Dawn of the World

In the beginning, everything was covered with water, except for the very top of Oon'-na-pi's, the peak of Sonoma Mountain that dominates our skyline looking east, as known by its old name. Standing on the peak, O-let'-te (Coyote-man, also called O'-ye) shook his mat of tule reeds to the four winds and caused the water to recede, then he created the plants and the animals, and then all of the people. We know these facts because they have been passed down in the creation story of the Coast Miwok people, who inhabited the area from here to the coast and down to the Golden Gate, going back at least 4000 years. This is also near the boundary of the Southern Pomo people, who ranged to the west and north, and the Wappo to the north and east. It is likely that members of those tribes passed through Gophermuerte while hunting deer and rabbits or crossing over the mountain.

The Spanish Era

Alvarado and Vallejo

The Spanish expansion up the coast stopped about this far north, and by the early 1800's they had supplanted the native Miwoks (and largely wiped them out with smallpox and measles). After Mexican independence from Spain in 1821, the area was part of the Mexican colony of Alta California. General Mariano Vallejo was sent by the Mexican government in the 1830's to take control of the area and establish the Presidio of Sonoma, in an effort to increase the Mexican territorial claims and preclude incursion by the Russians to the north. Vallejo was granted personal title to the lands of Rancho Petaluma, which lie just to the south of Gophermuerte. He built a ranch house 7 miles southeast of here that his family used as a summer home, now known as the Petaluma Adobe. The house and cattle ranch were under the supervision of his mayordomo (foreman), Miguel Alvarado, born in 1800, a Mexican soldier formerly stationed in the area, who resided at the Petaluma Adobe during the years following 1836.

ranchos According to court documents, on Nov. 23, 1844, Governor Manuel Micheltorena on behalf of the Mexican government granted to Miguel Alvarado the Yulupa Rancho, a 13,000 acre tract which included Gophermuerte and extended to the northeast. Alvarado built and occupied a house just north of Sonoma Valley around 1843. On Feb. 20, 1849 he sold the Yulupa Rancho to Mariano Vallejo, who had helped him acquire the land in the first place, for the sum of $3000.

Back to the government

YulupaWhile Alvarado and Vallejo may have been the first "owners" of the land that includes Gophermuerte, the ownership was questioned. Unfortunately for Vallejo, who struggled to hold on to much of his lands, the original Yulupa Rancho grant was apparently never fully recorded in the official Mexican archives. When control of California passed to the US government in 1848, ownership of all Mexican land grants was required to be confirmed by the Board of California Land Commissioners. Vallejo's claim to Rancho Yulupa was rejected by the Land Commission in 1854 on the basis that its boundaries were insufficiently well defined. Upon appeal to the US District Court, along with testimony by numerous witnesses as to the grant and its boundaries, the ownership was confirmed in 1857. But that ruling was then reversed by the US Supreme Court in 1859 based on insufficient original documentation and registration, and the case was remanded for further evidence. It was finally rejected July 19, 1865, and the Yulupa Rancho lands reverted to the public domain under the jurisdiction of the United States government.

ranchosThere is an 1865 map in the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley labeled "Plat of the Rancho Los Guilicos, finally confirmed to John Wilson" dated February 1865 and showing 42,088 acres. The boundary of that rancho as shown is incorrect, and the map actually includes both Rancho Los Guilicos and the public lands that would have been Rancho Yulupa, with the border between them running approximately from northwest to southeast through the middle of the map. Gophermuerte lies near the southwestern corner. This mistaken map perhaps reflects some of the uncertainty surrounding the borders of Ranco Yulupa as expressed by the Land Commission, in particular its northwest extent. A very similar but correct map of Rancho Los Guilicos in the Bancroft Library is labeled "Plat of the Rancho Los Guilicos, finally confirmed to Juan Wilson" dated May 1859 and copied October 19, 1865. That map shows Rancho Los Guilicos correctly as only 18,834 acres, and indicates Rancho Yulupa abutting its southwestern boundary.



1877 map

From Cultural Resources of Jack London State Historic Park, 1987: "Meanwhile, with the rejection of Vallejo's claim to the Yulupa Rancho, settlers filed patents with the General Land Office for this reservoir of government land between the four ranchos. Government land to the west of Jack London SHP in T6N/R7W was surveyed in 1865, officially opening those parcels to private claim. Bowers's map (1867) shows many owners/homesteaders in this area".

Meanwhile, back on the east coast in 1854, a 37-year old man named Charles Lyman from Northfield, Massachusetts married Calista Stebbins of Vermont. According to her family history, in The Houghton Genealogy, 1912: "They left for Iowa City, then went to St. Joseph, Missouri. May 9, 1862, they left with a company taking horses and wagon for California when the country was mostly inhabited by roving bands of Indians. When near Canon City [Colorado] they engaged to work for a lumber company, Calista being employed as cook in the winter of 1863-4. They crossed the mountains into California; bought a ranch about ten miles from Petaluma." Charles was born in 1817, and would have been in his mid-forties when he came to California.

