The Homesteaders

Wooden cross at John Rodriguez's cabin.

Our hill ranch has given me a new sense of appreciation for history. I’ve recently been investigating the history of our property for reasons that I’ll explain in later posts. It turns out that the first owners of our ranch were immigrants that purchased land created by the Homestead Act of 1862. Before that, it was owned by the U.S. Government. 

I’ve still got a way to go, but here is some of the information I’ve learned. Our ranch is section land and section land was created by government survey. In this case, the survey of Township 4 South, Range 2 East was recorded in May of 1875. The survey was started by a surveyor named Sherman Day in 1853 and it was completed by a surveyor named W.H. Carlton. In between it was worked on for many years by E.H. Dyer. 

A Township is 6 miles square and most Townships have 36 sections. In our Township, nearly a third of the land is Rancho Land, which means that it was created by a grant of the Mexican Government prior to California statehood and it was then blessed by a U.S. Government Land Commission in 1863. The remainder of the Township was subject to Homestead Acts. It was deeded out by the Bureau of Land Management as Land Patents. Some of these created warrants which helped the government pay of its debt to soldiers. Some of these debts remained from service during the War of 1812. 

Land Patents authorized under the Homestead Act of 1862 were most common, along with land given to railroad companies to incentivize them to build railroads. One of our Sections (27)was railroad land owned by Western Pacific Railroad. 

Some of our quarter sections are refered to by the names of former owners and a few of these were the original homesteaders. For example a quarter section in Section 26 is often called “The Logan” for the individual who purchased the original homestead. 

One of the homesteaders in Section 34 was Antonio Silva. According to the Land Patent, he purchased his parcel on September 10, 1886. Then he built on a north-facing slope under a group of large white oaks overlooking a stream later named LaCosta Creek, but only called “deep canyon” on the original survey map. Directly across the canyon was a huge rock bluff where the Ohlone Indians sat and pounded acorns. They also created bowls on the rocks with the stone pedestals used to crush the acorns. The top of the rock bluff is a pleasant place to spend time, especially when doing simple work. Oak trees shade the rocks and the view is inspiring. 

The cabin and barn on the quarter section homesteaded by Marcelino Maciel.

The next quarter section downstream was purchased by Marcelino Maciel on November 4, 1889. Maciel’s parcel is where Fritz’s cabin sits today. The building records state that it was built in 1908. Myron Harris purchased the property from the estate of Dick Marciel in 1954 or 55. Somewhere along the line, the name must have evolved from Maciel to Marciel. 

Local folk-lore is that a Portuguese immigrant named John Rodriguez appeared at Antonio Silva’s cabin one night. I have no way of knowing what year it was. Rodriguez had worked in a blacksmith shop in Mission San Jose, which was a major hub of commerce. When a man spit on him, Rodriguez went to his boss to ask what it meant. His boss explained that this was a sign of disrespect. The man later returned and spit on him a second time. Rodriguez buried the axe, he had been sharpening, in his tormentor’s chest. 

Then, knowing he was in trouble, Rodriguez fled to the hills and ended up at Antonio Silva’s cabin. Later, Silva went to town and located Rodriguez’s relatives. Apparently they helped him build a cabin and barn on the NE quarter of Section 28, another parcel we now own. His nieces purchased the property and Rodriguez apparently lived out his life there. The cabin was burned down when he died, but a cross sits in a dead oak tree next to the spot where his cabin stood.  All that remains is a rusted box spring and shell of an ancient Wedgewood stove. 

Wedgwood Stove at the Rodriguez cabin site.