Rancho El Sur

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Hand-drawn diseño (map) of Rancho El Sur supporting Juan Bautista Alvarado's patent claim.

Rancho El Sur was a 8,949.06-acre (36.22 km2)[1] Mexican land grant in present day Monterey County, California on the Big Sur coast given in 1834 by Governor José Figueroa to Juan Bautista Alvarado.[2] The grant extended from the mouth of Little Sur River inland about 2.5 miles (4.0 km) over the coastal mountains and south along the coast past the mouth of the Big Sur River to Cooper's Point. In about 1892, the rancho land plus an additional 3,000 acres (1,200 ha) of resale homestead land was divided into two major parcels. The southern 4,800 acres (1,900 ha) became the Molera Ranch, later the foundation of Andrew Molera State Park. The northern 7,100 acres (2,900 ha) formed the El Sur Ranch.[3][4][5][6][7]


Before the arrival of Europeans, the land was occupied by the Esselen people, who resided along the upper Carmel and Arroyo Seco Rivers, and along the Big Sur coast from near present-day Hurricane Point to the vicinity of Vicente Creek in the south.[8] The native people were heavily affected by the establishment of three Spanish Missions near them from 1770 to 1791.[8] The native population was decimated by disease, including measles, smallpox, and syphilis, which wiped out 90 percent of the native population,[9]: and by conscript labor, poor food, and forced assimilation. Most of the Esselen people's villages within the current Los Padres National Forest were left largely uninhabited.[10]

Spanish grant[edit]

1898 map showing the legal boundaries of Rancho el Sur after Cooper's successful claim.

Mexican Governor José Figueroa granted two square leagues of land on the Big Sur coast to Juan Bautista Alvarado (1809 -1882) in 1834. In 1840, Alvarado traded ownership of Rancho El Sur to Captain John B. R. Cooper in exchange for the more accessible and readily farmed Rancho Bolsa del Potrero y Moro Cojo in the northern Salinas Valley. Cooper married Maria Jerónima de la Encarnación Vallejo, the sister of General Vallejo, in 1827. Juan Bautista Alvarado was Encarnacion's nephew.[11]

When Mexico ceded California to the United States following the Mexican-American War, the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo provided that the land grants would be honored, but required that the owners provide legal proof of their title. As required by the Land Act of 1851, Cooper filed a claim for Rancho El Sur with the Public Land Commission in 1852[12] and he received the legal land patent after years of litigation in 1866.[13]

Cooper never actually lived at the ranch, but various family members and ranch workers continuously occupied it from 1840 onward. In the 1850s Cooper landed smuggled goods at the mouth of Big Sur River to avoid the heavy customs charges levied by the Americans at Monterey.[14][15]

Next generation[edit]

The Cooper cabin, originally built in April or May 1861, is the oldest surviving structure in Big Sur.[16][17]

After John B. R. Cooper's death in 1872, the ranch was divided between his widow Maria Encarnación Vallejo, their son John Bautista Henry Cooper, and their two surviving daughters, Anna Maria de Guadalupe Cooper and Francisca Guadalupe Amelia Cooper.[18] John B. H. Cooper became a Monterey County supervisor and managed the 22,000 acres (8,900 ha) Rancho Bolsa del Potrero y Moro Cojo in the Salinas Valley near present-day King City. Later in life he moved to San Francisco while continuing to manage the ranch. On May 28, 1871, John B. H. Cooper married Martha Brawley. They had four children: Alice, John, Abelarde, and Alfred. He built a new home on Rancho El Sur Ranch but died soon after its completion on June 21, 1899, leaving his wife, three sons and a daughter.[18] His wife received 2,591 acres (1,049 ha) of her husband's estate totaling 7,000 acres (2,800 ha), and over time bought the remainder from her sons and daughter. Francisca retained her share of the property.[19][20]

John B. H. Cooper's sister Francisca married Eusebius J. Molera, an engineer and architect born in Spain, on March 28, 1876, in Vallejo, California.[21][22] The marriage between the Cooper and Molera families left a legacy marked by their names on notable places throughout the region, including the Cooper-Molera Adobe in Monterey.[23][21]

