San Francisco History

Seventy-five Years in San Francisco


On Mare Island I often saw in the years from ‘40 to ‘43 as many as two or three thousand elk, it being their habit to cross and recross by swimming between the island and the mainland, and I remember one occasion, when on the schooner Isabella, of sailing through a band of these elk, probably not less than a thousand, which were then crossing from Mare Island to the mainland. It was a grand and exciting scene. The captain of the boat wanted to shoot at some of them, but I prevented him from doing so because we could not stop to get the game on board and I did not like to see the elk wantonly destroyed.

These elk were killed for their hides and tallow by the rancheros in considerable numbers, at the time they slaughtered their cattle. They would go out to the haunts of the elk and capture them by the lasso, which was used by them on all occasions, and, after killing the animals, secure the hides and tallow on the spot, leaving the carcasses. The tallow of the elk was superior to that of the bullock, whiter and firmer, and made better candles.

This work was much more dangerous and exciting than the killing of cattle, and required the very best broken saddle horses and those most accustomed to the lasso, and also the best vaqueros, on account of the strength, agility, fleetness and fierceness of the elk. Great skill was also required in throwing the lasso (the loop of which was made larger than for cattle on account of the widespreading horns of the elk), and in holding them after the lasso was cast.

In 1838 and 1839 the prominent ranches or cattle farms about the bay of San Francisco and in the vicinity were as follows: On the north side of the bay at the mission of San Rafael were three or four thousand cattle and horses. At Bodega and Fort Ross, the Russian American Fur Company, which has already been described, had two or three thousand head of cattle, twelve or fifteen hundred horses and numerous sheep. Petaluma, Temblec and Suscol were the ranchos of Don Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, with about fifty thousand head of cattle, four to six thousand horses and a large number of sheep.

Where the town of Santa Rosa now stands was the Rancho Santa Rosa, owned by Doña María Ygnacia López de Carrillo, with about three thousand head of cattle and twelve to fifteen hundred horses and some sheep. Adjoining the Santa Rosa on the north was the rancho of Marcus West, an Englishman, with about fifteen hundred cattle and five or six hundred horses.

The ranchos of Don Salvador Vallejo were located in the Napa Valley and at Clear Lake, and contained ten thousand cattle and about two thousand horses; adjoining him on the east was Nicolás Higuera, with about two thousand cattle and one thousand horses; to the south of the latter Cayetano Juárez, with a few hundred cattle and horses; adjoining him on the south was the Rancho Nacional Suscol in charge of General Vallejo. This was reserved by the Mexican government for the purpose of supplying the troops of the department of California with cattle and horses. It contained five thousand head of cattle, and two or three thousand horses, in charge of a corporal and eight or ten soldiers, the latter being utilized as vaqueros for the purpose of managing this stock. It may be mentioned here as a matter of interest that all the native Californians (the term meaning those of Spanish extraction) were trained to horsemanship, and naturally became vaqueros, being very expert with the reata and skilled in the training and management of horses and cattle. The National ranch, so called, was virtually the property of General Vallejo.

On the south side of Carquinez Strait was the Rancho Pinole, owned by Don Ygnacio Martínez, with eight thousand head of cattle and about one thousand horses. This rancho derived its name from the parched corn, ground up, known as pinole, and which was used everywhere and especially by the Mexican troops as food in their campaigns against the Indians; it was commonly mixed with a little panoche (sugar) and water, and was very palatable and nutritious. This food, together with the game killed by the soldiers, such as elk, deer, antelope—and beef, constituted their whole fare when in the field.

Adjoining this rancho, on the southeast side, was the Rancho Boca de la Cañada del Pinole, owned by Felipe Briones, with a few hundred cattle and horses; to the west of the Rancho Pinole was the San Pablo, owned by the Castro family, with four or five thousand head of cattle and one or two thousand horses.

To the south of San Pablo was the Rancho San Antonio, owned by Don Luis Peralta, who prior to his death divided the tract among his four sons, Ygnacio, Domingo, Antonio María and Vicente. A portion of it is now occupied by the cities of Oakland and Alameda. This rancho carried eight thousand head of cattle and two thousand head of horses and mares; it extended on the south to San Leandro Creek. To the east of this was the Rancho Moraga, owned by Don Joaquín Moraga, with about eight hundred cattle and a few hundred horses.

