• The Early 1800s
    By 1800, the Spanish had taken control of most of the Bay Area, with seven missions in the region.  

    The closest mission to the Suisunes ("West Winds") was across the San Francisco Bay.  It was called Mission San Francisco de Asís. Franciscan missionaries wanted to bring all tribes into the Spanish-controlled missions, pueblos and presidios, but the Spanish had not yet reached north of the present-day Carquinez Strait to the Suisunes. The Suisunes lived sufficiently far away from the first missions to resist the incoming Spaniards, and over time they joined with the other Patwin tribes in the central valley region to repel the incursion on their lands and maintain their freedom. They acquired horses that had escaped from mission and outpost corrals. 

    The Suisunes might have avoided contact for several more decades with the missionaries, however in the early 19th century, Indian runaways from the missions began to seek shelter with the Suisunes. The missions would send Mission Indians to round up "Christian" runaways. The interaction set in motion a chain of Indian battles and growing distrust.

    The United States negotiated the Louisiana Purchase from France.  For $15 million, the United States doubled its size.
    Map of the United States showing the area of the Louisiana Purchase  
    In 1804, 14
    Mission Indians identified as Saclan and Jalquin (Bay Miwok from the Contra Costa county area) ventured into the Suisun homeland to recapture mission runaways, and were either killed or died in an unfortunate drowning accident. The facts are unclear. The mission statement of their deaths included this note: "It is not possible to affirm whether they died by drowning or at the hands of the pagans (i.e., the Suisunes)... I am inclined to believe they died by drowning. If the pagans (Suisunes) had killed them, their relatives would have told me about it."

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    By the year 1807, 62 runaways from the missions lived in Suisunes territory. In February 1807, 40 Mission Indians ventured into Suisun territory looking for  runaways, and were particularly interested in reclaiming one man's wife. The runaways fought for their freedom, with the Suisunes defending them. Twelve of the attacking Mission Indians died, the rest retreated.
    Robert Fulton made the first successful steamboat trip between New York City and Albany.
    The first European contact in the Solano County area came in 1810 when the Spanish army was ordered to attack the Suisun Indians.  Gabriel Moraga was sent from the Spanish Presidio in San Francisco with a force of Spanish soldiers and neophytes (Native Americans who had converted to Christianity at the missions) for a counterattack against the Suisun. Moraga’s contingent traveled across what is now Contra Costa County to the Carquinez Strait, where they were ferried across the water by a Spanish ship. These were the first Europeans to set foot in Solano County.


    The Suisun triblets of central Solano County were particularly irritating to the Spanish authorities. Beginning in 1807, the Suisuns launched a series of attacks on outposts of the Bay Area missions, leading to property damage and the death of many neophytes of the San Francisco Mission. After each attack, the Suisuns escaped the Spanish by rafting across the Carquinez straits and disappearing into the Suisun marsh.

    In May 1810, three more traveling Mission Indians were killed by Suisunes. In retribution, Moraga led the attack on 125 members of the Suisun tribe. A fierce battle ensued, in which the Suisuns were driven to take refuge in three large village structures. After the Suisuns in two of the structures had been killed, the group in the third building set it on fire and burned to death rather than surrender. The soldiers returned to San Francisco with "six boys and six girls of Suisuns and Chupcans."

    Napoleon's Grand Army invaded Russia in June.  Forced to retreat in winter, most of Napoleon's 600,000 men were lost. 
    War of 1812:  The U.S. warred with Britain over freedom of the seas for ships.
    After 1811, Suisuns were recorded in baptism books of the San Francisco and San Jose missions. By 1813, most Suisuns had been removed to the missions.
    Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo.
    Historical picture of San Francisco Presidio Hospital  
    In 1817, Jose DeArguello, the commandant of the Presidio of San Francisco, sent his lieutenant Jose Sanchez with orders to explore the country north of the Carquinez Strait and to subdue any rebellious elements among the triblets in the area. 

    They landed on the north side of the strait near the present site of Benicia, where they were attacked by a large group of local natives. The Spanish force repelled the attack with their superior weaponry, and forced the native people to retreat to a permanent village near the site of the current Suisun City. 

