The Pinas of Dry Creek and Rancho Tzabaco

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The Pinas of Dry Creek

          In 1843 a fourteen-year-old boy became the legal owner of 17,000 acres of prime land in what is now Dry Creek Valley.  Jose German Pina scouted out that land at about age eleven, and had a residence and the rudiments of a rancho by the age of twelve.[1]


  Rancho Tzabaco

The western side roughly parallels Dry Creek along current day Westside Road. The rancho reaches northwest past the Russian River, in what is now know as Alexander Valley. Geyserville is located just below the "H" in WASHINGTON Township (the red lines are township bounds). The blue polygon is the D. D. Phillips Tzabaco Rancho property - the site of the original Pina adobe building. -- image composite close-up derived from maps from Thos. H. Thompson Co. 1877  Historical Atlas Map of Sonoma County.

           The misspelling of German Pina's name in two important historical sources for early California history left the accomplishments of this precocious early California rancher in the dim dustbin of history until 1985.[2]  Even with his identity established the story of the Pina family of Dry Creek must be pieced together from tiny fragments of historical information.  Early California historians, like the American settlers and squatters who flooded the Dry Creek Valley in the 1850's, did their best to ignore and dispossess this early Mexican landowning family.  They were surprisingly successful on both counts.


A Human Wall to Block the Russians


           Jose German Pina was not alone in his project to establish a cattle ranch on the frontier.  He had his family and his family connections to help him.  But his youth underscores several conditions on the Mexican California frontier.  One was the readiness of Mexican officials to grant land to almost any eligible Mexican citizen in order to block the gradual encroachment of the Russians on their northern border.  Ever since the Russian-American Company commandeered control of the river they called "Slavianka" (little Russian girl) by establishing colonial forts at Bodega and Ross in 1812, Spanish authorities had viewed the Russians with mounting suspicion.  The Russian otter hunters could make use of the Russian River as a natural highway to the interior by surrounding its mouth.

Until the 1820's the Russians confined themselves primarily to the hunting of sea otter, but as the otter became scarce they began to search for more fertile land away from the damp fogs of the coast.  The grain and produce would be used to supply their other outposts on the Alaskan coast.

            Between 1824 and 1836 every Mexican exploratory expedition venturing north of San Rafael and west of Sonoma found alarming evidence of the Russian presence, small bands of Russians searching for farm and ranch sites.  At least three Russian farms were established farther inland.  Local legend even indicates that the Russians used a valley near the present town of Geyserville to grow wheat.[3]


Vallejo Is the Junction Box


            Although the local Mexican civil authorities and Missionaries carried on a profitable illicit trade with the Russians, the Mexican government began a concerted effort to foster settlement in the north, thereby preventing any further Russian settlement.  In 1833 General Mariano Vallejo, commandant of the Sonoma presidio, established another presidio somewhere along the Russian River.  It lasted only a month.  The next year 120 colonists from Mexico City attempted a settlement at the lower end of Russian River Valley, christened Santa Ana y Farias.  Internal and external political strife, lack of equipment, and the gentility of the inexperienced settlers, who were terrified of the large Indian population, brought an end to this colony in 1835.[4]

            Thwarted in these first attempts, General Vallejo remained determined.  "It was my eager desire to colonize all the valleys and hills whose bases were bounded by the Russian River," he declared in his memoirs.[5]

            From 1835 on General Vallejo had almost exclusive control of the granting of lands in the north Bay Area.  He was the junction box of a complex and very interdependent network of Californio families.  Garnering political influence, prestige, and land often depended upon establishing a relationship to him.  It was also a policy of the Mexican government to grant lands to soldiers and officers of the Mexican presidios.[6]



Son of a Soldier


           Jose German Pina, although only a boy, qualified for land through his father on both counts.  He was the second son of Lazaro Pina, a soldier who had come to California in 1819.  Lazaro played a small but significant role in California history.  In 1829, the year German was born at the Mission San Francisco de Asis (now Mission Dolores), Lazaro rode south as an artillery officer with Joaquin Solis.  Solis, an ex-convict turned California ranchero, led a revolt against the regime of Governor Echeandia.