South of San Antonio was the Rancho San Leandro, owned by Don José Joaquín Estudillo, with two or three thousand head of cattle, about eight hundred horses, and five or six thousand sheep; the present town of San Leandro is on a part of the rancho. Across San Lorenzo Creek was the Rancho San Lorenzo Bajo, owned by Francisco Soto, with one to two thousand cattle and three to four hundred horses; to the east of him was the San Lorenzo upper ranch, owned by Don Guillermo Castro, with five or six thousand cattle and two or three thousand horses.

To the east of this was the rancho owned by Don José María Amador and Don Dolores Pacheco, residing at the pueblo of San Jose, with six thousand head of cattle and one to two thousand horses. To the east of them was the rancho of Robert Livermore, an Englishman, with two or three thousand cattle and one or two thousand horses.

To the south of Francisco Soto was the mission of San Jose, with eight thousand head of cattle, about three thousand horses, and eight to ten thousand sheep, and fifteen to eighteen hundred Christianized Indians, all under the charge of Don José Jesús Vallejo, the administrator of the mission.

In the valley of San Jose, extending from what is called Warm Springs as far as thirty miles to the south of the town of San Jose, and to the river Guadalupe on the west, there were numerous stock raisers having extensive ranchos, with an aggregate of not less than a hundred thousand head of cattle and probably twenty thousand horses, and large flocks of sheep. At the rancho of Ygnacio Alviso, where the town of Alviso is located, there were three or four thousand head of cattle and about fifteen hundred horses.

At the mission of Santa Clara, to the west of the Guadalupe River, there were probably a thousand to fifteen hundred cattle and horses. This mission, anterior to 1834, was considered one of the richest in the department, but during the secularization, the revolutions and civil wars in the country the military in the vicinity of the mission appropriated nearly all the horses and cattle belonging to it, and it therefore became impoverished.

To the northwest of Santa Clara was the Rancho Las Pulgas (the Fleas), owned by the heirs of Governor Argüello, with about four thousand head of cattle and two thousand horses. The towns of Belmont, Redwood City and Menlo Park are situated here. To the northwest of the Las Pulgas was the Buri-buri rancho, with about eight thousand head of cattle and one thousand horses, owned by Don José Sánchez.

Captain Henry D. Fitch, a native of New Hampshire, who came to the country in 1833 or ‘34, commanded vessels trading to Callao and other points on the coast, and afterwards settled at San Diego, where he married a sister of General Vallejo’s wife and engaged in merchandising. He was an honorable man and very hospitable. Afterward, he obtained a grant of land called Sotoyome (an Indian name) in Sonoma County, from Governor Micheltorena. He stocked it with several thousand cattle and horses. Fitch Mountain, at Healdsburg, was named after him. He died in 1848.

At San Diego, also, was Don Juan Bandini, a native of Peru, who married one of the Estudillo family. He was a man of decided ability and of fine character. He owned several ranches in San Diego and Los Angeles counties. Don Abel Stearns married a daughter of Bandini. Doña Arcadia, who, after Stearns’ death, married Colonel Baker, after whom Bakersfield was named. She was very beautiful. Her husband was one of the wealthiest residents of the state.

At San Diego was also Don Santiago Argüello, a brother of Governor Argüello. He was a prominent man, and prefect under Governor Alvarado in Los Angeles, and he held other offices.

To the north of the bay of San Francisco wild Indians from the Clear Lake country assisted in farm work, such as making soap, matanza work and plowing lands for wheat, barley, beans, corn and small vegetables, onions, peas, cabbages, calabazas, lantejas and melons.

Civilized Indians from the missions were scattered about the country and many were to be found on the different ranchos. They were of peaceable disposition, were employed as vaqueros, and helped the rancheros at the planting season and at harvest time.

