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  • Writer's pictureCheryl Anne Stapp

Mexican Pioneer Don Ignacio Martinez

Martinez, California, and the adjacent town of Pinole, date their names, indeed their very existence, back to the days of Mexican rule. Both are the namesakes of Ignacio Martinez and his property, the 18,000-acre Mexican land grant in today’s Contra Costa County he named Rancho el Pinole. Born in Mexico City in 1774, Ignacio Martinez served a long and distinguished career as a soldier in the Spanish Royal Army, and later as a civil servant in Mexico’s colonial government in California. Semi-retiring in 1831, but still active in civic affairs, Martinez lived in the Pueblo of San Jose until 1836, when he moved his large family to his ranch lands on Suisun Bay. To fulfill the requirements upon which land grants were made, he built a home of adobe, grazed cattle, set out a vineyard and fruit orchards, and planted crops. Martinez was among the first to furnish Swiss immigrant John Sutter with cattle and other goods when Sutter arrived in the Sacramento Valley in August 1839. In 1842, Ignacio Martinez received title to Rancho el Pinole, granted by Governor Alvarado. When he died in 1848, his eleven children inherited the property. After the death of her first husband, Ignacio’s daughter Susana married Colonel William Smith, an American from Savannah, Georgia. Smith founded a town site on part of his wife’s inheritance in 1849 and named it Martinez in honor of his late father-in-law. The first structure was a trading post, and Martinez quickly became a way station for gold rushers needing to ferry across the Carquinez Strait to the inland gold fields.

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