Overview of Post-Hispanic
Monterey County History

by MaryEllen Ryan and Gary S. Breschini, Ph.D.


Settlement of Monterey County following the Hispanic Period was at first concentrated around the residences, inns, and commercial establishments of the earlier Hispanic settlers. As ranchos were subdivided and settlers applied for preemption to public lands, clustered farms appeared in the canyon mouths that opened on to the Salinas Valley. A source of water was of primary concern to the settlers who located around the "Upside-Down" Salinas River, and those who settled away from the easily dug wells and pools of the bottomlands were completely dependent on springs. The broad valleys containing former Mission San Antonio lands and the public domain that surrounded the lands were settled quickly in the 1860s and 1870s. The towns of Jolon and later Lockwood became south county centers for commerce and social activities.

With the extension of the Southern Pacific Railroad down the Salinas Valley to Soledad in 1874, townsites grew south from Salinas, promoted by their founders with advertising in eastern and European newspapers and notices. A county directory compiled within a year of the extension of rail service to Soledad offered the following description of the landscape and its people during that transitional period.

Chualar was founded about nine miles south of Salinas on the ranch of David Jacks, a controversial figure who was heavily involved in the transfer of rancho holdings to Americans during the 1860s, and who was certainly the wealthiest individual in the county by 1880 through his shrewd and exploitive real estate ventures. In 1875, it was noted that Chualar City boasted 51 persons, a hotel, stores, restaurants, shoeshop, blacksmith shop, and freight depot, all of which had been nonexistant a year before.

Gonzales was originally a stop on the Southern Pacific Railroad. The Southern Pacific Railroad laid tracks through the area in 1872, and later a depot was erected to allow trains to stop for freight and passengers. The original town, consisting of 50 blocks, was planned in 1874 by Mariano and Alfredo Gonzales on the land granted to their father, Teodoro Gonzales, in 1836. Twenty years later, in 1894, the earliest recorded population of Gonzales was 500 residents.

Soledad marked the end of the Southern Pacific line, and at this point passengers transferred to the Coast Line Stage Company. The stage road left the marshy Salinas Valley to follow the Arroyo Seco, with the first horse changing station at Last Chance, fifteen miles from Soledad. Three miles further along the road was the Gulch House inn, operated by Mr. Thompson. Four miles beyond Thompson's was the store and hotel of A.E. Walker. San Antonio, or Lowe's Station as it was also known, was four miles beyond Walker's, where passengers could get supper and sleep. Ten miles further the stage reached the village of Jolon, which was by that time a substantial settlement dominated by the two-story adobe Dutton Hotel. The stage continued to Pleito Station, where it was noted that 43 persons had recently arrived from Kentucky to take up farming land. Pleito now lies beneath the waters of San Antonio Lake. Harris Valley with its fine grazing land was six miles west of Pleito, and beyond that was Sapaque Valley, where three families worked farmland and grazing lands of 1,000 acres.

The directory went on to describe other features and townsites. Quicksilver and gold mines were described ten miles northeast of Jolon, and note was made of the new community of Rootville six miles northeast of Soledad. Here Samuel Brannan, who had brought news of the 1848 American River gold discoveries to San Francisco, and H. Higgins had invested in a gold mine and brought in 32 settlers. Three mining companies were in operation at Rootville, the Robert Emmet, Comet, and Bambridge. The location of Murietta Stronghold was described five miles north of Rootville in a narrow, boulder filled canyon, while well known Indian caves 18 miles northwest of Jolon were also believed to be a Murietta and Vasquez gang rendezvous point. The physical description of the caves seems to fit Wagon Cave, a Santa Lucia range historic landmark used as a rest point on the trail from the Monterey County coast to King City (CA-MNT-307). Wagon Cave also contains evidence of prehistoric occupation.

In the hills east of the Salinas Valley the directory author noted that Mormons had settled Long Valley and had built up productive farms, and that Peachtree Valley was headquarters for eleven farmers and four stockraisers, with one shepherd listed among them.

The 1878 directory listings noted substantially increased growth in the rural areas. Merchants and businesses in the town of Chualar were operated predominately by Danes, and the town boasted three hotels. In addition to the thirteen in-town businesses, 36 farms operated by individuals, families, and partnerships were listed for the Chualar post office. The settlement of Imusdale in the Cholame hills was center for 34 stockraising and agricultural operations, while thirteen ranches were listed for Long Valley and forty for Peachtree Valley. The commercial district of Jolon boasted two grocers, a butcher, a blacksmith, a harness maker, and a constable as well as the general merchandise, post office, and Wells Fargo station operated by George Dutton in his adobe hotel.

