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The Dons

#5 - Rancho de las Pulgas
(Lahs POOL-gahs)

Map of the Don's Ranchoshe “Ranch of the Fleas,” despite the meaning of its Spanish name, was to become one of the best known and most important, as it today includes the incorporated cities of Menlo Park, Atherton, Redwood City, San Carlos, Belmont and that part of the city of San Mateo which lies south of San Mateo Creek.

This Rancho received the name “Las Pulgas” from an incident which happened October 27, 1769 when the Portola Expedition camped near the ocean shore and the mouth of Purisima Creek. Camp was made on the south bank but some soldiers thought they would try sleeping in the deserted village of Indian tule huts on the north bank. Even one night’s occupancy was too long, and they fled, crying, “las pulgas,” the fleas. “Las Pulgas” was the name applied to the village, for its identification, in the notes of Con-stanso, the Army Engineer with the Expedition.

In time it became attached to the tract called Las Pulgas, though its claim-ants when in their most expansive mood never hoped for more than 69,120 acres or about twice the area finally confirmed by the United States Com-missioners. But there may have been a reason which does not clearly appear on the record, for transferring this name across the Peninsula.

During the same year 1795, when the Spanish Governor of California, Don Diego Borica, made the provisional grant of the Las Pulgas tract to Don Jose Dario Arguello (Ahr-GWAYL-yoh) by the name “Cachinetac” or “Los Cocheni-tos” (The Little Pigs) be also made a like grant of “El Pilar” to Don Jose. “El Pilar” extended along the ocean from Point Ano Nuevo to Point San Pedro and did include the site of the Indian village “Las Pulgas" near the mouth of Purisima Creek. Further confirmation for El Pilar tract seems never to have been requested by the grantee who was the father of Don Luis, whose heirs pressed their claims for the Rancho de las Pulgas.

Rancho de las Pulgas was granted to the widow and heirs of Don Luis Antonio Arguello by Governor Jose Castro, Nov. 26, 1835 and further ap-proval was given under the laws of Mexico when the grant was confirmed by the Departmental Assembly on Dec. 10, 1835. Don Luis, who had been the first native born Governor of California, 1823-1825, had died in 1830 and had been interred at the Mission Dolores.

When the heirs of Don Luis and other claimants who had acquired an interest from them, appeared before the Board of Commissioners of the United States in 1852 their claims “were founded upon a grant from the Spanish Government to Don Jose Arguello afterward recognized, confirmed and renewed by the Mexican government to Don Luis Arguello and known as Las Pulgas.” Mention has already been made of the Spanish grant to Don Luis, and who like the son had been Governor of California in 1814-1815 while it was yet Spanish territory. Some support for the claim of a grant earlier than the basic one of 1835, is found in a comment by Bancroft. Speaking of the decade of 1821-1830 he says: “There were now several ranchos occupied by private individuals in the San Francisco District. On the Peninsula was that of Las Pulgas, or San Luis which had been granted to Don Arguello before 1824.” As finally confirmed by the United States the area of the grant was re-duced to about 35,240 acres and described as follows: "Bounded on the south by the Arroyo or Creek of San Francisquito; on the north by the Creek San Mateo; on the east by the Esteros or waters of the Bay of San Francisco; and on the west by the eastern borders of the valley known as the “Canada de Raimundo,” said land being of the extent of four leagues in length, and one in breadth, be the same more or less.” That was large enough to pasture the 4,000 cattle and 2,000 horses thereon in 1838.

In a rare book “Life in California” by Don Alfredo Robinson, published in 1846, we find this description of Rancho de las Pulgas in an account of his trip down the Peninsula in 1830. “A few leagues brought us to the sheep farm of St. Mateo situated in the midst of a small wood. The building occupied by the mayordomo and the servants, is spacious and covered with burnt tiles.