    The Spaniards subsequently gained ground in present-day Fairfield and Suisun City, reaching the Suisun village of Chief Malica, sachem (chief) of the tribe. At this village, probably because of the imminent defeat of his people, Chief Malica and the majority of the tribe chose to end their lives in a tragic mass suicide. The Spaniards witnessed the village's brushy huts bursting into flames. The chief, chanting and singing, leapt into the flames, followed by the people of the village, including children and women with babies. The Spaniards tried to save some, while several natives fled into the hills. The remaining tribe survived in the hills or through assimilation, reemerging under the leadership of Chief Sem Yeto, who would later become known as Chief Solano, who was not in the village when the mass suicide took place.
    The U.S. Monroe Doctrine warned European nations not to interfere in Western Hemisphere.
    The Spanish had drastically reduced the native population by the time Father Jose Altamira, head of the San Francisco Mission, visited the area in 1823. He was looking for a site for a new north bay mission. In his diary, he described abandoned and collapsed dwellings in Green, Suisun, and Lagoon Valleys.

    On July 4, 1823, he dedicated the new mission San Francisco Solano at Sonoma.

    Historical exterior photo of Mission Solano showing chapel and attached buildings Photo of the interior of Sonoma Mission, present day
    The Sonoma Mission report of December, 1824, stated that a rancho had been established in a place called Suisun, and that a provisional house had been erected for a steward. The remnants of a water cistern constructed during the Mexican period indicate that it may have been located on the east side of Nelson Hill, east of Cordelia and south of Rockville.
    There is no longer a town of Rockville, but there is a Rockville park located west of Fairfield.  Here are modern and historical maps (1877) showing Rockville's location.  The names on the top map tell who owned each parcel of land in 1877 when the map was drawn.  How many pieces of land did R.D. Robbins own?
    Antique map showing Old Rockville area
    Modern aerial view of current Rockville area
    Among the natives baptized at Sonoma in 1824 was the Suisun chief, Sem Yeto, who the mission padres renamed Francisco Solano when he was baptized. Solano had been absent from his village when its residents burned themselves to death in 1817. Solano decided to pursue a path of peaceful coexistence with the Europeans to ensure the survival of the rest of his people. To further promote this outcome, he allied himself with a number of neighboring tribelets of the north Bay Area. Since Solano was widely respected for his physical stature (he was 6’7” tall) and bravery, he was placed at the head of this alliance.
    Mexico became a republic, three years after declaring independence from Spain.  Bolivar liberated Peru.  Beethoven composed his Ninth Symphony.
    John Walker of England invented the friction match.  It was ignited by pulling the match head between sheets of sandpaper, and sometimes a flaming ball would fall to a carpet or light a woman's dress on fire, leading to a ban on these matches in France and Germany.
    The new Republic of Mexico gained possession of California when Mexico became independent from Spain in 1821. In August 1833, orders came from Mexico City that the missions be devested of their lands, and the Mexican Governor at Monterey, Jose Figueroa, appointed a young officer, Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, Commissioner of the Sonoma Mission starting in 1834.
    Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo
    Photo of Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo  
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    Solano was facing pressure from his Indian advisors to rise against the Europeans, probably because the dissolution of the Sonoma Mission created hardship for the natives who lived there and led to a weakening of Sonoma’s local economy. Vallejo began to hear rumors of revolt, and early in 1835, led a force to the vicinity of the present site of Vallejo, which had become Chief Solano’s permanent residence. After a campaign in which Vallejo was only able to defeat the natives with the help of reinforcements from the San Francisco Presidio, Solano decided to negotiate a peace with the Mexicans.

    The agreement said that Solano would help secure the north bay region for Mexican settlement, and that in return, Vallejo would help Solano in his traditional warfare with the Satiyomi triblets of the Wappo culture group, who lived in what are now Napa, Sonoma, and Lake Counties.  

    Dr. Platon Vallejo, the general's son, described the relationship between Chief Solano and his father.  "The comandante always held Solano as a personal friend and equal.  He consulted him on all things.  The chief was a most welcome guest at the hacienda when the comandante settled at Sonoma.  He might be savage still in some things.  When enemies opposed him he killed them if he could, but he also had the primitive virtues of truth, honor, and everlasting good faith, and the trust placed in him was never betrayed.  My father has often told me he never came in contact with a finer mind.  He was a keen, clear-headed thinker, readily grasped new ideas, learned to speak Spanish with ease and precision, and was so ready to debate that few cared to engage him in a contest of wit."
    During the next eight years, Solano and his allies participated with Vallejo in a number of successful military campaigns against hostile native groups. However, it was the smallpox epidemic of 1828 and the late 1830s that eliminated the natives as a force on the northern California frontier. The handful of Mexican settlers were able to obtain smallpox vaccine during the epidemic for themselves and a small number of Indians, including Solano. (Edward Jenner developed the smallpox vaccine in 1798.)
    This picture shows smallpox, which was eradicated worldwide in 1979 through vaccination and is no longer a threat to people.
    Historical photo of child with smallpox showing skin lesions 
    The Mexican Army besieged the Texans in the battle of the Alamo.  The entire garrison, including Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, were killed.  Texas got independence from Mexico later after winning the battle of San Jacinto.
    Fairfield History: In 1837, Chief Solano (Sem Yeto) received the Rancho Suisun Mexican land grant. This grant eventually came into the hands of a clipper ship captain from Connecticut named Robert H. Waterman. He not only parceled out the town in 1856, but also, in a commercially shrewd move, arranged to have the county seat moved here in 1858 from Benicia. As an inducement he granted 16 acres of land for the construction of county buildings. In 1903 Fairfield was incorporated as a city.
    In 1837-39, a second smallpox epidemic killed almost all of the native people who had survived the first epidemic, devastating the native population.
    Jose Francisco Armijo, a native of New Mexico and an itinerant seller of hides and brandy, visited Suisun Valley on one of his journeys and was impressed by what he saw. This potentially rich land was deserted, and Armijo learned it was held by no prior claim. In November, 1839, Armijo applied for and received a grant from Comandante Vallejo which included the northern and eastern portions of Suisun Valley and the Tolenas Valley. The grant received final approval from California’s Mexican Governor, Juan Alvarado, in March, 1840. Armijo settled the land and built a small house on a knoll east of Suisun Creek. He began raising cattle, and by 1843, he had 300 head. He also grew vegetables and fruit for his own needs.
    U.S. President Harrison, our ninth president, died one month after inauguration.  He was 68 years old, and died on his 32nd day in office from complications from pneumonia. John Tyler became the first vice president to succeed to the presidency.
    The next Mexican citizens to arrive in what is now Solano County were the families of Juan Manuel Vaca (1782–1856) and Juan Felipe Peña ( - 1863) who surveyed and occupied land in the Lagoon and Vaca Valleys. Jose Armijo had known the Vacas in New Mexico, and they brought the two youngest Armijo children with them from New Mexico.  Vaca's wife had died in 1839, but he brought his eight children with him.  Peña brought his wife, Isabel Gonsalves, and their six children.
    The journey was difficult.  William Workman and John Rowland had organized a party to travel to California by way of the Old Spanish Trail.  It went from northern New Mexico, through Colorado, Utah, and Nevada, finishing with a long stretch through the Mojave desert into Los Angeles.  The trail was too rough for wagons, so supplies had to be packed onto mules. They carried provisions, including flour, hard-tack biscuits, dried beef, and dried buffalo meat.  They had a flock of sheep for fresh meat on the journey. 
    After resting in Los Angeles, Vaca and Peña headed north.  They were surprised to find that the mission system had declined, and that there were only scattered pueblos offering overnight shelter and food, so they frequently needed to camp outside.  The weather was bitterly cold.  It was foggy, and cold nights and rain made travel miserable.  It took three months for the expedition to reach our area from Los Angeles.  Now it takes about six hours by car to make the journey.  It would take about 145 hours to walk the 434 miles now, or about 19 days if you walked for eight hours a day at 3 miles per hour, which is an average walking speed.  The lack of smooth roads and trails, and the need to bring household belongings made travel much slower for early settlers.
    General Vallejo housed the women and children while the men built homes southwest of Vacaville in Lagoon Valley.  Vaca's house was built about a third of a mile north of Peña's.  It was badly damaged by the earthquake of 1892 and torn down.  The homes were built of adobe bricks, with walls two feet thick.  Adobe is made of clay and straw, baked into bricks in the sun.  Peña's family hauled redwood from Napa to frame the roof and make lintels to hold the top of the walls up over the windows and doors.  They used teams of oxen or mules to haul the timber.  The home was 18' x 50', and the family cooked outside.  There was no inside fireplace, and no plumbing.  Water was hauled in a bucket from a well.  An 18' x 50' space is 900 square feet, the size of a small two bedroom apartment.  This small house had to accommodate the Peñas and their six children, and also shelter visitors.  There was little privacy.
    Present day photo of the Pena Adobe
    You can visit the Peña Adobe on the first Saturday of every month, from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.  More information can be found at this link to the  
    Pena Adobe Historical Society.

