avid Jacks, a Scottish immigrant who landed in New York harbor in 1841 at the age of 19, worked for a time as an army contractor at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, New York. There, working for a wheelwright, he got to know a young army engineer named Robert E. Lee, who visited the shop to inspect caisson wheels. Appearing amid the scraps of town gossip in the September 15, 1848 issue of the New York Herald was the following item:
INTERESTING FROM CALIFORNIA—We have received some late and interesting intelligence from California. It is to the 1st of July. Owing to the crowded state of our columns, we are obliged to omit our correspondence. It relates to the important discovery of a very valuable gold mine. We have received a specimen of the gold.
Two days later, the Herald devoted the larger part of an inside column to that important July letter from its California correspondent. The correspondent, known to the public as “Paisano,” suggested that the Herald publisher, James Gordon Bennett,
“had better fill his paper with, at least, probable tales and stories and not such outrageous fictions as rivers, flowing with gold.” According to the report,
thousands had gone to the mines, many to return a few days later with hundreds of dollars in dust and nuggets. Spades and shovels sold for $10 apiece. Blacksmiths were making $240 a week. Why, even a child could pick up three dollars worth of gold in a day from the treasure streams. In comparison with California, “the famous El Dorado was but a sand bank, the Arabian Nights were tales of simplicity!”
The great California Gold Rush was on and David Jacks was determined not to miss the boat. In November 1848, he took a job with a sutler (i.e., a commercial supplier of provisions, such as tobacco, liquor, etc.) for the 3rd Regiment of Artillery, and with them sailed around the horn, reaching San Francisco in April, 1849. Before departing, Jacks invested his total savings of $1,400 in revolvers which he planned to sell to eager buyers on the west coast. Within forty-eight hours after his arrival in April 1849, he sold the revolvers for a total of $4,000. Deciding that the acquisition of wealth by means of gold mining was not his calling, Jacks took a job as an inspector in the Custom House earning $100 per month. During a business trip to Monterey, he resolved to make this town his new home. He arrived in Monterey with his belongings by boat on New Year’s day, 1850.
The Pacific House, Monterey, CA
David Jacks’s first job in Monterey was as a clerk in Joseph Boston’s store in a building known as Casa del Oro. The building served as a general goods store, but because one of Boston’s partners was the deputy tax collector, the building became the depository for county taxes. In his position, Jacks had the opportunity to learn the lay of the land and land is where he saw his golden opportunity. Within a year, he found himself in the employ of James McKinlay, a fellow Scotsman, a money lender and land broker, working out of the Pacific House. Being entrusted with considerable responsibilities in handling his employer’s affairs, Jacks quickly learned the ropes of the banking and real estate business. He was soon lending money on his own account. Discovering who among the local farmers and ranchers landowners were delinquent on their taxes, he lent them money, using their land holdings as collateral. By virtue of poor economic conditions or pitiable business acumen, many of these local landowners found themselves unable to pay their debt and Jacks was quick to acquire their land by foreclosure. County records dated as early as 1852 show David Jacks’s name on a land deed as the grantee of a half a league of land in payment of an overdue loan. Though his means of doing business appeared entirely legal, many had reason to question his ethics. It was said that Jacks would post his foreclosure notices in the most inconspicuous places and, if the owners were Spanish-speaking, the notice was in English, and if English-speaking, in Spanish. During this period, Jacks had tried his hand at farming, hiring men to cultivate some of his land holdings. These efforts, however, proved unsuccessful—his effort to grow potatoes failed, and he was forced to sell hogs he had purchased for $3,000 for $50. His farming experience taught him a valuable lesson in real estate: he could profit from such mistakes as long as they were made by others. Jacks appetite for land had been described as voracious. He almost certainly had his sights on a portion of the “pueblo” lands in the vicinity of Monterey, but his acquisition hopes were impeded by a dispute over who controlled the land. Whether Jacks had a hand in prompting a resolution of the dispute may never be known, but clearing the title to the land was plainly to the advantage of his craving for property. In 1853, the board of trustees of the city of Monterey asked the city’s attorney Delos R. Ashley to press the city’s claims to the entire pueblo lands of Monterey, an enormous piece of property. The pueblo lands comprised the 29,698 acre area bordering the Pacific ocean on the west, extending as far north as the Salinas river and as far east as Laguna Seca (covering virtually all of present day Fort Ord and the city of Marina), with its southern boundary running along what is now the