Santa Cruz County History - Places

Coast Dairies Property: A Land Use History

[Excerpt from Coast Dairies Long-Term Resource Protection and Use Plan: Draft Exiting Conditions Report for the Coast Dairies Property, Section 1.0.
Figures and photos referenced in text are not included in this web version.]

1.2 - A Humanized Landscape


Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, November 1542

Cabrillo's account includes a brief mention of the North Coast including the fact that they saw "neither Native Americans nor smokes [5] " (Wagner, 1929). Cabrillo's emphasis that trees came right down to the water at other locations (Point Reyes, Point Pinos) suggests that the coastal terrace near present-day Año Nuevo had few if any trees.

Sebastian Cermeño, December 1595

In December 1595, Spanish explorer Sebastian Cermeño sailed southward along the coastline in a makeshift canoe. He was much more definite about the appearance of the land: "In going along very close to land, frequently only a musket-shot from it, all that may be seen is bare land near the sea and pine and oak timber in the high country. No smokes or fires appeared." (Wagner, 1929)

Francisco de Bolaños, 1603

Spanish pilot Francisco de Bolaños was with Cermeño and returned with Captain Sebastian Vizcaíno in the 1603 passage that was the occasion to name Año Nuevo. Bolaños wrote the description that would be the guide for all Spanish ship captains for the next 150 years. His description of the coastline south of Point Reyes: "From the Punta de los Reyes about fourteen leagues [6] southeast a quarter south there is a point [probably Pigeon Point]. Before reaching it the country consists in places of sierra, bare to the sea and of medium height with some cliffs, but soon the country inside [inland] becomes massive and wooded until you reach a point of low land in 37 1/2 degrees named the 'Punta de Año Neuvo." To emphasis the distinctiveness of Point Pinos on the south side of Monterey Bay, Bolaños noted that the forests there covered the land "down to the sea itself." (Wagner, 1929)

Archibald Menzies, November 1792

One later account further confirms the view from the sea. In November, 1792 English scientist Archibald Menzies described the coastline south of San Francisco: "In the afternoon we coasted along shore to the Southward [from San Francisco] with a fresh breeze, the land appearing much the same as to the Northward of Port San Francisco naked & hilly, with here & there perpendicular cliffs of a whitish appearance facing the Sea." (Menzies, 1792) Since the Mission Santa Cruz had just been established (1791), the North Coast's barren appearance can not be attributed to grazing by mission livestock, and reflects instead the natural factors discussed in Section 3.0.


The first Europeans to pass along the North Coast on land were Spaniards, members of the expedition sent northward from San Diego in 1769 to find the port of Monterey described by Vizcaíno in 1603. They passed along the North Coast twice.

The Portolá Expedition 1769

Led by Captain Gaspar de Portolá, the expedition became confused by the topography around the Monterey Peninsula and continued northward along the coast, looking for the right combination of harbor and pine trees coming "down to the sea itself." Recognizing neither, they continued northward, passing the San Lorenzo River on October 18.

Marching along a mesa approximately three miles wide, they encountered a "toilsome" landscape: "We traveled three hours and a half but only made two leagues during which we descended and ascended four deep watercourses carrying running water which empties into the sea. Only in the watercourses are any trees to be seen; elsewhere we saw nothing but grass, and that was burned." (Bolton, 1966) Since they were looking for a shoreline pine forest and expecting to see many Native Americans as Vizcaíno had, the empty bare hills in the east were very disappointing. On October 19, Engineer Miguel Costansó wrote: "To our right there were some whitish, barren hills that filled us with sadness, and there were days on which we missed the comfort of seeing natives." (Browning, 1992)

But it was the rugged terrace and the seemingly unending sequence of arroyos that made the Spaniards most disconsolate. Father Crespí, the Church's representative on this journey, noted that "this march was very troublesome, on account of the frequent gulches along the way, for we crossed seven, and they caused a great deal of work in making them passable." (Bolton, 1966) Their mules slipping and falling in the steep-sided arroyos, the Spaniards struggled ever northward along the terrace, finally camping at the mouth of present-day Waddell Creek on October 20. While at this campsite the expedition experienced a startling recovery from an earlier outbreak of scurvy [7] , before slipping past the bluffs to the north and out onto the terrace behind Año Nuevo. Portolá's confusion increased when they saw San Francisco Bay; as winter deepened, they headed back southward along the coast.

Since the stream-crossings were still in place, the expedition traversed the North Coast terrace in less than half the time it had taken them going northward. On November 21 they camped at the mouth of present-day Majors Creek, and Father Crespí noted the abundance of geese: "On this and the preceding days the soldiers killed a great many geese, the flocks of these birds that are seen at every step being uncountable. Some of the soldiers' messes have twelve of them saved up. Blessed by the Divine Providence which relieves us in our direst need!" (Bolton, 1966)

Eventually, after returning to San Diego and then marching back up to Monterey Bay, they recognized the harbor and found the pine trees "down to the sea itself." In June of 1770 the Spaniards established the capitol of Alta California at Monterey. The North Coast had been a diversion both worrisome and restorative.

