Dirt (Part 3)

The policy imposed by the Missions was that the Indians should work, tend the fields and care for the animals. This was a concept that they didn’t like or understand. (Locally, the Indians never had permanent settlements in the valley and their gods Eagle, Hummingbird and Coyote lived in the mountains—Eagle on Mt. Diablo and Hummingbird on Mt. Umunhum.) The Missions also separated the unmarried Indian men and women at night, another concept they didn’t like.

In the dry summers of the early 1800s, Mission Santa Clara’s Franciscan fathers needed water for the fields, so they sent a detachment of Indians down to the confluence of Los Gatos and Guadalupe creeks—where the San Jose Arena stands today—to dig a canal, or water ditch. The “acequia,” was three “varas” wide by one and one-half deep, or nine feet by four and one-half feet. The ditch ran on the northeast side of what is today’s Alameda, making five distinct turns on its course to the Mission Santa Clara fields. It was a navigable body of water, deep enough for small boats to travel upon. In order to keep the Indians working, soldier guards were posted near them.

In the early days, there were artesian wells to irrigate the fields. All types of crops were introduced by the Mission fathers: apricots, peaches, mission figs, olives, wheat and vegetables. In 1821, Mexico declared its independence from Spain and the Missions were secularized—that is, the Mission lands were taken and given to the local ranchos. The original intent was to give the land to the Indians, but they didn’t want it. There was one exception in this area. Land was given to “Roberto,” who built an adobe on what is now Lincoln Avenue. But he kept the grant for only two years and then he sold it.

Gold was discovered in California in 1848 and the world stormed here. Among the early seekers were Frenchman Louis Pellier and Swiss immigrant Giochino Yocco. As partners, these two men sought their fortune in the northern mines near Redding, but they were unsuccessful. Gold mining was cold, hard work and only one in every five miners made expenses. Giving up, Pellier and Yocco traveled to San Francisco where they were surprised to find that apples were selling for a dollar apiece. Pellier had experience as a farmer in France, so they came to San Jose together, acquired property west of Market Street and south of St. John Street, and started City Gardens Nursery where they planted apricot, pear and peach cuttings.

Louis’s younger brother, Pierre, joined him, but soon became lonesome for his fiancée back in France. Louis sent him back to get married and return with prune, pear and grape cuttings. This was the start of the great fruit industry that thrived in the modest climate and rich soil. The dominant orchard tree was the French prune, or “Petite Prun d’Angen.” It could be harvested, dipped in a lye solution, and dried in the sun. Vineyards ringed the foothills to the east, south and west. The fruit industry boomed and canneries prospered. And the sun shone!


  1. Leonard, great continuation of ‘dirt’.  I congratulate you for your frank description of the enslavement of the Indians by the early Mexican’s.  As you know, such frankness is not currently PC…

    I look forward to your discussion of SJ’s first American mayor – Thomas Fallon.

    I always try to remind myself that people in history behaved according to the standards of their day.  Not our day…

    Very interesting series!  Please continue…

  2. #1 Dexter

    San Jose’s first American mayor was Josiah Belden. He was elected on April 8, 1850 and served a single, one-year term. Thomas Fallon did not become mayor until 1859.

  3. For those interested in the subject of the Missions and the Indians, I recomend the study that Santa Clara University did and that was edited by Rose Marie Beebe and Robert M. Senkewicz : Chronicles of Early California, 1535-1846 LANDS OF PROMISE and DESPAIR

    Jerry Rosenthal, President, California Pioneers of Santa Clara County.

  4. Dear Editor,  Thanks! I discovered my mistake after submitting my post.  Never-the-less, I hope you address this controversial figure and the statuary honoring him.  As I said in my earlier post, I think we need to consider people according to the standards for their time…

  5. Building on Leonard’s last line, “The fruit industry boomed, the canneries prospered and the sun shone”.  I have a few trivia questions for some of you old time San Joseans.  I recently lost a bet on the first question.  These cannery questions are in honor of San Jose’s last operating cannery, Del Monte Plant #3, that was just torn down to make way for more K.B. tract homes.
    #1… What was name of the first company to use the Del Monte label?  What was the first product to use the label, and who was it packed for?
    #2…  What local cannery named their brand after our Valley of Hearts Delight?
    #3…  What was the name of the first cannery in San Jose and what year did it get started?
    #4… In 1918 how many new canneries were started just in San Jose?
    #5… Where were the fruit trees that supplied the fruit for the first fruit cannery, built in in S.F. in 1858?
      I hope this little bit fun will get us off Gonzo for a few minutes.  Life in San Jose was good long before him and it will be good long after he has gone.  I hope you all will take a shot at answering, guessing is ok.

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