Dirt (Part 3)

The policy imposed by the Missions was that the Indians should work, tend the fields and care for the animals. This was a concept that they didn’t like or understand. (Locally, the Indians never had permanent settlements in the valley and their gods Eagle, Hummingbird and Coyote lived in the mountains—Eagle on Mt. Diablo and Hummingbird on Mt. Umunhum.) The Missions also separated the unmarried Indian men and women at night, another concept they didn’t like.

In the dry summers of the early 1800s, Mission Santa Clara’s Franciscan fathers needed water for the fields, so they sent a detachment of Indians down to the confluence of Los Gatos and Guadalupe creeks—where the San Jose Arena stands today—to dig a canal, or water ditch. The “acequia,” was three “varas” wide by one and one-half deep, or nine feet by four and one-half feet. The ditch ran on the northeast side of what is today’s Alameda, making five distinct turns on its course to the Mission Santa Clara fields. It was a navigable body of water, deep enough for small boats to travel upon. In order to keep the Indians working, soldier guards were posted near them.

In the early days, there were artesian wells to irrigate the fields. All types of crops were introduced by the Mission fathers: apricots, peaches, mission figs, olives, wheat and vegetables. In 1821, Mexico declared its independence from Spain and the Missions were secularized—that is, the Mission lands were taken and given to the local ranchos. The original intent was to give the land to the Indians, but they didn’t want it. There was one exception in this area. Land was given to “Roberto,” who built an adobe on what is now Lincoln Avenue. But he kept the grant for only two years and then he sold it.

Gold was discovered in California in 1848 and the world stormed here. Among the early seekers were Frenchman Louis Pellier and Swiss immigrant Giochino Yocco. As partners, these two men sought their fortune in the northern mines near Redding, but they were unsuccessful. Gold mining was cold, hard work and only one in every five miners made expenses. Giving up, Pellier and Yocco traveled to San Francisco where they were surprised to find that apples were selling for a dollar apiece. Pellier had experience as a farmer in France, so they came to San Jose together, acquired property west of Market Street and south of St. John Street, and started City Gardens Nursery where they planted apricot, pear and peach cuttings.

Louis’s younger brother, Pierre, joined him, but soon became lonesome for his fiancée back in France. Louis sent him back to get married and return with prune, pear and grape cuttings. This was the start of the great fruit industry that thrived in the modest climate and rich soil. The dominant orchard tree was the French prune, or “Petite Prun d’Angen.” It could be harvested, dipped in a lye solution, and dried in the sun. Vineyards ringed the foothills to the east, south and west. The fruit industry boomed and canneries prospered. And the sun shone!

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *