San Leandro Bay’s Historic Significance

 

Peralta, Sausal, Leona and Arroyo Viejo creeks flow from the Oakland Hills and empty their waters into San Leandro Bay. Native Americans plied the bay’s water and the nearby marsh to reach the nourishment that the birds provided at the rookery on “Wind Whistle Island,” as the Indians called our Bay Farm Island.  

The Spanish explored today’s East Bay and decided to settle at Mission San Jose. They established a harbor on the shores of San Leandro Bay, likely where today’s Fernside neighborhood stands. The Padres followed Lion Creek or Arroyo Viejo Creek to the impressive redwoods that crowned the hills above and used wood from that forest to build their mission in 1797. They probably loaded the logs their Indian “workers” had harvested onto boats at the nearby harbor. Those boats transported the logs further south along the bay to today’s Alameda Creek and on to the site of their mission. 

Spain considered the harbor and the redwoods important assets. So important, in fact, that in 1820, when Don Luis Maria Peralta received a 44,200-acre “retirement package,” Spain did not include the trees or anchorage in the bargain. Rather authorities charged Peralta with guardianship of these two important Crown properties. He could have everything else from the crest of the hill to the shores of the bay, from today’s El Cerrito to modern-day San Leandro, just not those trees or that harbor. 

In 1844, Peralta passed his land onto his four sons. As part of his inheritance, Don Antonio, Luis Maria’s second oldest, acquired San Leandro Bay and the adjoining lands. Four years later William Marshall’s discovery on the American River changed everything. Suddenly Antonio found himself contending with Europeans who did not share his ancestry. These included the Belgian Peter Parfait and his Native American wife whose name is lost to us. Antonio granted the couple permission to cut firewood and tend a garden. 

A pair of Frenchmen, Jose Maria Payot and Joseph Depassier, also darkened Antonio’s door. The Don granted the pair a six-year lease to the peninsula. Payot soon sold out to Balthasar Maitre. Then the Yankees came. Stephen and E. Minor Smith set up a hunting camp with William Salmon. 

In 1852 William Worthington Chipman and Gideon Aughinbaugh paid Don Antonio a visit. They wanted to buy the peninsula. When those already settled there heard the news, they weren’t worried. Don Antonio would never sell to the Yankees. He didn’t like them.