Indian Juan Jose Fustero
The Last of the Piru Indians

Juan Jose Fustero was born on the Temescal Ranch near the mouth of Piru Canyon in 1841. He was a member of the Piru Indian Tribe. The Piru were originally called Pi'idhuku after the reed from which they created their baskets. There his tribe operated their temescals, or sweat houses, and many of the Indians from the coastal villages came there for the healing powers believed associated with temescals.
Juan Jose’s great-grandfather was the last chief of the Piru Tribe. Tribal members died off rapidly after the white man arrived with his diseases and crimes against the Indians which accounts for the assumption that Juan Jose was “the Last of the Piru Indians.”
When Juan was sixteen he and his father and mother packed up their belongings and drove a herd of horses up Piru Canyon to set up a homestead. The horses had been obtained from the herd of Don Ygnacio del Valle at Rancho Camulos as payment for ancestral land that had been deeded over to del Valle. Intent on grazing his stock on the ample grass along Piru Creek, de Valle convinced Juan’s and other families to move upstream.
Juan’s father, Old Juan Jose, had never taken a last name up to and including the day he died at the age of ninety. At that time Juan loaded his father's body up on his horse and transported it to the five-acre plot (that today is under Lake Piru) which served as the family burial grounds. His mother subsequently relocated to Newhall where she made her living doing laundry. It is told that she was often seen there carrying large bundles of laundry on her head.
Juan Jose remained on the homestead in Piru Canyon which had been granted to him by a U.S. patent in January of 1885. The grant was very important to Juan Jose because it allowed him to apply for U.S. citizen and thereby the right to vote.
Fergus Fairbanks, a longtime resident of Fillmore, told the story of when Juan Jose appeared in the Superior Court at Ventura for naturalization purposes and was asked by the judge his name. He said, “Juan.”
“But don’t you have another name?” asked the judge.
“Jose” said Juan. “Why should any man want more than two names.”
“What did your father do?” asked the judge.
“He made saddle trees (fustos),” was the answer.
So the judge gave him the name Fustero, and told him that hereafter his name was Juan Fustero.
Juan Fustero made his living by farming in the years with ample rain. In the dry years he would resort to raising livestock. But he was best known for making horsehair bridles and lariats.
Juan Fustero became as famous for the stories and legends associated with his gold. Whether his gold came from some secret mine or from the waters of Piru Creek, nobody ever knew although the treasure seekers often tracked him in an effort to find out. A number of claims were filed along Piru Creek by those who thought they had discovered the source of Fustero's gold. But he carried his secret to his grave if, after all, there was a gold mine to be secretive about in the first place.
Juan Fustero was stocky muscular man who was well built and weighed over 200 pounds. He had long hair and wore a beard and an oversized handlebar mustache which was unusual for most Indians. He had a superstition about the removal of ticks and usually carried a number of these companions on his weather-beaten neck.
He was identifiable by his wide-brimmed hat and large midsection. In his later years he weighed well over 250 pounds and was a heavy drinker. He spoke little English when sober; but after a number of drinks his colorful language would put a sailor to shame!
Wallace Smith recalled, “The final hours came on a hot summer day in 1921 and he died, at 80, of nephritis. It was Bill Whittaker who helped Santa Paula Undertaker, Earnest French stuff Indian Juan's massive body into an undersized casket. The weather was scorching and Juan had been dead for two days. French's ambulance broke down before he reached Piru Canyon, so a call went out for a wagon. Dale King and ten other men spelled off each other carrying the body from the house to the grave.
Once at the graveside, French found he had forgotten his casket harness. So Juan was lowered into the hole with two of his own reatas. There was no ceremony as he was laid to rest, facing east according to Indian custom, under an oak at the foot of the hill about 300 yards from the nearest wagon road.”