History of Yolo County, California
From: The History of Yolo County, California
History By: Tom Gregory
The Historical Record Company.
Los Angeles, California 1913

By Tom Gregory

Between the river and the range is Yolo. This is not only a poetical, but is a geographical fact, as the county's entire eastern boundary line is the Rio Sacramento and its western wall is a chain of the coast mountains; between is a great plain of wonderful fertility, and that is the topic and scene of this work. South of Yolo lies Solano and north is Colusa - all spread west of the Sacramento and all an important part of the great central Ilano of the state. From the river to the crest of the hill chain that cuts Napa from the Sacramento valley the average breadth is about twenty seven miles, and the Solano-to-Colusa line measures about the same mileage. This does not mean that Yolo approximates a 27 mile square, because a large piece of tule territory bordering the river on the extreme southeast gives the county an irregular shape. The area is 650,880 acres, and with the western edge of this great field where the surface lifts up the mountain wall the country practically is level, with a gentle slope toward the river. Mark how nature has arranged the plain and upland in relation to each other. Down the eastern shed of this spur of coast range come the floods of the rain seasons as they have come for ages, to spread their alluvial burdens on the valley surface below. High up in these mountains is Clear Lake, a natural reservoir of water forty miles in length with Cache creek a natural outlet conducting this flood, winter and summer, over the Yolo levels. A system of artificial canals has taken up the work inaugurated by nature and already eighty or one hundred thousand acres are under irrigation.

Irrigation in Yolo county is not always necessary. With a never failing winter rainfall on a soil built up of centuries of rich sediment, fair harvests will yearly appear without such artificial methods; but all surrounding conditions being favorable for such application of water to his fields the Yolo agriculturist irrigates and adds to the output of his acres whether they are producing grain, alfalfa, beets or fruits. And by using all these available facilities crop failure is absolutely impossible in California where the droughts, hailstorms, uncertain summertime floods, cyclones and such climatic catastrophies of other states are unknown. When the rancher of the Capay or the winter's fruit belt waters his acres, whether the fluid comes by pump from his well or by gravity from Lake county in the hills just above him, he utterly eliminates the uncertainties of the season. This is Yolo county - between the range and the river - with its high grazing lands, grain lands, alfalfa lands, vine lands, orchard lands and lands for every vegetable growth under sun and shower. Yolo county, with irrigation on the west and reclamation on the east, is just coming into its own, the richest spot in all the great Sacramento basin; Yolo county favored by rainstorm and sunshine where every creek, winter rivulet or summer rill dripping from the bordering hills is a Nile sowing seasons of fertility over the plain.


The "First View" of Yoloy passed away leaving not an imprint, not a record. The earliest intelligent wanderers within these noble domains of the Far West neglected frequently to file for the future the stories of their explorations. Mere hunters, they followed the retreating wild game as it fled before them over these slopes and streams, and they though not of the grand empire that was to be. With the quarry they passed, and their coming and going was lost or lived only in legend. The most primitiveYoloan of white association to step out into view where the historian may get a line on him, is a Scotch sailor, nameless here forevermore, who jumped his ship in Yerba Buena, drifted up the Rio Jesu y Maria to Grand Island, took apartments in a rancheria, wedded a squaw and there is a gap in the story twenty five years wide. In 1841; or thereabouts, William Gordon, with his party from New Mexico, became the first authentic white settler of what is now Yolo county However, Uncle Billy - as he was long afterward known among his neighbors of Napa, Solano, Lake, Yolo and Colusa counties - may be holding a clouded title, as he found among the Indians along the river several red headed half breeds. They were lusty bucks of an adult age and their story as well as their skins and tresses proved them to be the grownup pappooses of Sailor Scotty and his Grand Island squaw. With this instant and faint appearance the near pioneer Caledonian fades and even the white blood in his hybrids, growing more ruddy as the generations pass, is finally lost in the red pool of the Indian.


It must have been in 1818-20 when this early sailor became a dweller of the Tules, the first white citizen of "Yoloy" or "Toloytoy," as the Indians finally called it; "Pueblo del Tule," according to the Spanish, or "Rushtown," as the Gringo named it. Whatever the most fitting title, the place represented leagues of rich soil along the west bank of the Sacramento bordered by the great fields of tules that gave Yolo county a name. In 1818 Burchard, a Frenchman in the service of Buenos Ayres, appeared on the coast with his two ships He robbed the ports, drank the padres' wine from Monterey to San Diego and occasionally burned the towns when the inhabitants objected to his manners. In most every place of call he left deserters, one of whom was Joseph Chapman of Boston, the first American resident in California, and the Grand Island white man may have been one of Burchard's jolly pirates who exchanged the storms of the sea for the calms of a Sacramento tule shack. Quien saber?


