RANCHO DE LOS COCHES
Ranch of the Pigs
Granted to: Roberto Balermino
in 1840 by Governor Juan B. Alvarado
Size: 2,219 acres
Location: Santa Clara County
Though the modern Spanish word coche means "coach" or "car," there was an old Spanish coches that meant "pigs" or "hogs." This old word probably came from the Quechuan Indian word kuchi, meaning "pig."
Pigs were never raised on Rancho de los Coches. However, for a short time before the rancho was there, pigs had been kept in this area, and the spot was called "the place of the hogs."
BEFORE THE RANCHO
In 1776 Mission Santa Clara de Asís had been built in what is now Santa Clara County. The next year, the Pueblo de San José de Guadalupe (town of San Jose) was founded just three miles east of the mission. This was the first pueblo in California. The land around the mission and the pueblo was used as grazing land for the mission cattle.
Roberto Balermino was born on the land called "the place of the hogs." His father was an Indian who worked at Mission Santa Clara. After many years of good service, Roberto's father had been made a capitan or leader of the Indian workers there. The mission padres allowed him to use a plot of land. He had built a small house for his family on this land.
As a young man, Roberto also worked for the padres. There was no last name on file for Roberto or his father at this time. When Roberto became a landowner, he was given the last name of Balermino.
LAND GRANT MADE 1840
In 1836 the lands around Mission Santa Clara were taken away from the Catholic Church. This was the last of the mission lands to be put under the control of the Mexican government.
In 1840, Roberto filed a petition with Mexican Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado asking that he be granted the one square league (4,500 acres) of land "where I was born and grew up and have lived until this age ..." He also asked for 50 head of cattle, two pair of oxen with two ploughs, and 15 mares.
A provisional grant was given in 1840 by Governor Alvarado. It was just half the size that Roberto had requested (2,219 acres). He was also given 35 head of cattle, two pair of oxen and two ploughs, four tame horses, and ten mares. This land grant was made permanent in 1844 by Governor Manuel Micheltorena.
Roberto's rancho was shaped like a triangle with the Río de San José (now the Guadalupe River) on one side and the Río de los Gatos on a second side.
INDIANS OWNING RANCHOS
The original plan of the Spanish government had been that the mission lands would be given to the first people of California, the Indians. This did not happen. When Mexico (which took control of California from Spain in 1822) closed the missions, only a few Indians were given land.
Roberto Balermino was one of those few to receive the grant of a rancho. When Governor Micheltorena made permanent the grant to Roberto, it was an important decision. Some years later, this was the case that confirmed the rights of California Indians to own land and to hold a clear title to the land. That same year, Governor Micheltorena also granted Rancho Posolmi to Yñigo, chief of a tribe that lived on the west side of San Francisco Bay.
RANCHO DE LOS COCHES
Roberto named his land Rancho de los Coches, the ranch of the pigs, recalling the name used when he was growing up here. He lived on the rancho with his wife Manuela and their two children, Juan and María, in an adobe house that he had built in 1836.
Roberto had a friend named Antonio Suñol. Roberto let Suñol build a house for himself on the rancho. Suñol helped Roberto with his accounts, as Roberto, like many rancheros (rancho owners) did not know how to read or write.
On January 1, 1847, Roberto sold Rancho de los Conches to Antonio Suñol for $500. He was forced to do this to repay a debt to Suñol, who may not have been such a good friend after all. Roberto Balermino died in 1848. Within three years, his wife and children died also.
ANTONIO SUNOL, THE NEW OWNER
Antonio Suñol was born in Spain. He went to school in France, and later sailed to California on a French merchant ship. In 1818 he settled in the pueblo of San Jose. Because he could read and write Spanish, he was admired by the people. He helped many of the rancheros with their accounts.
In 1824 Suñol married María Dolores Bernal, the daughter of Don Joaquin Bernal who owned nearby Rancho Santa Teresa. Suñol was engaged in several different business enterprises over the next few years. He also was San Jose's first postmaster (1826-1829) and mayor (1841).
In 1839 Suñol was granted Rancho El Valle de San José, which he owned jointly with three brothers-in-law (Agustin Bernal, Juan Pablo Bernal, and Antonio Maria Pico). This was a large rancho (64,000 acres) in Alameda County. At one time Suñol owned 6,600 cattle, 500 horses, and 5,000 sheep. The cities of Livermore, Pleasanton, and Sunol are now on these rancho lands.
When Suñol became the owner of Rancho de los Coches, he built a three-room brick house, using Roberto's smaller adobe house as a kitchen. Suñol's house was built with redwood beams and a redwood plank floor. He used it as a summer home only, spending the rest of the year at his house in the pueblo of San Jose.
Suñol was known for the good wine that was produced on his rancho. At his home he entertained important people from many countries. When California became a state, Suñol was active in the city government of San Jose.
Suñol was a shrewd businessman. When Americans came to northern California, Suñol made lots of money. He did not lose his ranchos, as did so many of the California rancheros. His ownership of Rancho de los Coches was the first case in Santa Clara County to be settled by the U.S. Land Commission. Nonetheless, Suñol was troubled by squatters (people who built huts and lived on the land without permission. His eldest son was shot and killed by a squatter in a dispute over cattle.
THE RANCHO TODAY
The adobe house that Roberto Balermino built for his family on Rancho de los Coches is still standing. A second story and balcony were added in 1853. The modern city of San Jose has grown up around the house. It has been restored, and is registered as California Historical Landmark No. 898.