1824 – 1910
Richard O’Neill was born in 1824 in Mitchelstown, County Cork, Ireland. It was a fortuitous meeting when Richard O’Neill met James Flood on a ship leaving Ireland for the USA. It led to a great friendship that resulted in great rewards for both. They stayed on the east coast for a while until they decided to try their luck in the great California Gold Rush. After sailing for California and they found that the “diggin’s” weren’t always that productive. O’Neill, an experienced butcher, set up shop in San Francisco while Flood set up a saloon. However O’Neill’s fortunes fluctuated while Flood went on to become the “King of the Comstock Lode,” a founder of Wells Fargo Bank, and had many other highly successful endeavors. But their friendship always remained constant.
Later O’Neill successfully managed a ranch up north for the owner and later on operated one for Flood. In 1882 he agreed to inspect some prospective ranch properties in Southern California for Mr. Flood. After he took the SP train to Santa Ana, he rode the Seely & Wright stage to San Juan Capistrano. When that stage stopped in an alleyway between two buildings, little did he realize that one day these two buildings would be joined and eventually become the El Adobe Restaurant, owned by his grandson, Richard Jerome O’Neill. He then booked into the French Hotel, a two-story adobe next door.
Don Juan Forster had passed away and his heirs, strapped with a huge mortgage, had decided to sell the vast Ranchos Santa Margaritas y Las Flores, Mission Viejo, and Trabuco. It was a ranch land extending from Oceanside to the Lake Forest area, and from the Pacific to the Santa Ana Mountains. O’Neill determined to see this prospect, saddled up after his arrival and began to inspect this property. He liked what he saw and went back to convince James Flood about the possibilities. Flood invested the capital to buy it and formed a partnership with his friend, O’Neill, on a handshake. Two months later a title was recorded with Flood’s name and the purchase price set at $457,000 to reflect the $207,000 mortgage that the Forster heirs transferred as part of the sale. O’Neill became the ranch manager for these 205,000 acres. Flood stayed in San Francisco but occasionally came to visit, mainly for recreational purposes.
Tom Forster, grandson of Don Juan Forster, once remarked about O’Neill’s appearance that…”He was very slight of build and very short, but you almost stood at attention when he came around. He gave orders constantly and no one dared disobey him. He worked hard himself, getting up all hours of the night, and everyone on the ranch had to work. He wore boots and denim trousers most of the time because he actively worked the ranch. He generally had a short stubble of beard. He was a little man in stature, but big in personality.”
By 1888, O’Neill’s good managing brought Flood an annual income of $100,000. Flood passed away in 1891, leaving the ranch to his son, James Flood Jr. An excellent relationship remained with O’Neill and Flood Jr. He honored his father’s commitment and in 1906, Richard was given one-half interest in the ranch as a reward for his 24 years of faithful management.
In 1907 Richard gave his half interest to his crippled son Jerome, and then passed away in 1910 at the age of 83. Jerome was crippled from polio, but this did not slow him down. He was well known for horsemanship and rode more, and better, that any vaquero. He became more successful than his dad and netted a half-million dollars profit in one year.