I have often seen the Clear Lake Indians at their temescales, or steaming places. A large cavity was made in the ground, six or eight feet deep, somewhat like a cellar, and tightly covered over with brush, with a little aperture for the smoke to pass out. In this cavity they made a very hot fire, and a number of them, men and women, nearly bare of clothing, went in and subjected themselves to the heating process, taking a hot-air bath, keeping up a monotonous singing all the time.

They remained there from half an hour to an hour, or until entirely heated through so that the perspiration ran off them in streams. In that condition they rushed out, plunged into a pool in the creek near by, cooled off and washed, after which they retired to their habitations. I frequently witnessed this steaming of the Indians at the rancho of Doña María Ygnacia Carrillo, at Santa Rosa, and wondered that they were not instantly killed by the sudden transition from heat to cold, but never knew any of them to be injured by the practice. These performances took place every night.


The missions exacted from the cattle owners a contribution known as diezmo for the support and benefit of the clergy and for the expense of the missions—one-tenth of the increase of the cattle. The tax was not imposed by the general government, but was solely an ecclesiastical matter decreed by the Pope of Rome or a law of the Church, diligently collected by the clergy of the different missions and religiously contributed by the rancheros. The collection was continued as late as 1851 or 1852.

The cattle were slaughtered in the summer season; the killing commenced about the 1st of July and continued until the 1st of October, for the hides and tallow; about two hundred pounds of the best part of the bullock was preserved, by drying, for future consumption, the balance of the animal being left to go to waste; it was consumed by the buzzards and wild beasts.

The tallow was tried in large pots brought by the American whaleships—such as are used to try out their blubber, and was then run into bags made of hides, each containing twenty to forty arrobas. An arroba is twenty-five pounds.

In securing the tallow, the manteca, or fat lying nearest the hide of the bullock, was taken off carefully and tried out apart from the interior fat or sebo. The latter constituted the tallow for shipment, about seventy-five to one hundred pounds being obtained from each creature. The former, of which forty to fifty pounds were obtained, was more carefully and nicely prepared and was saved for domestic use, in cooking being preferred to hog’s lard. Sometimes the two were mixed, the latter not being used by itself. Whenever there was more of the manteca than was needed for the family, the Russians were eager purchasers for shipment and for their own use. It was sold for two dollars per arroba, and the sebo at a dollar and a half per arroba.

The manteca required much attention in trying it out. Being of a more delicate nature than the other fat and more liable to burn, it was constantly watched. When the fat of either kind was sufficiently melted and cooked, it was allowed to cool partly, and while still liquid was transferred to hide bags which were prepared to receive it by fastening at four points on the edge of four upright stakes set in the ground, the mouth of the bag being thus held open. The hides were staked out and dried and were then ready for the market.

At the ranchos very little use was made of milch cows for milk, butter or cheese. I have frequently drunk my tea or coffee without milk on a ranch containing from thirty-six hundred to eight thousand head of cattle. But in the spring of the year, when the grass was green, the wives of the rancheros made from the milk asaderas, a fresh cheese, in small flat cakes, which had to be eaten the day it was made.

The horns of the animals were considered of no value by the cattle owners, and were generally secured for nothing by the trading vessels on the coast and shipped to Boston.

The horses were never stabled. They were broken for the saddle only and were used almost wholly for herding cattle. They were divided up into caponeras, or small bodies of about twenty-five each, each caponera having a bell mare, which was always a yegua pinta (calico mare), having a beautiful variety of color, whom they followed; and so accustomed were they to their leaders that the different little bands never mixed; and if by chance one got into the wrong company, he would presently go back to where he belonged.

On a rancho with eight thousand head of cattle there would be, say, twelve caponeras. One or two of these divisions, containing the best horses, were specially for the owner of the rancho, and never used for ordinary work, but merely by the owner for his own riding purposes.

A large number of horses were needed on each rancho for herding stock, as they were used up very fast. They were numerous and cheap, and the owners placed no restraint upon the vaqueros, who rode without a particle of regard for the horses till they soon became unfit for further use in this way. The vaqueros were continually breaking in young colts three years old and upwards to replace those already beyond service.

There were large bands of wild horses in the valley of the San Joaquin, which at that time was entirely unsettled. At times, a few mares, and perhaps a young stallion, would stray away from a rancho and get out of reach, until in the course of time there were collected in that valley immense herds, thousands and tens of thousands of horses, entirely wild and untamed, living and breeding by themselves, finding there plenty of good feed to sustain them.

