The Men Who Claimed the Spanish Land Grants
The history of South Lake County hinges on the ownership of the almost 30,000 acres that were contained in the only two Spanish land grants confirmed in the area that would, in 1861, become Lake County — the 8,242-acre Rancho Collayomi and the 21,220-acre Rancho Guenoc. Because these properties could not be settled until 1870, the communities in South Lake County developed years later than the communities around Clear Lake: Lakeport, Kelseyville, Upper Lake, and Lower Lake.
Robert T. Ridley was one of the most colorful characters in Yerba Buena, the village that grew to become San Francisco. An English sailor who’d jumped ship to enjoy this sunny clime, Ridley became widely known in upper California. A boisterous Cockney and teller of tall tales, he had worked with John Sutter in starting New Helvetia in the Sacramento Valley in 1839 and had been a player in Sutter’s purchase of the remains of Ft. Ross when the Russians decided to abandon it.
In the early 1840s, he made his way to Yerba Buena. He married into a Californio family well known for supplying a variety of services to the increasing number of seaman visiting the newly established port on San Francisco Bay, and thus became a Mexican citizen, eligible for a land grant. His new bride, Presentacion, was the daughter of Juana Briones, well-liked medicine woman and herbalist who gardened the area now known as Washington Square in San Francisco; the area now known as North Beach was then known as Juana Briones Beach.
Ridley was proud of his ability to imbibe hard liquor, once brag-
ging of having downed 20-plus drinks before breakfast. That probably explains why his bio lists a series of brief endeavors: owner of a store and saloon (with the first flower garden in town), candidate for first mayor of San Francisco, master of the port, and more. Ridley was among the local officials arrested by the Bear Flag rebels in 1846.
Ridley was granted the three-league Rancho Callayomi by Mexican Governor Manuel Micheltoreno in 1844 or 1845, conflicting dates are listed in various historical papers.
History does not explain why Robert Ridley would choose to seek ownership of a large hunk of land in the unknown, uninhabited, hard-to-access hinterlands of the district of Sonoma. Because of tales of Salvador Vallejo's cattle ranch thereabouts. Because of his friendship with Jacob Leese? It seems far less surprising that Ridley and his socially savvy wife would be interested in a sizable rancho in the outback of Yerba Buena, and eagerly traded for the 6,000-acre grant Leese held there.
Ridley and his wife, or his wife's family, did nothing with the massive grant that included San Bruno mountain and what would become Brisbane and Visitacion Valley. It was sold at auction after Ridley's death.
At the time of his death in 1851, he was caretaker of the decaying buildings of the Mission Dolores, 32 years old.
George Roch (sometimes spelled Rock), a little known Canadian drifter, was granted the six Mexican leagues containing Coyote Valley in 1845 by the last Mexican governor Pio Pico.
Roch was granted the Rancho Guenoc on August 8, 1845. Jacob Leese took title ten weeks later, October 18 of that same year, making it easy to suspect that the Guenoc grant was sought at the behest of Jacob Leese.
Roch has been noted as serving "as agent for Leese" in various histories of Lake County, and is credited with building a log cabin near the later site of the historic Stone House as early as 1846.
History has paid little attention to George Roch. He had apparently battened about California for some years. He is not recorded among the many employees of the Hudson’s Bay Company in the San Francisco Bay area at that time. He is first noted in California archives as witness against a horse thief in Sonoma in 1836. We only know for sure that Roch transferred the Rancho Guenoc grant to Jacob Leese only ten weeks after he obtained it.
We also have conclusive evidence that in 1837 Roch had obtained a sizable grant in southern California, and just as quickly signed it over to the wealthy owner of adjacent property. Leese’s many available papers do not speak of Roch, although he deeded a 160-acre farm near Sonoma to Roch in 1847 for $300.
Roch appears in the 1850 census as a 65-year-old farmer living in Sonoma. The same year’s agricultural survey shows Roch with one improved and 159 unimproved acres, valued at $2000, along with two “milch” cows, two working oxen and one horse – valued collectively at $390.
That census lists Roch as a native of Lower Canada, the area stretching eastward from Quebec along the bay.
We have elected to use the name Roch rather than Rock after lengthy internet research. An ancestry.com search of surnames in Lower Canada lists a George Roch several times during appropriate dates, but no exact match to a 1785 birth date. Only one family with the surname of Rock is listed in the appropriate time frame and the given name George does not appear.
THE AMERICANS WHO BOUGHT THE GRANTS