    In 1842, John Wolfskill also arrived. He was the first native of the United States to settle in Solano County. Wolfskill’s brother, William, had become a prosperous farmer in Los Angeles, and since he was a Mexican citizen, he was able to get his brother a land grant on both sides of Putah Creek. By the end of the year, John had driven 96 head of cattle from Los Angeles to the banks of Putah Creek, and had also obtained another herd from San Jose.

    Wolfskill had more interest in farming than his neighbors, who were more interested in ranching.  With advice and seedlings from his brother William, John started a vineyard and orchard, and he planted fields of barley, corn, and vegetables.  John was a true horticulturalist, growing black walnuts, pecans, pomegranates, apricots, oranges, figs, and olives, which became the basis for Solano County's orchards. John and William's three older brothers, Sarchel, Milton, and Mathus, eventually joined him, building houses out of smooth, white volcanic tufa, the native stone.
    John Wolfskill's stone house fell in the earthquake of 1892 and was replaced the following year by a seventeen room frame house.  This stood, as did the former one, at the end of a long driveway lined with olive trees.  Emblazoned on this later house was the number 96, the Wolfskill cattle brand, which was a reference to the number of cattle John had driven north in 1842.  This house, which John Wolfskill lived until his death in his nineties in 1897, burned in 1948.

    Over a hundred acres of the Wolfskill property, owned by John Wolfskill and later by his daughter and then his grandchildren, was willed to the University of California at Davis for an agricultural experimental station, with the provision that the olive plantings along the driveway be retained.  The spot, State Registered Landmark 804, is two miles southwest of Winters, off Putah Creek Road.  It is easily identifiable by the magnificent avenue of gnarled olive trees leading to two university buildings at the former site of John Wolfskill's house.

    General Vallejo is credited with recommending the Lagoon Valley area to Vaca and Peña. The Los Putos grant of 10 square leagues was made in 1843 by Governor Micheltorena. The grant was originally called Rancho Lihuaytos - which was the name of Putah Creek at that time. The “Los Putos” comes from a corruption of the Putah in Putah Creek, which comes from puta wuwwe (grassy creek) in the Miwok language. The US Board of Geographic Names rejected Puta Creek because of the meaning of puta in Spanish, and Putah was used after that. The language describing the grant was vague, and overlapped the Rancho Rio de los Putos grant of William Wolfskill. In 1845, Governor Pio Pico made a correcting grant of 10 square leagues settling what had become a contentious issue between the Wolfskills and the Vacas and Penas.

    With the cession of California to the United States following the Mexican-American War, the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo provided that the land grants would be honored. As required by the Land Act of 1851, a claim for Rancho Los Putos was filed with the Public Land Commission in 1853, and the grant was patented to Juan Felipe Peña and Juan Manuel Vaca in 1858. The first sales of rancho property began in 1849, when Vaca sold a half-league of land between Alamo Creek and Ulatis Creek to John Patton and Albert Lyon.