The Third and Last Spanish Passage Along the North Coast - The Rivera Expedition 1774

The Spaniards made the journey from Monterey to San Francisco Bay several times, but their memory of the difficulty of traveling along the coastal terrace encouraged them to follow the route through the more level inland valleys, along the route of present day Highway 101. Over the intervening five years their North Coast stream crossings washed out and vegetation grew up to obscure the trail.

In December 1774, the Spaniards made their last journey of exploration along the North Coast. After exploring San Francisco Bay, the expedition crossed over the ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains and paralleled the North Coast. The trip's two diarists, Captain Don Fernando Rivera and Padre Francisco Palo left very detailed accounts. After waiting for low tide and making a dash across the sand at the base of the bluff at present-day Waddell, they followed the coastal terrace southward through land of "pure earth covered with grass." Though they saw few Native Americans during their passage, Palo? noted their presence: " every step we have come upon paths well beaten by [the Native Americans] which descend from the mountains to the shore." The constant crossing of arroyos was tiresome, and in some instances they were "so precipitous that we were all compelled to go on foot." (Bolton, 1966)

The 1774 trip decided the matter. The North Coast was not to be the route when going from Monterey to San Francisco, and in 1775 Spanish Lieutenant Pedro Fages officially recognized the inland passage from Monterey to Mission Santa Clara and San Francisco. He called it a "short cut" that "traverses more passable ground [than the coast], and saves a matter of ten leagues of distance." (Priestly, 1937)

The die was cast. The primary Spanish north-south route through Central California (later called the El Camino Real) did not come along the "tiresome" North Coast. The land that came to be known as Santa Cruz County's North Coast and ultimately the Coast Dairies Property remained isolated, rugged and forbidding.

1.2.3 THE SPANISH COLONIAL ERA (1770-1822)

Because the North Coast was off the beaten path and remote relative to the other mission establishments at Carmel and Santa Clara, the North Coast was not actively settled until 17 years after Lieutenant Fages made his travel recommendation.

Mission Santa Cruz, established 1791

The establishment of the Mission Santa Cruz beside the San Lorenzo River in August of 1791 marked the beginning of Spanish occupation of the North Coast. In its early years the mission looked eastward across the coastal terrace for its pasturage, but following the establishment of the Villa de Branciforte [8] on that terrace in 1797, the padres turned their attention to the North Coast.

North Coast Controlled by Mission Santa Cruz

Mission Santa Cruz eventually came to control a swath of the North Coast extending 11 leagues (28.6 miles) with a width of three leagues (7.8 miles) inland from the coast. The land was used to pasture mission livestock including cattle, sheep and horses. Three ranchos [9] are mentioned in the mission records: El Matadero which evolved into the Mexican-era Refugio grant located south and east of Laguna Creek; El Jarro which evolved into the Agua Puerca y las Trancas grant, centered on present-day Scotts Creek; and Rancho Punta de Ano Nuevo, centered on Ano Neuvo itself. Rancho El Jarro was mentioned in the Santa Cruz Mission inventory in 1835 as having 2,900 head of sheep (Kimbro, 1985).

The French Spy - February 1827

When M. Duhaut-Cilly's accounts of his visit to California in 1827-1828 were published, they were so detailed and vivid it was assumed by some that he was actually spying for France. Whatever his purpose his accounts are remarkable and would have served well as a military reconnaissance, albeit with a stylish French flair. Sailing south from San Francisco along the coast:

"There are eighteen leagues from the entrance to San Francisco Bay to the roadstead at Santa Cruz, and the way is south-southeast, without turns and dangers. All day we had spy-glasses in our hands to examine the coast, whose aspect the swift progress of the ship altered every minute. In general it is very high in the interior, and everywhere covered with forests of fir trees; it then grows lower by a gentle slope toward the shore; but before reaching it, it rises again to form a long ridge of hills, whence it descends finally to the sea, now bathing the foot of vertical rocky cliffs, now gliding in sheets of foam over sandy or pebbly beaches. Beautiful verdure clothed the plains and hills, where we constantly saw immense herds of cows, sheep and horses. Those belonging to Santa Cruz meet those, less numerous of San Francisco; so that this long strip of eighteen leagues is but one continual pasture." (Carter, 1940)

1.2.4 THE MEXICAN ERA (1822-1848)

Following Mexico's gaining independence from Spain in 1821, Mexican citizens were allowed and even encouraged to apply for land grants on the lands formerly controlled by the missions. However, while Mexican citizens quickly applied for grants in easily-accessible coastal terraces to the east of Santa Cruz, they were slower to move up to the North Coast. By the 1840s there were three Mexican ranchos on the North Coast (Figure 1-1). The effect of the North Coast's isolation can be noted in the fact that the wide, well-watered valley we now call Waddell was not requested as a land grant. Getting to the coastal terrace was just too daunting, even when the land was free.