Frequently during the summertime, young men, the sons of rancheros, would go in companies of eight or ten or twelve to the valley on their best and fleetest steeds to capture a number of these wild horses and bring them to the ranchos. On reaching the place where a large band was collected, they prepared for the sport in this way: The saddles being removed, the horses were ridden bareback, a piece of reata being tied loosely around the body of each horse just behind the forelegs, and the rider, having no saddle or stirrups, slipped his knees under the rope, one end of the lasso being tied to the rope also. Thus prepared, they rode toward the wild horses, who, on seeing them approach, would take alarm and rush off at great speed, the riders following. Sometimes the chase lasted for miles before they came up with the horses. On getting near enough each horseman selected his victim, pursued him, and at the right moment cast a lasso, which never failed to encircle the neck of the horse; then bringing his own horse to a stand, there was a wild struggle, the rider holding his horse firm, and the captured horse pulling and straining on the rope until he become so choked and exhausted that he was compelled to succumb.

It was very hazardous sport and required the greatest nerve and the best horsemanship. If a rider found himself in the midst of a band of wild horses there was danger that he and his horse might be overridden and trampled to death. This sometimes occurred.

When fifty or sixty of the wild horses were thus captured, they were taken to the ranchos, corralled at night and herded in the daytime, until they became sufficiently subdued to be introduced among the horses of the ranch.

This was great diversion for the young men, and at the same time it added to their stock the best animals of the wild herds. It is presumed there were as many as fifteen or twenty thousands of wild horses in different bands in the San Joaquin Valley.


Although the cattle belonging to the various ranchos were wild, yet they were under training to some extent, and were kept in subjection by constant rodeos. At stated times, say two or three times a week at first, the cattle on a particular ranch were driven in by the vaqueros, from all parts thereof, to a spot known as the rodeo ground, and kept there for a few hours, when they were allowed to disperse. Shortly they were collected again, once a week perhaps, and then less seldom, until after considerable training, being always driven to the same place, they came to know it. Then, whenever the herd was wanted, all that was necessary for the vaqueros to do was, say twenty-five or thirty of them, to ride out into the hills and valleys and call the cattle, shouting and screaming to them, when the animals would immediately run to the accustomed spot, presently the whole vast herd belonging to the ranch finding their way there.

At times, cattle strayed from one ranch to another and got into the wrong herd. Whenever a rodeo was to be held, the neighbors of the ranchero were given notice and attended at the time and place designated. If any of these cattle were found in the band, they were picked out, separated, and driven back to the rancho where they belonged. As the cattle were all branded, and each rancho had earmarks, this was not difficult.

Sometimes when cattle were being herded in a rodeo, an obstinate or unruly animal, cow, steer or bull—commonly a bull—watching an opportunity, suddenly darted from the herd and ran away at full speed. The vaquero, being always on the alert and knowing his duty well, immediately dashed out after the animal. Being on a fleet horse he presently came up with the runaway, and by a dexterous movement, leaning over his horse, seized the creature by the tail, when, urging the steed to an extra effort, the horse dashed forward, giving a sudden jerk, and the tail being let go by the vaquero at the right moment, the animal was rolled over and over on the ground. When it regained its legs it was completely subdued, tamely submitted to be driven back to the herd, and was not inclined to repeat the experiment.

The capture was called colear. It was highly enjoyed by the vaquero and was a feat requiring no little skill, strength, nerve and horsemanship on his part. The ranchero himself when out riding with his friends, for their amusement and his own, would sometimes separate an animal from the herd, run him off to one side, gallop alongside, catch him by the tail and skillfully turn him over and over, creating a good deal of merriment. At times the sagacious animal, knowing what was coming, would draw his tail down under his body. This maneuver did not prevent its being seized, nevertheless.

