History Pages: 10 - The Territory

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For a table of contents, see History pages.

Although the Mexican-American War didn’t officially end until 1848, most hostilities ended in California on January 13, 1847 with the Treaty of Cahuenga, only seven months after the Bear Flag revolt. From that treaty until statehood in 1850(1), California was U.S. occupied territory, under martial law and a military governor, with local law continuing pretty much as it had under Mexican governance. The major change on the local level was that, during the war, most Mexican alcaldes and other officials were replaced by Americans. That resulted in many new auctions (especially under alcalde William Blackburn) of the remaining unclaimed former mission lands, divided into parcels of varying size.

One of the largest groups of war veterans who came to Santa Cruz comprised former members of a volunteer regiment from New York, commanded by Jonathan Stevenson. Stevenson's land acquisition scheme created land title confusion for over a decade, almost nixing the deal made by Almus Rountree to sell Point Santa Cruz to the U.S. government, which built the first local lighthouse there in 1869.

At least one of Stevenson's volunteers bought a parcel during the same time period, but kept it for himself. German immigrant John Dreher acquired about 9 acres just west of downtown, and kept it in the family for decades.

The somewhat unsettled conditions were not ideal for attracting settlers, but the steady stream of new arrivals to the Santa Cruz area continued. Some of the men (nearly all were men) continued the pattern of the earlier 1840’s, finding work cutting timber, or milling it at Isaac Graham’s sawmill, at Joseph Majors’ gristmill, or at Paul Sweet’s tannery. Others came to build new mills. Like Graham's, these mills were powered by running water turning a wheel, so they had to be located on a good-sized year-round stream. Fortunately, our county has quite a few of those.

The John Daubenbiss house in Soquel

Two of these early millwrights were John Daubenbiss (originally with just one "s"), a native of Bavaria, and John Hames of New York. In 1847, the two were contracted by Michael and Martina Castro Lodge to build a sawmill at Rancho Soquel, on Soquel Creek. These two stayed on to become leading citizens of Soquel village. Twenty years later, Daubenbiss built the home on the hill that remains one of Soquel’s prominent landmarks. Daubenbiss' brother Henry followed John to Santa Cruz, and Hames’ brother Benjamin later followed John, settling in the Pleasant Valley neighborhood of Corralitos. His name is remembered on today’s Hames Road.

The redwood forests of the San Lorenzo River watershed also saw new sawmills, as demand for construction lumber increased. Graham built a second mill in 1845, and newcomer Vardamon Bennett came south to San Jose from San Francisco in 1847, with his Mary and several sons, who built one farther upstream, near the mouth of what later became known as Love Creek (Bennett's widow Mary married lawman Harry Love. Bennett's daughter Catherine later had a brief and stormy marriage with Isaac Graham(2). Bennett Creek, however, which flows into the San Lorenzo at Felton, was named for Eben Bennett (apparently no relation), a New Yorker who arrived in 1866 to become a lime-manufacturer.

Anthony gravesite in Santa Cruz Memorial cemetery

Another upstate New Yorker came to Santa Cruz in 1847. Elihu Anthony was not a miller, but a blacksmith/ironworker who saw a local need for the manufacture and repair of metal mill machinery, agricultural tools and other iron/steel items. The only parcel of town land he found for sale, however, was mostly down in the flood-prone flats on the west bank of the San Lorenzo. Undeterred, he built a foundry/blacksmith business there, near where the Town Clock is today. That construction began the town center’s move down from Mission Hill. We’ll hear more about Elihu Anthony’s activities in coming years, as he became one of the most important early commercial/industrial builders of Santa Cruz.

The Santa Cruz area was growing, although still somewhat slowly. At the beginning of 1848, the leisurely pace of life on the Ranchos was only slightly disturbed by the noise of many axes, a few sawmills, and the grinding of a few grist mills. That quiet life was soon to change forever, as news arrived of a momentous discovery in the far-off Sierra Nevada foothills – gold!

Notes and references

  1. California actually began self-governance in November 1849, although statehood didn't arrive until Sept. 9, 1850 - Admission Day.
  2. Quite Contrary, The Litigious Life of Mary Bennett Love (2014 book)

Next: History Pages: 10 - The Gold Rush