Santa Clara County History

History of Santa Clara County


The Santa Clara County Historical Society and Its Objects--Spanish Names for Natural Objects--The Interesting Career of Judge Augustus L. Rhodes, a Nonagenarian.

The Santa Clara County Historical Society has been in existence over twenty years. Its objects are to gather and preserve data relating to the early days of the city and county. The data has usually come in the shape of papers read by members at meetings of the society. In this way valuable material, much of which has been used in this history, has been gathered and will be preserved for the benefit of future generations. The president of the society is Alex. P. Murgotten, and the secretary is Miss Agnes Howe, county superintendent of schools. Dr. H. J. B. Wright, who held the office for many years, died December 27, 1921.

Spanish names have been given to nearly all natural objects in Santa Clara County. This is particularly true of the land grants. About half the county towns, many of the highways and a few homes have Spanish names, and even at this late date the people continue to manifest a love for the names of old Spain, as is shown by the recent naming of Monte Vista and Los Altos. At one of the meetings of the Historical Society Dr. H. J. B. Wright read a paper on "Spanish Names in Santa Clara County," from which the following compilation is made: Los Altos is doing service as the name of an eight-year-old town on the Peninsular Railway. Los Altos means "The Heights," and the town site being considerably above the common level of that region, the name is quite appropriate.

About sixty years ago the village standing at the head of the navigable slough which extends southward from the Bay of San Francisco, was given the name Alviso. This is a proper name, given in honor of Don Ignacio Alviso, who was born in Sonora, Mexico in 1772. He came to California with his mother, sisters and brothers under the leadership of Anza. Alviso was a majordomo, or foreman at the Santa Clara Mission for several years and in that capacity was actively engaged in construction work for the Mission at the time the buildings were moved to their last site. He helped to construct and for several years lived at the California Hotel. His wife's maiden name was Maria Margaret Bernal. He
died in 1845, leaving a large estate.

Milpitas is the interesting name of a thriving town on the road from San Jose to Warm Springs. The word, `Milpitas' is a compound of mill, a thousand, and pitas, which means agaves, American aloes or century plants; and the fibrous threads of a plant. Milpitas got its name from the Rancho Milpitas, one corner of which encloses the town. Inasmuch as there were no agaves growing in that part of the valley and that there may have been many small flowering vines along the Penetencia Creek which runs through Milpitas, it is safe to assume that the word, Milpitas, was used as meaning a thousand thread-like vines.

Hacienda means landed estate, fortune, domestic work. It is also used to indicate headquarters. This name was given to the reduction works of the New Almaden quicksilver mines. This place is about twelve miles from San Jose in a shallow canyon at the foot of the mountain out of which cinnabar has been taken since 1847. A village has grown up at this point and it bears the name Hacienda. One of the principal tributaries of the Guadalupe River runs through this village. It is called the Arroyo de los Alamitos, the rivulet of the little poplar trees, poplar trees having grown along this stream for many years.

The Century Dictionary defines the word Alameda as follows: "A shaded public walk, especially one planted with poplar trees." The word Alameda, however, is used in the United States, Cuba and Mexico as the name of a shaded way or walk without reference to the kind of trees planted on it. It may be proper to add that the Alameda, between San Jose and Santa Clara, has long had a high aesthetic value. In 1833 Governor Figueroa took cognizance of it as one of the assets of Alta Caliiornia, and learning that some of the trees which had been planted on it were being cut down for firewood, ordered the vandalism to cease immediately.

San Tomas Aquina, a public highway which runs southward from the Payne road, has been named officially San Tomas Aquina. The English equivalent of this Spanish name is Saint Thomas Aquinas. This Saint must not be confounded with the Saint Thomas who was one of the twelve apostles. The father of the Aquinas was called Count Aquinas, because of his political connection with a province of Italy named Aquina. His son reseived [sic] the name of Thomas Aquinas and was canonized under that name. The road received its name from its relation to the San Tomas Aquinas Creek, which rises in the Santa Cruz Mountains and flows into Campbell Creek.

