gmhTODAY 09 gmhToday July Aug 2016 - Page 68

Morgan Hill Anniversary’s … Looking Back In Time Written By Mike Monroe A nniversaries are certainly special as they offer perspective and context to look back on what once was and to see how far we’ve come. I have four interesting anniversary stories to share with you that are significant in the history of southern Santa Clara County. Two hundred years ago, March 11, 1816 to be precise, Thomas Doak from Boston sailed aboard the American schooner Albatross and landed at the sleepy harbor of Monterey, Alta California. He was to become the first American settler in California, residing for the rest of his life in what is now the southern outskirts of Gilroy on a portion of the Las Ánimas Rancho. The Albatross and its crew were probably engaged in some smuggling activities trying to avoid customs duties on the cargo in the ship’s hold. According to Claudia Salewske in her book Pieces of the Past: A Story of Gilroy, Doak was weary of the life at sea and so he left his shipmates, remaining in Monterey for a couple of years. He was a ship’s carpenter and could make block and tackle gear for the harbor trade. By 1818, he made his way to Mission San Juan Bautista where he used his handyman skills to work at the Mission in exchange for room and board. He is credited with painting murals inside the chapel and the artwork for the fine reredoes (the partitioned wood structure behind the altar that holds six statues). Some say he was not the best painter, but the colors in his work are still vibrant today. Depending upon which history account you read it is possible that John Gilroy and Thomas Doak may have arrived in South County at about the same time. Gilroy, a Scotsman, had first arrived in California in 1814 but may have lived in Alameda County for a time before marrying into the Ortega family, and then in Old Gilroy (known back then as San Isidro). We know that Thomas Doak was born in 1787 in Boston but there is not a record for his death and burial. After his baptism at San Juan Bautista he was christened Felipe Santiago and soon thereafter married Maria Lugarda Castro, the daughter of José Mariano de Castro who was the grantee of the Las Ánimas Ranch. 68 GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN The Rancho Las Ánimas land grant is the basis for much of modern Gilroy. Castro was a soldier at the Monterey garrison. In 1803 he applied for the land grant, which totaled more than 26,000 acres. The full name of the rancho is Las Ánimas o La Poza de Carnedero and it was also sometimes known as La Brea because there were natural tar pits oozing from the southern hills of the grant. Castro died in 1828, with his wife, Josefa, and eight children dividing the property, including a one-sixteenth portion to Maria Lugarda and her husband Thomas Doak. Thomas and Maria had four children. One of their daughters, Anna Maria, married Nicodemus Gilroy, John Gilroy’s oldest son. The conclusion of the Thomas Doak story has his wife selling their share of the rancho to Henry Miller in the late 1850’s. Fast forwarding one hundred years, Henry Miller passed away on October 14, 1916 at the age of 89. He was known as the “Cattle King” and his amazing story of arriving as a young man from Germany with only a few dollars in his pocket, rapidly building up a cattle and sheep ranching business to become one of the largest landowners ever in the United States, has been re-told numerous times. At the time of his death in 1916, the Miller and Lux corporate partnership directly owned 1.4 million acres of cattle and farm land in California, Nevada and Oregon. The company controlled nearly 22,000 square miles. Miller’s estate was valued at nearly 40 million dollars. The base of the Miller and Lux operations was the San Joaquin Valley, and the Los Banos area in particular, it was Bloomfield Ranch in Gilroy that Miller called his home. He was especially fond of his family’s summer get-a-away camp at Mt. Madonna where employees and town friends once gathered to relax with a BBQ and escape the heat as the cool ocean breezes swept over the hills. In his old age, Miller knew that he had to cede control of his land empire but he felt there was no one who could really manage it all. Probably with a lot of apprehension, he turned over the reins to his son-in-law J. Leroy Nickle who was married to Miller’s sole surviving child, Nellie. JULY / AUGUST 2016