Corinne Lillian Whaley was born on September 4, 1864 in San Francisco, and moved with her family to her father's brick mansion in Old Town San Diego when she was four years old. On June 15, 1883 she became one of the first graduates of Russ High School (predecessor to San Diego High School), having received a teaching certificate the previous year. She taught school in San Luis Rey and National City for a few years, and then abandoned that career to study opera singing under Mrs. Caroline Pettinos-Hall. She went on to sing in productions at Rosario Hall, the Leach Opera House, and Louis Opera House. In 1897 she became a librarian for the San Diego City Library, a position she held for 35 years. She lived from about 1909 until 1953 in her childhood home, now the Whaley House Museum, on San Diego Avenue. A member of the San Diego Historical Society, her recollections of nineteenth century Old Town San Diego were invaluable to many historians, especially William E. Smythe, whose 1907 History of San Diego is considered definitive. In 1951, Mr. and Mrs. Edward V. Matt, who lived in the house directly behind Miss Whaley's on what was once Whaley property, discovered in their garden a five-inch revolver that had once belonged to Lillian. "I do remember that gun," she said. "When I was employed at the city library, I carried that gun for protection. All the women on the library staff carried small revolvers in their handbags for protection." Who knew working in the library would be such a hazardous profession? Miss Whaley died in a Lemon Grove rest home on September 14, 1953, ten days after her 89th birthday.
By C. Lillian Whaley
I set up an oil can near the old wooden gate in that part of the adobe wall which divided our lot into two sections which we called respectively "the front yard" and "the back corral." The thick old wall with its thatch of brush completely enclosed the lot. I mounted my can which brought my chin on a level with the top of the wall. I rested my chin on my hands lying flatly on the top of the wall, with fingers interlaced. Then I watched the rodeo. On ordinary occasions, I sat on the wall or walked all around it if I did not happen to land on the ground in the meantime, without giving notice. I neither sat nor walked or tumbled today for self-evident reasons.
The back corral was crowded with a pushing, rushing, bellowing mass of horned animals, hence my position on the oil can on the right side of the fence. Vacqueros dressed in buckskin breeches, loose shirts, red silk handkerchiefs about their necks and flapping sombreros were seated on mustangs with heavy saddles from the high stout pommels of which riatas hung in loops when not whirling around their heads and flying swiftly through space to fall over the heads or horns and to trammel the hoofs of the flying animas singling out one that had not been branded, the vacqueros would chase him up among a crowd of others. The rush and stampede was tremendous, to me. All the while he kept the lasso whirling over his head. The favorable moment arrived. The riata uncoiled and hissed like a swift, flying snake, the loop had caught the hind hoofs of the fleeing animal, the well-trained mustang braced back, the riata was drawn taut like lightning and the plunging beast was whirled about and thrown down by a dextrous pull of the ropes, another of which had been flung over the creature's horns. Then came the tying of the animal. The red hot brand was brought and pressed upon the haunch of the poor, bellowing beast. Its bonds were then loosened and it was allowed to go. And so on, until all the unbranded stock had been either branded or identified as belonging to someone else. It made an animated picture, this small "round-up" and which I appreciated in the highest degree from my side of the fence.
A selection of the writings of Lillian Whaley including A Rodeo have been collected together in the book California's Oldest Town, which can be purchased at the Whaley House Museum Shop at 2476 San Diego Avenue in Old Town, and the Marston House Museum Shop at 3225 Seventh Avenue in Balboa Park. For mail order, phone (619) 297-7511 or send a check or money order to SOHO at the address above; include $3.00 S&H (California residents add 7.75% sales tax.)