A land surveyor was worth nearly his weight in gold.
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed in February 1848. It ended the war between Mexico and the United States. Land grants issued by Spain and Mexico were supposed to be honored by American courts.
The “catch” to that provision was that the Mexican titles were based on diseños, hand-drawn metes and bounds maps defining the area of the grant. These were legal under Mexican law. But under the new American jurisdiction, these boundaries had to be “officially” surveyed and marked.
Lieutenant E. O. C. Ord and William Rich Hutton had just completed a survey of Los Angeles, then the largest “city” in California. Hutton was then invited to do first surveys of our county seat and Captain John Wilson’s Rancho La Cañada de Los Osos.
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San Luis Obispo had become an important location because of the proximity of its large herds of Mission-era cattle to the goldfields. The world rushed into the new city of San Francisco and quickly moved onto the goldfields of the Mother Lode. The population center shifted from Southern California to the northern regions.
What became Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles counties were known as the “Cow Counties.” Almost devoid of people, these counties supplied the beef to feed the Argonauts (the name given to the gold seekers who were like the Greek hero, Jason, and his crew who sailed aboard the Argo in search of the “Golden Fleece”).
The 49ers had to eat. The ranchers made a great deal more money than the vast majority of miners.
Captain Wilson was one of the wealthiest ranchers. Unlike his Californio neighbors, Wilson understood the need for a survey.
So, too, did his longtime Anglo-American associates, Capt. Dana of the Rancho Nipomo and county Supervisor John Michael Price. More recent arrivals like Sam Pollard, who owned the largest mercantile store and saloon in San Luis Obispo, and attorney Henry Tefft, recently delegate to the 1849 California State Constitutional Convention, also saw the urgency of surveying their land.
It was a closely knit community. Pollard and Tefft would shortly become Captain Dana’s sons-in-law.
All were in agreement. If the still tiny pueblo was to fulfill its seemingly bright future, it needed to be surveyed and properly laid out on a plat map. Meantime, Hutton would have plenty of work surveying surrounding ranchos like Dana’s and Francis Ziba Branch’s Santa Manuela in Arroyo Grande.
Hutton arrived in April 1847 in Monterey to serve as a clerk for his uncle, William Rich, a paymaster of the U.S. Volunteer Troops during the Mexican War.
In addition to his surveying skills, Hutton was an artist of considerable talent. He sketched and often painted scenes from each of the ports that his shipped stopped at from Chile to Cabo San Lucas, San Diego and Monterey.
He produced the oldest sketch that we have of Mission San Luis Obispo.
Shortly after, he served as best man at Tefft’s wedding to Josefa Dana, arguably the most famous social event in the history of California during the epoch of early statehood.
All of Hutton’s rancho survey maps survive, as does the sketch of our mission done in 1851. Hutton’s survey of our city, El Pueblo de San Luis Obispo became a basis for future maps starting with the work of civil engineer William C. Parker in 1862.
Unfortunately, Hutton’s survey was lost when what is now the County History Center’s basement flooded during the late 1970s.
Learn about Mission Would you like to know more about the rich history of Mission San Luis Obispo? We will be holding docent training classes for newcomers and docents on May 16 from 9:30-11 a.m. in the Serra Room near the Parish Offices. Training will continue on the three following Saturdays. Please call the office to sign up at 781-8220. There is no cost or obligation to serve as docents.
Cayucos Heritage Weekend Next weekend County residents can become acquainted with Capt. James Cass, founder of Cayucos and a true Renaissance man of the late 19th century. On Friday, May 15 from 5 to 7 p.m. the Cayucos Historical Society will be opening a new exhibit of Cass at its museum located at 41 S. Ocean Ave. On Saturday, May 16 from 1 to 4 p.m. you can tour the beautifully restored Cass House located at 222 N. Ocean Ave., as a part of Cayucos Heritage Weekend.