During this period - 1820 - Sola was the Spanish governor of California, but a revolution in Mexico was jarring Spain off the North American continent forever. This revolution had been going on off and on for ten years, but the Californians, though maintaining a loyalty to the Spanish took little interest in the progress of the conflict. Finally the fight was won by the Mexican patriots. Gen. Agustin Iturbide, who was sent with a royalist army to suppress Guerrero, the last rebel chieftain, instead joined the insurgents. The combined forces entered the capital city and Iturbide was proclaimed emperor of Mexico. In a few months the emperor was dethroned and finally shot, and Mexico became a republic. Governor Sola of California had officially started out as the subject of a kingdom, and when the empire came along it was a bitter pill, but he swallowed it and hoisted over Monterey the imperial flag of Mexico. But the coming of a republic was too much - and all three of these changes within a year - and he resigned, being succeeded by Luis Antonio Arguello, the first republican (Mexican) governor of California. But one of Sola's last official acts (1821) was to send an expedition to explore the northern portion of the territory. This party, under the command of Arguello, then only president of the provincial council - threaded the bays above Yerba Buena and passed up the large river which they called El Rio Jesu y Maria. The explorers continued up the splendid stream they had found. The water was clear and deep with high wooded shores, the white miner not having come to fill the noble natural canal with the mud debris of the mineral hills, and the great fertile llano stretching away on both sides. Comandante Arguello was a native son of California, having been born in Yerba Buena in 1784 while his father was an officer in the presidio of that port. In fact, he was the military commander of San Francisco while exploring the Sacramentoan valley and afterwards was the first native born governor of the state, under Mexican rule. He was self made, an industrious student when books and schools were scarce and a man of excellent character and is probably the first pioneer of this far west. He continued his explorations as far north as the Oregon line, turned west to the coast, and returned to Yerba Buena through the Russian river valley. Comandante Arguello had closely observed the grand agricultural possibilities of the Sacramento river basin, the well watered plain possessing everything needed by the colonist. It was largely through the interest awakened by this exploration that moved the slow going Mexican Congress in 1824 to pass a general colonization act suddenly breaking away from the ancient Spanish exclusiveness regarding alien immigration. Governors of territories were authorized to grant vacant lands in limited amounts to citizens, whether Mexican or foreign born, who properly petitioned for them and engaged to cultivate and inhabit them. Other travelers within this region began to make the heretofore terra incognita a somewhat known territory.


The rude maps began to show names now household titles in the state geographies. Sacramento - from their holy sacrament - was a name easier to handle than was the original title; the present Feather river was first called by the Spanish - Plumas, which was prettier than its Yankee translation. The surveyors found a pretty stream, its banks a mass of wild grapes, and they fitting called it "El Uva." The Americans made "rough house" of this by calling it "Yuba." Then the miners built a dam across the little river and as "Yuba dam" the name has gone into the geographies if not into profanity. The American river early received its name from the fact that this stream was once a famous game resort, attracting bands of American hunters and trappers across the continent to that locality long before immigration started towards the Pacific. The same Americans caching their furs and other prizes of the chase along the streams where they hunted and trapped gave name to one - Cache creek - a creek with the importance of a river, as is manifest when the mountain reservoirs at its source are feeding their waters through it to the plain lands. Putah creek, another small stream running from the coast range to the big rio on the east, and the division line between Yolo and Solano counties on the south, is another sample of name evolution. It was originally known as the Rio de los Putos - the Puto tribe of Indians living on its shores. Even John H. Wolf skill's Mexican grant of land extending along its banks has ever been known as the Rancho Rio de los Putos. But in the change of titles - and the Spanish speakers made the change - the "river" became Putah creek, and not a nice name for such a modest, respectable, little mountain stream. However, there be nothing in a name

Return to [ California History ] [ History at Rays Place ] [ Rays Place ] [ California Biographies ]

California Counties at this web site - Colusa County - Contra Costa County - Imperial County - Marin County - Mendocino County - Napa County - Riverside County - San Mateo County - Santa Clara County - Solano County - Yolo County -

All pages copyright 2003-2013. All items on this site are copyrighted by their author(s). These pages may be linked to but not used on another web site. Anyone may copy and use the information provided here freely for personal use only. Privacy Policy