The rodeo ground was of circular shape; the vaqueros always left the cattle together in that form. When a rodeo took place, six or eight cabestros, or tame cattle, were brought together in a stand, or parada, about one hundred yards or more from the rodeo, in charge of a vaquero. When the cattle were to be selected from the rodeo, the vaqueros rode quietly in among them, in pairs, and two of them, seeing one they wanted to remove, gently approached the animal, one on each side, and, without making any disturbance, edged him along to one side of the rodeo ground opposite to where the parada stood. When they got just to the edge they gave him a sudden start by shouting “Hora!” (“Now!”), and off he went at full speed, followed by them. Seeing the parada a little distance off, the wild steer or cow generally made for that, or, if he or she turned to one side, was guided by the vaqueros. and, on reaching it, stopped with the tame cattle, or was compelled to if not so inclined. The cattle when taken first in this way to the parada, finding themselves with a strange set and few in number, were uneasy; but the vaqueros continuing to bring in others, the numbers increasing rapidly, the newcomers would feel more at home, and generally remained quiet. If one bolted from the parada, a vaquero pursued him and performed the colear movement, and he returned tamely and made no more trouble. As many as were required were brought to the parada by the vaqueros, until fifty or seventy-five were thus collected at times, as in the killing season, or a less number if selected to be returned to their owners, or for sale. Several pairs of vaqueros, or apartadores, were often engaged at the same time in the rodeo ground, taking out cattle to be removed and conducting them to different paradas.

It was remarkable and strange that, when the apartadores were in among the cattle the animals were as docile and as quiet as tame cattle. They would hardly notice or get out of the way of the separators. The cattle appeared subdued when once in the rodeo ground, and it would appear that they had left their wild nature in the hills and valleys of the hacienda when entering within the boundary of the rodeo ground.

When the owners of adjoining ranchos came to the rodeo ground to select their cattle, they brought their own cabestros, and their own vaqueros, who went in and picked out the cattle belonging to their special ranchos and took them to their own paradas. Two or three hundred cattle belonging to a neighboring ranch would be taken from a rodeo at a time.

The work of separating the cattle, while a necessity, was really more of an amusement than a labor, and I have frequently participated in it for the sport. On such occasions many persons from the different ranchos came, as at a cattle fair in the country in our day, to exchange greetings and talk over affairs. Sometimes they would amuse themselves by joining in the work with the vaqueros, in pairs, a point being not to disturb or frighten the whole mass of cattle on the rodeo ground.

The cabestros had holes in their horns, with small spikes inserted and a strip of cured soft hide attached thereto by which an unruly beast or beasts could be attached, one on each side of the cabestro, so as to be taken from one place to another when necessary.

These cabestros were thoroughly trained for this purpose, and they were taken from the tame stock of the rancho, the milch stock, and the animals were large and imposing in size, and of herculean strength, in order to withstand the antics of the fractious beasts. The cabestros were so well trained that on reaching the spot where a bullock was lying on the ground tied, preparatory to being hitched to the cabestro, the latter, of its own accord, would drop its head to enable the vaquero to tie the two animals together by the horns.

When the horses became disabled, or too poor for use, they were generally given away to the poorer people of the country or to Indians who could make them useful.

The California horses were originally from Arabian stock, imported from Spain by the padres at the time of the first establishment of the missions. They had multiplied here extensively. At first it was very fine stock, but it became degenerated by breeding in, generation after generation, for over a hundred years. No attention was given by the rancheros to the production of good stock, either cattle or horses.

All orejanos (calves without earmark or brand) not following the cow were considered as belonging to the rancho on which they were found.

The marking season always commenced about the 1st of February in the southern counties, before the hot weather came on, and ended about the middle of May, when both horses and cattle were branded, earmarked and castrated. Rodeos were held at marking and slaughtering times, and at other periods often enough to keep the animals subdued and accustomed to the premises of the owner.

At the killing season, cattle were driven from the rodeo ground to a particular spot on the rancho, near a brook and forest. It was usual to slaughter from fifty to one hundred at a time, generally steers three years old and upward, the cows being kept for breeding purposes. The fattest would be selected for slaughter, and about two days would be occupied in killing fifty cattle, trying out the tallow, stretching the hides and curing the small portion of meat that was preserved. The occasion was called the matanza.

