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The Story of Chief Solano
by Jerry Bowen


PART 1 - Asistencia Built Near Rockville

Alcalde Ran Tiny Mission as Byway for Padres

October 29, 2006

In my last column we followed Friar Altamira in 1824 during his expedition to establish the last mission to be built in California.

At the time, he pretty much had his mind made up to place the final mission at today’s Sonoma. But he continued on, to check out the Napa area and Suisun Valley near today’s Rockville. He rejected both as the final and only mission site to be established under Mexican rule.

Napa was rejected even though it had many of the same assets as the Sonoma area, but not as much available water and he rejected Suisun Valley because of a lack of timber that could be used for building and the excessive distance from the Presidio of San Francisco.

Building of the Sonoma Mission was begun in the spring of 1824 and 602 Christian Indians from the older missions had been moved there by the end of that year. The first new convert at the mission was an Ululato from the Vacaville area, baptized on April 4, 1824.

By the end of the year, Altimira also decided to establish a Rancho near Rockville about a quarter mile south of today’s Stonedene Mansion. The site probably had been part of the original Suisun Indian village that extended to the site where the Stonedene Mansion stands today. Even though it didn’t have the qualities for a full mission, it was considered an ideal area for raising horses and cattle.

Along with the Rancho, he also built a small sub-mission known as an Asistencia, naming it Santa Eulalia. It included a temporary house for the neophyte Indian Alcalde (mayor), probably Jesus Molino of the original Suisun Village, and a horse corral that was run by the alcalde and his family. An adobe house was built for the use of visiting padres.

According to San Francisco Mission records, an infant that had been born at Santa Eulalia was baptized on August 14, 1827.

In the following year a Christian Tolena woman, Olimpia Nauayac, died at Santa Eulalia. She was the mother of Hipolito Guilac who had been baptized at the Mission Delores at San Francisco.

Hipolito died at the Santa Eulalia ranch four years later. The records stated, “The first day of February, 1832, I gave Holy Burial to the body of the neophyte Hipolito, former nurse, former cook, interpreter of the three languages that predominate at this mission, that is to say, four, Kacunda, Petaluma, Suysun, and Huiluc, and most recently the catechist and baptizer of the sick and the babies of the non-Christians that live at the Rancho of Santa Eulalia in the locality or land of Suysun ... He had been baptized at the Mission of Our Patron San Francisco on January 26, 1812.’ (signed Friar Fortuney)

During those years from 1824 to 1832, the Christian Indians grew crops and ran livestock around the site and probably lived in wattle houses between the adjacent hills and the present day Suisun Valley Road area. They also worked to convert non-Christians from Hill Patwin and Valley Patwin tribes to the north.

The Suisun Indian, Sino, was baptized at Mission Delores at San Francisco Solano and given the name Francisco Solano on July 24, 1810, shortly after the battle between Moraga and the Suisun Indians. He was among the Indians that were sent to the Mission San Francisco Solano at Sonoma in 1824 at the age of about 25, and by 1826 he was one of the alcaldes (missionary-controlled Indian headmen) of the Sonoma Mission. Note, the name “Sem-Yet-To” was not applied to him nor was there yet any indication as to being a chief of the Suisuns.

PART 2 - Francisco Solano becomes a mission alcalde

Starting in 1827, he had as many as four marriages

November 12, 2006

In my last column I introduced you to “Sino” and now I find that I spelled his name wrong. According to a transcript of his baptismal certificate at the Huntington Library his name was spelled “Sina.”

His father’s name was “Sulapy” and there was no record of his mother’s name. He was baptized and given the name Francisco Solano, and would later be designated as “Chief Solano” as we shall see as we continue this series.

We also saw that Father Altimira established Mission San Francisco Solano at Sonoma in 1824 and the surviving Suisun Indians were among the San Francisco Mission Delores groups that he brought north to Sonoma. Francisco Solano, then about 25 years old, was one of those people. By 1826 Francisco Solano was appointed as one of six alcaldes (missionary-controlled Indian headmen) of the mission at Sonoma. On March 3 of that year he shows up as a godparent in the mission’s baptismal register.

The 1836 census shows there were 552 Indians at the new Pueblo of Sonoma. Francisco Solano was still listed as one of the six Indian alcaldes at the pueblo of Sonoma.

By October 1837, Solano was listed as a head-of-family, with an 18-person household including seven women and girls ranging in age from 20 down to 9 years old.

Other records from Mission Delores show some of his marriages as follows: Francisco Solano Sina married Helena Saquenmupi, a Wappo/Coast Miwok-speaking Aloquiomis from Pope Valley at Mission San Francisco Solano in October 1827. She died in 1830. In April of 1833 he married 18-year-old Guida Coulas, a Patwin-speaking Topaytos from today’s Berryessa area. Possibly the last records available show that Francisco Solano married 12-year-old Maria del Rosario Ullumole on Jan. 9, 1839. In 1874, Henry Cerutti, a writer for Hubert Howe Bancroft, interviewed what was claimed to be Francisco Solano’s last and favorite wife, Isidora Filomena, though no official record seems to exist documenting their marriage. A fire in 1896 at the Sonoma Mission may have destroyed the official record of their marriage.