The Saint John the Baptist Hills (San Juan Bautista) rise up from the south side of Oak Hill Cemetery. Sometime in the '60s Thomas Kell conveyed twelve acres of land on these hills to Bishop Riordan for a burial place. For many years a large Roman cross outstretched its arms over these hills. Near this cross was a small, neglected graveyard. From the top of these hills one may see, in Oak Hill Cemetery, the graves of many thousands of San Jose's pioneer citizens.

Calabaza is the name of a winter stream of water which rises in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains and flows into the Guadalupe River near the Bay of San Francisco. The orchardists living near the stream pronounce the name as though it were spelled Calabasis. The name means small, young, tender pumpkins, and is more fanciful than significant.

El Arroyo Tulares de los Canoas is the recognized name of a stream which runs along the west side of the Monterey road to the corner of Almaden Avenue and South First Street and then turns to the west and angles cross the Fourth Ward of San Jose to discharge into the Guadalupe River. The literal English equivalent of the name is the rivulet of the tules for canoes. In use the name is reduced to Canoas Creek, which means a creek for canoes.

Sierra Azule appears on the map in Hall's History as a portion of the mountains now called Santa Cruz. The word Sierra means rough mountains and Azule means blue. The dark, bluish color of the mountains as seen from any point in the valley justifies the use of the name Sierra Azule. In the foothills of these mountains, on land formerly owned by the late L. A. Spitzer, on the Mount Eden road, are some springs of water bearing the name Azule, and the blueness of the water as it runs away from the springs, being like the unclouded sky, makes the name very appropriate.

Loma Prieta is the Spanish equivalent of blackish hill or blackish point. This is the name of a mountain peak situated south of San Jose, near the line separating the counties of Santa Clara and Santa Cruz. It has an altitude of 3790 feet. This peak stands out prominently and is easily seen from any viewpoint in the valley. Even Mt. Hamilton does not offer as large a range of vision as does Loma Prieta. Standing on the top of this peak one can see nearly every object which can be seen from Mt. Hamilton and in addition he can see much of Santa Cruz County and the ocean beyond. At night from Loma Prieta can be seen the lights in San Jose and Santa Cruz.

The English equivalent of Santa Clara is Saint Clear or Saint Bright. Clara is the feminine form of the Spanish word, Claro, clear. Santa Clara was the first Franciscan nun and the founder of the Order of Santa Clara. She is called Santa Clara de Assisi, Virgin, Abbess and Matriarch of her famous religion. Remembering that Santa Clara was converted under the teaching of Saint Francis and that Franciscan Missionaries founded the Mission, is it any wonder they gave to it the name Santa Clara?

The Spanish land grants are a prolific source of Spanish names. El Rancho Rincon de los Estera is Spanish for the Salt Marsh ranch. This name is appropriate because the northerly line of this grant runs from the Guadalupe River across the salt marsh lands of the Bay of San Francisco to the Penetencia Creek. The northwest corner is near but does not include Alviso.

Rancho Potrero de Santa Clara means the pasture ranch of Santa Clara. This land made an acceptable pasture for the people living about the Mission because it lies between Santa Clara and the Guadalupe River. Garden seeds are now grown on much of this land. J. Alexander Forbes was the first British consul stationed on the ranch. He married Senorita Anita Galindo, who brought to him as a marriage dower much of this fine tract of land. Forbes sold it to Commodore Stockton, after whom Stockton Avenue was named.

Rancho Agua Caliente, hot water ranch. The land lies partly in Alameda County and partly in Santa Clara County. It includes what is now known as Warm Springs.

Rancho Pastoria de los Borregas, when translated into English, means sheep pasture ranch. It lies about the quite modern town of Sunnyvale.

The name Embarcadero de Santa Clara was given to a small body of land bordering on what is now called Alviso Slough. It means the embarking place or port of Santa Clara. The person who named this piece of land must have had a rank imagination.

