When the Spaniards, and later the Mexicans, began settling in Alta California, life for the Patwin and other native residents changed dramatically. Starting in San Diego in 1769, the Spaniards established over twenty missions across the state, as far north as Sonoma (Mission San Francisco Solano), in their drive to convert the native peoples to Christianity and to expand the Spanish empire23.

In 1820, Mexico declared independence from Spain and soon thereafter established the program of Mexican Land Grants in Alta California, ensuring consolidation of power in the north. Roughly 1000 such grants, ranging in size from one to eleven square leagues (one square league = 1796 hectares (4,438 acres)), were made available principally to Mexican citizens. Obtaining a land grant required a formal petition process through the offices of the Mexican Governor, headquartered in Monterey, but if one had a reasonable request, was willing to abide by the conditions attached to the land grant, and did not have a criminal record, the petition generally was granted24.

Two Mexican brothers, Sisto and José de Jesús Berelleza (a name of Basque origin), petitioned the Mexican Governor in October 1843, asking for eight square leagues (14,366 hectares (35,500 acres)) of land along Putah Creek and in the surrounding foothills from Capay Valley south to Vacaville. On November 3, 1843, Governor Manuel Micheltorena approved the petition, on the condition that the Berellezas would build a house on the property within one year, that they would plant domestic trees along the periphery of the property, and that they would never subdivide or sell the property. The brothers agreed and moved in with their families and began raising stock – mostly cattle, sheep, and horses – as did most of the land grantees6.

The Berellezas initially built two adobe houses – one for each brother and his family – and later they built a few more. Both of these adobes are now gone, but it is believed that one of them was located on the site of the future town of Monticello, which now lies at the bottom of Berryessa Reservoir. They called their property “Rancho de las Putas,” a name that has stimulated much curiosity. One belief is that the name refers to the suckerfish, or putahs, of Putah Creek. However, others suggest that the name may be a play on the Spanish puta/puto, meaning tramp or prostitute. In 1877 Stephen Powers wrote, “…on lower Puta Creek [the Patwin] were called by the Spaniards, on account of their gross licentiousness, Putos, and the stream Rio de los Putos”21. Still another tale11 attributes the name to alleged shameful behavior by the Berellezas themselves. Bright4 claimed that the origin is from the Lake Miwok word puta wuwwe (‘grassy creek’), and that the similarity to Spanish puta is purely coincidental.

The Berellezas’ ranch was a successful enterprise for a number of years in the 1840s-50s, but in 1859, the political climate changed, and they evidently lost their land either to squatters, by gambling, or by family members selling off pieces. In 1866, a Mr. Scholtz sold the land to John Lawley, Jr., H. Bostwick, and William Hamilton, who divided the land into family farms and the town of Monticello. The original Basque name Berelleza was subsequently transliterated into English as “Berryessa,” whence the “Berryessa Valley” and “Lake Berryessa” of today11.

Documents courtesy of Lenora Timm

From Left to Right: 1843 Land Grant (Translation); Map of “El Rancho de Las Putas” - Quail Ridge is the lower right section; 1843 Land Grant (Original in Spanish). See Spanish Translation of 1843 Land Grant.


This page last updated: June 20, 2005  

Contact: Dr. Virginia Boucher
John Muir Institute of the Environment
109 The Barn, University of California, Davis, CA 95616
Phone: 530-752-6949; email: vlboucher@ucdavis.edu

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