            Later Lazaro and his wife, Maria Placida Villela, daughter of a Mexican soldier and an Indian neophyte, moved frequently with their growing family between the northern California presidios.  By 1837 Lazaro had gained the rank of corporal and the next year he came under the command of General Mariano Vallejo in Sonoma.  Growing close to Vallejo, Pina came to serve as the General's right hand man and was sometimes put in charge of the fort while Vallejo was absent.[7]

            Corporal Pina had some very unusual assignments from the General.  In 1838 he was dispatched to kill an Indian neophyte at Mission San Rafael who had been accused of the rape and murder of a young Mexican boy and girl.  Two years later he served as Vallejo's mouthpiece in a ticklish political situation with the Russians.  An American ship, the Lausanne, had landed at the Russian port of Bodega hoping to avoid Mexican anchorage duties.  When Pina delivered Vallejo's message to the Russian manager, Rotcheff, the latter was so insulted that he raised the Russian flag in defiance.  Like so many other verbal skirmishes between the Russians and Mexicans, nothing serious came of the affair.[8]

            By 1840 Alfarez (second lieutenant) Pina was the father of six sons and one daughter.  In that year Vallejo granted him 2,800 acres near Sonoma named "Agua Caliente".  There is some question, however, whether Pina was once again acting as an agent for General Vallejo, helping the General to exceed the governmental limits placed on his own land grants.  Many years later, in 1854, Vallejo claimed that Pina had sold him the land before it had even been officially confirmed as a grant.  Yet Pina family records indicate that no money ever changed hands for the grant.[9]

            It was in that same year, 1840, that Lazaro's second son, German, began scouting expeditions to the Russian River in search of a family rancho.  If historical records are correct, he was eleven years old.[10]  According to the later court testimony of Cyrus Alexander, then manager of Captain H.D. Fitch's Sotoyome Rancho, German first tried to settle on some portion of Fitch's 48,800 acres.  Alexander informed the adolescent that the land had a prior claim, and so Pina moved north, but only far enough to clear the northern border of the Sotoyome rancho.  He settled in the present Dry Creek Valley. German's older brother, Jose de Jesus, joined him "in the valley known as Tzabaca" in 1841, as did, presumably, the rest of the family.  Soon after the brothers built or occupied an adobe dwelling.[11]  

  Tzabaco Rancho Residence of D. D. Phillips

The Victorian era main house was built in front of the original adobe, which is seen above as the wing extending to the back. (See photo below.)  This hillside view looks South.  Dry Creek meanders just  beyond the orchards, and present day Dry Creek road is in the foreground. Canyon Road to Geyserville is a short distance West  (to the right of the image).  (See map above).

 - image from Thos. H. Thompson Co. 1877  Historical Atlas Map of Sonoma County

The Mystery of the Pina Adobe

            Although most of it was covered with clapboard in the 1850's, when it was purchased by the D.D. Phillips family, the Pina house is the only adobe structure from the settlement era still standing in northern Sonoma County.  Two published histories of Sonoma County have indicated (without documentation) that the Pina adobe was originally built as a fortification against the Indians, with sallyports for guns instead of windows.  Nearby was another adobe outbuilding used as a storehouse and surrounding both of these a defensive adobe wall. [12]  My friend, the late Major Phillips, always told me that his family’s oral history maintained that the adobe was built by the Mexican military in 1834.  According to Major, there were originally two smaller adobe outbuildings, one for food storage and one for ammunition.[13] 

  Original Pina Adobe - this is one of the original structures built or occupied in 1840 or 1841 by Jose German Pina on the Tzabaco Rancho. The building, purchased by D.D. Phillips in 1856, is still in use as part of the ranch residence of S.E. Phillips.  They built a larger addition in front and covered adobe with clapboard. Photographed by Roby Alta Ferguson abut 1924.

--  Healdsburg Museum

            Such tantalizing clues lead me to speculate that the Pina adobe is actually the site of Vallejo's short-lived presidio on the Russian River in 1833.  Or it might be the site of the ill-fated Mexican colony known as Santa Ana y Farias, built somewhere along the lower end of Russian River Valley in 1834.