San Francisco de las Llagas is the name of a grant of land that lies south of San Jose along both sides of Llagas Creek. The word Llagas means sores or wounds. Some knowledge of the history of Saint Francis is necessary to understand the name. John Gilmary Shea, L.L.D., has edited a book entitled "The Lives of the Saints." The book had the approval of Pope Leo XIII. In it is set forth among other things that Saint Francis, after visiting the East in vain quest of martyrdom, spent his life, like his Divine Master, in preaching to the multitudes and in fasting and contemplation amid desert solitudes. During one of these retreats he received on his hands, feet and side the print of the five bleeding wounds of Jesus. Whether this statement is true and worthy of credit or whether it only transmits a tradition is of little importance in this connection. Certainly whoever named the ranch was familiar with the biography of Saint Francis. In giving the name to the tract of land in Santa Clara County he tried to perpetuate the name of St. Francis and also to indicate a significant event in the Saint's religious life. Wounds of Saint Francis is probably a literal translation of San Francisco de los Llagas. Near the south line of Santa Clara County is a postoffice named Llagas. It is neither euphonious nor significant.

El Rancho Rinconada de los Gatos means the ranch of the inclosed angle of the cats. The southern angle of this tract of land rests in the great canyon south of the city of Los Gatos, and the diverging boundary lines, as they extend northward, inclose this beautiful place. Assuming that there were many wild cats in the canyon at the time the fast survey was made, the name El Rancho Rinconada de los Gatos is rational and appropriate.

Rancho Tularcitos is equivalent to the ranch of the little tules. This ranch extends from the town of Milpitas into the mountains. Little tules may yet be seen growing there.

Yerba Buena means good herb. This plant is delightfully aromatic and makes a very pleasant tea. It grows in neglected places, especially in the moderately well-shaded foothills. It can be found growing in the eastern side of the county, where the ranch, called Yerba Buena, is situated.

El Monte Del Diablo has the following history. During the session of the first Legislature of California the Senate appointed a committee to report on the derivation and definition of various names. Vallejo was chairman of this committee and he brought in a report which had reference to the name Monte Diablo, in which he stated that in 1806 a military expedition marched against a tribe of Indians called Bolognes, who were encamped on the western base of the mountain, and that in the course of a fight which took place there, an unknown personage, decorated with extraordinary plumage, appeared among the Indians; and that when the battle which resulted in favor of the Indians, was finished, the unknown departed up the mountain. The defeated soldiers, Vallejo's report went on, supposed him to be an evil spirit, called by Indians "Ruy" and by the soldiers, a devil, so they named the mountain El Monte del Diablo, or the Devil's Mountain. During the session of the Legislature in 1866 an effort was made to change the name of the mountain, but nothing came of it. The Government has run a line due south from the top of this mountain and named it the Mount Diablo Meridian. This line runs down the center of the Meridian Road just west of the O'Connor Sanitarium.

El Pueblo de San Jose de Guadalupe is the original name of San Jose. The name was given in 1877 by Lieutenant Moraga. A few years later he could have designated his new town as being in the Santa Clara Valley, but that would have been indefinite because the Santa Clara Valley included a vast but uncertain territory. It is thus seen that he had good reason for using the name El Pueblo de San Jose de Guadalupe, or the town of San Jose on the Wolf River. This name has never been changed into another, but is has been abridged to two words--San Jose.

Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, Our Lady of the Guadalupe, is the name of the river which passes through San Jose and empties into San Francisco Bay. This word, Guadalupe, is made by combining the Arabic word, guada, a river, and the Latin word, lupus, a wolf. Guadalupe, therefore, means Wolf River. Inasmuch as nothing was noted by the explorers about wolves being found along this river, it is fair to assume that wolves did not suggest the word. Now, the history of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe begins in the land of Palestine and passes over to Spain; from Spain it comes to Mexico and then attaches to the principal stream in Santa Clara County. In 1597, Gabriel de Talvera wrote the history of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe. From that history it is learned that the town of Guadalupe in Spain certainly had its carved image of Jesus before the conquest of Mexico by Cortes. It is therefore a fact that the name Guadalupe with its sacred associations was familiar to all the Catholics who emigrated from Spain to Mexico after the conquest of that country.

