William Benitz Page last modified:

William Benitz
Sonoma County
Real Estate

In the table below we list William’s real estate transactions on file at the Sonoma County Recorder’s Office, plus some we know of from Shasta County.  His real estate transactions in Alameda County (i.e. Oakland) we list in a separate table (see above menu).  

In broad terms, during his first ten years at Fort Ross (1845-1855), William was actively acquiring properties, essentially building up his capital. During the mid-1850’s he consolidated his holdings: selling his share in Rancho Herman, buying out his partner in Fort Ross, and settling his ownership issues over New Breisgau.  During his last ten years at Fort Ross (1855-1866) he concentrated his activities on Fort Ross, operating it as a business enterprise (see Rancher above, in top menu).

William did very well for himself when you consider that when he arrived at Sacramento in 1843 he was, if not penniless, close to it.  Twenty-four years later (1867) he sold his Fort Ross real estate for $64,000 (per the USCPI, more than $1 million USD-2000).  His total capital worth was likely much more, for example we don't know when he sold his investments in Agua Caliente and Rancho Jonive, nor do we know the value of his other investments, such as in mines.


His letters of that period sketch his growng capital, largely amassed through real estate transactions.  Basically he and his partners (Ernest Rufus and Charles Meyer) obtained property for little or nothing (Mexican grants) and sold them for considerable profit.  He also made good money from his farming and ranching operations at Fort Ross, through the sale of agricultural products and livestock to the markets in the Bay area.

The acreages and monetary amounts in his letters vary (between letters and with the official documents), possibly because he includes other expenses such as lawyers.  And undeniably, he was boasting to his older brother in Germany.  We include some quotes from his letters, concentrating on his real estate transactions:

27 June 53:
  “My partner and I have 2 camps [ranches], one of 20.000 acres [Fort Ross] and one of 11.000 [Rancho Herman?]; the latter we have sold for $26.500.- 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 having also 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 give me $500.- a month.”
8 March 55:
  “Times are getting worse out here. Two weeks ago, the banks stopped their payments. I also have, with my partner Meyer, $14.400.- in them, not knowing whether we will get it back or not. I am losing money besides, because you can feel the scarcity in all business. I am also losing my camp [ranch] on the Sacramento, New Breisgau of 22.000 acres. The American government has acquired (?) this land, but there will be an appeal.”
  “I have bought my partner’s half of the camp [Fort Ross] and owe him $22.500.- to be paid on the lst. of May.”
22 Sep 56:
  “I lost $12.000.- in cash and 14.500 acres of land at New Breisgau, where they left me 7.500 ac.
  “Of course I could not economise anything during these last three years, but to the contrary had big losses. Still I could lend out $25.000.- and there is no danger either in other respects.”
4 Sept 58:
  “The wages will have risen over there too (over 12 Kreuzer)? I pay my cook $40.- (100 Gulden) a month. If I had the idea to remain here, I would have advised you long ago to come, but I can not sell so soon. I want now $100.000.- for Fort Ross as it is; my camp [ranch] has been measured, it consists of 17.500 acres, and my new ranch at New Breisgau will soon be decided upon; there are another 6.750 acres. In my opinion these places will be worth double price in three years. Also my life-stock will do doubled by that time.”
18 Jan 63:
  “Three years ago I had a lawsuit [Sutter & Muldrew?] which cost me $8.000. It was on account of my camp; somebody covetted it, but I won the lawsuit, less the $8000.-”

Additional information:

The Bancroft Library of the University of California at Berkeley, and the California State Archives hold a enormous amount of information about the ranchos, including original documents.  Searching the web for each rancho will provide additional sites such as state parks — qualify the search to avoid other uses of the name, e.g. "California land grant Rancho Jonive".

Real Estate Transactions

The table contains the details of the purchases and sales.  The use to which the ranchos were put is described in the pages.

Bear in mind that early property descriptions were made using land marks, their sizes approximated within boundaries defined by a river, mountain range, or a particular tree.  The deeds use a mix of terms for the same unit of land area (see our page on Measures for a full description); here are most:

1 sitio (de ganado mayor) = California or Spanish league = 4,340 acres = 1,756 hectareas

1 vara = 33 inches = 0.8382 meters

1 California league = 2.6 miles = 4.2 km.

1 acre = 0.4047 hectareas

1 mile square = 640 acres = 259 hectareas

The following table lists William’s properties in alphabetical order (ignoring ‘Rancho’).

