Two questions come before us today. The first is what exactly comprises Bennett Valley? The other, who the heck is Bennett and why is it named for him?
The first one: Bennett’s name is on a small valley that seems to be getting bigger every day.
It was described in the earliest writings about Sonoma County by our first historian, Robert A. Thompson, as “lying south of the town of Santa Rosa and east of the Santa Rosa Valley. It has a length of eight miles, and an average width of four miles.”
That’s a good, clear starting point. Now, with any sense, I would stop right here and go on to another topic.
But alas, it has become somewhat complicated. As the town has filled with people who don’t give a rip what Robert Thompson thought, Bennett Valley has become a favored corner of Santa Rosa’s housing market and threatens to encroach beyond its bounds.
It also seems to be a buzzword for home-sellers. Houses advertised as located “in Bennett Valley” can have addresses ranging from Rincon Valley to Montgomery Village and too often are either wishful thinking or “mistakes” in the listing.
All this is caused by the state education system’s high rating for the Bennett Valley School District, which does have boundaries that creep a bit beyond Thompson’s 150-year-old geography. But not as far as some would like to believe.
The district boundaries are on a map available from the district office. Maybe it should be required reading for real estate agents.
That’s Bennett Valley question No. 1. The other one — who is Bennett? — is a lot more interesting. He was James N. Bennett, a Missourian who came to California after the discovery of gold and settled on an unclaimed land grant south of Maria Carrillo’s Rancho Cabeza de Santa Rosa.
Bennett did not stay long, two or three years at the most. Just long enough to leave his name on the valley and its signature mountain — and to change the course of Sonoma County history.
The snug little valley with a dramatic peak to mark it had been offered to a soldier in Gen. Mariano Vallejo’s garrison at the Sonoma pueblo. The land was dubbed Rancho Yulupa. Yulupa is believed to be the Native American name for the peak — some say it means ”Mountain of the Burning Bird,” but I’m not going there. Native American languages are way out of my league.
Lt. Don Miguel Alvarado neither built on nor cultivated his gift, tasks that were requirements for a deed, and it became, by default, the property of Gen. Vallejo, who was the local authority on Mexican governmental matters.
Bennett was a squatter, which was an uncomplimentary term for Americans who staked their claim on land that was part of the spoils of the Mexican War. The treaty ending the war provided that all Mexican land claims would be honored, but only after review by the United States Land Commission and an automatic suit in the federal courts.
It took almost two decades for California grants to clear the courts. Sonoma County was a little better. I think the average was about eight years. But it was, proportionately, the largest population increase in the state’s history in those years and, California being officially a new state, all those squatters had a vote.