    A league is three miles on land, originally the distance a person could walk in an hour.  (A league on water, like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, was the distance a person of average height could see, the distance between the ship and the horizon, a little over three miles.)

    Ulatis Creek, which flows through the rancho area, was named for the native tribe sometimes called the Ooloolatis, who occupied the area and left many artifacts.  The Ulatis were wiped out by the smallpox epidemic of 1837-39.


    Then in 1850, came a history making sale, when Vaca sold one square league (about 9 square miles) of land to William McDaniel with the provision that one square mile (640 acres) would be used to create a township called Vacaville. Vaca received about half of subdivided lots in the town. McDaniel's partner was the Benicia attorney Lansing B. Mizner. In exchange for laying out the town and tending to the legal paperwork, Mizner received half of the land in the deal with Vaca. Vaca could not speak, read, write English, but Mizner, fluent in both Spanish and English, was the interpreter for the transaction. It might be noted that McDaniel was a federal land agent and it was against the law for him to be involved in purchasing land.

    Peña was upset, and it was the cause of a major quarrel between Peña and Vaca. In an attempt to end the quarrel, Peña received two hundred lots in the town of Vacaville. Vaca was also upset about the McDaniel deal. He said he had believed he was signing over only one square mile. Vaca posted in the Benicia newspaper: “Caution. I hereby notify all persons not to purchase any lands from William McDaniel, which he claims to have purchased from me under a title which he obtained from me under false pretenses, and I shall institute suit against him to annul the title so fraudulently obtained by him. Manual Vaca”. McDaniel sued Vaca for libel and the loss of a land sale. The jury found Vaca guilty of libel, but the California Supreme Court overturned the decision, ruling that Vaca’s newspaper warning was something that “every freeman and freeholder would be justified in making if the circumstances raised a strong presumption that the fraud had been attempted upon him to get possession of his estate”.

    After Vaca and Peña argued over the William McDaniel land sale, Vaca sold his adobe to John Wesley Hill. Juan Manual Vaca died in 1856.

    Peña died in 1863, leaving his land to his children and the adobe to his only daughter, Nestora Peña Rivera (who had married Jesus Tapia Rivera), along with 1,000 acres. His wife Isabella stayed at the adobe until she died in 1884.

    A survey correcting the boundaries of William Wolfskill's Rio de los Putos grant and the Vaca-Peña Rancho was made in 1858. Adjustments had to be made to the original boundary lines of the grant. The boundary lines were finally established as a twisted and elongated configuration.

    The legal fees for the years 1853 through to the official United States patent in 1858, were paid in land. The families had to turn over large parcels of land to pay the taxes. By 1855, the tax rolls show only 13,777 acres of the original 44,384 acres of Vaca-Peña grant remaining in the original owners’ hands.   It was slightly less than a third.  By 1880 most of the land grant was sold.
    Armijo’s son Antonio, established his own cattle ranch and built an adobe for himself about a mile east of his father’s residence. He used forced native labor imported from Sacramento, and was therefore able to operate a much larger ranch than his father. 
    Edgar Allen Poe published The Raven and Other Poems.
    U.S. Congress declared a state of war with Mexico over western borders. This Mexican-American War lasted between 1846 and 1848, ending with American forces occupying multiple Pacific garrisons and capturing Mexico City. 
    Drawing of a battle in the Mexican American War
    Failure of the potato crop caused famine in Ireland.
    Daniel Berry, an American, brought his family to a parcel of land two miles north of Rockville and enclosed a small field. Later this year, other American families established small farms in Green Valley and Vaca Valley.
    On February 2, Mexico ceded California to the Americans under the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
    Nine days earlier on January 24, 1848, James Marshall had discovered a gold nugget in a channel of water at John Sutter’s mill on the American River. Word spread quickly, and fortune-seekers swarmed to California. 
    The major impact on Solano County was agricultural because of the expanded market for food. The Vacas, Peña, Armijos, Wolfskills, and the vaqueros of Comandante Vallejo drove cattle to Sacramento, and sold fruits and vegetables there. By the beginning of the 1850s, the Wolfskills were growing fruits and vegetables on 250 acres.