Finding Aid to the William Lawton Wright Manuscript and Papers MS.215

Finding aid prepared by Holly Rose Larson
Autry National Center, Braun Research Library
234 Museum Drive
Los Angeles, CA, 90065-5030
2012 August 23

Title: William Lawton Wright Manuscript and Papers
Identifier/Call Number: MS.215
Contributing Institution: Autry National Center, Braun Research Library
Language of Material: English
Physical Description: 3.9 Linear feet (3 boxes; 1 oversized folio)
Date (inclusive): 1931-1962
Abstract: William “Bill” Lawton Wright (1902 March 23 - 1962 September 2) was a newspaper reporter in San Diego and San Francisco in the 1920s and 1930s. He pursued an interest in San Diego County history and discovered that the location of the Butterfield Stagecoach station on Warner’s Ranch was incorrectly identified. Wright’s 1961 publication on the topic The Warner's Ranch Butterfield Station Puzzle resulted in a National Historic Landmark designation from the National Park Service of the United States Department of the Interior in 1962. This collection of papers from 1931-1962 includes Wright’s research on the topic, correspondence, and manuscript drafts, as well as a portfolio of evidence Wright constructed for proving his case to any pertinent board or committee.
creator: MacMullen, Jerry
creator: Moore, Bertram B.
creator: Ruhlen, George
creator: San Diego Historical Society
creator: Westerners. Los Angeles Corral
creator: Wright, William Lawton (Bill), 1902-1962

Scope and contents

This collection includes correspondence, manuscripts, and research materials collected or created by William Lawton Wright from 1931 to 1962, mostly in relation to the history of the Butterfield Overland Stagecoach station at Warner’s Ranch in San Diego County, California. Included in these materials are financial records and invoices, index card notes, newspaper clippings, notes from and photocopies of historical documents, and letters of response to the mailing of the independent booklet The Warner’s Ranch Butterfield Station Puzzle, which includes a postcard of receipt from the Southwest Museum Research Library, now the Braun Research Library Collection. The papers regarding donation of these papers to the Southwest Museum are also included in this collection. These materials include a portfolio of exhibit materials Wright created for presenting his case.
The collection also includes an extensive 2-volume history of the San Diego River and water usage policy, apparently commissioned by the San Diego Union-Tribune, but never published.


Collection is open for research. Appointments to view materials are required. To make an appointment please visit or contact library staff at


Copyright has not been assigned to the Braun Research Library at the Autry National Center. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Library Director. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Braun Research Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

Preferred citation

William Lawton Wright Manuscript and Papers, 1931-1962, Braun Research Library Collection, Autry National Center, Los Angeles; MS.215; [folder number] [folder title][date].

Related Archival Materials

Notes on the Butterfield Stage itinerary, BANC MSS C-R 79, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Processing History

Initial processing by Braun Library Staff. Additional processing and finding aid completed by Holly Rose Larson, NHPRC Project Archivist, 2012 August 23, made possible through grant funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

Biographical note

William “Bill” Lawton Wright was born in Omaha, Nebraska on 1902 March 23. Wright moved to California when he attended Stanford University in San Francisco. At Stanford, Wright met Katherine Frances Capell, and the two were wed in 1926 on Wright's 24th birthday. Wright was the editor of the Stanford Daily before he and Katherine relocated to San Diego in 1929, where Wright was a columnist for the San Diego Union until 1937. While in San Diego, Wright was heavily involved with the San Diego Historical Society and passionately studied the history of San Diego County, specifically the Butterfield Overland Stagecoach station at Warner's Ranch. The Wrights moved to Glendale, California in 1943, and William continued his research on the Butterfield Overland route and San Diego County.
Warner’s Ranch is located in Warner Springs in San Diego County, which is land originally populated by Cupeno Native Americans. The land passed through many hands as Mexico and the United States battled for the territory, but the deed for the land was finally granted to Juan Jose (Jonathon Trumble) Warner in 1844. Warner’s Ranch was right in the middle of the overland migration route to California during the 19th century, and it provided an excellent pasture for livestock. Warner opened his ranch to travelers and built a trading post to accommodate his visitors. Warner’s home and trading post were noted as a stopping place for the Butterfield Overland Stagecoaches in 1858.
The Butterfield Overland Mail Company was awarded the first contract for transcontinental mail to California in 1857. Stations were erected every 20 miles along the route. The Warner ranch house was the fifth station on the route through San Diego County. Approximately 1 ½ miles east of those two structures is another adobe building, the Kimble-Wilson store, which was designated by the Native Daughters and Native Sons of the Golden West as the Butterfield Overland Stage station in 1930.
Wright started researching the history of Warner’s Ranch in 1935, and over time, discovered that the wrong building was being memorialized. Wright published and distributed his findings in an article titled “The Warner’s Ranch – Butterfield Station Puzzle,” included in the Westerners Brand Book #9 (1961) published by the Los Angeles Corral of the Westerners, and reprinted as a standalone publication in 1961. Warner’s house, the correct Butterfield Overland Stagecoach station, was registered as a National Historic Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior in 1962.
William Wright remained active in the Westerners Los Angeles Corral until his death on 1962 September 3. Katherine stayed in their Glendale, California home until her death on 2000 October 11. Katherine Capell Wright was a prominent political activist, former Republican Woman of the Year, and a freelance magazine photographer.
Resources: Hoover, Mildred Brooke, Hero Eugene Rensch, and Ethel Grace Rensch. Historic Spots in California, Third Edition. San Francisco: Stanford University Press, 1966.
Los Angeles Westerners Corral. “Vaya Con Dios.” The Branding Iron 62 (1962): 1-2.
Historic American Buildings Survey, National Park Services. Warner Ranch – Barn-Trading Post HABS No. CAL-425: Photographs, Written Historical and Descriptive Data. San Francisco: Western Office, Division of Design and Construction, 1963.


Donation by the author to the Southwest Museum, 1961 December 21.

Subjects and Indexing Terms

E Clampus Vitus. (Fraternal Order)
Butterfield Overland Stage Line
Butterfield Overland Trail -- History
Corrizo Corridor (Calif.)
Financial records
Rancho Santa Margarita (Calif.)
San Diego (Calif.)
San Diego River (Calif.)
San Diego River (Calif.) -- History
Warner's Ranch (Calif.)