IT IS SAID THAT THERE CAN BE NO El Fornio without Abraham Librado. While El Fornio, California is indeed the ancestral land of the Fornay (Fornioleno) Indians, it is also an area, like much of the state, demarcated by land grants and contracts between Spanish, Mexican and American citizens. But El Fornio has maintained an aura and independence different than the counties which surround it. That difference is because of the hard work and vision of Abraham Librado.
   Born in what is known only as The Pass—the tall, long and cavernous mountain range above the coast, extending some fifty miles inland—Abraham Librado was the son of a long line of Fornay royalty claiming in their lineage, among other things, heredity to Juan Baptista de Anza. Although Anza never claimed this “son” of his, spawned from a laison with a Fornay woman in 1776, the Librado family has never wavered from this claim. In fact, it is common knowledge that the Fornay abducted a handful of Spanish soldiers during their second expedition up through California. These men disappeared for six years in The Pass—impenetrable to all but the Fornay—only to return later with their Fornay wives and children. While Anza spent just under two weeks in the Pass, “hosted” by the Fornay, the tactic of strategically intermarrying with the European outsiders was key to their survival. As Mayor Librado was found of saying, “You don't get anywhere in this town unless you're a Mestizo.” (In 1999, a DNA test was conducted using DNA from Anza and that from Mayor Libraro, proving the relationship between the two. To see the the DNA test linking these two historical figures, click HERE.)
   Although born with one leg shorter than the othere (which earned him the nickname of “The Gallo” because of the idiosyncratic but proud way in which he walked), the young Abraham served in World War I as an ambulance driver.
   Returning after the war, Librado attended college at Stanford University, where he obtained a Bachelor's in History. In 1925, he studied for and passed his exams to become lawyer with the state of California. This legacy of higher education would become a Fornay tradition: nearly 80 percent of all Fornioleno children obtain degrees in higher education. And they are nearly evangelical in lending their skills to causes. At any given moment in the last twenty years, there are some three hundred Fornay doctors, soldiers, and careworkers somewhere in the world.
   In the 1930s, Abraham Librado made a national name for his community and himself by opposing U.S. government logging and oil claims on Fornay land. Through a series of often violent but successful strikes and demonstrations, the young lawyer and community leader was able to negotiate greater tribal control of Fornay homelands, including the island of Sirenas just off of the coast where all Fornay, according to tradition, are to be buried—but these achievements eventually came at a cost. Librado was blamed for the deaths of both Fornay and local, non-Fornay youth involved in the burning of an abandoned farm. He was convicted of manslaughter and inciting a riot. While enjoying great local and state political support in his efforts to secure Fornioleno autonomy, the Federal government saw its chance to get their man. In 1937, Abraham Librado was sentenced to ten years in prison.
   Prison time only fortified the young visionary. Living at the prison complex at Three Hills, ten miles to the south of El Fornio city, Librado's wife, Maria, would visit daily with their two young children, Peter and Pearl, bringing him his favorite food (ironically, the rather progressive Librado still partook of dolphin at a time when the practice was dying). Other notable visitors at the time included John Steinbeck, Clark Gable and William Randolph Hearst.
   Then came the disastrous Flood of 1939. Ten inches of rain fell in a three hour period. The Pass was inundated. Ancestral Fornay dwellings and spiritual sites were swept down the canyons. Of a community numbering only five thousand, nine hundred men, women and children died in a thirty minute time period, pulled out of the pass and spread upon the short alluvial plain before the ocean. Some seventy non-Fornay died in the city below when the torrent of rocks, building and bodies washed through the streets of El Fornio city. President Franklin Roosevelt, never satisfied with the handling of the Librado trial and conviction, signed an executive order releasing Librado so that he might lead the efforts to rebuild his community.
   Two years later, when the war in the Pacific broke out, Librado headed up the civil defense forces in El Fornio. Many Fornioleno young men volunteered and were drafted for the war effort. For the first time, Abraham Librado allowed federal government agencies to the outskirts of the Pass, where they laid plans for armaments against enemy invasion. To this day, one can look up from the city and see the huge concrete bunkers that were to house the large guns in case of enemy attack. Librado's only restriction on these gun emplacements was that they face West, unable to rotate towards Fornay lands and homes.
   After the war, Abraham Librado was elected mayor of the city, a title he held off and on for the next thirty years. He was an idiosyncratic leader, once appointing a dog to replace him for a day when he was fed up with legislation moving slowly through the Board of Supervisors. During the Viet Nam war, a conflict in which his son Peter served, he sent a letter to Ho Chi Minh asking if he would like to vacation with his family up in the Pass. In 1973, he allowed a group of Cuban hijackers to land at the airport so that he might see for himself what they wanted. After visiting with the Cubans, he pronounced them “broken hearted” and told them to leave immediately. In the confusion, Fornay agents, dressed as drifters and non-chalants, stormed the plane, capturing the skyjackers. Just before his death, Librado gained the ire of then-governor Ronal Reagan by asking Mr. Reagan to reenact Librado's favorite scene from “Hellcats of the Navy.” When Reagan refused, Librado was reported to have said, “What kind of a politician are you?”
   In 1984, “The Gallo” died. He left behind his wife, four children and six grandchildren. He was buried, like his forebears, on the Island of Sirenas. His funeral was attended by world and community leaders, celebrities, writers and nearly all of the county of El Fornio, California. President Ronald Reagan did not attend. He was not invited.


Nelson Mandela Organization

Ronald Reagan Library

Hellcats of the Navy

Stanford University, Abraham Librado's alma mater

Ho Chi Minh

Biographies of World Leaders for Kids

Juan Baptista de Anza Polymerase DNA gel

Wikipedia's Refs to Anza the Explorer

Anza-Borrego State Park

Copyright © 2007, The El Fornio Historical Society