Wheel Vector

The Hispanic Era in San Ramon Valley 1769-1850

sword and the cross
The year was 1769. After nearly 300 years in the New World a Spanish expedition moved to its northwest frontier. By ship and by land the Spanish invaded Alta California, dramatically changing its human and physical landscape in the following 80 years.

In this period the Indian population decreased from 340,000 to 100,000, largely due to European diseases. Spanish language and expectations replaced the diverse Indian tribal cultures as Franciscan missions and Mexican-granted ranchos transformed Alta California.

The Tatcan, Seunen and Souyen Indians of the San Ramon Valley first saw Europeans in March of 1772 when the expedition of Capt. Pedro Fages came through the valley. Father Juan Crespi accompanied the troops and in his diary wrote that there were fertile lands, many trees, ample water and “numerous villages of very gentle and peaceful heathen.”

The Spanish brought the sword and the cross to California, setting up 4 presidios, 3 pueblos and 21 missions from 1769 to 1823. Indians moved to the missions as their village life disintegrated, drawn by new ideas and intimidated by the powerful Spanish weapons. Once baptized, they could leave only with the priest’s permission.

Franciscan missions became the religious, economic and social centers of the Spanish empire’s northwestern frontier. Founded in 1797, Mission San Jose was one of the most prosperous missions, with its excellent water supply, fertile land, many Indian laborers and proximity to the Bay. Mission lands covered most of the East Bay, including the San Ramon Valley. The San Ramon Creek and Valley were named for Ramon, an Indian convert who tended sheep here.

Two missionaries ran the enterprise, with Indian alcaldes appointed to supervise the daily work. Mission workshops produced blankets, fabric, soap, candles and furniture. There were extensive orchards, vineyards and vegetable gardens and thousands of horses and sheep. But mission life and various western diseases decimated the Indians; 80% of mission Indian recruits died.

Indians fought against the Spanish colonists throughout California. Because of this active hostility, Mission San Jose was located close to Mission Santa Clara, instead of in today’s Amador or San Ramon valleys. One of the largest revolts was led by Estanislao, a Mission San Jose alcalde and Yokut Indian from the Central Valley. In 1829 the revolt was finally put down by a large military force.

New ideas challenged traditional Spanish rule in the Americas in the early 19th century and, after a decade of fighting, Mexican independence was achieved in 1821. Second generation settlers, called Californios, were eager for their own ranch lands. While there were conflicts between the Californios and the new Mexican government, both agreed that the missions should be disbanded. As a result, the rich mission lands, livestock and Indian workers were disbursed. Over 800 Mexican land grants were made in California.

In the early 1830s the Mexican government granted two ranchos to Californios in the San Ramon Valley. The southern one (over 16,000 acres) went to Jose Maria Amador, while the northern rancho (over 8,000 acres) was granted to Mariano Castro and his uncle Bartolome Pacheco. These men had been soldiers and were descendants of the original Spanish California settlers. Both ranchos produced hides and tallow for foreign trade.

A former Mission San Jose administrator, Amador knew the inland valleys well. His 1834 grant included most of today’s San Ramon, from Crow Canyon Road to I-580. At his headquarters in today’s Dublin 150 workers produced leather goods, cloth, furniture, candles and other products; he owned 14,000 cattle and 400 horses.

The northern grant, often called the Rancho of San Ramon Valley, included the San Ramon Creek watershed, from Crow Canyon Road to Walnut Creek (part of San Ramon and all of Danville and Alamo). Castro and Pacheco ran cattle and sheep on the rancho but lived elsewhere because hostile Mt. Diablo Indians from the mountain foothills raided their livestock.

For less than a century, Spanish-speaking pioneers ruled Alta California, in an uneasy relationship with the Indians. The Mexican American War (1846-48) and the California Gold Rush drew huge numbers to California, eclipsing both the Californio and Indian cultures. By 1852, in less than a decade, the Euro-American population exploded from 15,000 to 200,000. Energetic prospectors and new settlers successfully transformed California into the thirty-first state in 1850.

Main Sources:
Books listed below and the Northern District Land Case No. 144. Map from the Mission San Jose Museum 1997 and East Bay Regional Park District, mural by Edith Hamlin in Mission High School, San Francisco, Sword and cross designed by Jack Hamel, written by Beverly Lane.

Recommended reading about 1769-1850 California:

Heizer, Robert F., ed., Vol. 8, California in the Handbook of North American Indians, “The Impact of Euro-American Exploration and Settlement,” by Edward D. Castillo, pp. 99-127, Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1978.

Milliken, Randall, A Time of Little Choice, The Disintegration of Tribal Culture in the San Francisco Bay Area 1769-1810, Menlo Park: A Ballena Press Publication, 1995.

Paddison, Joshua, ed., A World Transformed, Firsthand Accounts of California Before the Gold Rush, Berkeley: Heyday Books, 1999.

Phillips, George H., Indians and Intruders in Central California, 1769-1849, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993.

Pitt, Leonard, The Decline of the Californios, A Social History of the Spanish-Speaking Californians, 1846-1890, Berkeley: Univ. of Calif. Press, 1966.

Weber, David J., The Spanish Frontier in North America, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.