In 19th century California, some Indians sought to recover their native lands by requesting grants from the Mexican government. The Roberto-Suñol Adobe and Olompali State Historic Park commemorate two men who did just that.
The End of the Mission Era
When Mexican officials ordered the dismantling of the mission system in Alta California (secularization), the issue became what to do with the thousands of acres of land belonging each mission. The original idea behind the missions was that the land continued to belong to the native people. Once the missions had exhausted their usefulness, the Indians were to continue to own the land.
Nevertheless, only a small part of these lands were effectively turned over to indigenous people, and instead, many natives wound up seeking jobs in towns and on ranches, using the skills they learned in the missions to make a living.
Some Indians did, however, obtain grants to portions of their ancestral lands, a number of them in the San Francisco Bay Area. I recently had the chance to visit two places that commemorate native people who received land grants during the Mexican era. The first is the Roberto – Suñol Adobe in San José, and the second is Olompali State Historical Park in Novato.
The Roberto – Suñol Adobe
The Roberto – Suñol Adobe is nestled in the heart of San José’s Willow Glen neighborhood. It is named for Roberto Belarmino, an Indian from Mission Santa Clara, and for Antonio Maria Suñol, a Spaniard who settled in San José during the mission period. Both men were owners of the property at different times.
Roberto Belarmino was a member of the Tamien people, the local branch of the Ohlone in the Santa Clara Valley. For a period of time Roberto was a cook at Mission Santa Clara. In 1836 Roberto built an adobe house, and in 1840 petitioned for a grant of the surrounding land. He received approximately 2,000 acres from Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado, which was confirmed four years later by Governor Manuel Micheltorena.
Roberto eventually sold his adobe and property to Antonio Suñol, and later the property passed on to different owners. Roberto’s original adobe, along with the house Antonio Suñol built, has been restored and cared for, and today it is a museum open to visitors.
The Roberto-Suñol Adobe site is maintained by the California Pioneers of Santa Clara County, a group of people dedicated to honoring the early pioneers of the area. When you visit the adobe, docents of the California Pioneers can tell you all about it and the efforts they put into restoring the site. There are excellent displays throughout the museum, providing information about Roberto, his times, and the house that grew up next to the adobe.
Olompali State Historic Park
Olompali State Park lies just north of San Francisco, in Marin County. It is located in a beautiful rural setting, on the site of an ancient Coast Miwok village, named Olompali. The village of Olompali was one of the places where Fr. José Altamira and a group of soldiers stopped during their quest to found Mission San Francisco Solano. Olompali was also the home of Camilo Ynitia, a leader of the Coast Miwok Indians.
Like Roberto Belarmino, Camilo requested and received a land grant around 8,000 acres from the Mexican government, which was confirmed in 1843. Camilo was an associate of General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, who had a great deal of influence in the areas north of the San Francisco Bay. It seems Vallejo was the one who encouraged Camilo to request the grant.
Camilo also built an adobe home on the site, portions of which still stand, protected within a wooden building. According to the interpretive displays, Camilo’s descendants still live in the area and are proud of their Miwok ancestry.
Like the Roberto-Suñol adobe, on the site of the Ynitia adobe there is also a larger house that was built later and which passed through several owners before becoming a public trust. Up the hill there is also a reconstructed Miwok village that you can visit.
While the similarities between the two places are obvious, the differences are also notable. Roberto Belarmino’s adobe has been lovingly restored, and you can go inside it and get an idea of how Roberto lived. Camilo Ynitia’s adobe is in a state of disrepair, although a wooden structure has been built around it to preserve it from the worst effects of the North Bay weather. Furthermore, the outdoor signage that accompanies and explains the Olompali site and has suffered the effects of the weather, which makes it difficult to read.
This is not surprising, since in recent years, the California State Parks have seen drastic cuts to their budgets and their personnel are stretched thin. I am a former State Park employee, so it is sometimes disheartening to see, since so many of the cultural resources of California are under the care of the State Parks and so many parks staff members are passionate about taking care of them.
There is a non-profit group known Friends of Olompali, that helps to support Olompali State Historic Park. According to their website, the State of California hopes to create a plan to manage the archaeological resources at the park, which is very rich in Miwok and other historical artifacts. Let’s hope this can happen.
Unique places like the Roberto – Sunol Adobe and Olompali tell an important story about the history of native peoples in Alta California and how they negotiated the tumultuous time after the secularization of the missions. They also help connect that story with the present by providing visitors with the details of descendants and subsequent owners of these sites.
If you are interested in keeping these places alive, why not think about joining an organization like the California Pioneers of Santa Clara County or Friends of Olompali? I am sure they could use your help.
How to Get There
Roberto – Suñol Adobe (click on the marker for directions)
The adobe is in the Willow Glen district of San José, right off of Highway 280.
Olompali State Historic Park (click on the marker for directions)
The park is in Novato, California, close to Highway 101.