Here we alighted, and after a short rest resumed our journey. ‘El Rancho de las Pulgas’ was the next place of any importance in our route, and is situated a little retired from the road, at the foot of a small rising ground. It is the property of Dona Soledad Ortega, widow of Don Luis Ar-guello, formerly Governor of California. I found her a beautiful woman, and the mother of three or four fine children. She was very lady-like in her manner, and treated us with the utmost courtesy. After dinner we bade her adieu, and again proceeded on our way, which was uninterrupted till far distant in the center of a spacious plain we beheld Santa Clara (the Mission) and its nu-merous buildings.”

The Arguello family, originally of pure Spanish blood, had long been prominent in California, The founder of the family here was Jose Dario Ar-guello who came in 1781 as alferez in the military service. He was advanced to lieutenant, then captain and then was Comandante of the Presidios at San Francisco, Monterey, and Santa Barbara. He was acting Governor under the Spanish regime in 1814-1815 and then sent to be Governor of Lower California from 1815 to 1822. He died at Guadalajara in 1828. While in California he was one of its most prominent, influential and respected citizens. In Lower California he resigned as Governor because he was loyal to the Spanish Crown.

Two of his sons, Gervasio and Santiago, became prominent in Southern California, and the story of his beautiful daughter Concepcion Arguello has become the classic love story of California, through the writings of Bret Harte, Richard White and Gertrude Atherton. Whether she was the “beautiful pawn in the game of state-craft” or was loved by her betrothed as she loved him, the pathetic tale of her faithfulness to Baron Rezanov and the lost love of her young womanhood, has been told so often that it need not be repeated here,

Our immediate concern must be with another brother, Don Luis Antonio Arguello, a young alferez, who was in charge in the absence of his father, Comandante Jose Dario Arguello, when Baron Rezanov sailed into San Fran-cisco Bay on April 5, 1806, in search of food supplies badly needed by the Russians at Sitka. It was Don Luis whose widow and children, and other claimants, secured Rancho de las Pulgas. He succeeded his father as Coman-dante at the San Francisco Presidio in 1806 and was promoted to Captain in 1818 in which year he conducted an exploring expedition as far as Red Bluff in the Sacramento Valley and back through the coast mountains by way of San Rafael. During this same year he rushed by forced marches with all avail-able men to Governor Sola’s aid at Salinas when Monterey was captured by ships of the Republic of Buenos Aires (now Argentina).

For his readiness and effectiveness in the military service, it was claimed that he was rewarded in 1820 or 1821 by a renewed grant to the Rancho de las Pulgas by Don Pablo Vicente de Sola the last Spanish Governor of California, soon to be succeeded by Don Luis the grantee, as the first native Governor under the Mexican regime. It was in 1824 during his administration that Chief Pomponio was executed for murder. Bancroft expresses his opinion of him. “Don Luis, as a military officer and Governor, left an excellent record in re-spect of honesty, ability, and popularity. Unlike his father, he had enemies, and was involved in controversies; but these were due largely to his position and the times. He often disregarded the letter of the Spanish and Mexican laws, but it was always for what he believed the welfare of his country, and never for his own interests.” The Peninsula home of Governor Luis Antonio Arguello, where his widow and children were living in 1830, the year of his death, has been marked at the corner of Cedar and Magnolia streets in the town of San Carlos.

The Rancho de las Pulgas has on it two other historic sites, at which the State of California has erected markers, (1) Anza Camp No. 96—made on his return after selecting locations for the Mission and Presidio at San Fran-cisco on March 29, 1776—is to be found on the south bank of San Mateo Creek in the vicinity of Third Avenue, San Mateo. This is at the extreme north end of the Rancho. (2) Portola Camp, near the Palo Alto Tree but on the north bank of San Francisquito Creek and between the State Highway and the Southern Pacific railroad. This was the farthest camp made by the Portola Expedition in 1769, which discovered San Francisco Bay. They stopped here at the extreme south end of Las Pulgas November 6-10, 1769, and then re-turned to San Diego.

The Rancho de las Pulgas, of more than 35,000 acres, once granted to Don Luis Antonio Arguello, is today, one hundred ten years later, divided and sub-divided into many thousands of parcels and owned and occupied by several thousand persons.

The Dons Part 6
(Rancho Butano)

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