Rancho Arroyo de la Laguna

This one square league (4,418 acre) rancho was granted to Gil Sanchez in 1840, bounded by Rancho Refugio on the east and Rancho San Vicente on the west. Little is known about Sanchez or his occupation. We can assume that, like the adjacent ranchos, the rancho was used to raise cattle for the hide and tallow trade. The land quickly passed out of Californio (Mexican citizen) ownership in the early 1850s when it was aquired by the Williams brothers. Most of this property was eventually acquired by Jeremiah Respini and became part of the Coast Dairies Property (Clark, 1986).

Rancho San Vicente

This huge grant was originally made to Antonio Rodriquez in 1839, but was regranted to Blas Escamilla in 1846. Since it was laid out after the two neighboring ranchos, the shape has the look of being shoehorned into place between them. The ideal Mexican grant had a proportion of one part cultivatable land, six parts pasture and four parts brush or forest. In those instances where the cultivatable land or pasturage was limited, the grantee was often compensated by being given a greater proportion of brushland or forest. Rancho San Vicente reflects the feeling in Mexican California that brush and forest lands had little value: the cow was king, and by this point in time, livestock had been grazing the terraces for almost 60 years (Clark, 1986).

Rancho Agua Puerca y las Trancas

Bordered on the south by the Rancho San Vicente and the north by Arroyo las Trancas, this 4,422-acre grant went through a series of re-grants until it was finally given to Ramón Rodriguez and Francisco Alviso in 1843. The boundaries wrap around the coastal hills that separate Scotts Creek from the coast, reflecting the desirability of the open pasture land for Mexican Californians (Clark, 1986).

No communities grew up on or near the three land grants, and access to them was such that they do not play a central role in the history of Central California. Just as during the Mission Era, the land was used as pasture, with herds of cattle and sheep grazing across the coastal terrace. Hides and tallow were probably shipped off coastal landings. There is no evidence of any other economic activity on the North Coast prior to 1850.

In 1849, Justo Veytia, a Mexican citizen, set out on horseback for San Francisco via the North Coast. Neither of the local residents (both born near Santa Cruz) accompanying him had ever taken this route before, a testimony to the fact that in the 1840s the route of choice was either over the summit of the Santa Cruz Mountains directly north of Santa Cruz, or out through the Pajaro River gap and then north up the Santa Clara Valley. Passing the bluff at present-day Waddell:

"Two days of this expedition were the most difficult. The second day on the road one has to travel along the beach very close to the water and this can only be done when the tide is low. The day we passed the sea was quite choppy. Neither Arana nor I knew the road so when we went onto the beach we figured it was all right because when a very big wave came up, it only reached the horses' hooves. So we rode on about 300 varas [10] , experiencing two very bad spots because of some rocks, when the very rough sea began to wash over us up to the pommel of our saddles. We didn't deliberate in making a decision--to go back was clearly dangerous because the rocks were now under water and we couldn't see the openings between them so we resolved to continue forward to look for some pass where we could go up, for the waves had us pinned against a fairly high cliff. We went on walking for about 200 varas until we found a foot path to ascend and as soon as we were safe we undressed completely to put our clothes to dry because the waves had knocked us down three times, horses and all, so we had to dismount and pull them forcibly. We got out at ten in the morning and as soon as we finished stretching out our clothing and the saddles, we sat down naked on the grass to lunch on the supplies we brought which were now also soup." (Veytia, 1975)



5 Presumably, this is a reference to manmade fires.

6 A Spanish league was approximately 2.6 miles.

7 The Spaniards considered their recovery a miracle, but present-day botanists suggest that the scurvy might have been alleviated by their eating food containing large amounts of Vitamin C, perhaps either food given to them by the Native Americans, or blackberries and rose hips. See Browning, 1992, p. 113, note.

8 The Villa de Branciforte was one of three civilian (hence "villa" as opposed to mission) settlements established by the Spanish in Alta California, the other two being San Jose and Los Angeles. Located on the coastal terrace across the San Lorenzo River from Mission Santa Cruz, the town never received the support it needed from the Spanish government.

9 During the Spanish era, ranchos were lands used by the missions as pasturage for their herds. The boundaries of these tracts of land were generally vague and ill-defined. Later, during the Mexican era, the word rancho came to mean a clearly defined tract of land owned by a private individual.

10 A Spanish vara was 33 inches.

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