A Coastside Cave Sheltered The Outlaw Pomponio: Part III

Indians2.jpg(Photo: Indians at mission in San Jose)*

Pomponio’s pursuers, Spanish or Mexican soldiers, must have believed that the fugitive Indian was dead, perhaps killed by grizzly bears or mountain lions that roamed the hills near Half Moon Bay. Visibly relieved, they pushed Pomponio out of their minds. He was forgotten and good riddance.

The soldiers had ceased looking for him when, one day they received a disturbing report of a raid on a Pacifica ranch. It sounded suspiciously like the work of the notorious Pomponio. Their worst fears were realized when eyewitnesses confirmed it was Pomponio and his gang, who had swooped down on the ranch and seized horses and supplies.

Once again the crafty Pomponio had slipped away.

Although Pomponio was ordinarily secretive–his success had made him careless. He started to confide in people whose loyalty he could not be certain of. A few traitorous Indians who had pretended to be sympathetic were actually employed as listening posts for the authorities.

When one of these deceitful fellows learned of Pomponio’s plans to raid a ranch near San Jose, he alerted the missionaries who set in motion a trap for the wanted outlaw. But in another twist, Pomponio, using his own spies, learned of the betrayal and altered his strategy by forgoing the raid.

*Photo: San Mateo County History Museum. Please visit the new galleries at the museum in the historic Redwood City Courthouse.

…To Be Continued…

A Coastside Cave Sheltered The Outlaw Pomponio: Part II

Indians.jpg(Photo: Indians at the mission in San Francisco)*

Other Indians, who had escaped, were attracted to Pomponio, joining his band of rebellious dissidents.

The ragtag “army’s” immediate problem was getting food and weapons.

Having lived at the missions, they knew where the supplies were located–and in short order became highly successful at plundering for their needs.

Insuring the success of his hit-and-run techniques, Pomponio enlisted the aid of sympathetic Indians at missions he intended to raid. From these sympathizers he could shape a strategy as to when and where to strike.

Pomponio and his gang were soon accused of every crime ranging from robbery to murder to rape–and the young rebel was feared at every mission in California.

But the authorities could not find the elusive Pomponio. Reports never seemed to pinpoint his whereabouts as he moved from hideout to hideout.

He was becoming a hero among his own people, safe from betrayal.

Then followed a long stretch of time when nothing was heard of Pomponio. The robberies had come to an end–and the trail was cold.

*Photo: San Mateo County History Museum. Please visit the museum located in the historic Redwood City Courthouse.

…To Be Continued…

A Coastside Cave Sheltered The Outlaw Pomponio: Part I

More than 170 years ago the renegade Indian leader Pomponio stayed one jump ahead of his pursuers by hiding out in a dark, rocky cave on the remote Coastside.

The wily Pomponio led his band of outlaws to the headwaters of what is now Pomponio creek, south of Half Moon Bay and San Gregorio–where they eluded capture by the soldiers who hunted them.

What had driven the notorious Pomponio to seek refuge on the isolated Coastside?

This was a twilight hour in California’s history–and there was a sense of uncertainty in the air. The Spanish Mission rule was coming to an end and the land was soon to be governed by Mexico.

The local Indians did not fare well under Spanish rule. Many were forcibly relocated to Mission Dolores in San Francisco, their numbers decimated by the endless cycle of death from influenza, measles and syphilis–diseases that were epidemic. The horrible deaths that slashed their numbers, combined with humiliation and loss of honor, provided all the ingredients for an Indian “revolt.”

Certainly Pomponio was angry and sought revenge. He had been raised in the Mission system. The files at the San Mateo County History Museum in Redwood City reveal the padres at Mission Dolores had changed his native name from Lupugeyun to Pomponio–apparently in honor of Pomponious, an obscure 6th century bishop.

With freedom on his mind, all Pomponio could think of was devising a plan to escape, including survival once outside the Mission. One day, as the legend goes, with the stars in perfect alignment, Pomponio successfully fled his “prison”.

The young firebrand was now a fugitive. To the demoralized and disease-ridden Indians in the missions. Pomponio was becoming a hero.

…To Be Continued…

A Confusing Paper Trail: Part IV Conclusion

AGordon.jpg(Photo: County Supervisor Alexander Gordon became one of the defendants in the San Gregorio Rancho case. This 1870s illustration was made on site, showing “Gordon’s Chute” at Tunitas Creek, the countryside and Gordon’s home]

The most notorious legal contest was yet to come as the “famous San Gregorio Rancho case” was brought before the San Francisco Superior Court in 1872. Who were the legal owners?

The “San Gregorio Rancho case” dragged on for a decade and affected prominent men–among them County Supervisor Alexander Gordon who built the fantastic, but ill-fated, “Gordon’s [shipping] chute” at Tunitas Chute.