    Acres Total William Benitz     From:  
Date Description Hect. Value $ Buy $ Sell $ Net $ Partners Document  / To: Other Party
Rancho Agua Caliente (Sonoma) - portion
13-Sep-47 1 mile square of land English measure, part of Mexican gov. grant to Lzaro Pea, 1840; passed to G. Vallejo, then Andrew Hoffman, then J. Dopken, 14-Nov-1846. 640 a.
259 h.
2,000 1,000     Ernest Rufus
William Bennett
Book of Deeds, C:190 Seller: Jacob Dopken
? Same   $0   0?   Ernest Rufus
William Bennett
NOT FOUND Buyer: **Unknown **
  Totals:     1,000 0 -1,000        
Rancho Hermann / German (Sonoma) — (See ranch maps)
8-Apr-46 5 sitios, bounded on north and east by Gualala river, west by Pacific Ocean. [True size: 4.05 sitios] 17,580 a.
7,114 h.
0 0     Ernest Rufus Grant
(see Court Case 257)
Grantor: Mexican Gov.
Po Pico
2-Dec-47 1 sitio, northern end (given earlier by Rufus, 1846) 4,340 a.
1,756 h.
0   0   Ernest Rufus Book of Deeds
2nd Book, p.234
Gift to: Frederick Hgal
2-Dec-47 1¼ sitios, southern end (given earlier by Rufus, 1846) 5,425 a.
2,195 h.
0   0   Ernest Rufus Book of Deeds
2nd Book, p.233
Gift to: Henry Haegler
08-Jun-49 3 sitios ($-amount to which was added a ½ share of Rancho New Breisgau, see its record for 26 March 1850) 13,020 a.
5,270 h.
1,000 500     Chas. Meyer
Wm. Benet
Book 12, p.346
Seller: Ernest Rufus
10-Jul-49 1 sitio, northern part 4,340 a.
1,756 h.
1 1     Charles Meyer
William Bennitz
Book of Deeds,
Quit Claim by: Frederick Hgal
? Per letter, 27 Jun. '53, total price was $26,500. Per deed of 4 Jun. '55, WBz may have been prepaid (all of $11,500?). -- 11,500   5,750   Charles Meyer
William Bennitz
NOT FOUND Buyer: Charles Wagner
William Bihler
04-Jun-55 NW part: 2¼ Spanish leagues +/-, plus all cattle & horses branded by Meyer, Bennitz, Jim Davison, Henry Hegeler, and Frederick Hgel. 9,765 a.
3,952 h.
15,000   6,844   Charles Meyer
William Bennitz
Book of Deeds, N:281 Buyer: Charles Wagner
William Bihler
18-Apr-62 Bounded on north & east by Gualala river, west by Pacific -- 1   1   Charles J. Meyer
William Benitz
Book 18, p.193
Quit Claim to: William Bihler
30-Jul-72 4 leagues, patented at 17,580.01 acres  per US survey approved 30 July, 1872. 17,580 a.
7,114 h.
-- -- -- -- Charles Meyer, et al Patent Issuer: US Board of Land Commissioners
  Totals:     501 12,595 12,094        
Rancho Jonive (Sonoma) - portion #1
26-Sep-50 1 Spanish mile (1,666 varas) square
482 a.
195 h.
-- -- -- -- Y.N. Nevill Per Indenture
Bk.6, p.417
Seller: Jasper O'Farrell
? Same 482 a.
195 h.
$0   0?   William Benitz Per Indenture
Bk.6, p.417
Seller: Y.N. Nevill ?
24-Nov-57 Same. North of & bordering J.M. Hudspeth, between white oak tree & Jonive stream. 482 a.
195 h.
3,000   3,000   William Bennitz Indenture,
Book 6, p.417
Buyer: James M. Small
John B. Thompson
  Totals:     0 3,000 0        
Rancho Jonive (Sonoma) - portion #2
25-Jan-59 Rectangle less 2 corner bits, about 16x80 chains, e-w by n-s (320 x 1,600 metres) 125 a.
50 h.
3,000 3,000     William Benitz Indenture, Book 8, p.499 Seller: William M. Gillespie
? Same 125 a.
50 h.
$0   0?   William Benitz NOT FOUND Buyer: ** Unknown **
  Totals:     3,000 0 0        
Rancho Muniz (Sonoma) & Fort Ross — (See ranch maps)
Mar-1812 Rossiia colony [Fort Ross] established, approx. 1x2 miles 1,280 a.
518 h.
Tools & trinkets -- -- -- Ivan A. Kuskov Permission Grantor: Kashaya band of the Pomo tribe
Dec-1841 Two contracts:
1st presented to Mexican Gov:
All Russian assets (buildings, livestock, implements) at Fort Ross, no land.
2nd off-the-record:
Coast land from Point Reyes to Cape Mendocino, 3 Calif. leagues deep
(200 x 7¾ miles,
320 x 12½ km.)
fort alone
no land