            That is also the year of the almost legendary "Indian campaigns" of Governor Juan Figuero and General Vallejo against the "Satiyome" Indians of northern Sonoma County, led by Chief Succara.  The famous California historian, Hubert Howe Bancroft, doubts the truth of the accounts of Vallejo and others about these "wars" that allegedly caused the death of seven Mexican soldiers and hundreds of Satiyomes.[14]   I am not so certain.

            It would have been natural for the young Pina boy to make use of an existing structure in 1840.  And it has been established that there was a cannon on the property in the early 1900's.  Several 2-pound cannon balls have been dug up in the vicinity of the adobe and are now in the Healdsburg Museum collections.



For the Happiness of My Family


           On September 14, 1843, two or three years after he first settled on the land, Jose German Pina presented a formal written petition for a land grant along with a diseno map to Governor Micheltorena in Monterey.  German Pina, who could neither read nor write, probably used the services of a paid scribe.  His petition states:


             "that finding myself with my Father, advanced in years, and engaged in the military service as an artilleryman [his father Lazaro was then 46 years old], has himself some stock and needing a place for the security of same, I pray Your Excellency, to be pleased to grant me a tract of land of four square leagues (about 17,000 acres) bounded by the land of Don Enrique Fitch; for which purpose I present the accompanying map of the lands petitioned for, known by the name of Tzabaco; Your Excellency, contributing in this manner to the happiness of my large family, which is now without any security for its interests and for its support and welbeing [sic]."


  Tzabaco Rancho -- This  out of scale drawing is the Diseno map that accompanied German Pina's 1843 petition for a grant of approximately 17,000 acres. In an attempt to provide some scale to this crude drawing, a legend box at the top of the drawing is marked in leagues. The river through the center, called "Ria", is Dry Creek. The river at the bottom, is the Russian River. The future town of Healdsburg would be off the map to the left (south). The area in the center marked "ojo de agua" is at the site of present day Geyserville. The Pina adobe can be seen at center left of the drawing. -- copy of image from Healdsburg Museum

            It is possible that German Pina waited for at least two years before filing this petition so that he would reach the age of 14, which was the age of reason under ecclesiastic law.  With a father who served as the right hand man of General Vallejo, it is not surprising that the grant was speedily approved only one month later, on October 14,1843.[15]

            Like most of the soldiers and rancheros in California in that era, the Pina family could neither read nor write.  In later years no California historian or family member recorded the story of the Pina family on the Tzabaco.  Only fragments of that story can be pieced together from widely scattered sources.


Smallpox Clears the Way


           When they first settled in the Valley of Tzabaco the Pina brothers, aged about twelve and fourteen, found at least remnants of several well-established "rancherias", or Indian villages.  The largest of these was situated at the confluence of the present Pina and Dry Creeks.  Only three years previously, in 1838, a devastating small pox epidemic had raged through the native American population of the North Bay area.  General Vallejo later estimated that as many as 70,000 Indians died in this tragic incident, and we can only guess at the scale of mortality among the populous Russian River tribelets.  Julio Carrillo, a member of a prominent Mexican family on the Santa Rosa plain, later stated that death came on such a scale to the Indians that the survivors were unable to bury their dead.  This epidemic actually cleared the way for the settlement that took place in the next two decades.[16]

            Despite this epidemic there is good evidence that the Dry Creek area was still a center for the Mihilakawna, a Southern Pomo speaking tribelet, and may still have had a population of as many as 500 by 1840.[17]  The Pina family apparently displaced one of the main village sites in the Dry Creek Valley.[18]  Although all of the early ranchos used the Indians as a form of very cheap labor, those Indians working on the ranchos were also less likely to be kidnapped by the Mexican military or forced onto distant reservations.


