Sebastian Keyser and the Llano Seco Land Grant

An Old-Time Mountain Man with His Horse by Frederic Remington

Sebastian Keyser was a native of Austria and a rough-and-ready mountain man in the employ of the Hudson Bay Company when he met John Sutter in 1838. Sutter was making his way to the Oregon Territory when he met Keyser and Nicolaus Allgeier at a fur trappers’ rendezvous in the Rockies. No doubt the three men found a commonality in the German language that they shared.

They traveled together to the Willamette Valley. Sutter was anxious to get to California, so he took ship to Hawaii. It was easier to travel by ship to California than by land, although Sutter would end up taking a roundabout trip to get there. Arriving in Hawaii, the only transport he could find was a ship bound for Sitka which would eventually make its way to California. He probably told Keyser and Allgeier that if they ever looked him up in California, he would be happy to have them join his venture.

Keyser and Allgeier made their way to Sutter’s land grant in 1840 or possibly 1841. Sutter was in need of tough men like those two. He was trying to establish a post near the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers, but the local Nisenan and Miwok Indians resented his presence and made off with his cattle and horses. Enlisting men like Keyser gave Sutter what his biographer, Albert Hurtado, called “Sutter’s Praetorian Guard.” It was unlikely that the Indians would be able to eject Sutter from the valley; “too many hard men with weapons stood in the way.”

Working for Sutter was fine, but what nearly all men wanted was land of their own. Sutter assisted Keyser in acquiring a land grant from the Mexican government. In 1844 Keyser got Rancho Llano Seco on the east side of the Sacramento River, shown here in a detail from a map drawn by John Bidwell.

You can see “Rancho de Keyser” just below “Rancho de Farwell.” “Rancho de Dickey” on the north side of what is labeled A[rroyo] Chico is the later Rancho Chico acquired by Bidwell. Keyser had explored the area and selected his future rancho in 1843, accompanied by William Dickey and Swedish naturalist G. M. Waseurtz af Sandels.

Mapa del Valle del Sacramento detail. California State Library

Llano Seco means “dry plain,” although there are plenty of wetlands on the ranch. Sebastian Keyser never occupied the ranch and never made improvements on it, in fact he turned right around and sold it to Edward Farwell in November 1844, four months after he was given the deed.

Next Time: The Rest of the Story of Sebastian Keyser

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.
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