William Welch and Rancho Las Juntas
William Welch and Rancho Las Juntas
(Revised copy, 1961) by Leonora Galindo Fink and Ruth Galindo
No streets, roads, subdivisions or towns are named for the first "gringo" to settle in Spanish Contra Costa. This pioneer was given a rancho of thousands of acres, extending from Walnut Creek to Martinez, called Rancho Las Juntas. He was a man little known to historians, yet he was the only foreigner to be given a land grant in this county. This pioneer of Contra Costa County was an Irishman named William Welch.
In the year 1821 the sailing vessel "Lady Blackwood", coming from Bengal India, anchored in Bodega Bay to trade with the Russians. William Welch, on board as a sailor, jumped ship there with Joseph Lawrence, ship's carpenter and calker. The two men travelled by launch from Bodega Bay to San Francisco and then went south to the Pueblo de Los Angeles. Joseph Lawrence married and settled in Los Angeles, but William Welch, after two years there, came north to the Pueblo de San Jose.
The Californians welcomed newcomers to this isolated land but required they be naturalized and that they help protect the pueblos and mission. William Welch, by then twenty-eight years old, became a naturalized citizen and served as a sergeant in the militia based at the San Francisco Presidio. Another requirement of the newly naturalized citizen was that he be baptized. This was probably not the first baptism for the Irishman, but this time his Spanish friends christened him Julian Willis, and this is the name by which he became known to them.
Having taken a Spanish name and become a citizen, one further step more firmly established Julian Willis in his new home in the Pueblo de San Jose. He courted a daughter of one of the earliest pioneer families and eventually married her. She was Maria Antonia, daughter of Juan Crisostomo Galindo, a citizen of the Pueblo. Her brother, Francisco Galindo, later became one of the founders of Concord.
California's livelihood in those days came principally from the export of hides and tallow. Cattle raising was the principal business and before long William Welch had developed a herd of 500. The common lands for the use of the inhabitants at the Pueblo de San Jose were limited. So William Welch made an agreement with an American trader, Captain Cooper, to keep his herd temporarily at Rancho Los Corralitos, near Santa Cruz. His ambition was to acquire a rancho of his own where he could raise his family, increase his herds, and enjoy life in the manner of the Californians.
After exploring the land of the Contra Costa, William Welch in 1828 petitioned Governor Echeania for a tract of land called Laguna de los Bolbones. The land along the east shore of the San Francisco Bay, called Contra Costa, was becoming settled. The interior valleys were still inhabited by Indians, among them the Bolbones. La Laguna de los Bobones was undoubtedly the lake that still exists on the southwest side of Concord. It was quite large and was a well-known landmark in those days.
Before receiving word from the Governor on the outcome of his petition, William Welch decided to move his cattle from Rancho Las Corralitos to the new location. To do this it was necessary to receive permission from the Alcalde of the district. The Alcalde of the Pueblo de San Jose and of the district was Salvio Pacheco. William Welch was given the necessary permission to move his cattle. Then Alcalde Pacheco discovered that the cattle were now pastured on land known as the Monte del Diablo. Salvio Pacheco had petitioned this land for himself and was indignant. He traveled by ship to San Diego to present a renewed petition for the land to Governor Echeandia and to protest the invasion of his property.
In the meantime William Welch went to the Commandante of the Presidio of San Francisco, Captain Luis Antonio Arguello. The land of the Contra Costa was under his juristiction. Captain Arguello gave William Welch permission to occupt Laguna de los Bolbones, not knowing exactly where it was located. Governor Encheandia, on receiving Salvio PAcheco's petition, learned that Captian Arguello had granted William Welch permission to occupy this land. The Governor fined William Welch $50 and reprimanded Captain Arguello for granting him the land, saying that this was not within the province of the Commandante to grant land. This incident was cited by legal authorites in establishing the validity of land grants in the San Francisco area years later. William Welch was ordered to remove his cattle from Monte Diablo and he took them to the Rancho El Pinole of Ignacio Martinez.
