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Wooden and Gordon Valleys, and the old Knoxville Road

April 8, 2009
By Mike Clark


Wooden and Gordon Valleys, located north and west of the Tolenas Rancho, were originally part of the Chimiles Rancho (eight square leagues = 35,500 acres) that was granted by the Governor of Mexico Manuel Micheltorena on November 3, 1843 to the Basque brothers Jose Ignacio and Sisto Berelleza (Berryessa). However, the Berryessa brothers eventually sold (lost?) all of their land, piece by piece, to pay off horseracing and gambling debts, and the Wooden and Gordon Valley areas were purchased by John Wooden on Sept. 12, 1850, and William Gordon and Nathan Coombs on May 25, 1851.

Wooden Valley, which sits north and west of Gordon Valley, was named for John Wooden, said to be 6'8" tall, who settled there in 1852 after purchasing the land from the Berryessas. John had come west in 1846 with a wagon train that started out from Missouri and ended up in Oregon. En route, the train split up, the other group heading for California, where they became the ill-fated Donner party while attempting to cross the Sierras too late in the season.

Gordon Valley was named for William Henry Gordon's son, named William also, who moved to the Valley in 1862 and settled there on 1200 acres that his father had purchased from the Berryessa family a decade earlier - the Gordon ranch reaching from the Napa County line to north of Lake Curry. The elder William is famous for outfitting the party that arrested General Vallejo during the June 16, 1846 onset of the Bear Flag Revolt, in which California became independant of Mexico. The elder Gordon and his family were also the first white settlers of Yolo County.

Berryessa Valley, which sits just north of Gordon Valley, was also part of the Berryessa brother's Chimiles grant. Roughly 10,900 acres in size, it contained some of the richest soil in the state. Like the rest of the grant, the Berryessa's lost the land to gambling, and the valley was picked up by John Schultz for $2,000 at a county auction. Schultz then sold the land for $100,000 to the "Land Company", which divided it up into parcels that sold out almost overnight to land-hungry farmers.

The town of Monticello was founded in 1866 in the middle of the Berryessa Valley, and a road built from the town through Gordon Valley to Mankas Corner and from thence to the port of Suisun. This road followed the upper stretches of Suisun Creek for part of its route, basically along the west shore of the modern Curry Lake reservoir, then follows Gordon Valley Creek to Mankas Corner and from thence to Suisun. By contrast, the modern highway that leads to Lake Berryessa comes down through Wooden Valley, quite a ways to the west of the old road, then follows the lower stretches of Suisun Creek to Rockville, bypassing Mankas Corner completely.

When a severe drought hit the area in the 1860s, huge wheat farms started up in the Berryessa Valley, and a four-horse stage line was established to connect Monticello to Suisun. When the road was extended north beyond the Berryessa Valley to the huge Knoxville quicksilver mine in Redington, in northernmost Napa County, the Monticello-Suisun road became known as the Knoxville-Suisun Road, or simply Knoxville Road. This route was also connected the gold fields of the northern Mother Lode with San Francisco, which insured a steady flow of travelers through Gordon and Suisun Valleys, with Christley Manka's store at Mankas Corner being a popular stop on the stage run.


Click here to learn more about the Berryessa Valley


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