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Jose Maria Amador’s Rancho San Ramon

By Beverly Lane

One warm August night in 1834, Jose Maria Amador found himself waiting for a card game to end so he could finalize the title to his San Ramon Rancho grant.  Forty-three years later, he recalled the circumstances:

“The title to my rancho had been drawn up by…a secretary and amanuensis to (Governor) Figueroa, in a room at Mission San Jose…I placed (the title) in an envelope, in the hands of Señor Figueroa, requesting him to look over the documents. The Governor was playing manilla with two priests…and Eugenio Montenegro. When I voiced the request, he asked me to excuse him until he had finished playing the hand.”

When the card game was over, Figueroa talked to Padre Jose Gonzalez Rubio of Mission San Jose about the title and, according to Amador, “the padre, whether willingly or not, furnished the statement as he had been ordered to do and Figueroa then turned the documents over to me.”

Thus Don Jose Maria Amador received his title for the Rancho San Ramon. Amador’s life as a soldier and the owner of this Rancho are well documented. Because of a long oral history he gave to Thomas Savage for Hubert Bancroft in 1877 and several other interviews, we know about his experiences as an Indian fighter, his years as administrator of Mission San Jose, his family and his bad opinion of John Fremont and the Bear Flag Rebellion.

His father, Pedro, came to California with the first Spanish overland expedition in 1769 and Jose Maria was born in 1794 in San Francisco. His mother was literate and taught him to read which gave him advantages over many others in this period.

His Rancho San Ramon grant eventually encompassed over five square leagues or at least 20,000 acres and covered today’s San Ramon, Dougherty Valley and historic Dublin.  Amador was married three times and had 22 children. He built several adobes at his rancho headquarters near Alamilla Springs in today’s Dublin, including a two-story adobe which was used by James Dougherty in the 1860s.

He stocked the land with an estimated 400 horses, 14,000 cattle and 3000 sheep and planted corn, melons, vineyards and orchards.  In 1837 he and Roberto Livermore grew a successful wheat crop in Sunol Valley.

His rancho headquarters included an adobe village for 150 workers who tended livestock and produced a wide range of leather goods (saddles, harnesses, boots, etc.), furniture and wagons. In Amador’s “Recollections,” he pointed out that the Indians “were exceptional workmen.”

In 1848 he mined for gold in today’s Amador County, accompanied by his sons and several Indian workers. An Alta California article quoted Amador as saying that he brought three mules back laden with gold, some of which was given to friends by the tin cup-full and the remainder distributed among his relatives, to be played away at monte. 

As the Gold Rush settlers moved into this area, they squatted on his land and he was unable to move them off. Amador gradually sold his rancho to several different people. Two of these transactions included the sale of about 4,000 acres on the northwest corner to Leo Norris (a transaction begun in 1851) and 10,000 acres to James Witt Dougherty in 1852. Dublin area was called “Amador” for many years.

Jose Amador was extraordinary for his energy, long life and amiable personality.  He was typical of many Mexican rancho owners who were unable to make a successful transition to life in the new American state. While he ended his life in poverty and sometimes described his tale as a doleful one, in one newspaper interview he stated “It is my wish that my reputation should be preserved and that it be said Amador wronged no man.”

Sources: Amador’s Recollections (1877) at The Bancroft Library; “A California Patriarch” in Oakland Daily Tribune (May, June 1875);  Mildred Hoover’s Historic Spots in California; Alta California(9-22-1860)

First appeared as a column called Presenting the Past  in the Danville Weekly

[To companion article - Rancho of the San Ramon Valley]

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