An update on an ongoing research project into the life of a Hispanic woman on the California frontier.
In May, I told you about my research into the life of Sylveria Pacheco, a Californiana who had lived through Spanish, Mexican and American periods. I came across Sylveria as I was working on another project, and found myself more and more interested in uncovering her life.
My goal for this project has been to prepare an article for the Boletín, which is the journal of the California Missions Foundation. I had some enthusiastic feedback at the CMF annual conference in February, and a number of people encouraged me to expand upon my conference presentation.
Since then I have been doing follow-up research about Sylveria, which has taken me to Contra Costa County, on the east side of the San Francisco Bay. Sylveria’s mother, Juana María Sánchez de Pacheco, received a grant of land from Mexican governor José Figueroa in 1834, in the area of what is today Walnut Creek, California. Sylveria and her siblings inherited the land after Juana María’s death in 1853, and had to spend many years defending their rights to the land.
Unfortunately, financial pressures forced them to sell much of the land, reducing their holdings to almost nothing. Sylveria spent the last half of her life on her cousin Salvio Pacheco’s property, in what is today the city of Concord.
The Bancroft Library at U.C. Berkeley holds a large collection of the papers from the land grant hearings of the 1850s and 1860s, when Californios had to prove they actually held title the land that they owned. This title was often challenged by Americans who moved in and set up farms on the Californio’s property illegally. When told to move, they often refused. The Californios would be forced to either sell the property or take the squatters to court.
In 1851, the State of California set up a commission to adjudicate these cases. Usually they dragged on for several years. Most land grants were confirmed, but many Californio families wound up selling most of their property anyway, in order to pay their legal fees. This was the case with Juana’s heirs, and Sylveria was one of them.
Reading through the transcripts of land grant hearings is fascinating, since many details are contained in them that don’t necessarily appear in other places.
One of the things I discovered is that Juana applied for her grant because Gov. Figueroa came to her house and suggested she apply for it. This was part of the testimony of James Alexander Forbes, Scotsman who had come to Santa Clara in 1829, during the hearings to prove the ownership of Juana’s property in Contra Costa County. Mr. Forbes claimed to be at Juana’s house with Gov. Figueroa, and had actually drawn up the petition, since Juana could not write.
During the most recent phase of my research, I spent some time in the area around Concord, California, where, it seems, Sylveria spent her final years living on her cousin Salvio Pacheco’s property. Salvio had been granted Rancho Monte del Diablo (“The Devil’s Thicket”), at the base of what is known today as “Mount Diablo,” in 1834. During the 1860s, Salvio established the town of Todos Santos, which was later renamed “Concord” by the area’s Anglo-American residents.
While in the area, I made use of the Concord Historical Society‘s Resource Center, where the staff gave me access to all their papers concerning the Pacheco family. Repositories like the CHS Resource center are local treasures that provide a researchers with a wealth of information, and they deserve our support.
I also visited Contra Costa County Public Library, which contains microfilm copies of many of the local area newspapers from the early twentieth century. I was hoping to find an obituary or other information regarding Sylveria. Unfortunately my search was unsuccessful. Nevertheless, I enjoyed my time at the library, since I used to live in the area near Concord as a child, and I have fond memories of visiting the Contra Costa County Library in Pleasant Hill with my father.
An important piece of information I have been trying to uncover is the date Sylveria died, together with the location of her burial place. In the course of my investigations, two leads came up. One was the listing of a gravesite of a Sylveria Pacheco in Oakland, dated 1873. A phone call to the cemeteries of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland, California however, revealed that it belonged to an infant, perhaps a relative of Sylveria.
Another potential clue to her final resting place is the fact that at one point Sylveria owned a fairly large plot of land at the Alhambra Cemetery in Martinez, California. Thanks to some help from Joseph Palmer of the Potter’s Field Restoration Project, I learned she had sold this plot in 1874.
According to a document that Joseph obtained for me, in the record of sale, which amounted to a grand total of fifty dollars, Charles H. Coles was listed as deceased. The sale was witnessed by Francisco Galindo (married to Sylveria’s cousin, Dolores) and Thomas A. Brown, a county judge.
Just a few weeks later, the same Judge Brown presided over the civil wedding of Sylveria’s son Baleriano to Eloise Sibrian. Evidently the marriage didn’t last long, since in the 1880 Census, Baleriano was living with Sylveria and was listed as unmarried.
Another piece of information I received about a possible burial site for Sylveria came from Dirk Wentler, an independent researcher in Contra Costa County. He told me about the Live Oak Cemetery, also in Concord. The Live Oak Cemetery was established by Sylveria’s cousin, Salvio in 1865. A number of early residents of Concord are buried there, including a several Pachecos.
Unfortunately, it will be difficult to verify if Sylveria’s remains are there, since cemetery is not maintained, and many of the headstones are missing or broken.
Despite the mysteries that remain unsolved about her life, I was able to write and submit what I think is a coherent article to the Boletín. I have also written a brief piece about my investigation for Noticias Para Los Californianos, the quarterly publication of Los Californianos. Los Californianos is an organization formed by the descendants of Alta California’s early Hispanic settlers (I want to thank Sheila Ruiz Harrell for the invitation).
My hope is that these articles will attract the attention of others who may know something about Sylveria, or at the very least stir up more interest in uncovering more stories of Alta California’s early Hispanic settlers.
In the meantime, if you have any information related to Sylveria, her life or her descendants, please let me know!