The search for the rancho continued. There was unoccupied pasture land between the Ranchos of Igncaio Martinez and Salvio Pacheco. This was the location chosen by William Welch, with the approval of the neighboring rancheros including Salvio Pacheco, who had by now forgiven William Welch for the earlier land dispute. The land was called Las Juntas and lay between the Arroyo del Hambre (now Alhambra Creek) and the Arroyo de las Nueces (Walnut Creek). Las Juntas was the Spanish name given to the Junction of streams where the city of Walnut Creek in now located. The streams, or arroyos, that joined together at Las Juntas were then called Las Trampas, El Ingerto and El Reliz. They formed the Arroyo de las Nueces. William Welch was given permission to occupy this land and moved his cattle there about 1832. He made his formal petition to Governor Figueroa in 1834 for this grant. Then he began the improvements that were required as a condition of receiving a land grant. A corral was built and an adobe house started about a mile north of Las Juntas, near a permanent spring.
This was frontier country and Indians were a constant threat to the settlers. Indian horsetheives used the route along the north side of Mount Diablo ( then Sierra de los Bolbones). and down San Ramon Valley, for their raids on the Missions and the Pueblo of San Jose and Santa Clara. The Welch family lived at the Pueblo de San Jose and a mayordomo took care of the cattle on the Rancho. Every two or three months William traveled from the Pueblo to the Rancho to check on the cattle. Because of the danger from Indians he usually stayed on the Rancho of the Martinez family or at that of the Briones family. Then illness prevented him from completing the improvements on his Rancho. While Jose Sibrian was his mayordomo the Indians burned the adobe house that had been started and stole the horses. The cattle were scattered onto the neighboring ranchos or wandered away into the hills. The mayordomo returned to the Pueblo de San Jose and the Rancho was abandoned.
But William Welch had not abandoned his idea of becoming a ranchero. He sold his house in the Pueblo de San Jose to Ignacio Martniez for 500 cattle and made an agreement with him to keep the cattle on Rancho El Pinole for one third of the increase. He and his family, which included his wife and nine children, moved to Rancho Milpitas, or Rancho Chamasito, of Jose Mario Alviso. His wife and the wife of Jose Maria Alviso, Juana Maria Galindo, were sisters.
It was not until 1844 that William Welch was again able to present a petition to the Governor for Rancho Las Juntas. The family remained at Rancho Milpitas while William worked to re-establish his own Rancho. The cattle had to be moved onto the Rancho from Rancho El Pinole and a home built that would provide his family with safety from Indian attacks.
A dispute arose, however, when the time came for the delivery of his cattle. Some of the cattle had died and Jose Martniez, the son of Ignacio Martinez, refused to deliver as many as William Welch demanded. When they could not come to an agreement, the dispute was taken to the Alcalde of the Pueblo de San Jose, Felix Buelna, and the matter discussed until a compromise was reached. Jose Martinez agreed to deliver 300 cows, 50 heifers, 25 bullocks and 25 steers. But Alcalde Buelna had to go to the Rancho El Pinole to make certain that the agreement was fulfilled. Jose Martinez was still reluctant to turn over the cattle because William Welch demanded only the best cows. He finally agreed to round them up when Alcalde Buelna informed him that he would have to pay damages if the agreement was not kept.
The cattle were rounded up by vaqueros from the Pinole Rancho and driven to the eastern side of the Arroyo del Hambre. Alcalde Buelna was paid a hide a day to keep count of the cattle. Francisco Galindo, Ignacio Sirbrian and Ignacio Soto helped William Welch during the rodeo, the round-up. A corral and a small house were built where the county court house in Martinez still stands. When the rodeos were completed, Henry Bee of San Jose was hired for one third of the increase to help the oldest Welch boy, William, care for the cattle. He moved them to the center of the Rancho when he found that some were getting sick from drinking the salt water, and built a small house for himself in what is now Pleasant Hill, where the water supply was better.
The Rancho Las Juntas was formally granted to William Welch by Governor Manuel Micheltorena on February 21, 1844. This grant was for three leagues of and, as surveyed by the United States Government, contained 13,292 acres. The Spanish settlers recognized its boundaries as El Arroyo de las Nueces (walnut Creek) on the East, the Straits on the North, El Arroyo del Hambre (Alhambra Creek) on the Northwest, La Cuchilla del Reliz (the ridge of the Reliz) on the West, and Las Juntas (the junction of streams) on the South.