Francisca and Eusebius Molera had a son and daughter, Andrew and Frances. Andrew built up a successful dairy operation. His Monterey Jack cheese was especially well-liked. Andrew and Frances maintained a residence for most of their lives on Sacramento Street in San Francisco. The census record records their occupation as "farmer" and, indicative or their relative wealth, recorded the presence of a cook and maid living with them.[24][25][26][27] During the time the Cooper family owned the land, they managed it as a cattle ranch and dairy, employing Hispanic and Indian vaqueros. They supported a school and community center. Big Sur pioneer Sam Trotter wrote about attending the "big dance Saturday night at the Cooper hall near the mouth of Big Sur [River] on the Cooper grant."[5]:47

Family sells property[edit]

In 1928, Henry C. Hunt, a business man from Carmel-by-the-Sea, purchased the northern 8,000 acres (3,200 ha) from John B. H. Cooper's widow, Martha Cooper Hughes (neė Brawley) Vasquez, for about $500,000. On November 28, 1931, he announced that he had arranged to lease the remaining 5,000 acres (2,000 ha) from her.[28][29]:127

Andrew J. Molera owned property in the Castroville area, and encouraged farmers to grow artichokes in 1922. They have become a major crop in the Salinas Valley.[30] Andrew was very obese and died of a sudden heart attack in 1931. His sister Frances, granddaughter of Juan Bautista Roger Cooper, became the sole owner of the property. She arranged in 1965, almost 100 years after her family gained title, to sell 2,200-acre (890 ha) of the original Cooper land grant to The Nature Conservancy. She stipulated that the park should be named Andrew Molera State Park in honor of her brother. She died in 1968.[31] The conservancy held the beachfront property in trust until the state of California could finance the purchase of the land.[5] She also added provisions to the sale requiring that the land remain relatively undeveloped. When the California state park administration began to propose considerable development for the park, the Nature Conservancy threatened to revoke the sale arrangement, and the state backed down.[32]

Modern use[edit]

The ranch was partitioned into fifteen lots by 1892. Lots one through thirteen now comprise the El Sur Ranch.[33] The first road constructed into Big Sur was routed through Rancho El Sur, inland about 1.25 miles (2.01 km) to the meeting of the North and South Forks of the Little Sur River, and then south to the Molera Ranch and then the Post Ranch. In 1897, Harold W. Fairbanks and Maynard Dixon traversed the coast over a two week period. They wrote:[34]

A Spanish grant is located about the mouth of the Sur river. The greed of the Spaniards leading them to this almost inaccessible spot is rather surprising. It is still almost in a state of nature, but roamed over by thousands of cattle. The ranch buildings consist of old sheds and tumble-down adobes peopled with geese, chickens, hogs, calves, and Mexicans of all ages and conditions.

Andrew Molera State Park[edit]

Cooper's daughter, Amelia, married Eusebio Joseph Molera in 1875.[35] When their son Andrew Molera died, his sister Frances, granddaughter of Juan Baustista Roger Cooper, inherited the land. In 1965, almost 100 years after her family gained title, she sold 2,200-acre (890 ha) of the original land grant to The Nature Conservancy, which held the property in trust until the state could finance the purchase of the land.[5] She stipulated that the park should be named Andrew Molera State Park in honor of her brother.[36]

El Sur Ranch[edit]

The El Sur Ranch straddles Highway 1 for 6 miles (9.7 km) from the mouth of the Little Sur River to Andrew Molera State Park. It has been owned by the Hill family since 1958, who run a commercial cow-calf operation with about 450 head on the ranch.

Historic structures[edit]

