William Wolfskill

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Portrait c. 1831

William Wolfskill (1798–1866)[1] was a pioneer, cowboy and agronomist who settled in Los Angeles, California. He was highly influential in the development of California's agricultural industry in the 19th century, as was his brother, John Reid Wolfskill.

Valencia orange[edit]

Arguably his greatest contribution to agriculture was the Valencia orange,[2] which quickly became the most popular juice orange in America and led to the naming of Valencia, California.


Wolfskill moved to New Mexico in 1821, while the region was a province of Mexico called Santa Fe de Nuevo México. He spent ten years trapping in the New Mexico area, where in 1828 he was made a Mexican citizen.

Wolfskill left Taos, New Mexico, in September 1830 with a “dream team” party of mountain men that included Jedediah Smith (first American to cross overland into California, in the 1820s), Kit Carson and George C. Yount. When they arrived in Southern California in early 1831 (using the trail Smith had mapped across the Mojave desert), Wolfskill and Yount went on to the coast to hunt sea otter. Wolfskill eventually returned to Southern California while Yount decided to go north, and the two parted company. Yount settled in the Napa Valley.

Wolfskill took advantage of the Mexican land ownership laws for naturalized citizens and became a pioneer of viticulture in Southern California. After acquiring land from the Mexican government where downtown Los Angeles now stands, he began growing grapevines. He eventually planted 32,000 vines on a 48 acre vineyard. Initially, he planted mission vines, but he experimented with other varietals later. At his death in 1866, he was producing 50,000 gallons of wine a year. He was, by far, the greatest producer of table grapes in California during the Mexican era and has been named by historians as one of the three most important men in the history of California viticulture. Wolfskill’s neighbor, friend and business rival in the tiny pueblo of Los Angeles, was the French immigrant Jean-Louis Vignes.[3]

He was one of the wealthiest men in Southern California for his time, and owned large tracts of land throughout Southern California which were used for everything from sheep grazing to orange groves.

Wolfskill is credited with starting the commercial citrus industry by selling a shipload of lemons to the gold miners for up to $1 apiece and shipping oranges the following year. He is also credited with building the first schooner in California.

Early California settler John Bidwell includes him in his recollection of people he knew in early Mexican Los Angeles: "Los Angeles I first saw in March, 1845. It then had probably two hundred and fifty people, of whom I recall Don Abel Stearns, John Temple, Captain Alexander Bell, William Wolfskill, Lemuel Carpenter, David W. Alexander; also of Mexicans, Pio Pico (governor), Don Juan Bandini, and others".[4]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Iris Wilson Engstrand (1965). William Wolfskill, 1798-1866: Frontier Trapper to California Ranchero. A. H. Clark Co. 
  2. ^ "Valencia Sweet Oranges". Citrus Trees Online. Retrieved 2008-02-22. 
  3. ^ Gaughan, Tim (June 19, 2009). "Where the valley met the vine: The Mexican period". Napa Valley Register (Napa, CA: Lee Enterprises, Inc.). Retrieved September 30, 2011. 
  4. ^ John Bidwell: "First-Person Narratives of California's Early Years, 1849-1900," Library of Congress Historical Collections, "American Memory": John Bidwell (Pioneer of '41): Life in California Before the Gold Discovery, from the collection "California As I Saw It."