Stewart Canyon gets its name for the first homesteaders in that area.   William Stewart and his wife Mary Grier Stewart, came to San Diego County from Abilene, Kansas in 1887 with their 4 youngest children, all born in Kansas; Florence (age 14), Nancy (12), Fred (11), and Bert (6).  Will Stewart homesteaded 80 acres[1] in a canyon near Fallbrook, where they built their ranch house, just east of Live Oak Canyon and south of Rainbow.    The children attended the Vallecitos school in Rainbow.[2]   The Stewart homestead was adjacent to the homestead of two brothers, John and Fabian Rice.  Rice Canyon gets its name from these two brothers.[3]  Florence, the eldest of the 4 Stewart children was the first to get married at age 17 to William Pfahler of San Diego.  A few years later in 1899, her younger sister Nancy married the Stewarts’ neighbor, the widower John Rice.  John and his brother Fabian were registered to vote in 1892 in the Vallecitos Precinct in 1892.[4]

Nancy Stewart Rice has a unique connection in history.  Stewart Canyon is named for her parents’ family (including herself) and Rice Canyon is named for her husband’s family (including herself and her children).  In the 1880s, there were so many of the extended Rice family in the pioneer settlements stretching between Rainbow and Hemet that in the early years people jokingly referred to the town Winchester as “Riceville”.[5]  

The Stewart family would have important influences on Fallbrook.  Fred Stewart got a job on the Red Mountain Ranch, as did his younger brother Bert.  Bert would become a superintendent of County roads.   Fred would become the long-time foreman of Red Mountain Ranch, and a trustee of the Reche School board.  After his sisters were married, Fred had married Ellen King of Fallbrook.  Ellen was the grandniece of Fred Fox who was the first neighbor of the Reche brothers in Live Oak Canyon.  Ellen had been born in Fallbrook a couple years before the Stewarts arrived in California.

Fred and Ellen had two daughters, Gertrude and Dorothy.  They both attended the Reche School, and later Fallbrook High School.  Dorothy Stewart Vatnsdal became well known in early Fallbrook as an elementary school teacher and school district librarian for 18 years, plus serving as president of the PTA, while volunteering with many other church and civic activities; including, later in life, with the Fallbrook Historical Society.  Dorothy Stewart Vatnsdal Johnson would live to be 91.[6]

Tom Frew,


    [1] Index of homestead records at Fallbrook Historical Society.  William Stewart filed his homestead of 80 acres in township 9S3W, sections 14 & 23. John Rice filed in Section 24 immediately east of Will Stewart.

    [2] Fallbrook Pioneers, Fred and Ellen Stewart and daughters, Stewart Collection, Fallbrook Historical Society.

    [3] Escondido Times Advocate 3 Jul 1948, obituary of Jannetta Rice Weaver states that Rice Canyon is named for her two brothers. “Netta” actually had 4 brothers, but the oldest James Rice had died in Kansas in 1885, and their other brother Wilford Rice lived on his ranch in Winchester. Reference notes 1 & 4, John and Fabian Rice had an 1891 homestead in township 9S3W, sections 24 & 25. In 1892 they were registered to vote in the Vallecitos precinct.

    [4] California Voter Register 1868-1898. 

    [5] Biography of Wilford Rice and Ellen Milholland by Mary Rice Milholland.  Wilford was the older brother of John and Fabian Rice, the Stewart’s neighbors.

    [6] Dorothy Vatnsdal Johnson by Mary Rivers, Fallbrook In Review vol. 6 pp 42-46.  Dorothy Stewart married Les Vatnsdal.  After her 1st husband passed away, she married Ted Johnson and outlived him also.