mountain crest just south of Highway 68, including the area now known as “Jack’s Peak,” extending down to the city of Monterey, including much of the land in the vicinity of the city, except that which already belonged to the city and other lots already in private hands. On March 2, 1853, district attorney Ashley presented the city’s claim over these lands to the U.S. Land Commission in San Francisco. On January 22, 1856, the Land Commission issued a decree confirming the city’s title to the pueblo lands of Monterey. The routine appeal filed by U.S. Attorney Edward O. C. Ord was dismissed in federal court on June 16, 1858. Meanwhile, in anticipation of the city’s taking title to the pueblo lands, Ashley had arranged to have the city’s municipal charter amended by the California legislature so that, when the city was finally in lawful possession of the land, it could sell it off. The legislation, passed in 1857, was remarkably precise and prescient: “The trustees may also pay for the expenses of prosecuting the title of the city before the United States land commissioners and before the United States courts, and for that purpose may sell and transfer any property, right, or franchise, upon such terms and for such price as may by them be deemed reasonable.” Unbeknownst to anyone at the time, Ashley and Jacks had hatched a plan that would lead to one of the most breathtaking real estate deals ever recorded. On January 24, 1859, Ashley served the trustees with a bill for his legal services of $991.50, plus $11 for legal costs. The bill was approved, but there being no money in the city treasury to pay it, the city agreed to auction off the very land for which those fees were incurred. The Monterey Board of Supervisors at the time were J.P. Lane, D. Spence, Jr., and Mathew C. Ireland. The county sheriff was Henry Degraw and the city Treasurer was Thomas W. Day. Notice of the auction was posted in three locations and published in the Pacific Sentinel of Santa Cruz.
We’ll never know whether the notices were posted conspicuously, but we do know that the notice didn’t appear in the newspaper until the day of the auction! The sparsely attended auction was held at 5 p.m., February 9, 1859, on the steps of Colton Hall. The successful, and sole, bidder for all the land was Ashley himself and his partner Jacks, who put up most of the $1,002.50 purchase price. The city paid Ashley’s bill and the two were granted a deed for nearly 30,000 acres at a price of little more than 3 cent per acre. In 1866, a new board of trustees declared the sale of the pueblo lands unlawful, but Mathew Ireland who had since been elected State Assemblyman for the district, and who was a business associate of Jacks, introduced a successful bill in the state legislature which retroactively ratified all land sales made by the city of Monterey after February 8, 1859. (On November 22, 1865, Ireland granted to Jacks, for a price of $1,000, the parcel of land called Rancho Aguajito. The rancho comprised 3,323 acres of land immediately adjacent to the city of Monterey to the southeast, south, and south west, and rising up to the crest line along present-day Highway 68 and continuing some distance along Aguajito Road. The full story of how David Jacks, through the efforts of Mathew C. Ireland, came to possess this valuable parcel remains a mystery for further research.) Thus did the city of Monterey lose its lands and David Jacks become the area’s wealthiest and most important landholders—circumstances which prompted a native of the Monterey Peninsula at the time, when asked where he lived, to answer, “In David Jacks County.”
Some accounts place both Rancho Punta de los Piños (today, Pacific Grove) and Rancho El Pescadero (Del Monte Forest and Pebble Beach) within the Monterey pueblo lands, and thus acquired by Jacks through the above account. Yet, it seems clear that David Jacks acquired these properties by other means.
Map of Monterey Peninsula c. 1880
Rancho El Pescadero, was originally granted to Fabian Barretto, by Nicholas Gutierrez, governor of California, by a grant dated May 20, 1846. Upon Barretto’s death, his widow Maria del Carmen, conveyed the property to Juan F. Romie. Upon Romie’s death, the property was passed to his children, one of whom was Maria Romie. On November 22, 1853, the Probate Court ordered Marie Romie, who was the administratrix of her father’s estate, to sell the estate’s interest in Rancho El Pescadero at a public auction. Notice of the auction was given in the Santa Clara Register, and the auction was held at 11 a.m. on January 15, 1853 at the court house door in Monterey. The winning bidder was John C. Gore who paid $4,400 for the property. The entire affair was described in a deed recorded on January 21, 1853 and notarized by D. R. Ashley. To further confirm his rights to the property, Gore filed claim No. 157 with the U.S. Land Commission. The Commission decided against him, but he filed an appeal with the United States District Court. In December 1855, the court reversed the decision of the Commission, confirming John Gore’s claim to Rancho El Pescadero. The decision was made final in June 1858 when the government’s usual appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was rejected. Gore had a copy of the decision filed with the Monterey County recorder’s office. John