The mode of killing cattle was thus: About fifty were driven into a corral near the matanza ground; a vaquero then went in on horseback and lassoed a creature by the horns, the end of the reata being already fastened to the pommel of the saddle with as much thrown out as was necessary, only a portion being used in a small space like the corral, the remainder being held in the hand in a coil, to be let out or drawn in as circumstances should require.

The animal was brought out of the corral, and, another vaquero coming up, the animal when it reached the spot where it was wanted was lassoed by one or both hind legs, and at that moment the horse, by a sudden movement, jerked the animal to one side or the other and it was thrown instantly to the ground. The man who had him by the head then backed his horse, or the horse, understanding the business perfectly, backed himself, until the whole reata was straightened out; and the horse of the vaquero who had the creature by the hind legs did the same, the latter vaquero meanwhile fastening his reata more securely to the saddle, and the two lines were drawn taut. The man at the tail end, then dismounting, tied the forelegs of the animal together with an extra piece of rope, and the hind legs also, drawing all the feet together in a bunch and tying them.

During this operation the man and horse at the head stood firm, and the horse without the rider did the same, watching every movement, his ears moving back and forth; if there was any slacking of the reata from the motions of the animal, he backed a little further, without any direction from the vaquero, so intelligent and well trained was the faithful beast. After the steer was thus tied, and powerless to rise, the reatas were taken from him entirely and the man on foot stuck a knife in his neck. When he was dead the two took off the skin in a short time, not over half an hour, so expert were they at the business.

This mode of slaughter of cattle—lying flat upon the ground—preserved a great deal more of the blood in the meat than the method in use by Americans. The meat was therefore sweeter and more nutritious than if the blood had been drained as much as possible, as is the custom with us, though the slaughtering in this way seemed somewhat repugnant to a stranger at first. I have heard Americans express this feeling and have experienced it myself, but we soon became accustomed to it and were convinced that the mode of the Californians was superior to ours.

At other times, not during the killing season, if a beef was required for family use two vaqueros were detailed by the ranchero to go out and bring in a fat creature. They selected the best they could find from the cattle in the field, lassoed him and brought him in to the side or rear of the house, about a hundred feet distant, and convenient to the kitchen, where the steer was lassoed by the hind legs, thrown over and killed, as above. The skin was laid back on the ground as it was taken off, and the creature was cut up on the skin. At this time nearly the whole of the meat was used, not merely the choice parts, as at the matanza. In cutting up the animal they first took off in a layer the fresada (literally, blanket), that is, the thick portion covering the ribs, which, though tough, was very sweet and palatable; and as the Californians, both men and women, old and young, were blessed with remarkably sound teeth, the toughness was no impediment to its being eaten.

I never knew an instance of a person of either sex or any age among the Californians suffering from toothache or decay of teeth, but all preserved their teeth in good condition to extreme old age; at the same time, they did not take any special care of them. I can account for the excellent preservation of the teeth only upon the ground of an extremely simple mode of living and their temperate habits.

Captain Richardson said to me that he could account for the fine appearance, the health and longevity of the Californians only from the fact that their chief article of food was beef, and the beef being dressed in the way I have described was more nutritious and sustaining than ours.

During a business visit to Los Angeles some years since, I frequently met Don Dolores Sepúlveda, one of the offspring of a prominent family of that name in that section of California. Señor Sepúlveda stated to me one day, speaking of the longevity of some of his countrywomen, that there were living in Los Angeles County thirty native California women with ages ranging from eighty to over one hundred years. They were well preserved mentally and physically.

In Monterey, the old capital under the Mexican regime, there are still living (1889) a number of women of Castilian extraction who are ninety years old and upward.

Señora Doña Guadalupe Briones de Miramontes, who lived formerly at the presidio of San Francisco, near “Polin,” a spring of water celebrated for certain virtues, is now a resident of Spanishtown (Half Moon Bay), in San Mateo County, and a very old lady, being over a century in years. I have been informed that she is hale and strong and is able to insert a thread through the small eye of a needle preparatory to her habit of daily sewing with her hand. It was this woman who cured me of a malady and saved me from death years since. I was afflicted with the neuralgia in the head from my youth, and I had been on the point of death, but Doña Guadalupe’s simple remedy relieved me of suffering probably to the end of my time.


