The Founder of Johnson’s Ranch

—was not named Johnson.

On December 22, 1844, Pablo Gutierrez, one of John Sutter’s employees, was granted five square Mexican leagues (22,197 acres) along the Bear River by the governor of Alta California. He built an adobe house, acquired some cattle, and made plans to become an independent rancher. Unfortunately, fate would soon cut short his dreams.

But before his untimely end, Pablo Gutierrez and John Bidwell went looking for gold. Both the men had been working at Sutter’s Hock Farm, in what is today Sutter County. When Pablo went exploring his rancho along the Bear River, he realized that the land bore signs of gold, just as he had seen down in Mexico. He came back to the Hock Farm and told Bidwell about it.

Bidwell tells this story in his memoir Life in California Before the Gold Discovery. And I have recounted it in an earlier post. Pablo told Bidwell, in Spanish, that what they needed to recover the gold was a batea. Bidwell had become fairly fluent in Spanish over the previous two years, but he didn’t know what a batea was.

James Marshall’s batea, in the Coloma State Park museum

Pablo offered to go down to Mexico to get one. But before he could do so, an insurrection broke out against the Mexican governor of Alta California, Manual Micheltorena. The governor was disliked by native Californios, including the former governor, Juan Bautista Alvarado and military leader Jose Castro. They complained that he was too friendly with Americans and was giving them too much land.

John Sutter, the recipient of a vast Mexican land grant, sided with Governor Micheltorena and used Pablo Gutierrez as a courier. As John Bidwell relates:

Sutter sent him with despatches to the governor, stating that we were organizing and preparing to join him. Pablo returned and was sent again to tell the governor that we were on the march to join him at Monterey. This time he was taken prisoner with our despatches and was hanged to a tree, somewhere near the present town of Gilroy. That of course put an end to our gold discovery; otherwise Pablo Gutierrez might have been the discoverer instead of Marshall.

So who was Johnson?

Sutter, as the executor of Pablo Gutierrez’s estate, put the ranch up for auction in April 1845. The successful bidder was William Johnson, a sailor who had come to California on a Boston ship around 1840. He became partner with Jacob Leese (who married General Vallejo’s sister) and they operated a boat on the Sacramento River.

Johnson, and another partner of his, Sebastian Keyser, paid $150 for the ranch. Quite a bargain!

More about Johnson next time. And someday, more about Keyser, who also held the Llano Seco Ranch in Butte County.

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
This entry was posted in Pablo Gutierrez, William Johnson. Bookmark the permalink.

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