1 millon acres,
400,000 has.
30,000 -- -- -- John Sutter Installment Contracts Seller: Alexander Rotchev,
Russian manager
04-Dec-45 Rancho de Muniz: about 4 leagues of land, bounded on the south by: Steven Smith’s rancho; west by: Pacific Ocean; east by: crest of the coastal mountain range; north-west by: former Russian settlement. 17,360 a.
7,026 h.
0 -- -- -- Manuel Torres Grant Grantor: Mexican Gov.
Po Pico
17-May-51 Rancho de Muniz:
about 4 leagues of land, bounded on the south by: Russian River; west by: Pacific Ocean; east by: crest of the coastal mountain range; north-west by: Fort Ross.
17,360 a.
7,026 h.
5,000 0     Charles Meyer
William Bennitz
Promisory Note
Book of Deeds
Agree to sell: Manuel Torres
17-Feb-52 Rancho de Muniz
17,360 a.
7,026 h.
0 -- -- -- Manuel Torres Claim filed Feb.17, 1852; confirmed by the Commission Dec.27, 1853, & by the District Court, Oct.17, 1855, appeal dismissed May 7, 1857. US Board
of Land Commissioners
US District Court
1-May-55 Rancho de Muniz
17,360 a.
7,026 h.
22,500 22,500     William Benitz Per letter
8 March '55
Seller: Charles Meyer
11-Aug-55 Rancho de Muniz
17,360 a.
7,026 h.
1 1     William Bennitz Book of Deeds
Quit Claim by: Charles Meyer
13-Apr-57 Rancho de Muniz: about 4 leagues of land, bounded on the south by: Russian River; west by: Pacific Ocean; east by: crest of the coastal mountain range; extending northerly along coast about 4 leagues (10½ miles, it now includes Fort Ross). 17,360 a.
7,026 h.
5,000 5,000     William Bennetz Book of Deeds
Seller: Manuel Torres
04-Oct-59 Muniz Rancho: Survey includes Fort Ross, approved at 17,761 acres (7,188 has.) 17,761 a.
7,188 h.
-- -- -- -- Survey completed by R.C. Matheson, Deputy US Surveyor, 11 Aug., 1859. Approved by J.M. Mandeville, US Surveyor General for California
05-Nov-59 Muniz Rancho: containing 4 leagues or 17,760 acres, bounded on the south by the Russian River, extending northwards about 9 miles along coast, & eastwards <blank> miles from coast. 17,761 a.
7,188 h.
6,000 6,000     William Bennitz Indenture
Book 9, p.431
Quit Claim by: John A. Sutter
Anna Sutter (wife),
Anna Eliza Engler,
William Muldrew,
George R. Moore,
Daniel W. Welty.
05-Nov-59 Legal expenses, difference between Quit Clain and $8,000 per letter of: 18 Jan.'63. -- 2,000 2,000     William Benitz Letter
18 Jan. '63
Other: Lawyers, etc.
04-Feb-60 Muniz Rancho: Per US survey approved 4 Oct., 1859. 17,761 a.
7,188 h.
-- -- -- -- Manuel Torres Patent Issuer: US Board of Land Commissioners
11-Aug-60 SE corner, along Russian River up to Sheep Rancho Creek 1,500 a.
607 h.
3,000   3,000   William Benitz Indenture
Book 10, p.472
Buyer: John Orr
Flan Sheridan
02-Jul-66 SE corner along Russian River from Sheep Rancho Creek. 1,907 a.
772 h.
7,500   7,500   William Bennitz Indenture
Book 19, p.137
Buyer: Arthur Thing
Samuel Rien
28-Aug-66 215 acres (in Timber Cove), grant to bro-in-law 215 a.
87 h.
0   0   William Benitz Indenture
Book 51, p.287
Gift to: John Kolmer
