The Ranching Era

The Ranching Era

Robert Louis Stevenson was nursed back to health in the Wright's cabin.


James Sargent, one of the four brothers who came to California from New England during the gold rush, purchased Rancho El Potrero de San Carlos in 1857 from the Americans who had acquired it from Gutierrez. He eventually acquired the land adjoining it, which included Rancho San Francisquito. The Sargents James, J.L., Roswell and Bradley had originally tried their hands at mining. Like many emigrants, however, they discovered that there was more money to be had in land speculation and cattle ranching than in panning for gold. The four settled first in San Joaquin County, formed a stock business and acquired over 30,000 acres. Soon they owned an additional 12,000 acres in Santa Clara County and nearly
The Ranching Era - Carmel Ranch Land History, Monterey Peninsula Ranch Land History
35,000 acres in Monterey County. The brothers eventually divided up their immense holdings and the Rancheros Potrero de San Carlos and San Francisquito went to Bradley Sargent in 1876. He called the ranch San Francisquito y San Carlos (Guin 1903, Clark 1991).

Bradley Varnum Sargent, with his wife Julia Flynn of Boston, made their home at the ranch and produced four children. Sargent showed an early interest in Monterey County politics and served on the Board of Supervisors from 1862 to 1865. In 1886, he was elected to the State Senate representing San Benito and Monterey Counties. According to one historical account, his son, Bradley, Jr. returned to the ranch after receiving a law degree at Yale in order to recover his health, which was lost through “severe application to study.” Apparently restored, young Bradley took up the practice of law and was elected District Attorney of Monterey County in 1890 (Guin 1903).

The restorative powers of the ranch also had an effect on a famous visitor to the area in 1879. Author Robert Louis Stevenson found himself on the San Francisquito in September of that year through an unusual set of circumstances. Stevenson had arrived in Monterey a short time before, on what his family and friends considered a fool’s errand. He had fallen in love with Frances Osborne, a woman who was not only ten years his senior, but was married and the mother of two children. Although in extremely ill health from lung infections he had suffered since childhood, he borrowed money to journey from his home in Scotland to meet her in Monterey. Once there, Stevenson found that Frances was unwilling to discuss divorce from her husband in spite of previous correspondence to the contrary.

With the cold fog torturing his lungs, short on funds and with his relationship suddenly in doubt, Stevenson started up Carmel Valley to escape the coastal weather and perhaps seek some peace in the open country. As night began to fall, Stevenson found himself with no food or proper clothing and later remembered little except falling into a feverish stupor and the sound of bells.

The bells, it turned out, were attached to the necks of goats belonging to an old bear hunter named Jonathan Wright who lived with his family and an old friend named Anson Smith, on a parcel of land along San Clemente Creek. They made a living by keeping bees, maintaining a small vineyard and peach orchard and by raising angora goats. Pronouncing Stevenson “real sick,” Wright brought the unconscious man to his cabin. For the next three weeks, Wright and his family nursed the ailing author back to health. Stevenson remembered their kindness in letters he later wrote to friends. Biographers have written that this incident, and the author’s close brush with death, convinced the wavering Mrs. Osborne to finally agree to a divorce from her husband and to marry Stevenson (Nickerson 1982, Osborne 1911).

Little remains of the original Wright cabin today except the foundation and part of the chimney. Weather, decay and souvenir hunters have removed most of the building. Research thus far has not uncovered any photographs of structures built during the Sargent period. There are no standing structures on the Santa Lucia Preserve that can be traced to that time, although remains of several adobe structures attributed to the period have been identified by archaeologists.