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Sunday, June 25, 1995

Montezuma outlasts scam, shady characters

Kristin Delaplane

Mormons reject area after U.S. assumes control

Information for this article came from the Vacaville Museum, Vacaville Heritage Council and Solano County Genealogical Society.
First of two parts
The Montezuma Township consisted of 75 square miles and was bounded by Denverton on the north, Rio Vista on the east, the Sacramento River to the south and Suisun to the west. The towns in the township were Bird’s Landing and Collinsville, which were located on the rolling hills known as the Montezuma Hills.

The primary crops were grain and hay, and there was some raising of cattle and sheep. It is interesting to note that even in the late 1800s, farmers had to continually pick up shed elk horns so that their farm machinery could level the tall oats.

Farmers and ranches in this area came from England, Ireland, Pennsylvania, Maine and Massachusetts.

In 1874, an effort was made to carve out this area to form a separate county, Montezuma County, but this attempt failed. An 1878 directory lists a total of 23 ranches in the area.

Collinsville: In 1846, a Mr. L.W. Hastings established a squatter’s claim on a piece of property and built one of the first houses in Solano County, a one-story adobe with an attic. He called it a lucky find, ‘‘Montezuma House.’’

Hastings, a lawyer from Ohio, first came out West in 1843 on the Oregon Trail. He then published the infamous ‘‘The Emigrant’s Guide’’ in 1844. This guide was promoted as the ‘‘new and better’’ way to come out West.

The fact is, Hastings laid out a route that he only imagined was better. It was not a route he personally had traveled. The fact that he recommended a route that he had no personal knowledge of was apparently not a vital moral question for Mr. Hastings.

Unfortunately, his book was a bible for many eager immigrants. The Donner Party was one of many parties that followed the guide and suffered the consequences of its misinformation.

Despite the book’s lack of credibility, Hastings enjoyed quite a reputation as an expert on the West.

It was as such an ‘‘expert’’ that he was hired by a group of disenchanted Mormons to seek a new settlement for them. They were keen to find a location outside of the United States so they could live and have multiple wives without U.S. government interference. So Hastings traveled to California, then Mexican territory, to seek a claim for the Mormon group.

He chose what he felt was a promising site in the Montezuma hills. It was at the head of the Suisun Bay, near the junction of two ‘‘great’’ rivers, the Sacramento and the San Joaquin.

Because the area was virtually treeless, it provided excellent hunting of deer, elk and antelope. But the Mormons never made the move to this proposed location and, eventually, they abandoned the idea altogether.

One reason they gave was because of the lack of timber for building purposes. But, undoubtedly, the main reason was that it became less of a desired prospect when the American flag was raised in California on July 7, 1846.

Hastings stayed in the area until about 1849. While there he established a ferry for travelers to cross to and from what is today the city of Pittsburg. Then he left the area.

One story is that he left when he got gold fever. Another account has him moving to Yuma, Ariz., for a number of years. Possibly he did both. Whatever the fact, he was no longer a presence in the Montezuma hills and the adobe was abandoned

In 1852 or ‘53, L.P. Marshall and his two sons arrived on the scene. The most popular story is that they were driving a small herd of cattle around the Montezuma hills when a storm hit.

As luck would have it, they caught sight of the adobe and sought shelter there. Finding it empty, they spent the night. In the light of day, it was evident the homestead had been abandoned and had not been lived in for a long time. Another story is that the place was recommended to the Marshalls by Robert Semple of Benicia.

In this untenanted shelter, the Marshalls found numerous materials and machines for making counterfeit coins. Two theories were put forth.

One was that a band of counterfeiters had taken possession of the adobe after Hastings departed. The other thought was that Hastings, acting as an agent for the Mormons, was coining money for the anticipated colony.

Even though the adobe was in bad shape, the Marshall family took a liking to the area, determining that it held good promise for raising cattle. So from that day forth, they squatted on the land. They made repairs and improvements on the adobe, proclaiming the homestead theirs.

When they found the place, it was in a very dilapidated condition. It had been stripped of doors, windows and every other portable construction.

Sometime in the year 1853, following the Marshall family’s arrival, F.O. Townsend arrived and built a frame home. Bit by bit, homes were erected and a small community was forming.

In 1854, Hastings returned. He stayed just long enough to demand payment from the Marshall family for the adobe. Though Hastings had never acquired proper title, Marshall paid him with four mules valued at $1,000. Hastings departed.

The Marshalls, well-satisfied with the area, made this their home for the next 25 years. In 1908, S.O. Stratton and family moved into Hastings’ adobe and lived there until 1963.

In 1859, C.J. Collins arrived. In 1861, he surveyed the town plat covering 2,390 acres and built a wharf and store. Collinsville was founded.

Prior to the building of a wharf, the site was unable to accommodate steamer traffic. Now it was to meet its destiny as a primary shipping port on the Sacramento River.

Collinsville soon became an important port for cattle products: hides and tallow. The same year as the building of the wharf, a post office was established and a resident, George Miller, was appointed postmaster. James Arnold came to Collinsville in 1866 and set up a butcher shop and was elected the justice of the peace for the township.

In 1867, Collins sold the town property to an S.C. Bradshaw. Bradshaw changed to the name to Newport. Probably, being a promoter, he saw ‘‘Newport’’ as being a more prosperous-sounding name.

In a two-year span, Bradshaw went to work. He hired agents to sell town lots to folks back East. The agents were supplied with huge maps denoting an extensive town plat; some 29,000 lots! The agents sold lots, enthusiastically proclaiming Newport as the next great shipping port on the West Coast.

Potential buyers were assured that in less that three years their lot would be worth thousands of dollars. That Newport could ‘‘not fail of making its mark, and holding rank among the great cities of our country.’’

What the agents were actually selling were many lots that were under water at high tide. They offered a package deal; a round-trip ticket to San Francisco and a lot from $15 to $25. In addition, 500 lots were offered free to the first 500 people who promised to actually build in the flourishing town of Newport.

At the end of two years, Bradshaw’s game was up. The land scheme was discovered and his holdings were disposed of in a sheriff’s sale in 1869. Newport was properly deeded over to E.I. Upham.

Upham cleared the town’s tarnished past by changing the name back to Collinsville.

Emory Irving Upham was born in Kennebec, Maine, in 1836. He emigrated to California in 1854. He engaged in farming and lumbering in Del Norte County until 1861, when he came to Solano County.

He settled on a 160-acre ranch, added to it over the years until he owned 6,000 acres. Originally he raised stock, but he changed his focus in later years to the more profitable farming of grain.

Collinsville could not have been in better hands.

Next week: Collinsville becomes a principal salmon cannery town; the story of Bird’s Landing.

Correction: Last week’s photo of the Maine Prairie hotel was incorrectly labeled. It was simply an unidentified hotel at Maine Prairie. Also, we want to acknowledge the Dixon Historical Society as a resource for last week’s story.