The Spanish government made no accurate surveys of most of these ranchos. Boundaries were natural landmarks that were agreed upon by the Rancheros. When the United States survey of Ranch Las Juntas was completed, the natural landmarks were retained except for the western side. An artificial western boundary was established that ran from the Arroyo del Hambre, a short distance south of its intersection with the Arnold Industrial Highway, in a direct line over the hills and through the Pleasant Hill area. This line then followed the base of the hills to intersect with the Arroyo de las Nueces just North of the junction of the streams. This Rancho includes the northern part of the city of Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill, the western half of Pacheco and the eastern half of Martinez.
About 1845 the Welch family decided to move permanently to the Rancho. The oldest son was sent to build a home near the ruins of the adobe that had been burned by the Indians several years previously. A frame house was built on a knoll not far from the Arroyo de las Nueces and just north of the present center of Walnut Creek.
But in 1846, before any improvements could be made on the Rancho, William Welch died. Years of constant illness had finally taken their toll, although he was still a relatively young man. His widow and children were left with the responsibility of developing their Rancho in what was still frontier country. After his death they moved to the Rancho to join the oldest son. According to Jose Martinez, the frame house was torn down and the boards used to build a new adobe. This was the Welch home until, in 1870, a larger frame house was constructed on the same location. This burned in 1883 and was replaced by the present house. These homes were occupied by the widow Welch, her children, and later her son, William, and his wife, Felipa de Soto.
About the time of William Welch's death, the first of the overland wagon trains crossed the Sierras into California. The Contra Costa attracted some of the pioneers who had come in these wagon trains. Among them were Elam Brown and Nathaniel Jones. Then gold was discovered and thousands of gold seekers poured into California. One of the well traveled routes to the gold mines crossed the Straits near the mouth of the Arroyo del Hambre, by ferry to Benecia. In 1849 the town of Martinez was established by the Martinez family on the west side of the Arroyo.
The town grew rapidly and when Contra Costa County was formed, it became the county seat. In that same year the Welch family hired Thomas A. Brown, son of Elam Brown, to survey an addition to the town of Martinez on the east side of the Arroyo. In 1851 land was deeded to the Court of Sessions for a County Court House which was built on the rodeo site of Rancho Las Juntas. Stores, hotels and other businesses were built on the Welch Addition. By 1857 William Hoffman had a Tannery on the east side of the Arroyo, opposite the adobe of Vincente Martinez. In 1859 there was a race track just to the north of the Tannery.
But William Welch had left his family with more than a partially settled Rancho. His widow and children also inherited a long and costly legal fight to prove their right to the land. It begam in 1852 when the Welch family presented their Rancho documents before the United States Land Commission, as required by the new land laws. Even after the Rancho was confirmed to them in 1857, there followed years of litigation over the boundaries. No surveys of this land had been made by the Spanish or Mexican governments. The rancheros recognized mutual boundaries by natural landmarks that only vaguely defined the limits of their ranchos. Neither the rancho owners nor the new settlers knew what land was privately owned and what was government land. The Unites States Surveyor General had to determine the exact boundaries of each rancho.
The land along the banks of the Arroyo del Hambre was claimed as part of three ranchos: - the Rancho El Pinole of Ignacio Martinez, the Rancho Las Juntas of William Welch and the Rancho Canada del Hambre of Teodora Soto. Several surveys of each Rancho were made before the final boundaries were established. Many early settlers, both Spanish and American, were asked to testify before the United States Land Commission to help determine the boundaries. The rancheros testified about the natural landmarks that defined each rancho and the origin of the Spanish names that were used for them. Salvio Pacheco and Jose Maria Amador, whose father had been one of the soldiers, told how Spanish soldiers before 1811 had named the Arroyo del Hambre during a campaign against the Indians. Nathaniel Jones described the Ranch as he first saw it in 1847. Daniel Hunsaker stated that, in 1848, he worked on the ferry boat that crossed the Straits to Benicia from a landing near the Arroyo. These men and others named many of the pioneer settlers on the Rancho. Some of the most prominent at that time were Judge Warmcastle, Mathew Barber, Colonel Lathrop and Henry Bush.
