Historical Articles of Solano County - Printer Friendly Page
To print: Click here or Select File and then Print from your browser's menu.

Sunday, February 04, 1996

Brandy and hides were Jose Armijo’s trade

Kristin Delaplane

Solano pioneer given land grant by Gen. Vallejo

First in a series
Early oral tradition has it that Jose Francisco Armijo was taken to the land of Suisun Valley as early as 1828 by Cayetano Juarez. Juarez said he had lived near the area since about 1821. The next report of Armijo being in the area is as a merchant in 1835.

Armijo, described as a short, thick-set man, was a native of New Mexico and a cousin of Juan Felipe Pena. In fact, he was living in New Mexico at the same time as Vaca and Pena. In 1854, Manuel Vaca testified that he had known Armijo for 20 to 30 years.

The Armijo family name can be dated back to 1695, when Jose de Armijo and his wife, Catalina Duran, both natives of Zacatecas, Mexico, came to New Mexico with a group of colonists. Many descendants of this original couple held prominent positions in the new territory, one becoming governor of New Mexico. Jose Francisco Armijo descended from this family.

In 1820, Jose Francisco Armijo is listed as settling on “Piedro Blanco” in New Mexico with Pena and Vaca. In 1821, he traveled the Santa Fe Trail as a trader and guide. In 1833, he was employed by the San Gabriel Mission to bring in cattle from Arizona and New Mexico. This is when he developed the “Old Spanish Trail,” also known as and the “Armijo Trail.”

At this juncture, Armijo, now a seasoned traveler, was earning a living as an itinerant trader dealing in aguardiente (brandy), woolen goods and hides. His trade took him vast distances, and thus it was that he found himself traveling through the area of Solano County as early as 1835.

Armijo often traveled with his eldest son, Antonio Maria. In 1827, Antonio is recorded as leading the California Expedition. In 1929, father and son were credited with extending the Spanish Trail in California. He was with a group of 60 men who made the first commercial trading trip from New Mexico to San Bernadino in 1829-30. Antonio’s name also crops up as dealing in Indian slavery in New Mexico.

During the period 1833-34, Jose and Antonio resided in San Jose. Undoubtedly, this was when Antonio became acquainted with his wife-to-be, (Dolores) Maria Durate, who came from a wealthy San Jose family. In their wanderings, the men became well-disposed to the land of the Suisun Valley, where ruins of an Indian village were in evidence, including some mounds.

In 1847, Mr. Hudspeth was engaged by Armijo to make a survey of his land. In part, Mr. Hudspent described an old rancheria, a little mound, shells and stones - remnants of that abandoned Indian village.

Jose Francisco Armijo applied to the Mexican government for this land grant in 1837 or 1839. Gen. Vallejo, acting as director of colonization, granted Armijo the right to occupy the Las Tolenas Rancho in 1839 on condition that he “not molest the heathen (wild Indians) dwelling there.” That same year Vallejo made a grant to Chief Solano of the Suisun Rancho, which bordered the Las Tolenas grant. In later years, there would be disputes about these border lines.

In 1840, Armijo’s grant was officially recognized. The Las Tolenas Rancho was 3 leagues long and 1 league wide, a total of 13,315.93 acres. It ran from Mankas Corner south to Suisun Slough and east to the Vaca-Pena property. The land consisted of low hills, flat land suitable for farming, ample water and plenty of timber for firewood.

In 1841, Armijo traveled back to New Mexico to bring his family to their new home. They traveled with three wagons pulled by four-mule teams each. They brought along 20 cattle and four Pueblo Indians as working vaqueros. A younger grandson stayed behind. He would travel west a year later in the company of Juan Felipe Pena and Manuel Vaca.

Upon arriving Las Tolenas Rancho, Armijo traveled to Rancho San Antonio (Contra Costa County) to the home of the Peraltas where he had been keeping his cattle, some 100 to 300 head. He drove the stock up to the Suisun Valley. Along with his cattle and mules, Armijo also had oxen and horses.

In 1842, Armijo built a small tule home on a knoll. With the knowledge of the Indians who came with him and the ones he employed locally, it is safe to assume this wickiup was a substantial and comfortable dwelling.

Armijo, his wife, Lolita Maria, and their seven children settled on the Rancho Tolenas along with Antonio and his family. Antonio was now married to (Dolores) Maria Durate and they would have seven children in the course of time.

When Armijo had first occupied his land in 1839, Vallejo lent him farming tools to get started. In time, Armijo was growing his own fruits and vegetables as evidenced by Joel Walker of Bodega, when he reported that he met up with a rancher, Armijo, in 1842 on his travels to Sacramento. The rancher was then living at the Suisun Creek and Indians were employed cultivating the land.

J.H. Berry, a rancher in Suisun Valley, noted that in 1847 Indians were living in the house, cultivating the land and that they spoke the same language as the Suisun tribe.

In due course, it is said that a wooden house was built on the property. This frame home burned in about 1845. It was then that the adobe rancho was built. The main one that Antonio lived in measured 15 by 20 feet, had oak floors and was built in a U shape. Based on people’s recollections of the times, before the probable second adobe was built, Jose Francisco continued to live in his Indian-style tule home described as a “stick and mud” home. It was near this “stick and mud” home that Jose Armijo maintained a corn field enclosed by a brush fence to keep critters at bay.