Santa Cruz County History - Places

Notes on the History of Williams Mill and Williams Landing in Bonny Doon, California
by Paul Tutwiler


The Rancho Arroyo de la Laguna
James Williams and his Rancho
Land Transactions Involving or Related to the Rancho Before the Death of James Williams
Land Uses and Transactions After the Death of James Williams
A Note on George Liddell
Appendix: Maps

Preface 2000

Mill Landing
Mill and Landing from the
Santa Cruz Lumber Company
Image from E. S. Harrison’s
History of Santa Cruz County

This monograph was written by Paul Tutwiler, who, with his wife and collaborator, Miriam Beames, lives on a plot of land in Bonny Doon, an unincorporated area northwest of Santa Cruz, California. We live five miles up the mountainside from the seacoast where there was a place called Williams Landing and one and a half miles up from a place where the Williams brothers had a sawmill. Learning about the Brothers, James, Squire, and Isaac Williams, from Marion Dale Pokriots, a local historical researcher, we set about discovering how they acquired the land, what they did with it, and what happened to it in the decades immediately after their death.

Among the fascinating items we uncovered was the fact that James Williams and his business partners were the first American claimants to the very piece of land where we live.

We have been careful to document the information which we have put into this manuscript so that those who read it can trust it and so that those who would like to do further research in the topic have dependable sources to work from.

Preface 2012

Twelve years after it was written for the public domain and a few copies were placed in Santa Cruz libraries, this slice of Bonny Doon history is being made available to a larger public through its inclusion among the local history files of the Santa Cruz Public Library’s website. The authors have since moved from the Santa Cruz area, but they are glad to be able to leave behind this token of their love for it. They are especially grateful to the Santa Cruz Public Library for its role in making the monograph available to the public. Nothing has been added or subtracted from the original, although there are some new or revised explanations, and the format has been adjusted to match the style of the library website.

Rancho Arroyo de la Laguna

In 1841 a tract of land named Rancho Arroyo de la Laguna was granted by the Mexican Governor, Juan Bautista Alvarado, to a certain Gil Sanchez on June 12. (Sanchez had filed his petition for the land on October 14, 1836.) Lying about ten miles northwest of Santa Cruz along the coast, this land extended up the side of what is now called Ben Lomond Mountain in the area that is now called Bonny Doon. The boundaries of the tract are described as

On the South by the Pacific Ocean East by a line running from a stake about twenty yards from the mouth of a stream known as the Arroyo de la Laguna Northerly along the said stream to the Mountains, Northerly by the mountains and Westerly by the Arroyo de San Vicente and containing in the said boundaries one league of land as aforesaid. … The quantity of land included in said grant is one league.

(This is, of course, a legua, or Spanish (i.e. Mexican) league, which as a measure of length is 2.604 miles. A square legua is thus 6.78 square miles, or 4,336 acres.)

A map or "diseno" of the Rancho had to be filed with the Mexican government. It shows the two boundary creeks and names them, and it shows one creek almost exactly between them, naming it Arroyo de los Lobos. It shows trees along the banks of all three creeks, and it clearly indicates the lagoon of Laguna Creek. At the top of the diseno, which is indicated to be north, is drawn a line of mountains with one, and only one, tree drawn on them. Upside down along the top are words which seem to be "Sierra y Lomerio," or "mountains and hills." The diseno foreshortens the distance from the sea to the mountains, and at its bottom is a scale, which seems to be of one and one-half leagues, which would be 3.9 miles. The measure of length is also given as 7,900 varas, which would be 4.1 miles because a Mexican league contained 5,000 varas. In reality the distance between the mouths of the two creeks is about three miles, but perhaps it seemed farther to the author of the diseno.

Three miles apart at their mouths, Laguna Creek and San Vicente Creek lead away from the coast at right angles to it and nearly parallel with each other for more than two miles. Thus the rancho was a rough rectangle extending inward from the sea about 2.3 miles. The upper edge of it, the edge of the "mountains," lies about 1,000 feet above sea level. Above this, both defining creeks surge down from the true summit of the mountain, which is a ridge running about 2,500 feet in elevation (2,642 at its highest point). From subsequent transactions (see following sections) we learn that the lower hillsides of the rancho were not forested, but that redwood and oak did cover its upper slopes and its stream valleys. Limestone outcroppings (as testified below) were found in the upper reaches of the property.

Gil Sanchez did not live on this land, but he built a house and corral on it, brought in two or three hundred cattle and two bands of horses, and had his workmen live there. He himself visited it often. In 1847 a party of "Indians" raided the land, killed one of Sanchez;s workmen, and made off with his horses. He then sold the Rancho for $300 to one James G. F. Dunleavy on July 30, 1847. Dunleavy in turn sold it for $800 to James and Squire Williams on August 28, 1847.

According to testimony taken for the U. S. Land Commission in 1855, "Soon after they [the Williamses] bought it they went on the land and built a house a sawmill and enclosed a portion which they cultivated and have continued to live on the land ever since." Also: "It was occupied by Mr. James Williams. Gil Sanchez sold it to Williams in 1847 immediately after which Williams went into possession and built one large house a small one and a saw mill."

