MAY 2014



Like her sister-in-law Juana Briones, María Manuela Valencia was a single mother and landowner who fought a long and successful battle to prove her claim to extensive Bay Area rancho lands. The widow of Felipe Briones--who was killed in a bloody fight over stolen horses--María Manuela Valencia was granted a 13,316-acre rancho in present-day Contra Costa County named Rancho Boca de la Cañada del Pinole. According to land case documents on permanent loan at The Bancroft Library, Valencia maintained livestock, a corral, a four-acre orchard, and at least two adobe houses on the land, supporting her family and raising a crop every year.

Valencia’s claim for Rancho Boca de la Cañada del Pinole was denied by the Board of California Land Commissioners in 1854, representing the first disappointment in a litigious process that would become Kafkaesque in its complexity. In 1859, the United States Supreme Court reversed the Board’s decision, but legal wrangling resumed when objections to the survey were filed by the notorious land-grabber (and Oakland’s first mayor) Horace Carpentier. Meanwhile, and in a separate Supreme Court case (Blum vs. Robertson), other parties fought over a portion of the property to which they asserted ownership. Despite these many obstacles, Valencia’s claim for a patent was finally and formally recognized in 1878, making her one of only twenty-two native or Californio women who obtained a patent for their lands from the United States government.

This carte-de-visite was discovered in the California Historical Society’s portrait collection. The woman is identified as “Jesua Briones,” wife of “Philipe Briones,” in a handwritten note scrawled on the back. The picture was taken between 1863 and 1871 by Dyer’s Photograph Gallery in Martinez, California, when Valencia was in her late 60s or early 70s. So powerful in her gaze and bearing, might this woman be María Manuela Valencia de Briones?
Vault-MS-41   JB-Invite1    AMH-CAHBlueprint 2 
California Past & Present(ly) Processed

This lovely watercolor sketch by the artist E. L. Treat is part of the California Historical Society’s recently cataloged Bertha Stringer Lee guest book. A native San Franciscan and student of William Keith, Lee was a California landscape painter who exhibited widely in the Bay Area. She was also a brilliant socialite, as her guest book, kept between the years 1912 and 1934, makes clear. Cards were dropped as were original sketches, poems, and songs contributed by an astonishing array of celebrities, artists, writers, and musicians, including Winston Churchill, Arthur Cahill, Will Sparks, Charmian London, Theodore Wores, and William Keith. Lee’s guest book provides a remarkable view into the artistic milieu of San Francisco before the Second World War. 
  New Exhibition: juana briones online

The landmark exhibition Juana Briones y su California ~ Pionara, Fundadora, Curandera is now online. For the first time ever, the many primary sources, photographs, manuscripts and other documents seen in the exhibition are available online. 

This online exhibition illustrates the story of nineteenth-century California in a new way: showcasing the role of women of Spanish and Mexican descent who influenced our state's history on a wide-ranging  yet distinctively human scale. 

Recently, the California Historical Society hosted the California History Blueprint Taskforce at a luncheon meeting discussing the changing shape of history education in California. This collection of videos includes presentations by Nancy McTygue, Executive Director of the California History-Social Science Project (CHSSP); Beth Slutsky, program coordinator (CHSSP ; Shelley Brooks, the communications coordinator (CHSSP); and Bill Deverell, professor of history and Director of the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West.
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