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.

“Barn Carvings” Follow-up

A while back, I posted some photos of carvings on a barn at the south end of our ranch. The following comment was posted earlier today by Douglas Vierra. Here’s what he had to say.

An old (40 years ago) friend of mine sent me a copy of your blog on “Barn Carvings Near Sunol”.  He did so because of the time I took him up to see my old friend “Fritz” Schield.  My family was related to Manuel Silva, who owned and lived at/on the next ranch up the road.  I spent a lot of time there as a young boy/man growing up in the 1950’s.
  As my Uncle Manuel reached into his 90s I was sent up there to live with him for a year or so  – I believe the years were 1972-’73.  Manuel was born on the ranch in (I think) 1888, and it was there that he wanted to die.  The only other permenant resident back in those remote hills, was our neighbor “Fritz” Shield, about 5 miles down the road from us, whom I visited often.
    After Manuel Silva died (at 96 or 97) I continued to visit with Fritz and later lived with him for awhile while he was going through eye surgery.  So between the two of them (Fritz Shield & Manuel Silva) I learned quite a bit about the early history of the region – too much to go into here.  But if anyone is interested, drop me a line.
    Quick note:  Fritz was a native of Switzerland, who immigrated here in 1922.  And Fritz’s (Dick Marciel) cabin was originally built across the valley by an early homesteader.  When the homesteader was bought out, the cabin was hauled (skids and horses) down the valley to the creek crossing, and then up to the present site.

This is a great lead and I plan to get in touch with Douglas to learn more about the history of the ranch.

Fritz's cabin as it looks from the road overlooking LaCosta Creek


Barn Carvings Near Sunol

 On a turkey hunt last year, I decided to bed down for the night next to an old barn on the half section of ground that has the most turkeys. (A good idea when turkey hunting.)  After hunting the next morning, I returned to my truck to have lunch and rest. While sitting next to the barn, I noticed that the east- facing wall of the barn had many initials and dates carved into it, and I couldn’t help but wonder who had made the initails. Most of the dates were in the 1910 to 1930 range. I was surprised that the barn had been around that long.

I’ve been told by Lucky Gravette, who once lived in the cabin on this 320 acre parcel, (W1/2 Sec 34 R2E, T4S MDB&M) that it was owned by Dick Marciel  until about 1953. The small house on the property was first entered into the tax roles in 1908. I don’t know if Marciel built the cabin (unlikely), but he owned it until he died. One bit of folk lore is that Marciel would ride his horse to Livermore on Fridays and spend a day or two in town. His routine was to stop at Camp Comfort (the local brothel) on Friday nights. It was located where Valicitos Road  crosses Arroyo Del Valle.

According Gravatt, Myron Harris purchased the property – at the site  – in a probate sale in about 1953 or 1954. Harris was an Oakland attorney who spent his weekends on the ranch and loved to hunt. He had many friends who joined him in his pursuits. After purchasing the parcel, Harris allowed a Rowell Ranch cook named Fritz Shield to use the cabin and when Myron Harris died, in about 1976, his will gave Fritz the right to continue to use the cabin and the surrounding one acre parcel until his death, which occured in about 1992.  Fritz was in his 90’s and nearly deaf and blind when he passed. He was famous for keeping pet rattlesnakes in the barn near the house (a different barn) and he had names for them.

None of this information is exact, but it is most likely generally correct and I have no way of validating any of it, nor do I intend to. However, I’m interested in and open to more info regarding the history of the ranch.

Here are photos of some of the barn planks with intitials and dates. barn JS Niles 1921 cropped and resized

Looks like J. S. – Niles 1921

barn Mogee Sunol cropped and resized

Looks like Lil Pete Mogee Sunol

barn 9-24-29 Livermore cropped resized

Maybe D-F 9/24/29 Livermore

barn Jamestown Cal cropped and resized

Looks like  U.P. Jamestown  CAL

The inititals in the barn create message from the past that sparks my curiousity. It  would be interesting to know what was going on up there in those days – just for the heck of it . Most likely they were probably just gathering cows or hunting deer. They weren’t hunting turkeys, because there were none in the area at that time.