How did Pacheco State Park come to be?

By Jose TorresMarch 14, 2013 

"I would like to have met Paula. She seemed like a nice caring person."

-- Lita Wolf,

second cousin of

Paula Fatjo, who

gave the land for

Pacheco State Park

P acheco State Park is the legacy of one of the descendants of Francisco Perez Pacheco. The family received 50,000 acres in a land grant from the Mexican government 170 years ago. The family's original adobe house, which has been crumbling atop Pacheco Pass for decades, was the home of Paula Fatjo, who lived in it before San Luis Dam displaced it. She was a descendant of Francisco Perez Pacheco.

He is the Pacheco for whom Pacheco Pass is named. The state park was part of the historic ranch owned by five generations of Pachecos. Don Juan Pacheco, his son, was the first Pacheco to acquire the land from Mexico. According to historian Ralph Milliken's writings, the son built an adobe fortress at the San Luis Campground.

The Pacheco family built this first house in Merced County on the land in 1843. The home was made of adobe and is still in the park today, but only parts of the adobe walls remain, a victim of the elements. A metal roof protects the ruins today.

The ranch was known as El Rancho San Luis Gonzaga. When Don Juan Pacheco died, the land grant went to his father. Francisco Pacheco was a carpenter and wagon maker; during the Mexican-American War, Francisco also built cannon-mounted wagons for the war effort. Pacheco not only became the owner of this land but also the San Justo, Bolsa de San Felipe, and Ausaymus de San Felipe. He owned land on both sides of Pacheco Pass. Highway 152 passes through his lands toward Gilroy. Park Ranger Betty Wong, who supervises Pacheco State Park, said, "It is interesting that Pacheco Pass is still used to this day as a method of transportation, which was used when Francisco Pacheco first acquired the land. Although it was and has been thought to be a spot for a railroad." Plans call for the "bullet train" to veer from the valley over Pacheco Pass.

Although Francisco owned the land and ranch, he also had a home in Monterey. The house is preserved today; Casa Pacheco is currently home to the Pacheco Club, an athletic and social club.

The Pachecos' ranch and land became a common stopping place for many passersby. Many gold seekers would stop to rest and feed their animals. People were often fed by the Pachecos as a courtesy. There were even certain places that money was left as a gift and a help for those in need. The ranch continued and remained under the Pacheco family for more than a century when it was split among four children, one portion going to Paula Fatjo's mother and father.

Paula Fatjo was born in 1920 to Clemente and Mary Fatjo. Shortly after her birth, her father died. Then Fatjo and her mother moved to San Francisco. She lived the life of a socialite, but longed for the ranch life. As a child, Fatjo dealt with polio and was sent to a finishing school for girls.

After finishing school, Fatjo returned to the ranch, which she grew to love.

She inherited the ranch along with 16,000 acres. Fatjo restored the original adobe that belonged to Francisco Pacheco. At the ranch, Fatjo enjoyed horseback riding and the land itself as well as her favorite Arabian horses. When the federal and state governments decided to build San Luis Reservoir, she was forced to leave her beloved home.

Fatjo unsuccessfully fought to save her land. Of course, she lost that battle because we now have the reservoir. Although she had to give up some land, she kept 6,890 acres on top of the pass where the park is now located. The rest of her land was where the dam was to be centered, and the rest of the ranch would be underwater eventually. Fatjo tried to save the adobe and move it atop the pass, but an unfortunate accident caused it to collapse.

Of course, Fatjo did not want it to just end up like that. Her dream was to rebuild the adobe using adobe made on the land. Unfortunately, that never occurred, and she lived a stone throw's away in a unique ranch house that is now a park office.

She continued to live on the land until her death in 1992. She never married, or had children, but she did have a plan for the land: preserving it as park. Lita Wolf, a second cousin of Fatjo, believes that Fatjo did not want all that family history to end there and wanted to preserve it.

"She was a great person for doing that, and that just shows what kind of a person Paula was. I would have liked to meet Paula. She seemed like a kind caring person."

The land was donated to the state Parks Department, under the condition that it would remain under the name of Pacheco.

The 6,890 acres became Pacheco State Park and the land is being preserved, along with the Pacheco family's history.

As to keep Fatjo's love for animals and the ranch, the park has continued to allow some cattle owners to lease the land for grazing; and some of the corrals are still used for cattle.

“I would like to have met Paula. She seemed like a nice caring person.” — Lita Wolf, second cousin of Paula Fatjo, who gave the land for Pacheco State Park By Jose Torres P acheco State Park is the legacy of one of the descenda

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