The outlying communities were again described in a promotional county history published in 1881. San Antonio continued as a stage stop at the eastern end of Jolon Valley, while Jolon was described as the southernmost settlement in the county. Harris Valley and Sapaque Valley were described as fine grazing and grain acreage with few settlers. The Ray, Harris, and Liddle families were early settlers of Harris and Sapaque Valleys, according to oral histories compiled by descendant Rachel Gillett. These settlers are tabulated in the 1880 census, with Ray and Harris cultivating barley, wheat, and corn and raising swine and poultry on their farms, while Liddle was involved in sheepraising as well as the same types of grain cultivation. Elliott and Moore described Peachtree Valley settlements in 1881, noting that the village of Peachtree contained two saloons, a hotel, store, post office, and blacksmith shop. Peach Tree Ranch was by that time a Miller and Lux operation, consisting of 1,500 acres in grain in the fourteen mile length of the ranch, a ranch headquarters complex that was a small village in itself, and tenants farming on shares in the lower end of the valley.

Local historian Valance Heinsen has chronicled the growth of Jolon, noting that it had its beginnings as a home remodeled to an inn as early as 1850, then further remodeled to the two-story Dutton Hotel in 1876. A Chinese population attracted to mining ventures in the area operated a laundry in Jolon in the 1850s. The village experienced a growth spurt with Dutton's remodeling of the inn, and a dance hall and community church were added between 1876 and 1879. A community hall, school, granary, and several new houses were constructed by 1888. Several large horse barns and a smithy were added in the early 1890s, along with a detached post office and a telephone office. Several farmers moved into town in the 1890s, further expanding the population and offsetting losses brought about by the closing of the Los Burros mines.

Former San Antonio Mission grazing and agricultural lands in the San Antonio Valley had been quickly appropriated as ranchos in the 1830s and 1840s, and were in turn greatly desired by American and European investors with the passage of the 1851 Land Act. The old road connecting the missions linked several fine old adobe ranch headquarters through the valley, and as travelers increased on the Stage Road, so did interest in the rancho lands, which by that time were surrounded by homesteads and being infringed upon by squatters. San Francisco and London land agents purchased the vast spreads from the financially beaten Hispanic owners, locking up much of the land in widespread stockranging from the early 1870s. One of the ugliest chapters in south county history took place during this period, when Faxon Dean Atherton, a San Francisco area financier and land investor, purchased Rancho Milpitas immediately upon its title clearance in the San Francisco court. He then sent notice to evict the squatters on the land, most of whom were settlers on improved lands awaiting preemption, and who included George Dutton and others who had believed they owned property in the town of Jolon. Efforts at an appeal and lobbying in Washington by the settlers failed, and in 1877 Atherton's son was sent with the sheriff to remove the occupants and repossess their homes. The wealthier among them repurchased their properties, but many moved on. Five of the former mission ranchos were eventually consolidated and in 1922 sold to Hearst's Piedmont Land and Cattle Company.

The Lockwood area was settled almost entirely by former neighbors and relatives from the Island Fohr, located off the west coast of German Schleswig-Holstein in the North Frisian Islands. The first arrivals purchased 160 acre plots from earlier homesteaders, and brought or sent for relatives to help expand the acreage and work the farms. Several early families in the Lockwood area are now in their third generation of farming the family holdings, some of which have been considerably expanded to several thousand acres.

The coastal regions of southern Monterey County were isolated from settled regions to the north (Big Sur) and south (Cambria) because of the precipitous terrain, and were more closely tied to commercial and social affairs of the San Antonio Valley-Jolon-Lockwood area than to other coastal communities. A mail road, actually a horse trail, led from Jolon through present day Fort Hunter Liggett lands to the Santa Lucia divide, where several trails led down to the coast or to the mining camps in the mountains. Settlers from the Lucia area and south to Pacific Valley followed trails over the mountains that rendezvoused at Wagon Cave (CA-MNT-307) on the San Antonio River, where horseback travelers switched to wagons stored there for the purpose of hauling provisions from King City and Jolon.

