This Land is MY Land.

By 1839, Edward Manuel McIntosh (“Old Mac” to his friends) and James Dawson had fulfilled General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo’s assignment. The Scotsman and the Irishman had joined the vanguard protecting San Francisco from the Russian fur traders headquartered at their illegal presidio (fort) on the Sonoma County coast. Through the volunteers’ efforts, the city on the bay remained safe from predatory Cossacks, at least from those arriving by land.

Between 1833 and 1846, Mexico awarded 270 land grants ranging in size from 8,000 to 50,000 acres. General Vallejo rewarded Old Mac and Dawson for their services to Mexico with the 8,849-acre Rancho Estero Americano, named for the estuary where the river meets ocean.

Vallejo’s largess was the first step in establishing a homestead. To finalize their grant, the mates had to build a house then register their parcel in Monterey, the capital of Alta California. Shunning the traditional adobe brick for their house, the two built a common home of the local redwood.

To register their grant, Old Mac and Dawson needed a diseño. Diseños, Spanish for drawing or design, were hand-sketched maps documenting boundaries using natural landmarks such as rivers, stone outcroppings, mountains, even lightning-shattered trees. The Rancho Estero Americano diseño includes blue pencil highlighting the Pacific Ocean, rivers, and creeks including the Estero Americano (map center). Above the Estero Americano lies the camino (road) de presidio Ross (Russian) running through the Rancho de los Russos.

California State Archives, Diseño Collection, Diseño 11322

The diseño also includes a rare longitude and latitude notation (center left). While the coordinates are unlikely to have been on the diseño when it was created, Google maps dropped a location pin southwest of Sonoma Mountain and close enough to Clouds Rest Vineyard for the new landowners to drop in for a well-earned glass of pinot noir after a hard day clearing the land. 

Clipping from California State Archives, Diseño Collection, Diseño 11322

Diseño in pocket, Old Mac saddled up and road south to register their claim in Monterey. He returned with the rancho recorded in his (mispelled) name only. Mexico wouldn’t issue a land grant in two names, Old Mac told Dawson. Enraged, Dawson “flogged” his friend and proceeded, as Paul Bunyan might have, to saw their home in half and haul his portion to the nearby Rancho Cañada de Pogolimi.

Thirty-eight years later, the Russians long gone, a printed map shows Old Mac’s Estero Americano in yellow and Dawson’s nearby Cañada de Pogolimi in blue. 

© 2011-2014

Northern California’s early settlers regularly divided, sold, and traded their land grants. Before too many years had passed, neither Old Mac nor Dawson owned their land. Rancho Nicasio (now the Pacheco Ranch Winery) is believed to be the only Marin County land grant in the partial possession of the descendants of its original owner, Ignacio Pacheco.

Purchase a copy of Marriage, Murder, and Betrayal in Nineteenth-Century California from either the Marin History Museum or Amazon to learn how James Black built his Marin County empire from a single Sonoma land grant and the roles Rancho Nicasio, Ignacio Pacheco, and his wife, Maria Loretta Pacheco, played in the Black family’s story. 

Published by Jo Haraf

Jo’s poetry and fiction have been published in the California Writers Club Literary Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, and Ragnarok. She edited and co-authored "Journal Across the Plains - 1852" (Fonthill 2020). "Marriage, Murder, and Betrayal in Nineteen Century California" will be published in the fall of 2021. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Pacific University. A popular speaker on the craft of writing, Jo is a proud member of the Historical Novel Society, Biographers International, and the California Writers Club. She lives on Florida's Suncoast with her husband and a scruffy terrier whose adoration sustains her through revisions and rejections.

2 thoughts on “This Land is MY Land.

  1. Dear Jo,

    Beautiful writing, as always!

    I love how you weave in so much history, information, factual context, and take the reader on an immersive journey, and in a very fun but brief read. Brava!

    Hope you, Betty, and Bill are doing as well as possible.

    Love, Jean


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