In 1840 the mission of San Jose ordered a slaughter of about two thousand bulls, simply for the hides, not taking any meat from them. The vaqueros rode into the fields and lassoed and killed them on the spot, taking off the hides and little tallow and leaving the carcasses there untouched. The rule among the old rancheros here was to preserve one bull for every twenty-five cows, but in the instance above mentioned they had carelessly allowed a large number to grow up without castration. The missions did not give so much attention to these matters as the regular ranchmen. The vaqueros of the missions were always Indians, who were more careless in the management of the stock.

The breeding mares were divided up into manadas, or little bodies of twenty-five with a stallion for each, and so accustomed were they to follow their stallion that each band kept distinct and never mixed with other manadas. The stallions were equally faithful to those under their charge and never went off to other bands. It was the custom of a stallion, on the approach of a strange horse or number of horses, to circle round his mares, keeping them well together and driving the visitors away, so jealous were they of intruders. I have never known them to mix in any way, but to keep their companies distinct. The manadas were formed at first by the vaqueros’ herding the band during the day and at night securing them in a corral. They continued this day after day until the animals had become so accustomed to the arrangement that there was no danger of their separating. They were then left to go free, and continued together month after month and year after year. A stallion when taken away from his manada and confined in a corral would squeal and neigh and manifest the greatest uneasiness and anxiety until restored to his company. Except for this training to form them into manadas, these mares were entirely wild and unbroken. They were never used for riding and only occasionally for work at the harvest season. They were kept for breeding purposes, and it was not considered a proper or becoming thing for a lady or gentleman to ride a mare; it would, in fact, have been regarded as humiliating.

The tails and manes of the mares of the manadas were closely cut. The hair was utilized for ropes, made by the vaqueros by twisting and braiding together. Those made from the tails were used by the vaqueros for reins and halters in breaking in young colts, and those made from the manes, being of finer quality, were used by the rancheros themselves. The hair being of different colors and skillfully worked together, these hair ropes were very pretty and ornamental as well as very strong. I once asked an old ranchero, Don Domingo Peralta, why the manes and tails of the stallions attached to the manadas were not cut also. He replied, “Las yeguas los aborrecen.” (The mares would take a dislike to them, would lose their respect and affection for them, and would not recognize them as their stallions.)

When the grain was cut at harvesting, the mares were employed in threshing it. I have seen at the rancho of San Leandro four manadas, or one hundred mares, engaged in threshing barley. While they were at work during the day the stallions were separated from them and kept in different corrals. At the end of the day, when the work was done, they were released; the mares being set free also, the stallions would go to work and separate the mares, each getting his own band together, and the mares, recognizing their own stallion, would flock round him.

The threshing was accomplished in a very primitive way: A circular piece of ground, known as a hera, containing, say, an acre and a half, was enclosed by a fence, smooth on the inside. The ground was prepared by putting water on it, leveling and pounding it until it became firm and hard. A large quantity of grain was then thrown into this circular space, and seventy-five to a hundred mares were turned into the place with two or three vaqueros mounted on powerful horses, with whips in their hands, who drove the mares round and round the circle, shouting “Yeguas! Yeguas! Yeguas!” (“Mares!”)

When the mares became dizzy from circling round in this way, they were turned and driven in the opposite direction. This was continued actively until the grain was well threshed out. The grain was winnowed in an equally primitive manner, the process requiring a day when a good breeze was blowing. The threshed grain was pushed well to one side of the inclosure by the harvesters, and a good space cleaned off. Then, with large wooden shovels, they took it up and threw it as high as possible against the wind, which blew the chaff and straw away while the heavier grain fell down on the clean ground which had been prepared for it. In this way they got it out quite clean, also nice and whole, not broken, as it is more or less in passing through a threshing machine.

The missions of San Jose and Santa Clara would use two or three hundred mares in a hera of four or five acres in extent. The missions commonly raised, each, from six to eight hundred acres of wheat for their own use. The mares were also used for the threshing of beans by the same process.

Source: Davis, William Heath. Seventy-five Years in San Francisco. 1929: San Francisco.

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