New Breisgau
Sunday, August 8, 2010 at 3:11PM
Jo Giessner

1841 December 13, John Sutter agreed to buy Fort Ross from the Russians. Robert Ridley became Sutter's first caretaker.

1842, Robert Livermore drove a herd of 2,000 head of cattle from Fort Ross to Sutter's Marysville location.

1843, Samuel Smith replaced Ridley as caretaker. William Benitz replaced Smith. Benitz also ran the Muniz Rancho granted to Manuel Torres by Governor Pio Pico.

1844 July 20, Mexican land grant in Upper California (Sacramento River, Shasta County) obtained by Wilhelm Benitz on 20 July 1844, from Governor Manuel Micheltorena.

Wilhelm Benitz was born 8 February 1815 in Endingen, Grand Duchy of Baden, Germany to Franz Antonius and Maria Anna Wagner Benitz. Franz Antonius Benitz and his father, Thaddeus, were master coopers, barrel or cask makers. Wilhelm received an education in Endingen and went to the univesrity or a trade school in Freiburg. Wilhelm spoke Badischen, the dialect of German spoken in Baden.

According to family story, Wilhelm Benitz left Germany at age 17 years as a sailor on a merchant brig. Apparently the ship wrecked off the coast of Mexico and he was lucky to be alive and living with local natives.

He was in Texas in 1836 and 1837. Proof showed up in the form of a voucher for land he sold. He had received the land voucher for service in the military for the Republic of Texas from October 1836 to August 1837.

It is fairly certain Benitz arrived in California in 1842. In 1843, John Yates took him to Sacramento to seek employment with John Sutter. The agreement was made, and Benitz worked for Sutter, first in the Marysville hop farm and then he was assigned to Fort Ross which Sutter obtained from the Russians when they left in 1841. Sutter was more interested in moving the contents of the fort to New Helvetia than making it a profitable business.

While working for Sutter, Wilhelm Benitz became a naturalized Mexican Citizen in Mendocino County on 15 June 1844. His papers were signed by Governor Manuel Micheltorena. It is possible this was the first step in seeking a land grant that Benitz probably hoped would be in the Fort Ross area.

In 1844, Benitz served 6-8 months as a lieutenant in the Sacramento Rifleman under John Sutter. This supposedly gave Bentiz the right to occupy the New Breisgau, but did not confirm title. However, some months later in San Luis Obispo, Benitz in serving with the riflemen, brought in Miquel Abila as a prisoner. This so pleased Micheltorena that he infomed Benitz the land was confirmed to him.

The New Breisgau along with other grants were confirmed in December 1844. The acreage was "up the Sacramento river on the east side" across from Pierson B. Reading's Rancho Bueno Ventura. The number of acres may have been exaggerated, but was supposedly five Spanish leagues or 22,140 acres that began one half mile south of the mouth of modern day Battle Creek (the same creek has been called Clover Creek, Sycamore Creek, Noza or Nozi Creek, Arroyo de la Campana and finally Battle Creek), south along the river 2 1/2 leagues to include Bloody Island, then north and west to the point of beginning.

It is uncertain if Benitz even visited the land he called New Breisgau. He did, however, try to "occupy and improve" by having John Yates and a French Canadian by the name of Julian erect a building and plant some seeds in March of 1845. Benitz intended to use the land to graze cattle. Yates remained only 12 days as he was fearful of the Indians. Julian remained, but was killed by Indians within six months of occupying the land.

1845, Benitz with partners, Ernest Rufus and Charles Theodore Meyer leased Fort Ross from Sutter. Later in the same year, the lease was with Manuel Torres, as the Mexican authorities rejected Sutter's claim and granted it to Torres.

1846 June 14, brought the Bear Flag Revolt and flag raising on the Sonoma Plaza.

1847, Yerba Buena officially became San Francisco.

1847 February 23, Benitz married. - Josephine Kolmer (born Josefa Kollmerer, 6 January 1830, in Endingen, Baden Germany) arrived with her parents Michael and Josefa Wagner Kolmer and siblings in October 1845 at Sutter's Fort as part of the Grigsby/Brown/Ide Overland Party. Wilhelm Benitz knew Michael Kollmer from Endingen. Benitz signed a bond for the family's entry to California.

It was no surprise that William and Josephine were destined for matrimony. The union was formalized by a Justice of the Peace on 23 February 1847 and is the third entry in the Sonoma County Registry of Marriages.

1851-1852, From as early as 1848, others began to settle or "squat" on land within the Benitz' Sacramento Valley land grant. Dr. James F. Winsell, Alexander Love, Samuel B. Sheldon,  John W. Parks, S. D. Baker, D.D. Harrill, Freeman, Andrew Jelly and possibly others made claims to portions of the grant land and most received patents from the United States Goverment in 1861.

1853 June 27, Letter from William Benitz to his brother in Germany written when in Sonoma, California on business from Fort Ross contained this translated from German:  "My partner and I have 2 camps, one of 20,000 acres and one of 11,000; the latter we have sold for $26,000 - but the one we still have is much more valuable. I have lived there for 10 years already. I have another property of 25,000 acres up the Sacramento river, which belongs to me alone and which was given to me by the Spanish Government. I have named this piece of land 'New Breisgau' this also have been inserted in the map. Till next spring it will be decided whether I remain here or not; in the first case I will keep Fort Ross and New Breisgau; besides I have invested $36,000 which gives me $500. a month." ~

1855 December 24 - "In Shasta County records of December 24, 1855, is recorded a deed from G.W. Beck to Jeremiah Clark for the sum of $510., one undivided one-fourth of the Breisgau grant. Also Wm. Bennitz conveys to George Beck one undivided one-half of said grant for $1,000. These are the first discovered records of this grant in Shasta County." - Rosena Giles in her book Shasta County California A History, 1949.

1856 September 22, Portion of letter from William Benitz to brother in Germany written from Fort Ross: "Everything is now in better order, our land litigations have been cleared and we are looking forward to a better future. Of course I have had great losses, which although didn't puzzle me. I lost $12,000. in cash and 14,500 acres of land at New Breisgau where they left me 7,500 acres. Fort Ross and all its belongings is all to myself and free of debts. I have got there 17,600 acres, 900 head of cattle, 200 horses and 900 sheep. In agriculture I don't do as much as I used to. . ."

1863 May 20, Daily Alta California, BORN - At Fort Ross, Mendocino county, April 28th to the wife of William Benitz, a son.

1867, James W. Dixon purchased 6,000 acres from Benitz at Fort Ross. Also, Charles Fairfax purchased 7,000 acres from Benitz at Fort Ross.

1877 May 23, Fort Ross Post Office established in Sonoma County with George W. Call as the first postmaster. It was discontinued 1928 November 30 when the service moved to Duncans Mills.

1912 September 27, San Francisco Call, PIONEER OF OAKLAND DIES IN ARGENTINA - Oakland, Sept 26. - Word has been received of the death of Mrs. Josephine Benitz, a pioneer of Oakland and widow of William Benitz, Sr., last Friday in Villa Josephine la Cumbre, Argentine Republic. Mrs. Benitz was 82 years old. She came to this city in the early sixties. The Benitz block at the northeast corner of Broadway and Tenth Street was erected by the family. They left here years ago and settled in Argentina. Of a family of seven children three survive. Two of the children, Alfred and John Benitz live in Argentina. The family was prominent in the early history of Oakland and will be remembered by old residents.~

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