This article describes briefly the Mexican Land Grants after the California mission lands were taken over by the Mexican Government. The article was condensed from the new local history book, The Last of the Prune Pickers: A Pre-Silicon Valley Story, by Tim Stanley.
After the break-up of the missions, the Mexican government tried to encourage settlement in California by offering land grants. Land had previously been granted to settlers, by both the Spanish and Mexican governments, but not nearly to the degree as after the confiscation of the mission lands. The land grants fell into three categories: building lots, called solares, in the pueblos; small farm plots of about ten acres, called suertes, near the pueblos; and large ranches, or “ranchos,” which were usually at least several thousand acres. There were also common lands, called ejidos, for pastureland and wood.
During Mexican rule, there were forty-one grants given for rancho property in what is now Santa Clara County. These grants were given between 1833 and 1846, and were in addition to three large Spanish land grants that were already in existence. The rancho grants included most of the land in the Santa Clara Valley.
At the time these grants were given, all of California was considered cattle country, and as such, most of the rancho grants were of several thousand acres or more.
In order to receive a grant of land in California, a person needed to be a Mexican citizen or become one, have a good reputation, and pledge allegiance to Mexico. The rules concerning who was eligible to receive a grant varied somewhat over time and through changes in government, both in Mexico and in Alta California. Generally speaking, to receive a grant, one needed to petition the governor with a description of the parcel desired, file a hand drawn map, or diseño, of the area, and submit a fee. The petition could be for a pueblo lot, a small plot of farm land, or a 30,000 acre rancho. For a rancho, one needed to show the ability to put livestock on the property. The governor, if he wasn’t replaced before he reviewed the petition, would make a decision, and if he approved, would issue a formal grant in writing. There were surprisingly few takers from Mexico, and before the flood of Americans began, a few Europeans and Americans were given grants. The perils of the sea voyage and apprehension about living in a society greatly outnumbered by Indians apparently deterred most Mexicans from coming.
The number of people who filed for rancho grants in the Santa Clara Valley and were rejected is unknown. What we do know is that some of the grants went to heirs of Anza Expedition members, many went to soldiers who were usually of high rank, many went to government officials, at least two went to those who had helped oust previous administrations, two went to Californio women, one went to a British consulate, one went to an American, and three went to mission Indians. In all probability, some simply went to the highest bidder.
The rancho grants after the break-up of the missions issued in the short-lived era of the Californio “Dons.” The Dons, or land barons, were the rancho owners, or rancheros. They were from a relatively few wealthy families, and many owned multiple ranchos. They represented about five to ten percent of the non-Indian Californio population, controlled the government, and tended to intermarry.
It is interesting to make a comparison between Rancho Rinconada de Los Gatos and the neighboring rancho, Rancho Quito.
Rancho Quito was granted to José Noriega and his father-in law, José Zenon Fernandez, in 1841 by Governor Alvarado. Fernandez became Pueblo San Jose’s first paid school teacher and later held other civic offices in San Jose and at the capitol, Monterey, during the 1830s and 40s. Noriega also held various government positions, and in addition to the Quito grant, received large land grants in what are today Alameda and Contra Costa counties. In 1844, ownership of Rancho Quito went into the hands of Ignacio Alviso, who had been granted Rancho Rincon de los Esteros (located near San Jose Airport) six years earlier.
Though settling on the land was technically a requirement to secure title to it, it does not appear that Noriega, Fernandez, or any of the Alvisos ever settled on Rancho Quito, though they almost certainly had cattle there.
In those days, many of the rancheros in the Valley lived in the pueblo at San José. Notable exceptions were the owners of the neighboring rancho, the 6,631 acre Rancho Rinconada de Los Gatos. We know very little about José Maria Hernandez and his brother-in-law Sebastian Fabian Peralta, the grantees of the rancho, other than that they built a homestead and settled on the rancho. Their adobe home was located near today’s Vasona Park.
The Last of the Prune Pickers is available at www.2timothypublishing.com