            By 1843 the Tzabaco rancho, as shown on the "diseno" or map that accompanied Pina's formal petition for land, consisted of the adobe dwelling in the present Dry Creek Valley and an adobe corral.  With the help of Indian laborers the family had planted orchards and "siembra" or grain fields in the vicinity.  The Pinas also established "milpas" or cornfields on the west side of the Russian River near the present town of Geyserville.  According to later testimony given to the Land Commission in the 1850's, the Pina family built another adobe structure at the Geyserville site in about 1843, and had vineyards, orchards, and a horse corral on the west and east sides of Russian River.  The Indian workers and hired vaqueros lived in dwellings and tents nearby.[19]


Revere Visits the Tzabaco


            The Tzabaco Rancho, like the Sotoyome Rancho that bordered it on the south, was primarily a cattle ranch, run with stock belonging both to German and his father Lazaro.  Naval officer Joseph Revere's account of an 1846 journey through northern California paints a vivid picture of the probable lifestyle of the Pinas of Tzabaco Creek.


            Revere, the grandson of famed Paul Revere, was astounded at the vast California ranchos, and found romance in the weekly "rodeos" when wild cattle would be gathered and counted.  Neighboring rancheros would attend to pick out their own "fierro" (brand) and "senal" (ear mark), and herd their wandering cattle home.


            Every rancho had a kitchen garden, usually fenced with brush or protected from livestock by a group of Indian huts.  Although to his eyes the sun-baked clay brick houses of the rancho looked "primitive and patriarchal", he was plainly awestruck by the skilled horsemanship of the Indian and Mexican vaqueros.  While attending the annual "matanzas" (roundup and slaughter) on the Sotoyome Rancho, Revere noted the following:


            "Thus amidst clouds of dust, through which might be caught indistinct glimpses of agitated horns, fierce-rolling eyeballs and elevated tails - an occasional wild-looking, naked Indian vaquero, with his hair and top-knot streaming out, or a Californian vaquero, known by his fluttering serape - the bellowing, rushing herd approached the corral".[20]

            Revere actually visited the Tzabaco Rancho in 1846.  Coming down the mountains from Clear Lake he first stopped at the rancho of Don Fernando Feliz near the present Hopland.  An Indian chief named by the Mexicans "Pinole Colorado" for his red skin paint, also joined Revere's party.  As they passed a "beautiful and celebrated" spot by the riverbank, an abandoned Indian village, Colorado informed Revere that all the inhabitants had been killed or carried off into captivity by the Spaniards.

            "Arriving at the rancho of Pina, and that being the centre of an Indian population, I deemed it necessary to hold another talk.  A stormy scene ensued.  It appeared that old Colorado had accompanied me thus far to make use of my authority to reinstate his tribe in their rancheria and territory lying in the very centre of Chino Pina's rancho.  But as the latter had a grant of the land from the Mexican government, and as I had no jurisdiction in the matter...I of course declined complying with the demands of the chief.  At this, Colorado laid all the blame of my refusal to young Chino, and insulted him before my face; whereupon, to avoid bloodshed and establish discipline, I had him taken into custody by one of my men...He did escape, however, by diving under his horse and making off in the bushes."[21]         

            Despite the incident recorded by Revere, relations between the Pina family and the local Indians appear to have been good.  Later one of Pina's brothers, Francisco (also known as Pancho), took a Makahmo Pomo woman, Juana Cook, as a common law wife.  Contemporary Dry Creek Pomo recall that one of the Pina brothers helped some Pomo escape the roundup of local Indians to be taken to the Round Valley Reservation in the 1850's.[22]


Traded Horses to Pull His Hearse


            By 1846 "Chino" Pina (apparently a nickname for German Pina, meaning "curly-haired") was 17 years old.  He and his brothers, 20 year old Jesus, 15 year old Francisco, 12 year old Luis, and other relatives, were running the rancho.  They and their  sister, Clara, now ten years old, had lost their mother in 1844.  Their father Lazaro had remarried a young girl, Maria Ignacia Pacheco.[23]


            Alfarez Lazaro Pina, the patriarch, who served as an artilleryman in the Mexican Army as well as Vallejo’s right-hand man, was still very much a soldier.  He left California soon after the United States went to War with Mexico.  Fighting with Santiana, he was killed at the battle of Cerro Gordo in Mexico in 1847.[24]

            In the same year that his father died fighting to hold California for Mexico, Jose German Pina lay dying at the Mission San Francisco de Solano in Sonoma.  Nothing is known about the cause of his death but a very remarkable document, his last will and testament, was recorded and has survived to tell us something about his last earthly concerns.  It was written out by the parish padre, Presbitero Prudencia Santillon, and was dated June 17, 1847.


