The Bunk House

In 1864 Don Juan Forster built the bunkhouse with adobe walls, dirt floors and tile roof.  It was used to house the vaqueros or cowboys who worked on the Rancho Santa Margarita. There were other bunkhouses scattered around the outlying areas, but this was the main bunkhouse.

It was made into a museum in 1965 during the command of Major General Robert E. Cushman, Jr. It was later expanded in 1971 and again in 1978. Present at the 1978 rededication ceremony was James Roosevelt, a former Marine LtCol, and son of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The bell located near the entrance to the Bunkhouse was donated to the Ranch House in 1988. It is a replica of the bells placed along the original route of El Camino Real in 1906. They commemorate the mission bells seen in each of the 21 missions along the King's Highway. The pipe from which they hang is shaped to represent a shepherd's crook. 

Currently the museum consists of five rooms: the Tack Room, the Bunkroom, the Tomaino Room, Jerome O’Neill’s Bedroom and the Museum Gallery. 


Cattle belonging to several ranchers might graze the same range or wander to other ranges, so twice a year it was necessary to gather all the cattle and sort them out by brands. Roundups covering 100 square miles could take up to a full month. Cowboys’ work was divided in four phases: spring roundup, summer drive, fall roundup and winter ranch work, with workdays averaging 12 to 14 hours. 

The first chuck wagon was apparently built in 1886 by Charles Goodnight. When the chuck wagon was set up, it became the center of the cowboy's universe.

Mexican vaqueros mastered the cowboy's distinctive tool, the braided rawhide rope called "reata", which they taught the American Anglos how to use. In the 1870s and 1880s the image of the vaquero was frequently used in advertising, usually for leather products or products indicating durability.  Over one third of cowhands in the American West were black or Mexican.  Close working relationships between Mexican & Anglo cowboys is evident by the fact that the cowboy's working vocabulary is derived from Spanish. 


  • Venta – (ven'-tah) – sale brand burned on the shoulder of cows when they were sold.
  • Fierro – (fee-air'-oh) – range brand on hip of the animal
  • Chaps – derived from chaparro prieto, a thorny, tangled brush that would cut into the legs of the cowboys unless they wore protective leggings made of leather. The saddle is secured under the horse by a cinch, from cincha, "a girto" which in turn is fastened to a latigo, from la'tigo, meaning a lash or whip. 

The American cowboy of the open range lasted for about 30 years (1865-1895). In 1873, the California "Fence Law" was one of the reasons that caused John Forster to go into debt. The cost was $40,000 for wire and nails, chopping 3500 fence posts for each mile of land, as well as for the labor to put the fence up. 

The branding iron was a tool used to permanently brand livestock with the mark of the owner.  The purpose for more than one brand is that on large ranches a cow would have not only the owner’s brand, but also a brand for the sector it grazed on. A brand would also be used for sale or transfer.

Nails were square because they were made by hand using hammer and anvil.  Many tools on the board may have been fashioned in the Rancho blacksmith shop. 

Stitching Stool — used for repair of leather goods. 

Ferrier's box — for horseshoeing tools 

Machete may have belonged to Pico brothers  

Each cowboy made his own lariat (from "la reata") from braided hair or rawhide and took great pride in his skill with the reata. The California vaqueros were the most expert ropers in the world. 

Copper pan w/handle — ca 1830 — belonged to the Picos  

Copper cup — ca 1900 —made in rancho's blacksmith shop 


  • Trousers, usually heavy-duty wool, were held up by a belt or sash; suspenders were uncomfortable to a man on horseback.
  • Vest which had pockets that could be easily reached by man on horseback.
  • Wide Brimmed Hat worn for protection from sun and rain.
  • Bandana protection from trail dust and dust storms.
  • Trousers were usually tucked inside the boots to prevent snagging on brush and from rubbing between boots and stirrup leather.
  • Pistols. Very few cowboys ever wore pistols during the trail drives, even though they owned them. They became a nuisance while working the cattle. Weapons were left in the chuck wagon unless they were needed.
  • The cannon balls (grape shot) date from the Civil War and were recovered in Ysidora Valley. 


Photos of the Magee family, the Las Flores Rancho, and Sing Yung, the cook for the Rancho Santa Margarita. 

Model of a Monterey style hacienda of Northern California. This is not the Rancho style. 


Canopy bed and footstool belonged to Jerome O'Neill. This was the bed that was in the President's room when the USMC obtained the rancho. 

Oil painting of Jerome O'Neill. 


Native American artifacts including watertight baskets and "metates" or grinding stones. The stones were used to grind grain into flour. Small bits of rock would break off, mix into the flour and aid in digestion. HOWEVER, if a man bit into the bread and broke his tooth on the bit of rock or a hard unground piece of grain, death was the result. Without dentists and antibiotics, the tooth would abscess, cause a systemic infection and eventual death. When the man died, the wife was put to death for having ground the grain poorly and therefore killing her husband! 

Tallow pot to show candles were made by dipping into melted cattle fat. 

Antique wedding gown handmade with lace. 

Letter to San Diego Union from Ysidora Pico, written in Spanish and English translation. 

Photographs showing the working rancho, the early Ranch House, the vineyard, and the 1916 "Rainmaker" Flood attributed to Hatfield.

1881 rail from the first Southern California transcontinental railroad that crossed the Rancho. 


Make: Winchester

Model: Low-wall standard model rifle

Caliber: .25-20

Barrel Length: 28"

Narrative: This weapon was manufactured by Winchester Arms Company from 1885-1920.

Total production was 139,725. This particular rifle was made in 1893, making it one of the earlier specimens. The 25-20 designation refers to the round which the weapon fired (the projectile was .25 caliber, and was propelled by 20 grains of powder). This rifle has an octagon barrel and was mostly used to hunt for small game. Donated by a friend of the Marine Corps circa 1942. 

Make: Winchester

Model: 1873 (early first model)

Caliber: .44-40

Barrel Length: 24"

Narrative: This weapon was manufactured by Winchester Arms Company from 1873-1919.

One of the most famous of the level action Winchesters, this weapon was immortalized by Jimmy Stewart in the motion picture "Winchester 73". This specimen is an early model with the serial number 18062. Year of manufacture was 1878. The designation 44-40 refers to the caliber of projectile (.44 cal) and the propellant charge (40 grains of powder). (Note: This weapon is missing a side plate cover and has a broken firing spring). Donated by a friend of the Marine Corps circa 1942.

Make: Winchester

Model: 1894

Caliber: .30-30

Barrel Length: 20"

Narrative: This weapon was introduced by Winchester Arms Company in 1894, and with some modifications is still being manufactured today, making it the "greatest Winchester of all" and certainly the most popular. The model shown is a shorter carbine model that was lightweight and ideal for use with a saddle scabbard such as the one accompanying it in the display. This rifle was used by Charles Hardy, a former ranch manager and was donated by his family.