Gold rush squatters

In spite of the extremely low land prices in the early gold rush days after the War with Mexico there were a great number of people known as squatters who unlawfully and forcibly took over land in all parts of California covered by Spanish or Mexican land grants, and nearly all land considered desirable was claimed to be within one of these grants. Most of the early emigrants, and particularly the squatters, came from the then western states of America. They had long looked at any unoccupied land as belonging to the government and open for settlement. They know little and cared less about these Spanish and Mexican land claims.

Lassen's Butte

Lassen’s Butte

These squatters thus intruded in every direction. Some of them, all too soon after the hoisting of the American flag, even took possession of Mission buildings and had to be forcibly ejected. Many of them also looked on the produce of the land such as pasturage, the wild oats suitable for hay and any cattle that roamed the land as property they could help themselves to and much of the trouble with the old Mexican land owners came as a result of their appropriations. Some immigrants lived in their wagons and roamed the country picking up unbranded calves. One man was said to have done this for twenty tears and raised a family doing it. Following his wagon as he traveled from place to place toiled an old cow along with a lot of calves he had picked up. When necessity demanded these calves were exchanged for flour, bacon, sugar and coffee.

In the fall of 1848 a large sign with a skull and crossbones on it nailed to a tree alongside the road about eight miles from Stockton attracted the attention of any who passed by. But instead of providing an account of a horrible murder or an invitation to a lynching party the sign was merely a notice from Charles Weber that anyone interfering with the cattle on his rancho would be dealt with to the full extent of the law. In 1851 a resident along the shore of the bay near San Francisco, a man of supposedly good character and the father of nearly grown daughters, was brought to trial for stealing six calves. The district attorney, thinking it useless to bring witnesses to the theft, relied instead on the man’s confession, but the court excluded that confession on the grounds that it was not voluntary and acquitted the guilty man. Like many others this man had made a business of stealing cattle. Another man caught shooting a cow and cutting her throat was acquitted because he had not carried off the corpse, that being necessary to constitute a crime of larceny.


  1. To bend the law, still goes on today in the courts. Really enjoyed this post, probably because I worked in the ‘criminal justice’ field for twenty years.

    • The squatters ruined John Sutter and John Fremont as well as many more who owned land by way of a Mexican land grant. Where I live today was once owned by a man named Peralta. It was squatted and all the trees cut to build San Francisco. Now there is a junior college system named for Peralta. Too little too late I think.

  2. I tend to agree.

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