William Samuel Ellis arrived in Fallbrook in the spring of 1884, with his family, which included his wife Laura Burton Ellis and sons Burton and Tom, who were both born in Missouri, along with Lee Colby Ellis, who was born in Carpentaria, California in 1883.
Upon arrival William Ellis took a homestead claim of 160 acres of government land south of town on what is now called Cazador Hills. His brother John also claimed 160 acres adjoining to the south. Richard O’Neal of the Santa Margarita Rancho brought suit against the Ellis brothers stating that the 320 acres belonged to the Santa Margarita Land Grant. Soon John gave up and left his holdings but William continued with the suit. He fought with proof that it was government land and he won the case. The court awarded the portion that John had claimed to Richard O’Neal because John no longer lived on the property.
Annie, Candace, Henry and Ray were born on the homestead. The older boys Burton and Tom attended school in Mount Fairview (Bonsall). In order to get to school they walked across the Olive Hill Ranch and down the hill past the Ostrich Farm on the lower part of what is now called “Ostrich Creek”, then across the San Luis Rey River to the Mount Fairview (Bonsall) School. Tom has told of the fun he had of rattling the fence with a stick to disturb the ostriches. The owner E.J. Johnson would come out and chase Tom as he raced on toward school.
The children’s mother Laura Burton Ellis died in 1889 of unreported causes. In 1890 William Ellis married Sarah Adelle Berdine, who was born in 1860 in Iowa. That same year Annie, 6 years old and Joseph, 11 years old, died on the same day of diphtheria. Ida died at age 10 in 1897 of burns. The children of William and Sarah were William Henry (1890), Raymond Netherton (1894), Edna Roberta (1897), Nellie Marie (1898) and Stephen Berdine (1905). William Henry and Raymond were born on the Santa Margarita Rancho; the others were born in Fallbrook.
As the children grew, William worked to secure a school closer to his home as he didn’t want his little girls walking as far as Mount Fairview (Bonsall). So Morro School was organized and located a short walk from their home.
Henry and Ray used to joke and tell about being born in Coyote Creek. To the north of the Ellis’ home there was a creek on the edge of which a well was dug for water. There were so many coyotes traveling along this creek bed that they called it “Coyote Creek”.
Seeking better pasture for his horses in the dry part of the year, William Ellis moved his horses to the Guadalupe Valley between Ensenada and Tijuana, Mexico. Although he had some hired help, he took young Tom with him because of Tom’s unusual ability in handling livestock, but he did not move the whole family down there. He had sold his ranch at Cazador Hills and rented some buildings on the Santa Margarita Ranch about a mile and a half southwest of Fallbrook, then later he bought a large acreage and built a two-story house within a half-mile of town. There is where the family lived while Tom and his father were in Baja California. They “commuted” as you might say between there and Fallbrook.
In Mexico they suffered from grasshoppers and local thievery. After two years of struggle William had received word of a plot to steal all of his horses, so in the middle of the night he and Tom and their helpers drove the herd of horses all night before reaching the border. They had to travel eastward toward El Centro in order to bypass the bandits who planned to steal the herd. Tom didn’t object to being in Baja or the hard work because he didn’t have to attend school during that time. He much preferred to work with the livestock.
Back in Fallbrook, the Ellis’ went to “Share Crop” farming approximately 3,000 acres raising grain, grain hay and pasture on the Santa Margarita Rancho. Today this area would encompass the eastern portion of Camp Pendleton and the Naval Weapons Station. The Ellis family utilized a large ranch house, barn, granary and other ranch related buildings that were located on the eastern edge of the leased land in the vicinity of where the Fallbrook Air Park is today.
Tom Ellis grew up early – he recalled working with Jack Pickle’s baler outfit in 1889 when he was 8 years old. He drove the “sweep” team and/or derrick team. When the baling for the ranches was finished, the crew disbanded at Rainbow and little Tom shouldered his bed-roll and walked barefooted all the way to the village of West Fallbrook and down by way of Olive Hill Road to his home situated in what today is called Cazador Hills.
In 1911, William Ellis purchased the Naples Hotel (which it is reported was designed by the same designer as the Hotel del Coronado) from the Russ Lumber Company of San Diego for approximately $6,000 and renamed it the “Ellis Hotel.” Ellis still owned the ranch near Fallbrook and raised vegetables and fruit for the hotel’s dining room. It has been reported that quail and venison from the surrounding hills were served regularly to the guests of the hotel. Fee for room and board was $2.00 per day and night. Although the accommodations were not lacking in the dining room or sleeping rooms the same was not to be said of the toilet and bathrooms. There was only one bathroom per floor and hot/warm water was very limited.
William S. Ellis successfully operated the Ellis hotel until his death in 1923. Mrs. Adelle Ellis attempted to carry on but after a couple of years she gave up and sold the hotel to Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Smarr.
In the 1920s, Lee Ellis constructed the El Real Hotel, which still stands today at 125 So. Main Street. He utilized the upper floor as a hotel and ran a butcher shop on the ground floor. Later the ground floor was converted into a restaurant.
In 1936, Tom Ellis married Maie Lenora Merriman. Maie taught school in Fallbrook Elementary School. She became district superintendent of the Fallbrook Elementary Schools during the hectic war years when the district experienced rapid growth because of the Fallbrook Naval Ammunition Depot and Camp Pendleton.
In 1946 Maie Ellis retired from the school district after dedicating her life to teaching. In 1957, Fallbrook honored Maie Ellis by naming an elementary school after her. Through the years she expressed an interest in preserving the history of Fallbrook. Her Pictorial History of Fallbrook 1880-1920, from which the preceding material was derived, can be found in the Fallbrook Historical Museum.