Secularization of the California missions, the process to take the missions away from the church and place them under government rule, was ordered by Governor Jos Figueroa by proclamation in 1834. Under the rules of Secularization, the Indian neophyte heads of household were to receive parcels of land, “not over 400 nor less than 100 varas square,” (one vara equaled a little less than 3 feet).

According to reminiscences of M.G. Vallejo and other Mexican citizens of that time Solano’s Indian forces helped him defeat a combination of Sacramento Valley tribes under the leader Zampay. In 1838, Francisco Solano was issued a provisional grant of four leagues of land (approximately 17,000 acres) by Vallejo for his service to the General. The grant, Suisun Grant, included Francisco Solano’s original homelands at the asistencia, Santa Eulalia, near Rockville. Apparently, Solano moved back to his original home at the asistencia for the next few years although he remained in contact with General Vallejo.

By 1838 the plague descended on the northern provinces and in two years it was estimated that between 60,000 and 70,000 Indians had died of the disease. By 1839 much of the mission at Sonoma was in ruins and Francisco Solano no longer appeared in the mission’s vital registers.

The official title to Rancho Suisun was finally granted to Francisco Solano on January 28, 1842. Vallejo bought the land from Solano just four months later, in May of 1842.

Then in 1846 the Bear Flag Revolt resulted in the arrest and confinement of Vallejo and others at Sutter’s Fort. A distraught Francisco Solano disappeared from Solano County for the next four years apparently believing that his good friend Vallejo was dead.

PART 3 - Buckeye tree may be Chief Solano burial site

General Vallejo gets big profit on rancho sale

November 26, 2006

In the last column we saw that Francisco Solano’s provisional grant issued to him in 1837 finally was made official on Jan. 28, 1842.

It is interesting to note that General Vallejo’s own personal lawyer represented Francisco Solano and Vallejo’s nephew, Governor Juan Alverado approved the final grant.

It appears that crafty old General Vallejo’s intention all along was to acquire the Suisun Rancho for his own use when he bought the land from Francisco Solano just four months later for $1,000. In 1850 he sold the land to Archibald Ritchie for $50,000, a tidy profit by any measure.

At this point we don’t know how much time Solano actually spent at the Santa Eulalia Asistencia. Most travelers who wrote accounts of their trips through the area during the 1840s usually only mentioned one of Solano’s fellow Indians, Jesus Molino.

One thing that seems certain is that in 1846 when the Bear Flag Revolt occurred, Francisco Solano disappeared from the scene altogether. It is said that he feared that his good friend Vallejo died when he was imprisoned at Sutter’s Fort. Unsubstantiated rumors say that he wandered far to the north, even as far as Alaska, although that is hard to believe.

In 1848, the war with Mexico ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and California was annexed to the United States. The gold rush began and was the pivotal point for great changes by 1850 in California. Solano had returned in 1850 to find his old friend Vallejo was still alive and then returned to his home at the Santa Eulalia Asistencia.

Vallejo was elected to the first session of the California Congress and was selected to serve as chairman of a committee that was to define the derivations of the new counties. It is in the report that the first documented evidence that Francisc o Solano was “ the great Chief of the tribes originally denominated Suisunes The residence of this chief was the valley of Suisun Before receiving the baptismal name of Solano, the chief was called “Sem-yeto,” which signifies the “brave of fierce hand.” So, from that day on Sino, AKA Francisco Solano, became known in history as “Chief Solano.”

Samuel Martin arrived in Suisun Valley from his gold mining ventures in 1850 and settled or perhaps more accurately “squatted” on land quite possibly at the mostly deserted asistencia where he found “Chief” Solano who had become desperately ill who soon died. For those of you that don’t know who Samuel Martin was, he was the builder of the stone Martin House, commonly referred to today as “Stonedene Mansion.”

From this point on history becomes quite unclear as to accuracy and documentation of Solano’s death. According to ‘Solano, The Crossroads County,’ an illustrated history, by Frank Keegan, “Samuel Martin, with a party of Americans discovered him (Solano) fatally ill at the rancho in 1850 and notes his passing.” Various reports over the years placed his burial under a buckeye tree alongside the Old Sacramento Road (today’s Suisun Valley Road) near Rockville, across from the Martin stone mansion that was built in 1861. The burial site is commemorated today with a bronze plaque on the Solano County College campus. The road has had been modified and widened over the years and the buckeye tree no longer exists.

During the early 1850s, squatters settled on the Suisun Rancho lands. On Dec. 11, 1850 General Vallejo sold most of the Suisun Ranch to A. A. Ritchie. Ritchie then sold one-third of the Suisun Rancho to Captain Waterman. During this time the grant was in dispute and the Land Grants Commission was formed to determine ownership of the land. The ownership by Ritchie was confirmed in 1853 and a patent issued later, which made the sale to Waterman legal.


Published in the Vacaville Reporter