Rancho Romero and Its Legal Woes
By Beverly Lane
Rancho Romero is a familiar name in the San Ramon Valley. In Alamo the Jones ranch was called Rancho Romero and an elementary school bears that name. But who knows the origin of the name? And why is Rancho Romero’s name nowhere to be found on lists of Mexican ranchos in Contra Costa County? The tale is a sad one.
In 1843 brothers Jose and Inocencio Romero applied to the Mexican government for a grant which they said was a leftover, or sobrante, piece between the ranchos of Joaquin Moraga, William Welsh, and Rancho San Ramon Valley (Pacheco/Castro). It covered today’s Tice Valley and much of Alamo, about 20,000 acres.
At that time Lorenzo Pacheco and Mariano Castro lived in San Jose and told the town’s alcalde there that they were happy to have the Romeros as neighbors. The Contra Costa Gazette of Aug. 27, 1864 stated: “It was mutually agreed that the Romeros should occupy the land north of a certain creek, which ran across the (Pachedo/Castro) ranch.”
In 1844 the San Jose alcalde and Governor Manuel Micheltorena reviewed the grant application which included a sketch map, or diseno.
The Governor stated “Let the Judge of the proper district take measurement of the unoccupied land that is claimed.”
The Romeros could not afford to have the measurement made, since there were few surveyors available and their wealth was tied up in their stock. As was the case with many other Mexican ranchos, neighbors accepted the rancho’s approximate boundaries. After all, there was plenty of land and the cattle grazed unrestricted by fences. Cattle ownership was established by regular round ups where calves were marked with their mother’s brand.
But other than the measurement, the Romeros did what rancho owners were required to do. They moved to Tice Valley, built adobes, constructed a corral, cultivated vegetable and grain crops and ran cattle.
We next find the Romeros appearing before the alcalde in January of 1847, ready to sell one-half of their rancho to Francisco and Jose Miguel Garcia, their brothers-in-law. The sale was to be subject to the final result “if the Government grant it in ownership.” Both parties agreed that, if the grant is not finally made, “then Garcia should lose equally with Romero.”
Mexicans and post-gold rush settlers assumed that the Romero brothers owned the land and had legally sold the Alamo area to the Garcias. Jose Garcia’s daughter Maria married a Captain Merrithew in one of the marriages which made landowners of many young Americans.
According to Virgie Jones in Historical Persons and Places…in San Ramon Valley, “Garcia gave the couple a stretch of land that Maria could cover on horseback in one day from sun-up to sundown.” Jones also states in Remembering Alamo that John M. Jones and three other men bought land from Francisco Garcia in 1851.
When the Romero brothers petitioned for confirmation of their claim to the “Romero Sobrante” before the U.S. Board of Land Commissioners in 1853, they produced papers to establish their claim which did not include the title documents. Many witnesses testified to their ownership. The Romeros stated that the title papers had been used in an 1850 suit and had been taken to Georgia by a lawyer, Fred H. Sanford, never to be seen again.
The Romero claim for five leagues of land was rejected by the board and appealed to the U.S. District Court where it also lost. In 1857 the judge wrote that their case was a hard one, “for there seems no reason to suppose that the grant would have been refused, if the measurement had been made… But no grant, either perfect or inchoate, was made, nor any promise given that one should be made.”
Imagine the effect of this tangled web of land ownership in the San Ramon Valley. The Romeros (and therefore the Garcias) were not the owners of the northern part of the Valley. Americans who had bought land from Romero or Garcia lost their claims. Attorney Horace Carpentier managed to get the Alamo land as well as the southern part of the Pacheco/Castro rancho. As Hubert Bancroft wrote in his History of California, “this Carpentier seems to have been a shrewd land fiend interested in many of the crooked cases.”
A sad tale, indeed.
Sources: Northern District Land Cases 304 and 322; Hubert Bancroft, History of California, Vol. VI, p. 557; “The San Ramon Rancho”, Contra Costa Gazette, Aug. 27, 1864; Virgie V. Jones,Remembering Alamo, p. 60 and Historical Persons and Places…in SRV, p. 116
First appeared as a column called Presenting the Past in the Danville Weekly