Soledad remained the southern terminus of the Southern Pacific Railroad until 1885, when construction was begun to carry the line south to San Miguel. Throughout the 1870s homesteaders continued to locate along the watered canyons and high valleys of the coast ranges. The Paraiso Springs area, once a retreat for Soledad Mission, became a part of the public domain and was settled in several contiguous 160 acre tracts. The settlers who came to Paraiso found that in spite of the $40 paid to a locator they had taken up railroad lands, and that their only source of drinking water was privately owned . Public records show that most of those filing claims to Paraiso area lands did so in the 1873-1877 period. The settlers compensated for the water problem by purchasing and hauling water from the owner, and by digging cisterns to catch runoff. One homesteader located on top of a ridge overlooking the Paraiso and Mission districts hand dug a well 4 feet on a side to 400 feet deep, shoring it with hand sawn lumber and carrying a candle to warn of poisonous gasses. His efforts were in vain, although the dry well still remains in the southeastern quadrant of Township 18 South, Range 5 East. Most of the settlers found the conditions were more than they could bear, and their purchases were consolidated by later settlers. One of these, ancestor to a present day Paraiso resident who provided an oral history to the Monterey County Parks Department, purchased fourteen older homesteads to combine with his own in 1882.

The Paris Valley area west of San Lucas was settled as early as the 1860s by French and Basque, although the largest number of French, Basque, and Swiss immigrants arrived in the late 1880s and early 1890s to establish farms, stockranches, and dairies.

The Parkfield area in the Cholame Hills was settled in 1854 by the Imus brothers, and drew settlers by way of Slack Canyon and Peachtree Valley through the 1860s to 1880s. A sawmill, brick kiln, and hotel had been constructed by 1887, when the Parkfield Land Company of San Francisco was intensively promoting the healthful aspects of living in the remote country. Descendants of the early settlers note that the area was served by a circuit riding minister out of San Miguel from the 1880s population boom until 1917, when an Episcopal church was built with donated land, funds, and labor and used as a community church.

Nearly all the collected history of the outlying canyons such as Bitterwater, Cholame, Hames Valley, and other remote regions of southern Monterey County is contained in untranscibed oral histories taken by members of the San Antonio Valley Historical Association. Descendants of early settlers such as Brodie Reiwerts of Hames Valley provide a rare glimpse of the concerns of rural life in the isolated valleys, where the yearly cycle included conformance to Danish values of work and play, harvests that required a man's 15-hour work day of a 13 year old boy, picnics and social gatherings with other Hames and Sapaque Valley families, and close commercial ties with the service centers of San Luis Obispo County at Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo rather than those of the Salinas Valley. The south county regions are very poorly documented, and, although they would provide rich material for a study of the settlement process in marginal rural landscapes, have not been of interest to those doing settlement studies.

The Cachagua area was a submarginal area similar to Paraiso Springs in terms of water and soils. Homesteaders were drawn to the region early in the 1870s, but few stayed to build up holdings. During the recession of the 1890s, people from the Salinas Valley again migrated into the Cachagua to take up small holdings and carry out subsistence farming. Jamesburg was established as a stage stop on the rough stage road to Tassajara Hot Springs in 1885, during a period when the springs were heavily promoted.

Colony settlement schemes were much a part of the settlement history of Monterey County, receiving their push from the development of irrigation canals in the late 1890s. In 1897 German promoters Lang and Dorn offered ten acre parcels in St. Joseph's Colony southeast of Salinas in conjunction with Claus Spreckels' newly constructed sugar beet refinery. The colony contained a post office, store, school, and church in addition to a number of dwellings, and offered a German community to its residents in addition to Spreckels as a guaranteed buyer of their beet crops. The colony was heavily promoted in the German language in eastern cities and western centers. The inexperience of the farmers, the limited acreage, and fluctuating beet prices along with dishonest promotional practices killed the Colony within eight years.

In 1898, Claus Spreckels supported the formation of the Salvation Army agricultural commune of Fort Romie Colony on acreage situated close to Soledad Mission. The Salvation Army subdivided the property into ten acre parcels and recruited impoverished unemployed city-dwellers in an idealistic attempt to "return the landless man to the manless land." Settlers were bound by contract to repay the Army over a ten year period for housing, seed, and supplies provided. The attempt unfortunately coincided with a severe drought, and required intervention by the Salvation Army in construction of an irrigation system. By 1903 there were 70 colonists working under contract to Spreckels. The small size of the parcels prevented any real success, and the parcels were eventually sold to Spreckels or consolidated by Swiss dairy farmers and others moving into the area.

Rancho Arroyo Seco was the setting for a third colony, that of the California Home Seekers Association. Clark Colony was sold in twenty acre parcels, and irrigation canals were drawn from the Salinas River, while hedge rows of eucalyptus were planted for windbreaks on the windswept Salinas plain. The irrigation experiment was a success, and the Colony is now the town of Greenfield.


Copyright 2000 by G.S. Breschini


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