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Sense of Place: How Mark West Creek got its name

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013 | Posted by

Mexican era map of San Miguel del Marcos West. (Courtesy of Arthur Dawson)

By ARTHUR DAWSON / Special to Towns

Mark West Creek flows from its headwaters in the Mayacamas to the Laguna de Santa Rosa near Forestville. Its name recalls one of the first families to settle Sonoma County in Mexican times.

As a young man, William Mark West left England to work as a ship’s carpenter. Reaching Mexico’s Pacific Coast in 1825, he stayed for seven years, long enough to learn the language and culture. Then he headed north to the territory of California.

While working as a lumberman near Santa Cruz, West met Guadalupe Vasquez. Guadalupe was a well-connected young woman — both a niece of General Vallejo and cousin of the territorial governor. After being baptized as a Catholic, West married Guadalupe and became a Mexican citizen.

In 1839, the couple moved to the “Northern Frontier” and settled by a creek known to the First People as potiquiyomi. West received a 6,600-acre land grant extending on either side of the creek, from the hills to the Russian River. It was said to be some of the richest land in California.

Mark and Guadalupe built an adobe and redwood hacienda and soon had acres of tilled fields, several other buildings and a corral. Their seven children grew up speaking both Spanish and English.

After Mark died in 1850, Guadalupe took over running the rancho, but the family’s fortunes soon began to turn. Within 10 years, their cattle herd was reduced from 2,000 to just 12.

Despite changed circumstances, the Wests’ legacy lived on. When Mark West School was established, it was the only one in the county taught in Spanish. Mark West Creek became the new name for potiquiyomi.

And though the family was unable to hold onto their land, Mark and Guadalupe and at least five of their children are still there, buried in the old rancho’s family cemetery.

You can contact historical ecologist Arthur Dawson at baseline@vom.com.

Writer Spotlight

James Lanaras is our Windsor correspondent.
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