This letterbox commemorates the Rancho Temescal, owned by Vicente Peralta in the years that California was part of Mexico, prior to the California Gold Rush. The word Temescal refers to the traditional sweathouses found in the Ohlone indian settlements that occupied the area for thousands of years prior to the arrival of the Spanish settlers.
The search for this letterbox starts in North Oakland at the northeast corner of the intersection of Telegraph Avenue and 55th Street, where you will find a plaque commemorating the site of Vicente Peralta’s adobe homes on Rancho Temescal. Be sure to read the plaque, which explains the exact location of Vicente’s adobes on the site that now contains a Chevron Station and carwash.
Now, imagine that you are about to follow a path that Vicente may have strolled countless times, leading from his front door to the banks of nearby Temescal Creek. Challenge yourself to picture how different this area was when Vicente Peralta and his wife, Encarnación, called it home. The following anecdote, recounted by Peralta family friend William Heath Davis in his book Seventy-Five Years in California , sheds some light onto what life at their home was like in 1840:
“About where her home was (Mrs. Peralta) had a large vegetable garden, or milpa, and cultivated watermelons. One day in the month of August she walked down from her house at midday to look at her garden and see how her melons and vegetables were getting on. As she was about to return to the house, just as she had left the garden, she saw a short distance off five or six horsemen, among them her husband, gathered about an immense bear which they had just lassoed. It was the matanza season, and the animal had been attracted to the spot by the smell of the meat. He had come down from the mountains to feast upon the carcasses of the slaughtered cattle, but, contrary to the usual custom, had boldly approached in the broad light of day instead of at night. He was a monster, the largest that had ever been seen there, strong and savage, having broken one of the reatas. It required the strength of all the men to manage and hold him. Doña Encarnación was a good deal startled at the sight of the struggling beast, staying until the bear was fully secured and subdued. This was in the open country, with no concealment of woods or shrubbery.”
The last grizzly bear sighting in the East Bay was in 1863, so while you look for this letterbox you need only watch out for speeding traffic as you cross the streets. To begin your search, turn and walk east on 55th Street to Vicente Way. Cross to the east side of Vicente, turn right, and walk one block south until you reach Claremont Street. Cross Claremont at the crosswalk, and then begin walking on Cavour Street. You will see the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) on the opposite side of Cavour.
Just before you reach the intersection of Cavour and Redondo Street, you will see a concrete monolith with a telescope. Look through the telescope to see a bronze sculpture of a mortar and pestle like those used by the Ohlone Indians who lived in this area. Walk towards the sculpture, which sits near the bank of Temescal Creek. Cross over to the north bank of the creek and follow it for about 50 feet. You’ll come to a tree with three sturdy trunks. Look in the junction of the three trunks to find the letter box.
The stamp in this letter box is a copy of the brand that Vicente Peralta used to mark the thousands of cattle he had on his ranch0. Once you have found it, be sure to read the passage copied onto the first pages of the notebook in the box. It comes from Seventy-Five Years in California by William Heath Davis, and vividly describes Vicente’s skill as a horseman. Can you imagine how many times Don Vicente rode nearby the very spot where you’re sitting now, as he went out to check on his herds of cattle and horses?
When you are done, please be sure to return all the contents to the letterbox, seal it carefully, and return it to the spot where you found it, hidden from sight.