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Meet Pinole’s First Family

By Jeff Rubin, President, Pinole Historical Society

Don Ygnacio Martinez and his wife, Doña Maria Martina Arellanes, settled with their large family in the Pinole Valley in the 1820s.


Here they built a big adobe home as the centerpiece of their 18,000- acre Rancho El Pinole.


The land was granted to Don Ygnacio for his 41 years of service as a soldier to Spain and Mexico.


The expansive rancho had some 8,000 cattle and 1,000 horses.


Pinole Valley was then a wild place of dangerous grizzly bears and maurauding bands of Indians who attacked the rancheros and stole horses. The Martinez family kept a brass cannon for protection in front of their adobe home.


Don Ygnacio and Doña Martina had 13 children. Nine daughters and two sons survived early childhood — 10 married and nine had families with many descendants.


Rancho life in pre-American California centered on social interaction and marriages among neighboring Spanish-speaking “Californio” Rancho families and some approved English immigrants as well.


The marriages of the Martinez children were:

• Maria Antonia, the oldest, married William Richardson;

• Juana Maria married Jose Joaquin Estudillo;

• Maria Encarnacion married Jose Altamirano;

• Jose Jesus (eldest son) first married Carmel Peralta, and after her death, married Catherine Tennent.

• Vicente Martinez first married Guadalupe Moraga, and after her death, married Nieves Soto;

• Maria Luisa married Victor Castro;

• Susanna Martinez’s three marriages were to William Hinkley, William Smith, and Benoit Vassero Merle;

• Maria Rafaela married Samuel Tennent in 1849;

• Maria Dolores married Pedro Higuera.


Family lore recounts the Martinez daughters as exceptional horseback riders who roped grizzly bear for sport.


Don Ygnacio’s eldest son, Jose, died of blood poisoning from a steer-roping accident, while legend has it that son Vicente was horse- whipped by his mother for his second marriage to an unapproved mate below the family’s social station.


All the marriages were extravagant and gala occasions, with feasting and dancing and games that went on for days.


Don Ygnacio fired his cannon to celebrate his eldest son’s first marriage. Gold Mexican utensils decorated the tables, with Indian servants serving all types of foods.


It was a time to show off skills of horsemanship and wealth. Every rancho had its own race track.


Besides horse racing, a favorite sport to show one’s skill as a vaquero was to bury a live rooster so only its head was showing. The rider at full gallop would lean down and “snatch” the rooster’s head from the body.


This was the sequence of events of love and courtship before marriage in early California:

Parents were in charge. First, the son would ask his father if he approved of his lady fair. If the father approved, he wrote a letter to the girl’s father asking if his son may marry the daughter.

If the girl’s parents approved, they discussed with the daughter if she liked the young fellow. If so, a letter was written to the young fellow’s father accepting the marriage proposal.


If the offer was rejected by the girl and parents, a letter was also sent turning down the offer.

When Don Ygnacio’s son, Jose, married, the celebration lasted a week at El Rancho Pinole.

Don Ygnacio invited 100 guests and had to add extra rooms to his house for them to sleep over.


Dancing went on all night long with only short naps. Each morning guests went on picnics and in the afternoon there were bullfights and horse racing and betting.


Feasting and dancing went on continuously.


Don Ygnacio Martinez was so proud of his sons’ marriages to prominent neighbors that he built two adobe homes next to his large casa for the newlyweds.


These became known as the three adobe homes of El Rancho Pinole, later called “Pinole Viejo” or “Old Pinole.”

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