Selin Carrillo—Stagecoach Driver of the West

Selin Carrillo was born to José Antonio Carrillo, and Maria Felicita Gertrudes Catarina Gutierrez on September 15th, 1864 but it was his grandparents that were very important people to the history of Santa Barbara. Both were from old Spanish families with rich history, his grandfather, Domingo Antonio Ignacio Carrillo, built the Covarrubias Adobe at 715 Santa Barbara St. for his wife Maria Concepcion Pico Carrillo in 1817. The adobe was designated historical landmark in 1959 and is one of the oldest buildings in Santa Barbara. The building is not named after its original owner Domingo Carrillo, probably because of his short occupancy.

the Carrillo family in 1838. The building still stands today and is owned and maintained by the Santa Barbara Historical Museum. Selin’s grandmother was the daughter of Pio Pico, the last Governor of California while under Mexican rule. He was also a important rancher and entrepreneur in California with the Pio Pico State Historical Park and Pico Blvd in Los Angeles in his namesake.

The adobe became known as the Covarrubias adobe after José María Covarrubias who married intoSelin Carrillo was not born in the Covarrubias Adobe but in the Carrillo Adobe at 11 East Carrillo Street only a few blocks away, the same site the first American baby was born in California, 1833. Selin was the last of the San Marcos Pass stage drivers and was in his eighth year of driving stagecoaches when the Southern Pacific Railroad completed the coast line rail from Los Angeles to San Francisco ending stagecoach travel. Selin would pick up passengers at the Arlington Hotel and take them over San Marcos Pass to Mattei’s Tavern in Los Olivos, an 8 hour journey by stagecoach but only a 45min drive today. Most people today have only seen Stagecoaches in action on TV or in the movies and to ask Selin Hollywood turned stagecoach driving into a joke. The skills required to control three spans of fast moving horses with two fist-fulls of leather ribbons has truly become a lost art, and even today for the local Fiesta parade drivers come from far and wide to drive the carriages in the parade. A driver of Carrillo’s caliber held six lines and a whip in his hands, with the straps laced between his fingers so he could control any given pair of horse-leaders, swing span or wheelers. Independently or all together, the movement of reins and whip was truly an artform. Carrillo explains “All the reins had to be transferred from right hand to the left when the whip was used, after you swung the lashes, you had to recover the lashes and transfer half back to the right hand”. Selin had a long life and work for Joel Fithian in his later years. We are fortunate to have on display Selin’s personal whip, spurs and a bit that he used for decade here in Santa Barbara.