Gore moved on to the property, building a two-story log house on Stillwater Cove, near the present-day Beach Club in Pebble Beach. There he lived with his two boys, then aged 13 and 10, who were home-schooled in literature, mathematics, the arts, and music. By 1860, having already acquired the rest of the Monterey peninsula, and then some, David Jacks must have been quite was jealous of the Gore’s property. By one account, he paid a Dr. Callaghan $20 to obtain a deed from the widow of Fabian Barretto and her second husband. The court set aside the deed for fraud and confirmed that title to the property belonged to Gore. But Jacks was undeterred. On April 20, 1861, David Jacks married Miss Maria Christina Soledad Romie, the daughter of Marie Romie. The wedding took place in San Luis Obispo. Whether Jacks married Romie out of love or merely as part of a scheme to add Rancho El Pescadero to his other holdings is a question only his own reputation makes possible. On February 2, 1862, John C. Gore sold Rancho El Pescadero to his son, John C. Gore, Jr., for the sum of $5,000. At the time, John Gore, Jr. was living in West Roxbury, Massachusetts. Seeing a new opportunity to wrench the El Pescadero property away from the Gores, Jacks would soon begin some unusual preparations. He first prepared a series of deeds dated April 30, June 10, and June 12, 1862, under which Maria Romie, her daughter Maria Christina Romie, and her sons Charles F. Romie and Ernest Romie, all purportedly sold their interests in Rancho El Pescadero to Jacks for a nominal price of $10. Each of the deeds described the conveyance of the rancho from Fabian Barreto to Juan F. Romie, and the relationship of Juan Romie to Maria Romie, and Maria to her children. However, the deed made no mention of the action taken by the Probate Court and the acquisition of the property by John Gore in 1853. In 1863, Jacks finally obtained title by default at a hearing in San Francisco, notice of which never reached John Gore, Jr. in Massachusetts. A patent signed by President Andrew Johnson was issued to David Jacks, but was not recorded until July 30, 1880 by the Pacific Improvement Company. John C. Gore died in 1867. His son John moved back to California and filed suit against David Jacks. The case was decided in the Supreme Court on in 1906 in Jacks’ favor. The chain of title in Rancho Punta de los Piños is more complex. As mentioned above, the rancho was granted on October 4, 1844 to Jose Abrego. According to a deed dated February 15, 1850, Jose Abrego sold his interest in Rancho Punta dePiños to Thomas G. Larkin, Jacob P. Leese, and James H. Gleason. The deed was written in Spanish and was accompanied by a crude map of the ranch. According to a deed dated February 26, 1850, Thomas G. Larkin, Jacob P. Leese, and James H. Gleason granted to Milton Little any and all interest they had in all or any portion of Rancho Punto de los Pinos, except that certain lots identified by number were reserved to Leese, Gleason, and Larkin, respectively. The document seemed to be a way of clarifying that Milton Little would own all of the rancho, except those specific lots granted to the other three. Strangely, this deed was not recorded until October 3, 1868, eighteen years after it was purportedly executed. A deed dated December 13, 1851, states that a previous deed dated January 15, 1850—note the inexplicable one-month discrepancy with the deed just described—was intended only to convey Jose Abrego’s undivided one-half interest in the property to Milton Little and James Gleason. The deed, however, goes on to state that Jose Abrego was, by this new instrument, conveying to Milton Little and James Gleason his remaining undivided one-half interest in the property—except that the deed specifically excluded a certain portion of the rancho previously granted by Jacob Lease, James Gleason and Thomas Larkin to Milton Little. On June 9, 1854, Jacob P. Leese granted to Henry De Graw, what appeared to be the entire Rancho Punto de los Piños property for $4,500. At the time, Leese had been felling trees on the property and occasionally strayed onto Rancho El Pescadero, to the annoyance of John Gore, for the same purpose. It is not clear how Leese derived his purported legal title to the property. De Graw would soon establish a saw mill on the property. During the year 1859, Henry De Graw served as the sheriff of Monterey. On September 15, 1862, Henry De Graw granted all of his right, title, and interest in the Rancho Punto de los Piños to Theron R. Hopkins of San Francisco for $9,000. On October 22, 1863, Charles Brown granted to David Jacks, for $400, an undivided one-half interest in the saw mill used on Rancho Point Piños, “which saw mill and buildings was occupied and used by Henry De Graw now deceased.” How Charles Brown came into possession of the saw mill property is not clear from county records. On October 3, 1868, Milton Little granted to David Jacks, “for the sum of $5 and other valuable and lawful consideration” all of the full undivided half of his interest in the Rancho Punto de los Piños. County records do not show exactly when Jacks acquired rest of Milton Little’s interest in the rancho, but we know that by 1875, Milton Little was $5,000 in debt to David Jacks and litigation ensued. Milton Little arrived in Monterey in 