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Note: This page is a work in progress.
For now, it begins with the Ohlone and links to an article about the legacy of Vicente Peralta.
Stay tuned as we flesh out the history of our watershed.

Original Residents: The Ohlone

For more than 2,500 years before the Spanish missionaries first arrived in the Bay Area in the 1770s, dozens of small, politically independent native "tribelets" belonging to the Ohlone language group inhabited the upion. Recent studies suggest that theTemescal area was once part of the ancestral homeland of the Huchiun people, whose territory is thought to have extended north to present-day Richmond. While actual village sites are not known, our understanding of native practice suggests that the Huchiun Ohlone hunted, fished, and gathered seeds and acorns all along Temescal Creek, including in what are now the Temescal and Rockridge neighborhoods. They built their modest, dome-shaped shelters of willow branches covered with tules, and erected sweat houses, or temescals, on the banks of the creek. Thus, using a wide range of time-tested technologies and with acute knowledge of their environment, the Huchiun successfully lived off the bounty of the land.

The arrival of the Spanish radically altered the Bay Area's indigenous communities. It is estimated that by 1815, the native population had been reduced by three-quarters, in large part due to European diseases. Most of the Indians who survived lived in the missions in poverty and close to starvation. When, in 1834, the missions were disbanded by the newly independent Mexican government, many mission Indians, significantly cut off from their traditional ways of life, found work as servants and ranch hands on the large Spanish and Mexican land grant estates that had been established during the previous two decades.
ohlone hut
in the bay While there is no record of any Huchiuns having survived the dislocation and hardship caused by the mission system, it is likely that through intermarriage the Huchiun lineage persists today. Meanwhile, Ohlone descendants from other parts of the Bay Area are actively renewing and celebrating their rich cultural heritage.

Vicente Peralta's Chosen Place

In 1836, with the construction of a modest adobe dwelling on his father's Spanish land grant, José Vicente Peralta became the first person of European descent to settle in this area. Situated between present day Telegraph Avenue, highway 24, 55th Street and Vicente Streets, the adobe was but a stone's throw northwest of Temescal Creek (now flowing in an underground culvert behind the DMV building). Eventually, this adobe formed the nucleus of Vicente's Rancho Encinal de Temescal–the portion of his father's estate, inherited in 1842, that stretched from present-day downtown Oakland to the Berkeley border.
Over the next 30 years, Vicente and his wife, Maria Encarnación Galindo, built additional adobes on this site (including the first chapel in the East Bay north of Mission San Jose), planted orchards that stretched to present-day Emeryville, and oversaw their extensive herd of cattle, raised primarily for the hide.

The gold rush and California statehood in 1850 brought an end to the Peraltas’ way of life when droves of squatters descended on the land grant estates of the East Bay. In the years that followed, Vicente fought for–and eventually won–legal title to his land. However, by the time his court battles were over, all but 700 acres of his original rancho were gone–either relinquished to squatters or sold off to cover his legal fees.

Vicente Peralta died in 1871 at the age of 58, and was buried nearby in St. Mary's Cemetery, where his tomb can still be seen. Shortly thereafter, his remaining land was subdivided and individual lots were sold to new arrivals, thus furthering the growth of the small town of Temescal. No trace of Vicente's adobes remains today.

Although Don Vicente and Doña Encarnación had no surviving children, dozens of Peralta family descendants make their home today in the East Bay, remembering their ancestors and honoring their early Spanish California heritage. (For an essay about Peralta, click here.)

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