Marin’s Past is Always Present

At a recent talk at the Novato Historical Guild, I was asked if Sais Avenue in San Anselmo was related the Sais family. At that time, I wasn’t able to answer my inquisitor’s question. Obviously the name is a match but who, exactly, inspired the street name was known to me. While researching my biography of Don Timoteo Murphy, I was informed and inspired by a January 15, 1966 Marin Independent Journal article written by the eminent historian Florence Donnelly.

Justo Nazario Sais and his wife Maria Micaela Sotelo traveled from Mexico to Monterey as part of Juan Bautista de Anza‘s second expedition (1775-1776). One of their sons, Juan, married Dominga Valenzuela. Juan and Dominga had many children including Domingo and Maria Augustina.

Maria Augusta married James Black in 1844. Her namesake daughter and untimely death were the catalysts for my book Marriage, Murder, and Betrayal.

Domingo Sais married Manuella Augustina Miranda. In 1837, they welcomed daughter Vincenta (Vicci) to their home in Yerba Buena. In 1839, in thanks for Domingo’s military service to Mexico, he was granted the two square leagues (~ 8,856 acres) of Cañada De Herrera (Valley of the Blacksmiths) covering what is now most of Fairfax and San Anselmo. Domingo and Manuella were blessed with five more children: Pedro, Jesus M. (James), Mana Delores (Laula), Mana de la Luce (Lucinda), and Dominga.

With the rancho and family now in place, we can finally identify the inspiration for not only Sais Avenue but three other Marin streets.

Sais Avenue in San Anselmo, which intersects Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, is named for Domingo Sais, the family patriarch.

The rancho gave its name to both San Anselmo’s hairpin-shaped Camino de Herrera Avenue and Herrera Court. Over the years, the Cañada (valley) in the rancho’s name has been transformed into a Camino (road).


Domingo’s youngest daughter, still a child when he died in 1853, gave her name to Fairfax’s Dominga Avenue between San Anselmo Creek and Bolinas Road.

Photo: Dominga Sais and husband, Joseph Bresson. (W. Wilson Collection/Marin IJ January 15, 1966)

Notable for my personal research, Domingo Sais died the same year as Don Timoteo Murphy. Domingo’s death after falling from his horse mirrors the accident that eventually took James Black’s life. The parallels in Marin’s pioneers’ lives and deaths continue.

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.

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