Friday, February 26, 2016


In my most recent novella, He Is a Good Man, I set the story in the Santa Clara Valley of California. When asked where is home is, Henry “Hal” Avery replies: ““It’s on the east side of the bay, sort of opposite San Francisco, but further south….We don’t live in town. My father has a big spread along Alameda Creek. Like most people, we do both cattle and wheat farming.”

The locality of my hero's home in my 1866 story is today in the middle of California’s Silicon Valley. This technological mecca which is about two hours drive from where I live is buried under concrete, houses, and business buildings although there has been an effort to preserve Alameda Creek with the development of  hiking and bike trails and changes to water and wildlife management. Although there are a still a few agrarian areas, mostly the region is packed with people, highways and vehicles. The traffic is so dense most of the time that I avoid driving there during the work week daytime hours.

It was not always so. Go back 150 years and the region was oak-covered foothills descending into the valleys next to the eastern shore of the San Francisco Bay. Alameda Creek, forty miles long, is the third largest tributary to San Francisco Bay (after the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers). The Alameda Creek watershed is the geographic area drained by Alameda Creek and its tributaries, encompassing more than 680 square miles of the East Bay. 
View looking upstream at Alameda Creek in the portion of the flats of Niles where it has emerged from the Niles Canyon courtesy of Pedro Xing.

The watershed ranges from streams draining the south slopes of Mount Diablo in the north, most creeks from Mount Hamilton in the south, and arroyos as far east as Altamont Pass. For more information about this creek and what is being done to preserve its migratory fish population, click HERE.
The Alameda Creek in Niles Canyon between Fremont and Sunol, California, USA courtesy of Pedro Xing.

The Vallejo Flour Mill in Fremont, California, was built in 1850 by José de Jesús Vallejo, elder brother of General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo on his Rancho Arroyo de la Alameda. A second flour mill was built in 1856, the stone foundation of which may still be seen today.
Vallejo Flour Mill

Rancho Arroyo de la Alameda was a 17,705-acre (71.65 km2) Mexican land grant in present day Alameda County, California given in 1842 by Governor Juan B. Alvarado to José de Jesús Vallejo. The grant extended along Alameda Creek and encompassed present day Union City, Niles and Mount Eden.

In 1831, José de Jesús Vallejo (1798–1882), the elder brother of General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, inherited Rancho Bolsa de San Cayetano from his father in 1831. José de Jesus Vallejo was appointed administrator of Mission San José in 1837, but resigned in 1840, after an investigation by William Hartnell, who was sent by Governor Alvarado. Alvarado granted the four square league Rancho Arroyo de la Alameda, former Mission San José land to Jose de Jesus Vallejo in 1842.

Following the Mexican-American War, California was established as a territory of the United States. The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which detailed the terms of surrender provided that the land grants would be honored. As required by the Land Act of 1851 after California became a state, a claim for Rancho Arroyo de la Alameda was filed with the Public Land Commission in 1852, and the grant was patented to José de Jesús Vallejo in 1858. 

For more information on the California Ranchos and claims to land around the San Francisco Bay from 1769 to 1972, click HERE.

I base my fictional supposition that Hal Avery’s family was able to acquire land on or near this land grant based on the information that in 1863, the Southeast portion of Rancho Arroyo de la Alameda was acquired by Jonas Clark, who subdivided it and sold it in 1877.
This area was later known as Niles, California. The stone aqueduct built to carry water for the mill parallels what is today known as Niles Canyon Road, State Route 84. The mill is located at the intersection of Niles Canyon Road and Mission Boulevard (State Route 238) in Vallejo Mill Historical Park. It is now part of the city of Fremont.
1874 map of Niles and Vallejo Mills
 Here is an excerpt from He Is a Good Man:

     “I’m trying to finish the letter I was writing to Mali last night. I told her I got shot, but it’s getting hard to write. You finish it for me, Hal. Tell her I love her. Tell her to think of me fondly as a childhood friend, but…go on with her life and be happy.”
     Hal reached over and pried the paper out of Joshua’s fist. He rooted around on the ground until his fingers closed around the pencil Joshua had been using. He smoothed the crumpled sheet reasonably flat on his knee before he read the last few barely legible sentences in order to know where Joshua had left off and where he should start.
     “Josh, what do you mean by telling her you’ve done all you can for her future? That doesn’t make much sense.”
     “That’s between Mali and me. She’ll know…when the time comes.”
     Hal shrugged and began to write, being careful to not poke the pencil through the paper weakened by the creases resulting from Joshua clutching it while fighting off his pain. He had almost finished writing the words Joshua had requested when his friend, with a voice noticeably weaker, spoke to him once more.
     “Hal, you still got that other letter I asked you to take to Mali when I die?”
     “You’re not going to die, Josh. But, yeah, I still have it.”
     “And your word’s still good, isn’t it? You won’t mail it to her, but you’ll take it to her in person. You can mail the one you’re writing on now, and the one for my folks that’s in my coat pocket…but the one I gave to you before…you swear you’ll take it to her yourself in person? And you’ll do those other two things you promised to do, too?”
     “My word’s good, Josh. I meant every word I promised.” Hal fought down the surge of annoyance that his messmate would question his honor. He turned to stare in the unfocused eyes of his closest friend. “As long as I live to return home, I’ll do what I swore to do. I doubt she’ll appreciate me doing the one, but I’ll give her the option.”
     “Thanks, Hal. I’ll die in peace knowing you’ll do that.”
     “Just hush up about dying, Josh. What did you write in that letter, anyway?”
     “Between…me and Mali,” Joshua barely mumbled his words loud enough to be heard as shock and the loss of blood took its toll. “You…just take it to her.” 

Zina Abbott is the pen name used by Robyn Echols for her historical novels. 

Her novelette, He Is a Good Man, was published in the Lariats, Letters and Lace anthology.

Click HERE to tweet this blog post:
From flour mill to Silicon Vally metropolis- VALLEJO MILLS @ZinaAbbott #CowboyKisses

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