Fully one half of the lengthy text of the will is devoted to a statement of the religious beliefs of the eighteen year old, calling on "the whole of the Saints, male and female" to aid his soul on its journey to heaven.  The fear is almost palpable.  The remainder of the text is a detailed accounting of what he owed and to whom, and all who owed him.        The list of debtors and debtees includes many of the prominent rancheros in the area including General Mariano Vallejo, Mark West, Juan B. Cooper, and Moses Carson.  German named his older brother, Jesus, executor.


            While colts and cattle are meticulously enumerated, only passing mention is made of the 17,000 acres of the Rancho Tzabaco, which was divided equally between his four surviving brothers and one sister.  In that era land was cheap.  A few years later the rancho was appraised at $1.18 an acre, while one cow was worth $25.


            At the very end this young Mexican man thoughtfully provided for the cost of his burial by making a trade for the horses that would be used to pull his hearse.[25]  The real estate that the teenage ranchero so casually left to his brothers and sister  in 1847 would be worth today something in excess of 30 million dollars.



Debt and Disdain


            As tragic as these deaths were for the Pina family, they were only the beginning of their troubles on the Tzabaco.  From the moment that California became a U.S. possession the Pinas, and all Californios, would be at a crushing disadvantage.  Over the course of the next decade they would be herded through the arcane process of Land Commission hearings followed by the inevitable and seemingly interminable court appeals to authenticate ownership of their land.  They would be forced to defend their vast acreage against sometimes angry, jealous, and desperate American squatters, or perhaps worse, greedy and unscrupulous lawyers and land speculators.

            Even the landowning Californios who had the luxury of a formal education would suffer under the alien legal system and prejudices;  much more so the illiterate and naive young men who inherited the Tzabaco Rancho.  Only a handful of these families managed to retain any portion of their land.  Most had to borrow money at usurious interest rates to pay the new American land taxes and attorney fees.  They often ended by forfeiting the land they borrowed for.

            From 1850 onward the Pina family fell into increasing debt.  Both the late Lazaro's estate and Jesus's portion of German's estate were sold at public auction in 1850.[26]  The four surviving Pina brothers ranged now in age from 24 to 16 years.  Their only sister, Clara, was just fourteen.

            Led by Elisha Ely in 1851, American squatters began to settle on the easternmost  portion of the grant, fertile bottomland near the present town of Geyserville.  Although the prices for cattle and farm produce during this era shot up because of the flood of hungry miners, the Pinas may not have fared so well as some other ranchers, like their neighbor, Cyrus Alexander.  Their inability to speak English may have meant that their business dealings with the Americans were less shrewd then Alexander's.  Alexander was generally happy to have his countrymen as neighbors.  Having lost a brother and father during the war, the Pina's feeling towards the newcomers could not have been as warm.  Alexander could quickly repudiate his long-time cooperation with the Mexican government.  The Pinas could not.  They were young, inexperienced, probably embittered Californios, now increasingly isolated by a growing circle of hostile strangers.[27]


A “Spanish Horseman” Is Murdered

            The squatters seemed to ignore the Pina family as best they could, and there is no evidence that the Pinas ever attempted to remove them from the Tzabaco.  One of the early squatters, Susan Laymance, later recounted to a reporter that soon after her family came to Dry Creek Valley a smallpox epidemic broke out.  The disease killed one of her children on February 8, 1853, and afflicted three others:

            "A few days later three Spanish horsemen stopped at the door.  Mrs. Laymance thought their errand was not a friendly one as they had not extended a very cordial welcome to the new white settlers - so she asked Francis to sit up in bed so they might see his eyes were swollen shut with smallpox.  They decamped 'instantly'."[28]

            Whether they credited the validity of the Mexican grants or not, it seems odd that the Laymances would fail to identify the purported landowners, or remember their names, for the "Spanish horsemen" were undoubtedly three of the Pina brothers.  Such was the disdain with which the American settlers held these native Californians.  These same settlers appeared unconcerned when one of the Pina family was murdered.

