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Rancho San Juan1

San Juan Ranch consists of rolling grassland in California's coastal mountain range and is situated in eastern San Luis Obispo County, midway between the Pacific Ocean and the fertile San Joaquin Valley. The bountiful grassland, seasonal creeks (including San Juan Creek), and abundant springs, created prime grazing conditions. In 1843 Trineo Herrera and Geronimo Quintana brought several thousand sheep from Taos, New Mexico to the area. In 1846, ten square leagues2 of land, called San Juan Capistrano y el Camate were granted to these men by Pio Pico, the last Mexican governor of Alta California. About 1847 Herrera and Quintana built two adobe houses in the approximate center of the ranch. They also planted wheat, barley, and some fruit trees. At one time they had 400 head of cattle on the place. In The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, 1848, ending the Mexican-American War, Mexico ceded Upper California to the United States. The treaty specifically promised that private property rights would be safeguarded. Despite this provision a United States Land Commission was created to review the validity of land claims which were based on Spanish and Mexican grants. Such claims were considered to be faulty or fraudulent until positive proof to the contrary was presented. It is little wonder that many Californios lost their lands during this process. Herrera’s and Quintana’s grant of Rancho San Juan Capistrano y el Camate was disallowed because it was dated 11 Jul 1846—four days after the conquest of Monterey by American Forces. The property transferred into public ownership and, once surveyed, it was sold to private investors ranging in price from 25 cents to $1.25 an acre.

In 1874 Robert Flint purchased the headquarters of San Juan Ranch, as well as acreage extending up San Juan Creek. (Rancho el Camate was bought by someone else.) Actually Flint had apparently been living at San Juan Ranch for more than a decade, for in 1860, his tax assessment for San Juan Capistrano Ranch amounted to $5,675.3 “He is believed to have come from the Mother Lode country with only a pack mule.”4 A letter he wrote to his mother is datelined San Juan Capistrano, 6 Dec 1863. In 1869, Robert Flint bought land from Wm. F. Donnelley and his wife.5 On 31 Mar 1872 he wrote “this year I . . . have had to buy a large quanty of land to add to the vealue of that I had bought formerly.”6 In 1879, Robert G. Flint paid $1 to Drury W James (uncle of the outlaws Frank and Jesse James7) for land in San Luis Obispo County west of his previous property. It is not known why James was willing to part with this land for only a token payment.

Pio Pico, Last Mexican Governor of California "Pre-Statehood Governors of California", a Wikipedia article.

Pio Pico (1801–1894),
Last Mexican Governor of California

Flint built a large log and adobe house with space for his home and room for a store, where other settlers and travelers could buy supplies.8 At one point, he seems to have attempted to “improve” two of his rooms by blacktopping them—

“. . . I now am trying to put an asphaltum floor in My kitchen and dining room and do Not succeed very well; it crack very Much. none of us know anything about the buisness. it will take Me all this week to finish. . . .”9
“There is a bed of asphaltum some twelve miles northwest of [San Miguel], on the stage-road, that has attracted the attention of observing travelers for many years past. The great distance from transportation lines has hitherto stood in the way of any attempt to even prospect it satisfactorily, but the approach of the railroad in this vicinity will probably lead to its development. It is a substance rapidly growing in favor for walks and pavements, and such a deposit may come handy for such purposes in the towns now being started along the railroad.”10

Asphalt, also known as bitumen, or “tar”, is a sticky, black and highly viscous liquid or semi-solid form of petroleum. Until the 20th century, the term asphaltum was also used.11 The Spanish word is brea and the most famous outcrop in California is the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles where many bones of prehistoric animals that got trapped in the gooey muck have been found.12

Flint’s structure was demolished in 1940, and some of the adobe bricks were used in another building nearby. Robert grazed cattle throughout the rolling hills and cultivated crops on the bottomland property. In his youth he had been trained by his father as a stone mason and he apparently used this skill to engineer and construct the elaborate stock-watering place on the Pinole portion of his ranch that came to be known as “Pinole Springs”.13 Over time, he acquired additional property, expanding his holdings to 58,175 acres. At its peak, the ranch reached from some five miles southeast of present-day Shandon up the San Juan River and out across the Carrizo Plains to the Temblor Range.


1 Ohles (1997), p 7, 20–21, 127, 253, 254–255; San Juan (ws), "San Juan Ranch History".

2 The Spanish square league or sitio mayor, was equal to approximately 4440 acres.

3 Ohles (1997), p 254.

4 Lura Rawson, a San Luis Obispo County historian, writing in 1989; quoted in Ohles (1997), p 254.

5 Ohles (1997), p 254.

6 Flint, R (1872).

7 CCMH (2005), p 11.

8 Ohles (1997), p 255.

9 Flint, R (1872).

10 The San Miguel Inland Messenger, 10 Sep 1886.

11 "Asphalt", a Wikipedia article.

12 "La Brea Tar Pits", a Wikipedia article.

13 Ohles (1997), p 254–255.

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