Monterey History “They Followed Serra” part 9

(by Gary Carlsen, from a column written for the MoCoGenSo Newsletter from 1997-1999)

RIO RITA

Climbing Rose is Deep Crimson Color

Like a breath form the scented gardens of old Monterey, the lovely crimson Rio Rita rose comes to you with a whisper from the pages of romance.

The only rose ever produced that blooms through the long summer, from frost to frost, and that bursts into blossom on the new years growth, it is fittingly named for the immortal Rio Rita, the Rose of Monterey.

It was on the American occupation of California in 1847 that an obscure young American lieutenant won the heart of Rio Rita, last of a proud Spanish line. Their love flourished secretly, for the daughter of the Dons was not encouraged in an affair with a plebeian Yankee.

During the short months they were together above the blue bay of Monterey they planted a rose whose scarlet blossoms would symbolize the passion of their love as long as it remained.

The dashing Yankee boy went east with his regiment, leaving behind him a promise of return and undying faith in the heart of the lovely Rio Rita

Years passed. Suitors came and went. Word was received that the young lieutenant was a great general with the Union forces in the civil war, but Rio Rita, become a legend of devotion, still tended the rose against the day of her lover’s return.

She lies buried today in the checkered shade above the blue Pacific and on her grave there grows a crimson rose which simple Spanish folks say blossoms perpetually.

The above article by A. J. Elmer appeared in the March 3 1935 San Francisco Examiner.

The above story is that of Maria Ygnacia Bonifacio, Lieutenant William Tecumseh Shermin, and the legend of the “Sherman Rose”. Maria Ygnacia was the daughter of Giovanni Bonifacio, an Italian immigrant and Dona Carmen Pinto.

At the time of the American occupation of California in1847 Maria was fifteen years old when Lieutenant Sherman, then a young officer became attracted to her. Unfortunately he was already betrothed to the daughter of a prominent eastern family.

Many believe that a cloth-of-gold rose vine that grew in the walled in garden of the Bonifacio adobe was planted from a blossom brought to Maria by Sherman before his departure. Others discredit this story, saying that Maria actually had another admirer, a handsome Californio whom she really loved, but that her mother refused to approve the marriage. One fact is certain Senorita Bonifacio remained a spinster, living a lonely existence in the sheltered adobe.

After her mothers death in 1882, Maria lived out her days alone until her own death came in 1916, at the age of eighty-three. Several possessions remaining in an old leather chest were buried with her. They included a fine silk dress, some undergarments, a military sword, and a packet of letters tied with a ribbon. The letters were from Sherman.

To complicate the mystery her mother Eugenia Leoni shortly after the story appeared in 1935 dictated the following letter to Mable Morelli.

Your article in the Sunday Examiner on the romance of Rio Rita, the Crimson Rose and the American colonel in the year 1847 is of much interest to me. I have more to add to your story.

Shortly after the American colonel left Rio Rita with his promise to return, he sent her a lovely set of dishes made in England. Each white dish has just one crimson rose with green stems and leaves in the center. It connects beautifully with the story.

It seems as though that just before Rio Rita’s death, she was in financial difficulty, and in order to get necessities, as a last resort raffled off the set of dishes. My God father Alonzo Allen of Monterey, dead many years, was the winner of the dishes. At his death he gave them to a relative of mine who lives in Monterey at the present time. During my last visit to her this year she presented the only and last piece left (a plate) to me which I now have in my possession. She informed me when she gave it to me that there was romance and history connected with it.

Eugenia Leoni was born in Monterey 5 March 1871 the daughter of John Leoni and Jaunita Artellan. She died in Santa Cruz 2 October 1967, and was the great grandmother of my wife Carolyn who now has the plate.


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