Pacheco State Park at one time was part of a massive land grant bestowed on Francisco Pérez Pacheco.
The 48,821-acre land grant made in 1841 was just one of several Pacheco received from the Mexican government. After the Mexican-American War and California’s cession to the United States, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 honored all land grants.
Pacheco’s cattle ranching empire included three other land grants that were located in present-day San Benito and Monterey counties.
Pacheco was born in Guadalajara, Mexico in 1793. He came north with the Spanish Army as a carpenter and a wagon maker. He was stationed on Monterey where be obtained the rank of lieutenant.
With holdings in excess 100,000 acres, Pacheco was a key figure in the 1860s to 1880s when California was as big a player in cattle as Texas. But his holdings paled in comparison to a neighbor’s to the east — Henry Miller.
The German-American immigrant who was born to a butcher ran away from home at the age of 14 and made his way to New York City. In 1850 the Gold Rush lured him to California but not to mine. He set out to make his fortune the way those that most who succeeded in a major way during the Gold Rush era in California did by supplying food and supplies to the miners.
He started working as a butcher in San Francisco. When the big fire of 1851 wiped out much of San Francisco, he started his own butcher shop.
By 1865 he had saved enough to buy the 8,830-acre Santa Rita Ranch for $10,800 in the San Joaquin Valley. Over the next five years he bought another adjoining 70,000 acres.
Once fences started going up on former open rage land Miller owned and controlled more than 500,000 acres. One fence was 68 miles long. Given barbed wire had yet to be invented, it was built as a board fence.
The Henry Miller Cattle Company — headquartered in Los Banos to the east of Pacheco’s land grant — defined the word “empire”.
Miller at one point owned 1.4 million plus controlled 22,000 square miles of cattle and farmland in California, Oregon, and Nevada. He was one of the largest landowners in United States history.
Miller was often quoted as saying, “a wise man buys land, a fool sells.”
He was responsible for much of the cattle and farming development in the San Joaquin Valley. In the 1860s to the late 1880s, the San Joaquin Valley was heralded as the bread basket of the United States. That was due part to its dry summers and wet winters that made wheat a profitable crop without the need to irrigate. It also helped that many wheat growing areas around the globe experienced crop failures during that time period.
The advent of dams to store water and supply irrigation water allowed the fertile souls of the San Joaquin Valley to turn it into the most productive region in the world for vegetables, fruits and nut crops.
With less than one percent of the farmland in the United States, the Central Valley of which the San Joaquin Valley far out-produces the Sacramento Valley generates 8 percent of all agricultural production in the United States. That’s in excess of $42 billion.