While William Welch's wife and children were attempting to prove their ownership of Rancho Las Juntas, the settlement of the Rancho proceeded rapidly. The new settlers did not have the large cattle herds of the Spanish rancheros, but some had been successful at the gold mines. The demand for food supplies of all kinds during the early gold rush days often made farming more profitable than mining. So, many of the gold miners turned to farming, fenced the great cattle ranges and began raising grain. Land was cheap because the rancho owners had to sell much of their land to raise money for legal fees. Land titles were uncertain but the land was rich and productive, never having been farmed before. Some of the settlers, who had been unsuccessful at mining, settled on the Rancho as squatters, hoping to retain their land without having to pay for it.
Within a few years after 1850 hundreds of acres of Rancho Las Juntas had been sold. Many blocks in the Welch addition to Martinez and many acres of the Rancho were turned over to surveyors and lawyers as fees. Some of the settlers paid for their land with shares of the crops they raised and each year acquired more land until they finally owned large acreages. the farms on the Rancho ranged in size from a squatter's claim of one or two acres to holdings of 300 to 1,000 acres. In 1855 the Boss family owned over 1,000 acres in what is now Pleasant Hill, where Henry Bee had built his small house in 1844. Judge Warmcastle had a farm of 300 acres to the south and east of the Boss Ranch. Colonel Lathrop's farm was 945 acres and Colonel Gift's was 733 acres. William Hook bought his first land in 1854 and continued to add to his holdings until, in 1879, he owned 1,700 acres south of Pacheco. This farm was typical of large scale farming during that period. In 1879 William Hook raised 600 acres of wheat, 500 acres of hay and 150 acres of barley. Cattle raising was no longer the principal industry .
As soon as the farms began to produce, there was a need for storage and shipping facilities for grain. Warehouses were built along the slough into which the Arroyo de las Nueces emptied, the first by Gerret L. Walrath and Colonel Edwin Lathrop about 1853. The original course of the stream lay to the west of its present course, running parallel to the road to Martinez. The slough was deep enough for schooners, and docks were built where they could be loaded.
In 1858 Lafayette and Charles Fish had a warehouse on the slough and operated a schooner called "Queen of the Bay". George Loucks bought the Walrath warehouse and home and built a dock. William T. Hendrick built a flour mill south of the warehouse, and P. H. Standish established a blacksmith shop. Dr. James Carothers opened a drug store in what was now becoming a thriving village on the banks of the Arroyo de las Nueces. This was the second settlement on Rancho Las Juntas. It was first called Pachecoville or Loucksville, then Pacheco, after Salvio Pacheco whose Rancho del Diablo adjoined Rancho Las Juntas on the east. Pacheco became the shipping center for all the grain raised in the valleys and was the largest town in the county at one time.
At the southern end of the Rancho, a third village developed. From the early days of the Spanish settlement the route from the Martinez area to the Pueblo de San Jose had led along the valley of the Arroyo de las Nueces south through the San Ramon Valley. Until settlements were built up by the Americans and other immigrants the Pueblo de San Jose was the nearest trading center. Las Juntas, the junction of streams, was a natural crossroads were travellers from east or west joined the main road south. At this place another small town grew up with the coming of new settlers. It was originally called The Corners and is now the city of Walnut Creek. It has been built on Rancho Las Juntas and the adjoining Ranchos whose boundaries met at the junction of streams.
The large farms were broken up over the years into smaller ranches and eventually were subdivided. Most of the 13,000 acres of the Rancho Las Juntas are now divided into small lots with individual homes. Few of those who live on the Rancho know of the man who pioneered the land when it was inhabited only by Indians.
Unlike many of the other rancheros, William Welch's death prevented him from taking an active part in the historic developments in the county after California became a state. Long years of poor health, living away from his Contra Costa Rancho, had made him personally a relative stranger on his own land. Few historians realized that William Welch and Julian Willis were in reality the same man, and this undoubtedly detracted from the prominence the Irishmen would otherwise have had.
William Welch was a true pioneer . He was adventurous enough to become a sailor on a long and dangerous journey to unknown shores. He was courageous enough to seek his future in a primitive land. He was successful enough to have won title to a veritable kingdom. Yet fate has denied him his rightful place in history.
-November 16, 1961