There is a town near the City of Mexico which is named Guadalupe-Hidalgo, that which is usually called Guadalupe. It is the most sacred and the most popular shrine in the republic of Mexico. It is the focus of the most fervent and powerful religious cult in that country. The shrine of the Virgin, which can be seen any day in the Cathedral located there, has been to the Mexicans for centuries what the Ganges is to the Hindus and Mecca to the Mohammedans. Saturday, December 9, 1531, ten years after Cortes' conquest of Mexico, an Indian of low birth, who had received baptism and been christened Juan Diego (John James) is said to have been met by the Virgin Mary on the barren hillside, some three miles from the City of Mexico. She directed the Indian to gather flowers on what he knew was barren ground. He followed the direction of the Virgin and soon returned to her with a large quantity of fragrant roses. The Virgin then directed him to carry the flowers to Bishop Gummarago in the City of Mexico. When the confiding Indian opened his crude tilma or blanket to pour out the roses, the Bishop saw the image of the Blessed Virgin painted on the inside of the blanket. That crude cloth with the image of the Virgin on it has long been enshrined and may now be seen in a cathedral in the little city of Guadalupe, which was built on the hillside where the Indian met the Virgin. This enshrined picture is the Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe. Is it any wonder that the pious Father Font coming from Mexico to the Santa Clara Valley gave the name of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe to San Jose's principal river?

Judge A. L. Rhodes was one of the prominent members of the Historical Society. He died on October 23, 1918, at the age of ninety-seven. After the funeral the following committee was appointed by the judges of the Superior Court to prepare and submit a memorial on the life and character of the deceased jurist: S. F. Leib, J. C. Black, C. L. Witten, Nicholas Bowden and C. C. Coolidge. The committee presented the report on November 27, 1918, and it was read by C. L. Witten before Judges Gosbey and Welch, sitting en banc. It is as follows:

"Augustus Loring Rhodes was born in 1821 near Utica, Oneida County, New York, where his grandfather, a pioneer, established his home in 1796. Judge Rhodes received his first education at an academy and then graduated from Hamilton College in Clinton in 1841. After completing his college course he traveled through some of the southern states as a private tutor. His spare time after leaving college was devoted to the study of the law, which soon became his life occupation. He commenced active practice in the state of Indiana. At Bloomfield, Illinois, he married Elizabeth Cavins, whose father was then a judge in that state.

"In 1854 Judge Rhodes came to California, and from that year to the time of his death, October 23, 1918, a period of sixty-four years, he was continuously a resident of Santa Clara County. In 1856 he opened a law office in San Jose and soon became prominent in professional and public life.

"In 1859 he was elected district attorney of Santa Clara County, and in 1860 was chosen by the voters to represent Santa Clara and Alameda Counties in the State Senate. In 1863 he was elected a justice of the Supreme Court and was a member of that tribunal until 1880. After his retirement from the Supreme Bench he practiced law, with offices in San Francisco, until September 22, 1899, when he was appointed Judge of the Superior Court of Santa Clara County to fill the vacancy occasioned by the death of Judge A. S. Kittredge. He presided over one of the departments until September, 1907, when he voluntarily retired to private life. His retirement was not, however, that of a recluse, but meant that more of his time was given to enjoyment of the society of his family and friends.

"In measuring the life of Judge Rhodes it would be difficult to determine whether as lawyer and judge, or as man and friend, he was the greatest, for he combined the elements that went to make him great in all these capacities. It is unnecessary to detail the qualifications which went to make Judge Rhodes an eminent lawyer in his earlier life and in the interim between his respective periods upon the bench; that he was an able lawyer of the highest repute sums up his career at the bar; nor is it necessary in order to establish or perpetuate his worth as a judge by a recital of his judicial accomplishments, for that is already set forth in the long line of decisions which in permanent form constitute a record which requires no words of ours to enlarge.

"It is not out of place, however, to perpetuate, by this record, the many charming personal attributes of Judge Rhodes; the well-proportioned frame which to the last carried erect the burden of almost a century of years; the intellectual countenance which bespoke the strong mentality of the man; the cheery greeting to his friends; the unimpaired mind and memory with its rich fund of reminiscences and anecdotes relating to the pioneers of Santa Clara County's bench and bar.

"Judge Rhodes lived far beyond the allotted time of man and it was a long life of usefulness and honor. As in life he was loved and venerated by us all, so in death will his memory be cherished by the bench and bar of this county."

Source: Sawyers, Eugene T. History of Santa Clara County, Los Angeles, Calif; Historic Record Company, 1922.

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