Luis Maria Peralta came to the San Francisco Bay area in 1776 at the age of 17. Along with his parents and siblings, he was part of an expedition of 240 Spanish settlers led by Juan Bautista de Anza. Their journey, which began in the Northern Mexican town of Tubac (now part of the state of Arizona in the USA), led them on horseback across rivers, deserts, and snowy mountains, through territory that had been traveled by only a few Spanish explorers before them. The Spanish pioneers in the Anza party had been carefully chosen for their physical stamina and moral character in order to help establish a military presidio and catholic mission near the mouth of the San Francisco Bay, and to secure the area for the Spanish crown.
At the age of 22, Luis Peralta enlisted in Spanish military and served at the San Francisco Presidio. In 1784 he married Maria Loreto Alviso, who was only 14 years old at the time. Luis and Maria had 17 children together, but only 9 of the survived beyond childhood.
In 1808 Luis was appointed comisionado (similar to mayor) of the pueblo of San Jose. He built an adobe house there that is still standing today. He was also granted a parcel of land nearby which he called Ranchería del Chino. However, because he was concerned that his grant could be withdrawn in order for the land to be used by the pueblo, he applied for a much larger grant on the opposite side of the San Francisco Bay.
After a few months, Luis’ request was granted:
On an August day in 1820, a small group of horsement in their wide-brimmed hats, silver-ornamented saddles, and brightly colored clothes gathered at Mission San Jose and rode north until they came to El Arroyo de San Leandro – San Leandro Creek. Here the ceremonies attendant upon taking legal possion were performed – the reading of the grant papers, the throwing of stones in four directions, and the firing of a salute.
Then through groves of oak trees, the horsemen rode into the hills to the crest, thick with giant redwoods. From there they could see sparkling streams emptying finally into san Francisco Bay. Their ride ended on the upper course of another creek – El Arroyo del Cerrito – El Cerrito Creek, where their 11 o’clock breakfast took place (because the mosquitoes at El Cerrito hill were too troublesome. While the meal was in progress, “Monument Rock” (at present 562 Vicente Avenue, Berkeley) was selected as the landmark at this northeast corner of the grant. No measurement of the land was made, but all boundaries were “pointed out” before their return to Mission San Jose by dusk that evening.
Based on a description of Rancho owners in William Heath Davis’ book Seventy-Five Years in California, we can imagine how Don Luis Peralta may have been dressed on that August day in 1820: “The more weathly rancheros were generally dressed in a good deal of syle, with short breeches extending to the knee, ornamented with gold or silver lace at the bottom, with botas (leggings) below, made of fine soft deerskin, well-tanned and finished, rechly colored, and stamped with beautiful devices, and tied at the knee with a silk cord, two or three times wound around the leg, with heavy gold or silver tassels hanging below the knee. They wore long vests, with filigree buttons of gold or silver. They wore no long coats, but a kind of jacket of good length, most generally of dark blue clothe, also adorned with filigree buttons. Over that was the long serape, or poncho, made in mexico and imported from there, costing from twenty to a hundered dollars, according to the quality of the cloth and the richness of the ornamentation… The serape was always plain, while the poncho was heavily trimmed with gold or silver fringe around the edges and a little below the collars around the shoulders. They wore hats imported from Mexico and peru, generally stiff, the finer quality of softer material – vicuña, a kind of beaver skin obtained in those countries. Their saddles were silver-mounted, embroidered with silver or gold, the bridle heavily mounted with silver, and the reins made of the most select hair of the horse’s mane, and at a distance of every foo or so there was a link of silver connecting the different parts together.”