The period from 1821 to 1846 was a turbulent time in California, but our northern end of Vizcaíno’s bay avoided most of the commotion. The big events usually happened in Monterey, then gradually diffused north. Geographical features of the land (mountains) and sea (lack of a natural harbor) dictated that most early arrivals here would come by way of Monterey, following the trail blazed by the lost Spaniard, Portolà. Ships put in at Monterey’s harbor; merchants arranged their trading business at the customs house; soldiers came and went from the Presidio; ranchers brought their hides and tallow from north and south along El Camino Real to Monterey's wharves; diplomats presented their credentials at the capital of Spanish and Mexican California. The main king’s road didn’t pass through Santa Cruz, and neither did very many travelers. Those who did were mostly, like the boll weevil in the old song, ‘just lookin’ for a home’.
A few adventurous non-Spanish Europeans did find their way north from Monterey, especially to Branciforte. The pueblo’s special civic status and independence from the Mission made it a good place to make a fresh start. Thanks to the work of local historical researchers, we know something about a few of those adventurers (see ‘Further reading’ below). This group had several characteristics in common. They were:
- sailors who came to California by sea,
- ambitious and industrious,
- resident in the Branciforte area prior to 1830,
- married into the Castro family,
- later Rancho grantees (with their wives).
One of the first arrivals came across the Pacific from Russia. Josef Bolcoff’s early history is sketchy, but best guesses are that he came to California as a sailor on a Russian trading ship between 1810 and 1820. He arrived in Branciforte around 1822 and became a Mexican citizen. Known locally simply as “the Russian”, Bolcoff married Candida Castro late the same year, at Mission Santa Cruz, and the couple were granted Rancho San Agustin (Scotts Valley) in 1833. Despite an earlier (1824) arrest for smuggling, Bolcoff was appointed alcalde of Branciforte in 1834 and later served as administrator of Mission Santa Cruz. In 1839, the family moved to the Rancho Refugio (granted jointly to Candida and two of her sisters). A portion of the adobe casa they built survives at Wilder Ranch State Park. A small beach cove in the park was once known as Russian Landing, and the Water Street grade from Ocean Street up to Branciforte Avenue was once called Bolcoff Hill. None of those names survive on today’s signs.
Another member of this group was an Irishman named Michael Lodge, most likely a sailor on an American merchantman that stopped to trade in Monterey. Lodge stayed behind when the ship set sail for the long and hazardous return voyage around Cape Horn. He came to sleepy Branciforte around 1827 and became a carpenter and ranchero. Lodge became a Mexican citizen and married Martina Castro, probably in 1831. In 1833, Martina petitioned for and was granted the Rancho Soquel, which extended from Soquel Creek to Borregas Creek (now the eastern boundary of Cabrillo College). According to Clark, Capitola Beach (or maybe New Brighton Beach?) was once known as ‘Lodges Beach’. Today, however, the name Lodge cannot be found on a sign anywhere.
A third former sailor was an Englishman named William Buckle. William and his brother Samuel settled at Branciforte in 1823. William married another Castro sister, Maria Antonia. Like Bolcoff and Lodge before him, Buckle was co-grantee of a rancho, Rancho Carbonera (1838). Carbonera was one of the later and smaller ranchos, and included today’s Pasatiempo and Carbonera Estates neighborhoods.
A word is in order here about women’s property rights laws in Mexican California (carried forward from Spanish law). When women like the Castro sisters married, they retained the right to own property separately. That was not the case at the time in the United States, where the husband held all the property rights of a married couple (as in British law of that era). Thus, a married woman like Martina Castro Lodge could still petition for and receive a land grant under her maiden name.
Beginning in the late 1820s, a different group of adventurers began to arrive in California. They were American fur trappers, hunters and mountain men who blazed trails across the wide prairies, forbidding mountains and scorching deserts separating California from the western edges of the United States. By the early 1830s, a few of them began to arrive in the Santa Cruz area. We’ll talk about them next time.
- Pokriots, Marion D. Don Jose Antonio Bolcoff: Branciforte’s Russian Alcalde, in Santa CruzCountyHistory Journal, Issue Number Three. (1997). Art and History Museum of Santa Cruz.
- Reynolds, Willa Dean. Michael Lodge: The Overlooked Pioneer, in Santa Cruz County History Journal Number Six. (2009). Art and History Museum of Santa Cruz.