Gold Nuggets, Land Titles
and José Sanchez’s Fortune
Written By Elizabeth Barrett
fter Mariano Castro died in 1828, his widow inherited the
title to his 25,519 acre Las Animas Rancho. It was regranted
to her in 1835 by Governor Figueroa. Eleven years later, in
1846, the Castro heirs sold about three-quarters of the property to
José María Sanchez.
Sanchez (1804-1852), a citizen of Mexico, had arrived in Alta
California and began to procure ranch properties. These included
the 16,016 acre Rancho Llano de Tequisquite, located along today’s
Pacheco Pass Highway, an area that contained Soap Lake. In 1844,
José Antonio Castro sold him the 6,652 acre Rancho Lomerías
Muertas. The rancho, located south of Gilroy, was bordered by the
San Benito and Pajaro Rivers. This became the land where Sanchez
and his wife, Encarnación Ortega (1804-1894) built their home and
raised five children. Sanchez’s property holdings totaled over 44,000
acres, mostly devoted to raising longhorn cattle.
When José María Sanchez married Encarnación in 1840, he
joined an old, established Santa Clara Valley family. Encarnación,
the oldest daughter of Quintin Ortega, was the granddaughter
of Ygnacio Ortega, the original grantee of the Rancho San Ysidro
at Old Gilroy. Ygnacio’s father, José Francisco Ortega, had
accompanied the Portola expedition in 1769 that discovered
San Francisco Bay. Encarnación’s aunt, Clara María Ortega, had
married John Gilroy.
Sanchez was a wealthy and enterprising businessman for the era.
Over time he served as alcalde (magistrate) of San Juan Bautista,
ran a hide brokerage in Monterey, raised livestock, operated a soap
factory at Soap Lake (also known as San Felipe Lake), sold Chinese
imports delivered to California by trade ships, managed slaughter
and butchering operations in the Sierra and mined for gold.
His gold collection, allegedly amassed from mining in the Sierra
and winning at card games, was said to be buried somewhere on
his ranch property.
At the pinnacle of his success, an inexplicable tragedy occurred
on Christmas Eve 1852 when José María Sanchez drowned in the
Pajaro River. The event left not only his widow and children bereft
of the father and family provider, but also his heirs fell victim to
the era’s legal codes. Besides being incapable of administrating
her own property, Encarnación was unable to read. A series of
court- appointed directors took over, leaving the helpless widow
and her family under outside supervision and control. Monterey
County Sheriff Roach was one who headed straight to court to
request the appointment after he learned of Sanchez’s sudden death.
(San Benito County was not yet formed from Monterey County at
Roach was particularly persistent. In 1853, just as Encarnación
was about to marry Thomas B. Godden, Roach tried to gain sole
administration over her estate. Although Godden attempted to
prevail, he was soon killed in a steamboat explosion. Not one to
let the grass grow, two months later, Encarnación married Henry L.
Sanford. While engaged in official wrangling with Roach, Sanford
also tried to unravel the legal entanglements. Prior to the final estate
GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN
settlement, Sanford was killed in a gunfight. Unbelieveably, by 1855
Encarnación was again married, this time to a lawyer named George
W. Crane. He thought he could help by attempting to eliminate her
name from the title in hopes of speeding up the proceedings. As
his obliging wife, Encarnación sold her new husband the Sanchez
estate for a $5 gold piece. It seemed the woman was poison to
men, because in 1868 Crane died of either measles or smallpox.
Incredibly, in 1871 she married one last time, to Anastio Alviso.
He later died of a hunting accident.
In all, it took nineteen time-consuming years of legal squabbles
before the Sanchez family members finally settled out the estate and
received their inheritance. In the end, 12,000 acres were sold to the
Miller and Lux Company and became part of the Bloomfield Ranch
The Sanchez family and the Las Animas Rancho story didn’t end
here. By the 1870s, the newly incorporated City of Gilroy had been
founded on a portion of the old rancho. Questions arose over land
ownership and establishing clear property titles. Over a thousand
claimants brought suit in a case that persisted from 1879 until 1
887 before it was at last settled.
Widowed five times, the unfortunate Encarnación spent the
remainder of her life in San Juan Bautista at the home of her third
husband, George Crane. She died in 1894 died at age 71 in the
Crane house, which stands today opposite the old mission convent
at 401 Second Street.
As for the beleaguered José María Sanchez, legends still surface
on occasion of his buried gold nuggets. Long ago, gold seekers were
known to trespass on his former rancho, digging up the ground in
search of supposed buried treasure, but no such collection has yet