Land Patent The Lymans homesteaded the property, beginning sometime between 1864 and 1866, and on Sept. 1, 1871 Charles Lyman was granted 160 acres by Homestead certificate No. 224 through letters patent issued in the name of president Ulysses S. Grant. Gophermuerte lies along the south border of that grant. On October 5, 1883 he was given title by the State of California to the additional 51.13 acres of his homestead lying between the four quarter-quarters granted by the U.S. and the diagonal boundary of the Cotate Rancho to the west (I haven't yet found that deed, but the land patent for those parcels went to the State of California in 1871, and then from the State to Lyman). The total ranch was just over 211 acres. It would have been mostly open grassland on rolling hills, sparsely populated with coast live oaks and bay trees, and with natural springs for water. The Lymans built a house and planted a half-acre vineyard about a quarter mile north of Gophermuerte. The homestead is shown on the Sonoma County maps by Bowers in 1867 and Thompson in 1877.

Charles and Calista lived there for twenty some years. Calista died in 1882, and in 1885 Charles sold the property and moved to Petaluma, where he died at age 72 in 1889. They had an adopted daughter Lydia (born about 1874) who also resided there.

The intervening years


Deed Charles sold the 211-acre property through a deed dated May 13, 1885 for $13,100 to Franklin L. Roberts, who was 32 years old at the time. Frank and his wife Mary, married since 1875, apparently lived just a few miles down the hill, in a house along what is now called Roberts Road, on property that had been passed along to Mary by her father, Thomas Hopper. Thomas had become one of the major land owners in the area, living at one time near Sonoma where he visited with his neighbor Mariano Vallejo. He had left home in Lafayette County, MO at age 19 and run off to California just in time to benefit from the lucrative early months of the gold rush. (Mary's grandfather William Hopper was born in Burke County, North Carolina in 1792, where he grew up before moving to Missouri.) 1898 MapIt is unclear whether the Robertses lived on the property, or just used it for farming.

Roberts Sons

Frank and Mary both died in 1917 within 3 months of each other, without leaving a will. They were survived by their three sons, William, Edward, and Hubert, aged 36 to 40. William and Hubert still lived in the area, although Edward had by then moved to southern California. The three sons were granted equal shares in the 211 acre property through probate in 1918.


In April of 1923, Edward Roberts deeded the original Lyman properties to Benjamin C. Pressley and his younger brother William B. Pressley, sons of the respected Judge John G. Pressley of the Superior Court in Santa Rosa. Also included in that transaction was a small 7.5 acre triangle to extend the southern boundary of the property to the existing road that crosses through the property (now called Pressley Road). Benjamin, who had moved with his parents after the Civil War to California from South Carolina at the age of two, died eleven years later on June 3, 1934.


After another five years of sole ownership, William Pressley sold the ranch to Courtney Kendall, a dairy farmer from Mendocino, and his wife Ada in January of 1939. The Kendalls owned it for over a dozen years. Ada died in 1951, and after the death of Courtney in 1953 the property passed to his son Alonzo and Alonzo's wife Mary, who lived nearby in Bennett Valley.

Subdividing the Ranch


1964 Aerial In September of 1956 the 211 acres was sold to George and Hazel Orr. A drainage in the center of the ranch (just north of Gm) was expanded to create a large pond. The Orrs began the process of subdividing the original homestead grant, and a road built along the northern ranch edge was named Orr Ranch Road.

Gaynos and others

In December of 1974 the Orrs sold a parcel containing Gophermuerte to Nick and Loris Gaynos. They continued the process of subdividing the property, and at one point also enlarged a creek to create the Gm pond. In 1980 a parcel along the southern property boundary went to their daughter and her husband, which was then further subdivided.


The Grand Evolution

The 7+ acre parcel that became Gophermuerte was sold in 1981, and the owners built the barn and finished the current house in 1985. The property was sold again in September of 1988. Then began the real transformation, from a simple plot with a house and barn to a wonderfully rich and interesting place to be. The dog run, bridges, garden, shed and arbors made their appearance, along with daffodils, lavender, roses, irises, trees, and many creative touches. Thank you, Mike and Gail.

Present Day

Carl and Cindy took over in March of 2009, which brings us to the current Gophermuerte. These days most of the action involves growing vegetables, battling thistle, mowing around the rocks, and trying to stay a step ahead of the gophers.

Historical Timeline

date owner description
~3000+ BC Coast Miwoks and others West to the coast, south to the bay, near villages of Kotati and Lumen-takala
1821 Mexican government Alta California
1844 Miguel Alvarado Rancho Yulupa (tres sitios de ganado major, about 20 sq. miles)
1849 Mariano Vallejo Rancho Yulupa
1854 U.S. Government Public Lands of Sonoma County
~1865 Charles and Calista Lyman 211 acres, land patent 1871
1885 Frank and Mary Roberts 211 acres
1918 William, Edward, and Hubert Roberts 211 acres
1923 B.C. Pressley and William Pressley 218 acres
1939 Courtney and Ada Kendall 218 acres
1953 Alonzo and Mary Kendall 218 acres
1956 George and Hazel Orr 218 acres
1974 Nick and Loris Gaynos ??? acres
1980 Antonio and Nikki ?? acres
1981 Scott and Karen 7+ acres
1988 Mike and Gail 7+ acres
2009 Carl and Cindy Gophermuerte