By Roger Weed
One day in 1821 a British sailing ship, the Lady Blackwood, sailed into Bodega Bay on the coast of Mexican Alta California. Soon after its arrival two of the crew members jumped ship, drawn by stories of opportunity. One of them, William Welch, would become the owner of Rancho Las Juntas and the only non-Mexican ranchero in Contra Costa County.
First he and his unnamed companion traveled south to Yerba Buena (San Francisco), the Pueblo de Los Angeles, and finally the Pueblo de San Jose. There Welch, now aged 28, applied for Mexican citizenship. He followed the official procedures—taking an oath of loyalty to the Mexican government and being baptized as a Roman Catholic—and took the name of Julio Willis (although land documents identify him as Guillermo Welch). Then he applied for a position in the militia based at the San Francisco Presidio and obtained the rank of sergeant.
He courted and married Maria Antonia Galindo, daughter of a Santa Clara Valley landowner and sister of Francisco Galindo, who later became one of the founders of Todos Santos, today’s Concord. He began to accumulate a herd of cattle, one of the mainstays of California’s economy at the time, and in order to acquire more grazing land he obtained a temporary lease of land at Rancho Corralitos near Santa Cruz.
In 1828 he petitioned Governor Micheltorena for a grant of land in present Contra Costa County. Because boundaries of grants were not certain (the diseņo, or map, that the Mexican government required showed changeable, natural landmarks), his grant was delayed until 1844. His Rancho Las Juntas, then, 3 leagues (13,282 acres) in size, was located between Don Ignacio Martinez’ Rancho El Pinole and Don Salvio Pacheco’s Rancho Del Diablo. It included the eastern part of land that was eventually surveyed for the city of Martinez, the western part of Pacheco, and the northern parts of Pleasant Hill and Walnut Creek.