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Flat Land Ranch

Granted to:  Mariano G. Vallejo in 1843 by Governor Manuel Micheltorena

Size:  44,580 acres

Location:  Sonoma County

The name Petaluma probably comes from the Coast Miwok Indian words peta meaning "flat" and lume meaning "place."


Just north of San Francisco Bay was a region of fertile valleys and forested hills.  Many small groups of Indians had their villages in the river valleys here, and hunted and gathered food on the hills.


Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo was born in 1807 in  Monterey, the Mexican capital of California.  His father, Ignacio Vallejo, had been born in Mexico and had come to California with Father Serra in 1769 as a soldier.  At the age of 42 Ignacio Vallejo married 14-year-old Marķa Antonia Lugo, a marriage that had been arranged on the day of her birth. 

Young Mariano attended a school in Monterey where he learned to read and write, a skill that few Californios had.  He also spoke English very well. His love of books led him to gather a good library.

Mariano began a military career as a cadet with the Monterey Company when he was 15 years old.  By the age of 23 he was the comandante (officer in charge) at the San Francisco presidio (fort), and soon rose to comandante general of all California.  In 1830 he married Francisca Benicia Carrillo.  Mariano and Francisca had 16 children, ten of whom survived childhood.


As a reward for his military service, Governor Figueroa gave Vallejo large tracts of land north of San Francisco Bay.  He also gave him a plot of ground in the new town of Sonoma, which Vallejo had been asked to establish.  Governor Figueroa wanted General Vallejo to occupy this land so that the Russians, who had established a base at Fort Ross on the northern California coast, would be discouraged from moving south.

Rancho Petaluma was formally granted to Mariano Vallejo in 1843 by Governor Micheltorena, though he probably had been using the land since 1834 with the permission of Governor Figueroa.  In 1844, another 22,000 acres was added to Rancho Petaluma by Governor Micheltorena.

Vallejo was also granted about 80,000 acres in Solano County in 1843, in return for supplies which he had furnished to the government.  This was named Rancho Soscol (or Suscol).


Vallejo built a large adobe house at Rancho Petaluma, working on it from 1834 until 1844.  Although never completely finished, it was considered to be the grandest house in all of northern California.  The main wing, over 200 feet long, was shaded by a porch the entire length.  The three wings were laid out around a patio with a view looking out over the valley. 

The construction was especially sound, with walls three feet thick, a framework of redwood beams bound together with rawhide thongs, iron grills and shutters on the windows.  It was built to serve as a fort, if that should become necessary.

On his rancho lands Vallejo grazed 50,000 head of cattle and 24,000 sheep, most of which he got from Mission San Francisco Solano.  He also planted many acres of fields with wheat and other grains, and raised grapes for making wine.

Over a thousand Indian workers served the Vallejo family.  There were many vaqueros (cowboys) and field workers.  Near the ranch house was a tannery and a blacksmith shop.  Indian women worked at cooking, laundry, spinning and sewing, and as personal servants for the family.


In 1835 Vallejo laid out the pueblo (town) of Sonoma around a plaza near the site of Mission San Francisco de Solano.  He built barracks for the 40 soldiers in his personal army, and a large home for himself and his family.  This is where the family lived, using the grand house at Petaluma as a second home.

In the 1850s, General Vallejo purchased part of Rancho Agua Caliente, near Sonoma.  Here the Vallejos built another home which they called Lachryma Montis or "Mountain Tears" because of the nearby springs which provided both hot and cold water.  This house was built of redwood.


It was in the town of Sonoma in 1846 that a group of American rebels tried to claim California for the U.S.  They raised a flag with a picture of a bear and "California Republic" on it.  They captured General Vallejo and took him to Sutter's Fort.  He was treated well by Sutter, and was released.

Soon American warships captured Monterey and San Francisco, and the American flag was raised over Sonoma.  The war in California between Mexico and the United States had begun.  It ended  just a few months later, when Mexico agreed to sell California to the U.S. for $15 million.


For some time, Vallejo had been in favor of having California become part of the United States.  After the treaty with Mexico was signed, he helped to write the state constitution.  Later he served in the first State senate.  He also assisted in naming many of the counties for the new State of California


The U.S. Land Commission, after examining Vallejo's claim to Rancho Petaluma, confirmed his ownership of the land.  In 1857, he sold the adobe house to William H. Whiteside for $25,000.  Just two years later, Whiteside sold the property to William D. Bliss for $30,000.  The Bliss family owned this home for some years. 


In the 1840s Vallejo had purchased several other ranchos.  By 1850 he owned most of the fertile land in the Sonoma Valley, as well as the land stretching from the Carquinez Straits to Petaluma.  With almost 250,000 acres, he was one of the largest landowners in California.  However, his days as a major landowner did not last long.

Because Rancho Soscol had been given to Vallejo in payment for a debt owed him by the Mexican government, he was not successful in defending his claim to this land before the U.S. Land Commission.  In 1862, after a long legal battle, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Vallejo's rights to Rancho Soscol.  The legal fight cost Vallejo so much  that he had to mortgage his other property to pay the bills. 

In order to help out, Vallejo's wife sold vegetables and eggs to the local hotel.   In the end, Vallejo had only 280 acres and the Lachryma Montis house left of his great lands.    He lived there until his death in 1890, and is buried nearby.


The town of Petaluma grew up on Vallejo's rancho lands, and carries on the rancho name.  In 1951 the Petaluma adobe house was declared California Historical Landmark No. 18.  The town of Benicia, named for Vallejo's wife, was founded on part of Rancho Soscol which Vallejo donated.

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