While some believe that Cinco de Mayo is Mexican Independence Day, it’s actually just a minor Mexican holiday which commemorates their victory over an invading French army in 1862.
In the U.S., the fifth of May is a popular occasion for celebrations of Mexican heritage and culture, so it’s the perfect time for a story about El Rancho Rinconada de Los Gatos from which our town took its name.
After Mexico gained independence from Spain in September 1821, the former Spanish colony of Alta California became a Mexican province.
To secure their presence, the new Mexican government offered large tracts of land to influential Spanish-speaking “Californios” who would agree to establish permanent settlements.
Friends José Maria Hernandez and Sebastian Fabian Peralta achieved prominence by marrying twin sisters of the prosperous Cibrian family in 1830 and 1831, respectively. As a nod to their connections, Provincial Governor Juan B. Alvarado awarded 6,631 acres of land to the brothers-in-law in May 1840.
The enormous grant included almost all of present day Los Gatos and Monte Sereno, together with about a third of Campbell and small sections of San Jose, Saratoga and unincorporated Santa Clara County. With their newfound status, the men would be referred to with the honorific title “Don” as a sign of respect.
Hernandez and Peralta named their rancho La Rinconada de Los Gatos (“the corner of the cats”) after the large population of mountain lions in the nearby hills as well as the “corner” formed by the steep ravine between El Sereno and El Sombroso mountains where Highway 17 is today.
Los Gatos Creek flowed through the center of their property (in what is now Vasona Park) which is where they built an adobe home.
We know very little about the life of Don José Maria Hernandez. Don Sebastian Fabian Peralta achieved some notoriety in San Jose as a regidor, a position akin to a city council member, and as majordomo (the highest ranking manager) of Mission Santa Clara.
He was a widower by the time the adobe was finished, so he moved in with Hernandez and his wife Maria.
After Peralta remarried in 1846, he and his new wife moved to the Northerly portion of the rancho where they built a separate adobe. A third home was built for other members of the extended family on the Western edge next to the creek that runs along Quito Road.
The first two houses are long gone, but portions of the third were eventually incorporated into another home.
With the cession of California to the United States following the Mexican–American War, the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo provided that all of the original Mexican land grants would be honored by the American government.
The rancho prospered at first, but the families’ stay was short-lived. Hernandez sold most of his share in 1852 after his wife died in childbirth.
Peralta sold 2,000 acres to James Alexander Forbes the following year, and owned just 292 acres when he died in 1859. His remaining land was sold at public auction.
The brothers-in-law’s story has largely been forgotten, although there are streets named in their honor in the Glenridge neighborhood.
All that remains of the original rancho is the name Los Gatos.
Content and photos from “Discover LOST Gatos” historical walking tours by Alan Feinberg, Peggy Conaway-Bergtold and Sandy Decker. Download the free mobile app from the Apple App Store or Google Play. Contact the team at [email protected].