born in 1802 and spent her early youth in Santa Cruz, a community of retired soldiers who had helped found Spanish California, Native Americans, and settlers from Mexico. In 1820, she married a cavalryman at the San Francisco Presidio, Apolinario Miranda. She raised her seven surviving sons and daughters and adopted an orphaned Native American girl. Drawing on knowledge she gained about herbal medicine and other cures from her family and Native Americans, she became a highly respected curandera, or healer.

Juana set up a second home and dairy at the base of then Loma Alta, now Telegraph Hill, the first house in that area. After gaining a church-sanctioned separation from her abusive husband, she expanded her farming and cattle business in 1844 by purchasing a 4,400-acre ranch, where she built her house, located in the present city of Palo Alto. She successfully managed her extensive business interests until her death in 1889. Juana Briones witnessed extraordinary changes during her lifetime. In this fascinating book, readers will see California's history in a new and revelatory light.

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