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Independent Voice

Guest Speaker Comes from the Berryessa Family, 1777

Feb 28, 2024 10:58AM ● By Dixon Historical Society

Author and descendant of the Berryessa family, Kendall Langan with his book at a Dixon Historical Society presentation. Photo by Kim Schroeder-Evans

DIXON, CA (MPG) - Last year, the Dixon Historical Society was honored to host guest speaker, Kendall Langan, descendent of the Berryessa Family and relative to both the Peña and the Vallejo families. The Berryessa Family (originally spelled Berrellezza) arrived in Alta California (California) in 1777. They were a prominent Land Grant family from the Basque region of San Sebastian, Spain, whose property included part of Putah Creek. Many of Langan´s ancestors were managers of various way stations in the area. 

During his presentation, Langan explained that it became costly and time-consuming for the land-grant families to provide proof of land ownership.  Rather than by linear divisions, land was determined by “that rock over there to that stream over there.” Although the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848 had assured that Mexican era land claims would be honored, Congress passed the California Land Act, which created a board that would review all land titles from the Spanish and Mexican eras to determine if they were valid. These families were land rich and cash poor and had to pay their legal fees by giving away parcels of their land to their attorneys. 

Californio land was further lost due to fraud.  A sharp decline in cattle prices, combined with floods and later droughts, also forced many of the overextended rancheros (Californios) to sell their properties. They often quickly subdivided the land and sold it to new American settlers, who began farming smaller individual plots, similar in size to the plots of land farmed in New England and Europe. American townships were established, and the culture and life of the Californios slowly became a distant memory.  Langan also gave tribute to the California native peoples who were treated poorly when they were enslaved, killed, and robbed of their homeland by broken land treaties. 

The essence of Langan´s talk was to relay the sophistication of the Californios (land-grant families) through the translated personal remembrances of General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, of whom he is a distant relative. The Spanish arrived at the coastal regions of Alta California as early as the mid-1500s. The first Californios were the children of the early Spanish military expeditions, who established the Presidios and the California Mission System during the Spanish California Era from 1769-1821.

According to Langan, “they were a civilized and educated people of which cultural refinement was paramount.” Alta California, as opposed to Baja California, included the upper territory of what is today “California.” Those who came from New Spain (Mexico), and who made their way up to Alta California, spoke only Spanish and were Mexican citizens. Some of the California land-grant families of our area include Vallejo, Vaca, Peña, Armijo, Solano, Berryessa, and Wolfskill who became a Mexican citizen by becoming Catholic, marrying into a Mexican family, and by learning Spanish.  Even though the Mexican California era lasted from 1821-1846, the descendants of these families are still here to this day. 

Part 2 will be in next week’s edition.