Judge Hunt unraveled the convoluted events and found that Antonino Buelna left a will granting two minor heirs a fifth interest in the Rancho San Gregorio. These heirs sold their interest to Hugh Hamilton–who then resold it. Later, ignoring the sale to Hamilton, the heirs sold their interest again!

The whole thing was finally settled in favor of the defendants, including Alexander Gordon.

Attached to the original, yellowed document that relates the story I just told you–is label that reads: “1247 San Gregorio R. formerly Santa Cruz County now in San Mateo Co.” Perhaps this document was entered as evidence in the famous San Gregorio Rancho case.

Possibly it was simply a detailed records of land transactions of the Rancho San Gregorio. The document covers critical years in California and Coastside history. California became a state and the rancheros were driven out…..

Photo: San Mateo County History Museum. Please visit the museum’s new exhibits at the historic Redwood City Courthouse in Redwood City.

A Confusing Paper Trail: Part III


Francisco Casanueva, the Chilean businessman, divided the rancho into parcels sold to Americans including James Bell, Henry Wilkins nd Hugh Hamilton.

Hamilton is credited as an early American settler. He lived in a large frame house that once stood on the north bank of San Gregorio creek. An 1860 official survey map shows a fence belonging to him. It is also said tht when he arrived in San Gregorio he “saw tht the land was mixed-up,” perhaps implying that he knew title to property there was not clear.

James Bell– whose descendants went into the hotel business in San Gregorio–was a highly respected pioneer who had a post office called Bellvale named in his honor.

In the early 1860s Concepcion received her patent from the Land Commission in San Francisco–but it was too late as the land had changed into the hands of the Americans.

…To Be Continued….

A Confusing Paper Trail: Part II


In 1839, California Governor Alvarado granted four- square leagues of the Rancho San Gregorio to Antonino Buelna—who was busy “fighting Indians and foreigners in the San Joaquin.â€?

Life seemed uncomplicated and no one bothered with the details of an official land survey. The Rancho San Gregorio was simply described as being bordered “on the west by the Arroyo de los Lobitos, on the north by the Sierra Grande, on the east by the land owned or claimed by Fran Gonzales and on the south by the Pacific Ocean.â€?

Seven years later in 1846– after Mexico went to war with the United States—Antonino Buelna died, leaving a widow and a daughter…but according to the document, Buelna’s last will did not clearly specify how the estate was to be dispersed. That could have delayed legal transfer of the property but it did not stop hasty and questionable land transactions.

Buelna’s relatives sold pieces of the valuable property—their names appear on the document.

In the interim, Antonino’s widow, Concepcion, married Francisco Rodriquez. In 1851, Rodriquez failed to pay $118.12, the amount of state and county taxes due on the rancho. As a result of non-payment, the rancho went up for sale at a public auction. Strangely, the highest bidders—William Baker of Massachusetts and his attorney J. L. Majors—picked up the rancho for a scant $118.12, the exact amount of taxes due.

Baker and Majors turned around and sold the land to Chilean businessman Francisco Casanueva for $10,000.

The yellowing document revealed yet another transaction, this time between Buelna’s widow, Concepcion, and the Chilean businessman.

Confused? So am I.

Concepcion also applied for a patent on the rancho from the U.S. Land Commission Secretary in San Francisco.

Is it possible that the same land was sold twice? As to whatever actually happened and who paid whom, and for what reasons, the document paints a confusing picture.

…To be Continued…

A Confusing Paper Trail: Part I

SG.jpg (Photo: The gateway to early San Gregorio).

Is it possible that the same land was sold twice? As to whatever actually happened—and who paid whom—and for whatever reasons—an intriguing document painted a confusing picture.

The document revealed the handwriting of one person using pen and ink on legal-sized paper. The paper had yellowed and turned brittle with age and a chunk had been chewed out of the right margin. A heavy-duty string bound the fragile papers together.

The folder contained “evidenceâ€? of a confusing story that pointed to shady dealings over the ownership and sale of the original 17,800-acre Rancho San Gregorio, south of Half Moon Bay.

Covered were transactions occurring between 1853 and 1861—a tumultuous period in California’s history when land was fast changing hands from the rancheros to the American gringos.

…To Be Continued…

Photo: San Mateo County History Museum located in the historic Redwood City Courthouse.. Please visit the museum and research your favorite subject in the archives.

I’ve Always Loved This Photo

of Half Moon Bay building consultant Chad Hooker, wearing the shades (at left) and local beloved character, Jack King, who could recite the finest poetry at the drop of a hat. Word for word. Perfectly. If you look closely you’ll see my face behind the glass. This shot was taken at my house in the 1970s.