  • Cooper Cabin. Built for John Cooper in 1861 on his ranch.[37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Report of the Surveyor General 1844-1886" (PDF). p. 25. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-05-04.
  2. ^ Ogden Hoffman, 1862, Reports of Land Cases Determined in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California , Numa Hubert, San Francisco
  3. ^ "Design of the parage called the Sud and requested by Juan Bauta. Alvarado: [Rancho El Sur, Calif.]".
  4. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Rancho El Sur
  5. ^ a b c d walton, John (2007). "The Land of Big Sur Conservation on the California Coast" (PDF). California History. 85 (1). Archived from the original (PDF) on August 22, 2016. Retrieved 14 August 2016.
  6. ^ Heinrich, Ben. "The Development Of Big Sur". The Heinrich Team. Archived from the original on 13 October 2016. Retrieved 14 August 2016.
  7. ^ "Big Sur Coast Land Use Plan" (PDF). Monterey County Planning Department. February 11, 1981. Archived (PDF) from the original on June 6, 2011. Retrieved November 15, 2009.
  8. ^ a b Breschini, Gary S.; Trudy Haversat. "A Brief Overview of the Esselen Indians of Monterey County". Montery County Historical Society. Archived from the original on November 22, 2011. Retrieved November 3, 2011.
  9. ^ Kripal, Jeffrey J. (April 2007). America and the Religion of No Religion. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. p. 594. ISBN 9780226453712.
  10. ^ Blakley, E.R. "Jim"; Barnette, Karen (July 1985). "Historical Overview of the Los Padres National Forest" (PDF). ForestWatch. Archived (PDF) from the original on February 7, 2016.
  11. ^ Hoover, Mildred B.; Rensch, Hero; Rensch, Ethel; Abeloe, William N. (1966). Historic Spots in California. Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0-8047-4482-9.
  12. ^ "Finding Aid to the Documents Pertaining to the Adjudication of Private Land Claims in California, circa 1852-1892".
  13. ^ "Report of the Surveyor General 1844-1886" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-03-20.
  14. ^ Starr, Kevin (2009). Golden Dreams California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-1963. Oxford: Oxford University Press, USA. p. 389. ISBN 9780199924301. Retrieved 11 February 2018.
  15. ^ McKinney, John (1 July 1990). "History Meets Nature Along This Big Sur Walk". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 12 May 2018.
  16. ^ Davis, Kathleen. "Big Sur Cabin". California Department of Parks & Recreation. Archived from the original on September 30, 2011. Retrieved October 28, 2011.
  17. ^ "Spanish and Mexican Heritage Sites". California Department of Parks and Recreation. Archived from the original on 16 September 2016. Retrieved 25 August 2016.
  18. ^ a b "Cooper Family". Patton Family Website. 24 November 2013. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  19. ^ "John H B Cooper". California and Californians, Vol. IV. The Lewis Publishing Company. 1932. pp. 49–50. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  20. ^ Bell, Mary (1904). "The Romance of the Spanish Land Grants". Sunset. California: Southern Pacific Company. 13: 334–337.
  21. ^ a b "E. J. Molera, 1846-1932". p. 174.
  22. ^ Who's Who on the Pacific Coast, 1913. page 404
  23. ^ JRP Historical Consulting Services (November 2001). "Big Sur Highway Management Plan" (PDF). Corridor Intrinsic Qualities Inventory Historic Qualities Summary Report. CalTrans. p. 38. Archived (PDF) from the original on September 5, 2008. Retrieved November 14, 2009.
  24. ^ Year: 1880; Census Place: San Francisco, San Francisco, California; Roll: 78; Page: 76B; Enumeration District: 201
  25. ^ Year: 1920; Census Place: San Francisco Assembly District 31, San Francisco, California; Roll: T625_136; Page: 16A; Enumeration District: 153
  26. ^ Year: 1930; Census Place: San Francisco, San Francisco, California; Page: 4B; Enumeration District: 0334
  27. ^ Year: 1940; Census Place: San Francisco, San Francisco, California; Roll: m-t0627-00318; Page: 3A; Enumeration District: 38-502
  28. ^ "LEASE MADE ON BIG RANCH NEAR CARMEL". Oakland, California: Oakland Tribuhe. 29 Nov 1931. p. 77. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  29. ^ Hale, Sharron Lee (1980). A Tribute to Yesterday: the history of Carmel, Carmel Valley, Big Sur, Point Lobos, Carmelite Monastery, and Los Burros. Valley Publishers. p. 206.
  30. ^ Ferrary, Jeanette. "Artichokes". VIA Magazine (May/June 2000). Archived from the original on 19 March 2006. Retrieved 2011-11-29.
  31. ^ "Discover California State Parks in the Monterey Area" (PDF). California State Parks. Retrieved August 12, 2016.
  32. ^ Brooks, Shelley Alden (2017). Big Sur: The Making of a Prized California Landscape. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520294417. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  33. ^ "In the Matter of Water Right Application No. 30166 of James J. Hill III" (PDF). California Water Resources Control Board. Retrieved 13 February 2018.
  34. ^ Williamson, Phil. "Two Pictures of an Unknown Bit of the Monterey Coast". www.ventanawild.org. Retrieved 3 May 2018.
  35. ^ "E. J. Molera, 1846-1932". p. 174.
  36. ^ "Discover California State Parks in the Monterey Area" (PDF). California State Parks. Retrieved August 12, 2016.
  37. ^ "Big Sur Cabin".

This article incorporates public domain content from United States and California government sources.

Coordinates: 36°18′00″N 121°50′24″W / 36.300°N 121.840°W / 36.300; -121.840