            In April, 1853, two northern California newspapers reported on the shooting death of Antonio Pina, then 22 years old.  Second oldest of the surviving Pina brothers, Antonio died of his wounds on April 16.  His assailant was described as an American squatter on the Tzabaco, apparently angered by the trampling of his fences and crops by Pina cattle.  No local account of the murder has been uncovered in any form; in fact no memoir or biography of the early American settlers even mentions the Pinas by name at all.  Thus the Daily Alta California's report that "there was quite an excitement caused by the event", is the most detailed information available.[29]


Squatters and Speculators


            At least two of the Pina heirs needed no further persuasion to convince them that they could not hold their land intact.  Several months after the murder of their brother two of the Pina brothers signed over their entire interest in the Tzabaco Rancho to John B. Frisbie, an American lawyer and real estate speculator who was also acting as their attorney.  The stated compensation was $20,000.  That deed and all it entailed would not go into effect for five years.  Its enactment would herald the opening of large-scale American squatter uprisings in 1858.[30]

            Before he died of his wounds Antonio Pina lingered on long enough to dictate a will, naming General Mariano Vallejo, his father's old commandant and friend, as executor.  The General took over executorship of all three Pina estates two months later.  How little else the Pinas owned aside from land and livestock is illustrated by the listing of Antonio's worldly possessions at the time of his death in 1853:  one trunk, one hat, one rifle, one saddle, one reata (lasso), one bit, and one serape.[31]

            As the Land Commission's review of the Tzabaco grant proceeded between 1852 and 1855 a heated controversy developed regarding the grant's true eastern boundary.  At stake were the rich agricultural lands at the north end of Alexander Valley bordering the Russian River.  The squatters who settled there must have agreed with Cyrus Alexander's first assessment of that valley, "the brightest and best spot in the world", for they refused to concede that these flat expanses of rich alluvial soil, a grain farmer's dream, were part of the Pina rancho.[32]

            And they were not the only ones with designs on the Geyserville lands.  One high-ranking official in the U.S. Surveyor General's Office, John Clar, was so certain that he would take over ownership of large portions of the upper Alexander Valley, that he designated the spot now known as Geyserville as "Clarville" on an 1857 map.[33]


Greed and Political Influence


            The controversy over the Tzabaco Grant boundaries, and the simultaneous squandering and loss of the German Pina estate is an extremely complicated tale, full of intrigue and uncertainty.  That story is detailed in A Promised Land:  the Healdsburg Land Wars, a thesis  I wrote in 1989.  The two figures who emerge most prominently from this disheartening tale of greed and political influence are John B. Frisbie, the American speculator/attorney mentioned previously, and General Mariano Vallejo.  I do not believe it coincidental that the former was the son-in-law of the latter.

            John B. Frisbie eventually gained ownership of a majority of the Tzabaco land, sometimes through complicated transfers.  General Mariano Vallejo was the only person among the several prominent Sonoma County citizens, American or  Mexican, to testify against the Pina family during the Land Commission hearings on the Tzabaco grant boundaries in 1854.  He testified that the contested Geyserville area was not part of the Tzabaco Grant, directly contradicting the sworn statements of prominent Americans Cyrus Alexander, Jasper O'Farrel, Jacob Leese, and John Knight.  Astoundingly, he gave this testimony while simultaneously serving as executor of the Pina estates.  When General Vallejo resigned as executor in 1855, the combined estate of the Pina family was declared completely insolvent.  Pina family heirs charged Vallejo with mismanagement.[34]


