The Mexican government built a Presidio at Monterey in 1770 and named Monterey the capital of Alta California in 1775. Monterey was the center of culture and government for the region for most of the following century.
The Spanish government was afraid that the Russians or some other power might seize part of their colony, so Viceroy Branciforte of Mexico transmitted orders that a secular town be built near Mission Santa Cruz to help fortify the coast.
The site chosen was just across the river from the mission, and the town was named (coincidentally) Villa de Branciforte. The current Branciforte school is near the site of the old town center, and a mile long stretch of North Branciforte Road which is particularly flat and straight was the old race track. Bull and bear fights were held below the race track on the flats between the creek and the river.
Villa de Branciforte was settled by 8 criminals from Guadalajara who were given the choice of jail or starting a new town. Several brought their wives, and a couple of children came along as well. The 8 stalwarts had the following occupations; carpenter, tailor, miner, engraver, merchant, two farmers, and one generic man (maybe he was a street person before his time). The government helped them build houses, gave them living expenses for a couple of years and sold them farm tools on the installment plan.
Shortly thereafter, soldiers were encouraged to retire there (starting a long area tradition) and brought their families to live in Branciforte. By 1822, the town had a couple of hundred residents who were spreading out over the countryside, starting ranchos, and applying to Mexico for land grants. They prospered, and had many descendants. In 1800, the town of Branciforte proper had grown to 400 residents.
by Gary Starkweather
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