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Local History: Ross Eric Gibson on Unfortunate Fortunes

**The Misfortunes of Fortune: The Tragic Story of Martina Castro and the Rancho Soquel**

Martina Castro, daughter of powerful Californio patriarch Jose Joaquin Castro, was a woman of fortune. She owned the Rancho Soquel, a large land grant covering parts of modern-day Santa Cruz County. But her fortune was short-lived and filled with tragedy.

**The Murder of Michel Lodge and Martina’s Hasty Marriage to Louie DePeaux**

In 1849, Martina’s beloved husband, Michel Lodge, was murdered. Devastated, Martina quickly married Louie DePeaux, a former U.S. sailor who could speak English, Spanish, and French. Martina’s son, Mike Lodge Jr., was eager to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a ship’s cabin boy, but DePeaux was cruel and short-tempered. Martina’s two unmarried children eventually left home due to DePeaux’s unhappiness.

**The Deed Controversy**

In 1850, Martina’s children presented her with a deed asking for the right to build homesteads on the Rancho Soquel and obliging Martina not to divide the property. DePeaux signed the deed with an “X,” claiming Martina had given her consent. A second version of the deed was later presented to Martina, but it was in English, and no Spanish translation was provided or offered, and no copy was left with them. DePeaux again signed it on Martina’s behalf.

**The Partitioning Suit and the Soquel Augmentation Grant Approval**

In 1852, Thomas Fallon, who had acquired a one-ninth share of Martina’s land, filed a partitioning suit against Martina and six of her children, claiming that the augmentation was unsuitable for farming and should be sold. By October 1852, Martina had discovered that the second 1850 deed fraudulently divided her grants into nine shares, which she had not approved. She needed to invalidate the 1850 agreements, facing a vengeful Martina, Fallon sold his property to Joshua Parrish, then took his wife and three kids to Texas in 1853. Martina’s attorney announced in February 1854 that her loan was paid in full, and it was Fallon who owed Martina $2,000 for room and board on her land. The Land Claims Commission indicated that the Soquel Grant was sound, but the augmentation was uncertain.

**The Sale to the Catholic Church**

Martina appears to have been advised that the only way to get the Soquel Augmentation grant approved was to transfer ownership to a reputable authority like the Catholic Church, who could lobby for it. Thus, Martina sold her land in August 1855, getting $2,000 for the Soquel grant and only $500 for the larger augmentation grant, simply because its approval was uncertain. The buyers were Father John Lleberia, Vicar General under co-buyer, Joseph Alemany, Archbishop of Santa Cruz, and Lleberia’s underling, Rev. John Ingoldsby, who divided his time between San Francisco and Santa Cruz parishes.

**Related Facts:**

– The Rancho Soquel was a land grant that covered parts of modern-day Santa Cruz County, including Soquel and Capitola.
– Martina Castro was the daughter of powerful Californio patriarch Jose Joaquin Castro.
– Michel Lodge, Martina’s husband, was a whaler who was murdered in 1849.
– Louie DePeaux, Martina’s second husband, was a former U.S. sailor who could speak English, Spanish, and French.
– Thomas Fallon acquired a one-ninth share of Martina’s land and filed a partitioning suit against her in 1852.

**Key Takeaway:**

Martina Castro’s story is a tragic one of loss, deceit, and manipulation. She struggled to protect her land grant against unscrupulous individuals who sought to profit from her. However, her efforts were in vain, and she eventually sold her land to the Catholic Church to secure the approval of the Soquel Augmentation grant.


Martina Castro’s story is a poignant reminder of the challenges faced by Californios during the Americanization of California. Her struggle to protect her land grant and the subsequent sale to the Catholic Church underscores the vulnerability of Californio landowners during this period. Her story serves as a cautionary tale about the importance of protecting one’s property rights in the face of unscrupulous individuals seeking to take advantage of those who lack the means to defend their interests.

Denk Liu
Denk Liu
Denk Liu is an honest person who always tells it like it is. He's also very objective, seeing the situation for what it is and not getting wrapped up in emotion. He's a regular guy - witty and smart but not pretentious. He loves playing video games and watching action movies in his free time.

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