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Historically Speaking Gold Nuggets, Land Titles and José Sanchez’s Fortune Written By Elizabeth Barrett A fter Mariano Castro died in 1828, his widow inherited the title to his 25,519 acre Las Animas Rancho. It was regranted to her in 1835 by Governor Figueroa. Eleven years later, in 1846, the Castro heirs sold about three-quarters of the property to José María Sanchez. Sanchez (1804-1852), a citizen of Mexico, had arrived in Alta California and began to procure ranch properties. These included the 16,016 acre Rancho Llano de Tequisquite, located along today’s Pacheco Pass Highway, an area that contained Soap Lake. In 1844, José Antonio Castro sold him the 6,652 acre Rancho Lomerías Muertas. The rancho, located south of Gilroy, was bordered by the San Benito and Pajaro Rivers. This became the land where Sanchez and his wife, Encarnación Ortega (1804-1894) built their home and raised five children. Sanchez’s property holdings totaled over 44,000 acres, mostly devoted to raising longhorn cattle. When José María Sanchez married Encarnación in 1840, he joined an old, established Santa Clara Valley family. Encarnación, the oldest daughter of Quintin Ortega, was the granddaughter of Ygnacio Ortega, the original grantee of the Rancho San Ysidro at Old Gilroy. Ygnacio’s father, José Francisco Ortega, had accompanied the Portola expedition in 1769 that discovered San Francisco Bay. Encarnación’s aunt, Clara María Ortega, had married John Gilroy. Sanchez was a wealthy and enterprising businessman for the era. Over time he served as alcalde (magistrate) of San Juan Bautista, ran a hide brokerage in Monterey, raised livestock, operated a soap factory at Soap Lake (also known as San Felipe Lake), sold Chinese imports delivered to California by trade ships, managed slaughter and butchering operations in the Sierra and mined for gold. His gold collection, allegedly amassed from mining in the Sierra and winning at card games, was said to be buried somewhere on his ranch property. At the pinnacle of his success, an inexplicable tragedy occurred on Christmas Eve 1852 when José María Sanchez drowned in the Pajaro River. The event left not only his widow and children bereft of the father and family provider, but also his heirs fell victim to the era’s legal codes. Besides being incapable of administrating her own property, Encarnación was unable to read. A series of court- appointed directors took over, leaving the helpless widow and her family under outside supervision and control. Monterey County Sheriff Roach was one who headed straight to court to request the appointment after he learned of Sanchez’s sudden death. (San Benito County was not yet formed from Monterey County at the time.) Roach was particularly persistent. In 1853, just as Encarnación was about to marry Thomas B. Godden, Roach tried to gain sole administration over her estate. Although Godden attempted to prevail, he was soon killed in a steamboat explosion. Not one to let the grass grow, two months later, Encarnación married Henry L. Sanford. While engaged in official wrangling with Roach, Sanford also tried to unravel the legal entanglements. Prior to the final estate GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN settlement, Sanford was killed in a gunfight. Unbelieveably, by 1855 Encarnación was again married, this time to a lawyer named George W. Crane. He thought he could help by attempting to eliminate her name from the title in hopes of speeding up the proceedings. As his obliging wife, Encarnación sold her new husband the Sanchez estate for a $5 gold piece. It seemed the woman was poison to men, because in 1868 Crane died of either measles or smallpox. Incredibly, in 1871 she married one last time, to Anastio Alviso. He later died of a hunting accident. In all, it took nineteen time-consuming years of legal squabbles before the Sanchez family members finally settled out the estate and received their inheritance. In the end, 12,000 acres were sold to the Miller and Lux Company and became part of the Bloomfield Ranch operation. The Sanchez family and the Las Animas Rancho story didn’t end here. By the 1870s, the newly incorporated City of Gilroy had been founded on a portion of the old rancho. Questions arose over land ownership and establishing clear property titles. Over a thousand claimants brought suit in a case that persisted from 1879 until 1 887 before it was at last settled. Widowed five times, the unfortunate Encarnación spent the remainder of her life in San Juan Bautista at the home of her third husband, George Crane. She died in 1894 died at age 71 in the Crane house, which stands today opposite the old mission convent at 401 Second Street. As for the beleaguered José María Sanchez, legends still surface on occasion of his buried gold nuggets. Long ago, gold seekers were known to trespass on his former rancho, digging up the ground in search of supposed buried treasure, but no such collection has yet been discovered. SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017 gmhtoday.com 43