28-Aug-66 502 acres (in Timber Cove) next to Kolmer 502 a.
203 h.
1,500   1,500   Wm. Benitz Indenture
Book 19, p.481
Buyer: Wm. R. Miller
Wm. Allison
28-Aug-66 NW 103 acres (in Timber Cove?) 103 a.
42 h.
0   0   Wm. Benitz Indenture
Book 19, p.581
Gift to: Franziska Blanchard
01-Mar-67 North half (+/-) 7,000 a.
2,833 h.
30,000   30,000   William Benitz Indenture
Book 20, p.129
Buyer: James Dixon
03-Apr-67 Remaining south half (+/-) excluding that sold to others. 7,000 a.
2,833 h.
25,000   25,000   William Benitz Indenture
Book 20, p.175
Buyer: Charles J. Fairfax
20-Sep-73 North half orig. sold to Dixon. 2,500 a.
1,012 h.
1   1   William Bennitz Indenture
Book 44, p.256
Quit Claim to: George W. Call
  Totals:     35,501 67,001 31,502        
New Breisgau (Shasta) — (See ranch maps)
26-Jul-44 5 sitios, bounded on the west by the Sacramento River, and on the east by the sierra, straddling Battle Creek.
[True size: approx. 3.5 sitios, 15,000 a., 6,000 h.]
21,701 a.
8,782 h.
0 0     William Benitz Grant Grantor: Mexican Gov.
Manuel Micheltorena
26-Mar-50 Undivided 1/2 share (exchanged with Rufus for his share of Rancho Hermann)   0 0 0 0 William Benitz Exchange
(Shasta Co. Book of Deeds, E:505)
Buyer: Ernest Rufus
1856 2/3 of property, expropriated. [See transcript of WB’s petition.]   0   0   William Benitz Letter
22 Sep. '56
Court: US Land Commission
1856 Legal expenses of attempt to retain title.   12,000 12,000     William Benitz Letter
22 Sep. '56
Other: Lawyers, etc.
1856 1/3 of property.
(size per letter: 4-Sep-58)
6,750 a.
2,700 h.
0   0   William Benitz [see prior exchange] Buyer: Ernest Rufus
20-Feb-56 5 Spanish leagues bounded as described in the original grant.   5,000 -- -- -- Ernest Rufus Shasta Co., Book of Deeds, E:506. Buyer: Jeremiah Clarke
  Totals:     12,000 0 -12,000        
Town of Sonoma, Lot #19 — (See town map)
09-Apr-49 Lot #19; 109x109 varas +/- 2.06 a.
0.83 h.
1,200 1,200     William Benetz Book of Deeds
Seller: L. & F. Hegermann
15-Jan-57 Same   1,500   1,500   William Benitz Book of Deeds
Buyer: Charles Van Geldern
  Totals:     1,200 1,500 300        
Town of Sonoma, Lot #34 — (See town map)
4-Mar-49 Fronting the public square, 10x109 varas.
[House in town?]
0.19 a.
0.08 h.
300 300     William Benitz Book of Deeds
Seller: Frederic G. Blume & wife
? Same   $0   0?   William Bennitz NOT FOUND Buyer: Unknown
12-Jul-73 NE corner of lot #34, 99x300 feet; estate of Johanna Xxx [Neeb?], same prop. Benitz bought from Blume   1   1   William Bennitz Indenture
Book 40, p.514
Quit Claim to: Friederike Fichler
  Totals:     300 1 -299        
Town of Sonoma, Lot #199 — (See town map)
21-Jan-50 Lot #199; 109 varas square +/- 2.06 a.
0.83 h.
9 9     Wm. Bennett Book of Deeds
Seller: Wm. M. Fuller (alcalde/mayor)
08-Feb-50 Same   200   200   Wm. Bennett Book of Deeds
Buyer: Joshua A. Brackett
  Totals:     9 200 191        
  GRAND TOTALS:     53,511 84,299 30,788        
  Final sale 1866-1867:       64,000          

© Peter Benitz (Benitz Family)