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March 1, 2011 > History: Squatters vs. Bosqui

History: Squatters vs. Bosqui

The first California Legislature meeting at San Jose in the fall of 1849 adopted a resolution that any legal settler of the state could appropriate 160 acres of public land by improving and living on it. This vague resolution, adopted even before California was admitted to the union, led to squatters grabbing private land owned by rancheros under Mexican grants. The Congress of the United States adopted a land act in 1851 which provided that owners of Mexican land grants must prove they had a clear title or the property would be available for homesteads.

Settlers and others who had purchased land from grantees were plagued by hordes of squatters who rushed in to claim lands. Owners in the area of the Ex Mission San Jose grant, which covered the present districts of Mission San Jose, Centerville and Newark, had continued problems with squatters because of cloudy titles.

Joseph C. Palmer and Charles W. Cook were partners in the banking firm of Palmer & Cook & Co. that had become San Francisco's leading financial institution by 1850. Palmer was head of the bank that by 1853 had an extensive monthly income from property rentals. He bought the Mission Peak Vineyards in Mission San Jose where he entertained leading lawyers, politicians and other prominent men from San Francisco.

Palmer turned over his Mission San Jose lands to his father-in-law, Edward Field, to keep them out of the courts. A nest of squatters had settled on this property so Palmer appointed Edward Bosqui, a trusted employee of Palmer & Cook & Co., to handle his affairs in this area. He gave him complete authority to do whatever was necessary to protect his interests.

Palmer met John C. Fremont, and they became such good friends that they were described as constant companions. Fremont established his home and headquarters at the Palmer residence when he was in San Francisco. After Fremont completed his term as United States Senator he decided to run for President of the United States. Palmer became Fremont's financial chairman, but the prestige of the bank suffered when it became known that the banking house was engaged in politics.

As the Republican candidate for president in 1856, Fremont often met with Palmer at Mission San Jose to plan the campaign. Fremont lost the election to James Buchanan, and the Palmer & Cook & Co. bank was out of business by 1859. Palmer and Fremont were both engaged in government work in St. Louis in the early part of the Civil War.

Bosqui was faced with a difficult situation. There was no money in the Palmer and Field accounts and he soon discovered that no records had been kept. The business had been badly neglected. He began by selling several tracts of land near Mission San Jose and used the proceeds to pay debts and wages owed to "10 or 12 ineffective servants" at the family estate in Mission San Jose who did nothing but quarrel among themselves. Bosqui discharged most of the servants and reduced affairs at the estate to an economical basis.

Squatters had settled upon some 1000 acres of the Mission San Jose lands. The United States Supreme Court rendered a decision in favor of Palmer and Field but the squatters refused to leave, even at the demand of the United States Marshal. Bosqui had no money for lawyers so he resorted to personal visits and compromise.

The first difficult case for Bosqui was against Clemente Columbet who claimed land in Warm Springs that included 100 acres of bearing vines he had leased to some Frenchmen. When Bosqui approached the group leader, Antoine Bonnet, he pointed to four or five other squatters armed with shotguns. Bosqui showed the squatters the legal papers and assured them that they could stay until harvest, so they agreed to acknowledge Field as their landlord and rent from him.

These men were the nucleus of Frenchmen from southern France who were dependable workers. When Palmer returned after the Civil War he made Bonnet his chief vintner. Most of the men returned to France in 1870 to serve in the Franco-Prussian War.

Bosqui also had to face down a defiant Missourian who was pasturing several thousand sheep on 3,000 acres between Warm Springs Landing and Alvarado. The man had often threatened to shoot Bosqui if he attempted to put him off the place. When Bosqui showed up alone and unarmed, the man appeared confused, and after consulting his wife, agreed to accept $800 in gold coin to leave peacefully. This ended the squatter problems for Palmer and Field in this area, but Bosqui continued evicting squatters from other properties owned by Palmer and Fremont.

Bosqui later became famous for other endeavors. He established a leading printing, bookbinding, and engraving business and was one of the founders of the Bohemian Club. A patron of the arts and literature, Bosqui was a leading spirit of the San Francisco Association of Art and founder of the San Francisco Academy of Science.

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