The United States: Monticello displaces El Rancho

Two key events in 1848 – Mexico’s loss of the U.S.-Mexican War, and the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill – spelled the demise of the Land Grant Era. When it became clear that California would be controlled by the United States, the Mexican governor, Pío Pico, signed 800 land grants, giving them fraudulent dates so that they would appear to precede the American takeover7. But squatters began entrenching themselves on the land grant properties, and soon were emboldened enough to bring claims to court. In September 1850, California entered the Union as the 31st state. The judicial system was increasingly populated by Anglos, who tended to side with the squatters. Another contribution to the downfall of the ranches came when miners married into land grant families, thereby ensuring inheritance of the land. By the early 1860s most of the original land grantees’ holdings had been fragmented or lost entirely20, 24.

Monticello, 1954, Eastman's Originals Collection, Department of Special Collections, General Library, University of California, DavisAs a result of these 19th-century sea changes in politics and economy, a new American town, Monticello, came into existence in the Putah Creek Basin. It soon developed into a prosperous agricultural community during the early years of the 20th century. At this time Berryessa Valley was a flat, fertile valley watered by Putah Creek, and the soil of the valley was considered among the most fertile in the country16. The town of Monticello stood in the center of the valley, surrounded by thousands of acres of land used to raise livestock and for dryland farming of grain. The subsequent development of a canal system for irrigation contributed to successful crops of pears, grapes, walnuts, alfalfa, and other grains, and to herds of cattle and horses. In springtime, wildflowers carpeted the valley floor and hillsides, and California poppies spilled into the town cemetery16.
Monticello, 1954, Eastman's Originals Collection, Department of Special Collections, General Library, University of California, Davis
Monticello also became a popular venue for rodeos, baseball games, and “cow roasts,” drawing people from miles around. The town enjoyed the further distinction of being the first community in the state to have a telephone system installed. Photographers Dorothea Lange and Pirkle Jones16 described Monticello in the 1950s as “a center with only one store, two gas pumps, a small hotel, and a roadside spot, ‘The Hub,’ and the valley held generations in its palm.” However, this community was to follow in the sad trail of the Patwin and the Berellezas.

The UC Davis library holds a number of documents and photographs of Monticello and the building of the dam; many of these are available online (http://lib.ucdavis.edu, search ‘Monticello California’).

Photo Credits: Title, Dam (NRS Archives), Monticello pictures (Eastman's Originals Collection, Department of Special Collections, General Library, University of California, Davis)

This page last updated: June 23, 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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