The Williamses filed claim to the Rancho under the American government on February 17, 1852, and the U. S. Land Commission confirmed their claim by a decision made on July 10, 1855 and signed and sealed on November 21 of that year. In 1872, however, the Williams heirs went to the U. S. Northern District of California Court for a resolution of claims concerning the rancho. Not receiving a satisfactory verdict, the plaintiffs appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court in 1874, and the case was scheduled to be heard there in the session beginning October, 1875.

The history of the Rancho Arroyo de la Laguna up to 1875, including the Diseno, is contained in the docket of Case 345, Northern District of the U. S. Land Commission, and a copy of the docket is maintained in the Bancroft Library of the University of California under the title Transcript of the proceedings in case no. 42 James & Squire Williams claimants vs. the United States, defendant, for the place named Arroyo de la Laguna. The Index of the Spanish-Mexican Private Land Grant Records and Cases of California, by J. H. Bowman, is also in the Bancroft Library and is an indispensable aid in finding the docket. Unfortunately, the Index states that Gov. Alvarado made the grant to Sanchez on February 20, 1839, but this is contradicted by the text.

The records of the District Court process of 1872-1874 can be found in the U.S. Archives Pacific - Sierra Region, Bureau of Land Management Record Group 49, on microfilm roll 90 of the 118 rolls of the T-910 series, Docket 538 of California Private Land Claims Dockets. In this docket is the map of a U.S. Survey entitled Rancho Arroyo de la Laguna dated 1867 and 1870. The 4,466 acre plat described in this survey coincides partly - far from entirely - with the 4,418 acre plat of the 1878 survey that is mentioned below. It appears that concern for the true description of the Rancho was the reason or one of the reasons for the litigation in the district court.

The records of the Supreme Court, maintained on microfilm in The National Archives - Pacific Sierra Region in San Bruno, California, state that on January 24, 1876 the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the District Court. In 1878 the land was surveyed definitively under instructions from the U. S. Surveyer General, and it was determined to contain 4,418 acres, or about 6.9 square miles. Finally the U. S. Patent granting original title to the land was issued to James and Squire on February 21, 1881. A copy of the patent is in Volume 4 of the Book of Patents of Santa Cruz County, pages 179-193. It was not recorded there until March 14, 1913.

A note on some of the Spanish words of the map: A Mexican legua or league was 4,190 meters, whereas a Spanish legua was 5,572.7 meters. A Mexican vara, besides being one five-thousandths of a Mexican legua, was 838 millimeters, or 33 inches. Lobos or lobos marinos can be either seals or sea lions. Lomerio is a derivative of loma, hill, that indicates a range of hills. Lomerio was the form in use in Mexico, whereas lomaje was used in Chile, and lomada in Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Lometa is a usage of modern Spanish.

A note on "Spanish Acre:" Concerning the word "acre," the Spanish Dictionaries consulted agree in defining it as an English measurement of area and do not speak of any Spanish measurement which goes by the same name.

(Dictionaries consulted for information on Spanish terms are Diccionario de la Lengua Espanola, 20 ed., Real Academia Espanola: Madrid, 1984; Diccionario Anaya de la Lengua: Madrid, 1991; Diccionario del Espanol Moderno, Martin Alonso, Aguilar: Madrid, 1966; Americanismos diccionario ilustrado sopena, Ramon Sopena: Barcelona, 1982; Diccionario general de Americanismos, Francisco J. Santamaria, Editorial Pedro Robredo: Mejico D.F., 1942; The Oxford Spanish Dictionary: Oxford University Press, 1998.)

Modern identification of Arroyo de los Lobos: There are not one, but two narrow and deep stream valleys which lead down to the ocean between Laguna Creek and San Vicente Creek and which are about a mile apart from each other at the coast. The mouth of the stream in the one that is now called Yellow Bank Creek, is about one mile from Laguna Creek, and the mouth of the stream in the other, which is now known as Liddell Creek, is about a mile from San Vicente Creek. Both intermediate creeks rise close to the upper edge of the rancho, but there is a great difference between the two, inasmuch as one branch of Liddell Creek originates from a copious, year-round spring, but its other branches and Yellow Bank Creek carry much less water. (This is the case now, and was also in 1955 according to the U. S. Geological Survey Map for Davenport. Furthermore, Liddell Creek East Branch was one of the creeks, along with Laguna Creek and Majors Creek, which became Santa Cruz City’s water source in the late 19th century, as attested by many sources.) Thus even before the arrival of the Williamses Liddell Creek would have been the more important of the two as a water source. Finally, the lower valley of Liddell Creek is wider than that of Yellow Bank Creek. For these reasons Liddell Creek would have merited more than Yellow Bank Creek to be drawn on the diseno. Another branch of Liddell Creek also furnished a convenient route for a road to the limestone outcroppings on the rancho and, above this, to a suitable mill site on another stream, Williams Mill Creek, a tributary of San Vicente Creek. From the appended maps we see that it was at the mouth of Liddell Creek that James Williams built his landing, and that his mill was reached by a road parallel to this same creek. We infer from the location of James’s operations and from the barking of sea lions near his house (see below) that the house was located near the mouth of the same creek. As to the name "Liddell Creek," see below about George Liddell.

Next: James Williams and his Rancho

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