Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Vaca Pena Story

The Vaca and Pena families played a prominent role in the romantic, if brief, history of Spanish California. This romantic period continued for a few years, even after the first discovery of gold, less than seventy mies away.
The news of gold spread like prairie fire, although gold was not found on the Vaca Pena Rancho. Their homes were on the way between the gold fields and San Francisco, where the gold was exchanged for money.
The title to the Vaca Pena land grant, known as "Los Putos", was signed by President James Buchanan, on June 4th 1858. John Curry, was a pioneer who settled south of Rancho Los Putos. He later became Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court. He represented the Vaca Pena interests 
against abuses by gringo squatters and unscrupulous lawyers. 
Vaca adobe home was destroyed in the earthquake of 1892. The Pena adobe, however, still stands and has been restored as a memorial to the pioneer Vaca Pena Families.
The city of Vacaville had its origin in 1850 when Manuel Vaca, in a single deed, sold most of his land to an enterprising American. One of the provisions was that 900 square acres of land was to be deeded back to Senor Vaca for a townsite to be named "Vacaville". Senor Pena sold off his holdings piecemeal.
Within twenty years the entire area became an agricultural community, mostly for fruit production. By the turn of the centry it was producing half the deciduous fruit in California.
As a child I remember my Dad telling us st ories about the "olden days" on the big Rancho.
"But Dad" I remember asking, "How could your Grandpa and Grandma take in total strangers into their homes, weren't they afraid of being robbed?"
"No, in those days towns were far apart and travelers were few. Often it was a welcome relief to see another person. Most often the people were also pioneers wishing to settle in the new land of California."
I especially remember a story that he told us. Dad said, "Late one night a traveler appeared at the family home. He had been riding his horse hard all day. Grandfather met him at the door.
'Senior, I am in need of lodging and I'm afraid that I'm ill. If you would keep me for the night I promise I'll pay you, and be on my way in the morning.
"With that he turned and tied his horse to a nearby ree, unsaddled, watered and fed him. Grandfather, meanwhile, noticed he man was carrying a heavy leather pouch. This indicated to Grandfather, that the pouch might be filled with gold. When the man came inside the house, Grandfather noticed that he no longer had the pouch with him. Perhaps he had hid it, or buried it for safekeeping.
"That night the man died in his sleep. They never learned the man' name, where he was from, or what his business was.
"As for the leather pouch, many hours were spent digging around the yard, but no gold was ever found."
This particular story we heard many times, but never tired of hearing it.
"Was he a thief, Dad?" we speculated.
"Who knows! If we had found the gold, we would all be rich today."

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