Honorable Americans


            Contrasted with the hundreds of squatters who settled in the Geyserville area and Dry Creek Valley in the 1850's, are Samuel O. Heaton and Duvall Drake Phillips.  They were some of the only Americans to honor the Tzabaco grant and the rights of the Pina family by legally purchasing land from them.  To their credit these men, who later became prominent ranchers, bought 137 acres, including the original Pina adobe, in partnership in 1856.  And, unlike the transfer to John Frisbie, this purchase was made not just on paper, but in hard cash.[35]

            For many years afterwards the surviving Pina family members made court appeals to regain their land and overturn the estate ruling.  Clara Pina Fitch, German's sister, appealed the estate decree and 1862 and 1891.  Luis Pina, youngest and last surviving Pina brother, made a final appeal in 1895.

            This last appeal, coming as it did almost forty years after the fact, suddenly threw doubt on the ownership of one-fifth of the entire 17,000 acres of the original grant.  By 1895 this involved the property of approximately 250 Dry Creek ranchers.  The sudden uproar subsided when the courts denied this appeal as they had the previous two.[36]


Livelihood, Estate and Security


            Not much is known about the fate of the surviving Pinas of the Tzabaco Rancho, the relatives, possibly even descendants, of the original fourteen-year-old grantee named Jose German Pina.  By 1860 only Francisco Pina lived in the Dry Creek Valley, but he owned no land.  Antonio Pina's daughter, Maria Antonia Pina,  filed a claim to her murdered father's estate in 1862.  The courts denied the claim because she was illegitimate.  Luis Pina, youngest of the brothers married Beatrice Cecilia Feliz, whose father owned the large Senal Rancho near Hopland.  Their daughter, Josephine Grace Pina, married Peter Isham McCain, whose descendants now live in Visalia.

            The Pinas never wrote their own story.  No one ever wrote it down for them.  By the time the major California and Sonoma County histories were being written in the 1870's almost everyone in the area had forgotten, or neglected to mention, the Pinas of the Tzabaco Rancho.  The works of Hubert Howe Bancroft in the 1880's, a major source for almost all later California historians, supplied the final indignity by misspelling the teenage ranchero's name.  Thus even his identity was lost to history until 1985.

            The "four square leagues of land" granted in 1843, 17,000 acres that were meant to be the livelihood, estate, and "security" of the Pina family of California for generations to come, in reality lasted less than fifteen years.

Dry Creek Valley today - the heart of Rancho Tzabaco.  Looking North, the Dry Creek Store at the intersection of Lambert Bridge Road, is visible center right.  

-- Kent Porto photo / Santa Rosa Press Democrat



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[1]For complete bibliography concerning the identity and age of Jose German Pina (misspelled Pena in many historical accounts) see:  "Teenage Rancheros of the Tzabaco, the Pinas of Dry Creek", Russian River Recorder, no. 30, Summer, 1985 (Healdsburg Historical Society).  Birth date recorded in Bancroft, History of California, vol. IV, pioneer index, p. 780 (Pena, German).

[2]Bancroft, History of California, vol. IV, Pioneer Register and Index, p. 772.  Hoffman, Report of the Land Cases, vol 1, appendix, p. 41.

[3]The Russian farm sites were in the Willow Creek area near the bridge that spans Highway 1, in the upper Salmon Creek Valley, and between the present towns of Occidental and Graton.  Ferguson, Historical Development of the Russian River Valley, 14, 15, 37, footnote:  53-54.  Watrous and Tomlin, Outpost of an Empire, 9, 17.

[4]Streets and lots were even surveyed and staked out for this settlement.  Ferguson, Historical Development of the Russian River Valley, 28, 29, 39, 40, 44, 46.

[5]Ferguson, Historical Development of the Russian River Valley, 42, quoting from Vallejo's Historia. Lothrop translation, 163-165.

[6]Ferguson, Historical Development of the Russian River Valley, 45-47, 61.  Clayborn, A Promised Land, 17-19.

[7]Bancroft, History of California, vol. III, 76, 780.

[8]Ibid., vol. III, 193; vol. IV 172

[9]Hoffman, Report of the Land Cases, vol. 1 appendix, 100.  Espediente #229 (Pina, Lazaro grantee), 1840.  Pina family records and genealogy, McCain, Emily B., Visalia, CA, 1985. (at the Healdsburg Museum).

[10]Pina family records, (see above).  Bancroft, History of California, vol. IV, pioneer register and index, 780.

[11]Land Claims Commission Hearings; Tzabaco Rancho, 1854 testimony of Cyrus Alexander, Jesus Pina (Bancroft Library)

[12]Tuomey, History of Sonoma County,, 424.  Finley, History of Sonoma County, 92.

[13]Phillips, Major S. "Dry Creek Memories" in Russian River Recorder, issue 30, summer 1985

[14]Bancroft, History of California, vol. III 256, 360, 721.

[15]Espediente #312, Pena, German, (California State Archives, Sacramento).

[16]Ferguson, Historical Development of the Russian River Valley, 50, 51.  Julio Carrillo, Narrativa, MS (Bancroft Library).

[17]Fredrickson, Vera-Mae, Mihilakawna and Makahmo Pomo, People of Lake Sonoma, 2, 11, 54.

[18]Revere, Naval Duty in California,

[19]Espediente #312 (Pena, German), diseno, 1843.  Land Claims Commission Hearings; Tzabaco Rancho, 1858, testimony of Cyrus Alexander, Jesus Pina.

[20]Revere, Naval Duty in California, 116, 117.

[21]Ibid., 116.

[22]Fredrickson, Vera-Mae, Mihilakawna and Makahmo Pomo,  54.

[23]Probate Files, Sonoma County Clerk's Office; File #16 (Lazaro Pina).  Pina family records.  Bancroft, History of California, vol. IV., 780.  U.S. Census, 1850, Mendocino County.

[24]Pina family records.  Bancroft, History of California, vol. IV. 780.

[25]Probate ate Files, Sonoma County Clerk's Office, #70, German Pina, last will and testament.

[26]Sonoma County Land Deeds:  Jesus Pina to Jose M. Castro, Book E Deeds, 1 and 3, 12 Jan. 1850; Lazaro Pina to Christian Brunner, Book F, 29, Nov. 1850; Lazaro Pina to Martin E. Cooke, Book F, 77, Dec. 1850.  A review of such forced sheriff sales in Sonoma County in this era indicates that the party charging the debt was often the same party who purchased the majority of the property sold at auction.

[27]Clayborn, A Promised Land, 34-39.

[28]Obituary Susan Laymance, Healdsburg Tribune, 10 Aug. 1910.  Death date of infant William Laymance:  Munro-Fraser, History of Sonoma County, 509.

[29]"Violent Death", Daily Alta California, 20 April 1853, 2:1.  San Francisco Daily Evening Journal, 19 April 1853, cited in:  Paul Gates, "California's Embattled Settlers", 109.  No record of an indictment for the murder has yet been located in County court records.  All but one of the five existing substantial Sonoma County histories misspell Jose German Pina's name, and none include any biographical information.

[30]Sonoma County Land Deeds:  Jesus Pina et al, grantees, to John B. Frisbie, Book M Deeds, 354 (Santa Rosa:  County Recorder's Office).  For more information see:  Clayborn, A Promised Land, 41-132.

[31]Sonoma County Probate File no. 71 (Antonio Pina), Inventory of the Estate of Antonio Pina, by M.G. Vallejo, 27 May 1853.

[32]Alexander, Life and Times, 59.

[33]Clar, Quarterdecks and Spanish Grants, 75, 104-107, 116-117, 123-124.  Clayborn, A Promised Land, 61-66.

[34]Clayborn, A Promised Land, 65-71.

[35]Sonoma County Land Deeds, Jesus Pina et al to D.D. Phillips and S.O. Heaton, 1856, Book B Deeds, 555.

[36]Sonoma County Probate File no. 71 (Antonio Pina).  Healdsburg Tribune,  28 March 1895, 2:2; and 16 May 1895, 4:2.  Clayborn, A Promised Land, 70-72.

  2003 Hannah Clayborn