1844. He soon opened a general mercantile business in partnership with Thomas O. Larkin, operating out of the lower floor of the Larkin House on the corner of Jefferson and Main Streets in Monterey. Little acquired 640 acres of land which he called Milton Little Rancho—it was bounded by the south and west by the Presidio of Monterey and on the east by Monterey Bay. It included not only present-day New Monterey, including Cannery Row, and about 200 acres to the west, comprising the eastern portion of the future Pacific Grove Retreat. Little sold this 200 acres to Frank Doud who, in turn, sold it to David Jacks. By deed dated February 15, 1871, recorded on July 20, 1878, Theron R. Hopkins granted to David Jacks, for the sum of $2,500, all of Hopkin’s interest in Rancho Punto de Pinos “being the same purchased from Jacob P. Leese by one Henry De Graw and by him conveyed to [T.R. Hopkins].” In 1870, when the U.S. government attempted to acquire by right of eminent domain the twenty-five acres of the Rancho Punta de los Piños in the immediate vicinity of the Point Piños lighthouse, the government was sued in California court by David Jacks, Charles Brown, T. R. Hopkins and E. Kennedy. When the case got to the California Supreme Court, the four were listed as “Owners of the Land, and Tenants in Common.” We know that, Jacks had acquired all of Theron R. Hopkin’s interest, all of Milton Little’s interest, and probably all of Charles Brown’s interest in the rancho. It is not clear from the county records how E. Kennedy had obtained his interest in some or all of the Rancho Punta de los Piños property. Meanwhile, sometime in the late 1870’s, a claim was filed with the U.S. Land Commission in the names of Henry Degraw, Charles Brown and Milton Little, asserting ownership in the Rancho Punta de los Piños. The Land Commission ultimately issued a patent to the rancho in their names on November 19, 1880, but it seems clear that their interests were previously acquired by David Jacks, or by Jack’s predecessors in interest. Since Jacks was materially interested in the outcome of the hearing, Jacks may have actually initiated the claim and financed it. If Jacks had indeed acquired all or substantially all of the interests of these gentlemen in the rancho, the effect of the Land Commission’s decision was to confirm beyond all doubts that, by November 19, 1880, Jacks had owned the Rancho Punta de los Piños, with the exception of a few lots previously granted to others.
One of his friends said of Jacks's insatiable appetite for land, “Not only did he purchase all the ground of which he approved, but he put a fence around it.”
One day, at a revival meeting held in Presbyterian Church of Monterey—often called “David Jacks's Church” by virtue of the large donation Jacks made toward its construction—the preacher likened heaven to a beautiful mansion with corner lots offered to all who were privileged to enter. When parishioners who felt entitled to a lot in heaven were asked to stand, one man remained seated. My young friend,” asked the preacher, “don't you want a corner lot in heaven?” “No,” replied the man. “Why not?,” questioned the preacher. “’Cause,” explained the man, “long ‘fer I git there, Uncle Davy will of bought all them there corner lots and of put a bob-wire fence round ivry last one of ‘em.” The parishioners may have been amused with the man’s observation, but there were some strong emotions underlying the mirth. Indeed, the notorious means by which Jacks acquired much of his lands made him enemies in many quarters of the Monterey area. It is said that Jacks traveled only with a couple of bodyguards and, when on the long road between Monterey and Salinas, Jacks party would have to increase their gallop part of the way to avoid those who would harm him. Robert Louis Stevenson, writing his unfinished book, Old Pacific Capital, reported this of David Jacks, "The town lands of Monterey are all in the hands of a single man. How they came there is an obscure, vexatious question, and rightly or wrongly, the man is hated with a great hatred. His life has been repeatedly in danger. Not very long ago, I was told, the stage was stopped and examined three evenings in succession by disguised horsemen thirsting for his blood." Failing to harm Jacks by physical or legal means, some resorted to divine measures. One of Jacks’ foreclosure victims was said to have put an “Indian curse” upon him: that “the seeds of his greed would not spread beyond his children.” Whether it was by curse or coincidence we may never know: Jacks eventually had seven children, but he had no grandchildren. In 1869, Jacks bought Delos Ashley’s interest in the Monterey pueblo lands for $500 and Ashley left Monterey for good. He once wrote to Jacks with the following advice: “Why don’t you leave Monterey for a place where a man can have dollar and not be envied.” Years later, the city brought suit to nullify the transaction on the grounds that the California legislature had no authority to authorize the sale. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court which upheld the land sale to Jacks. It wasn’t David Jacks’s first victory in court. In the 1860s, Jacks acquired Rancho Chualar, an 8,890 acre tract of land about nine miles south of Salinas. Some of the residents of the ranch had worked the land for decades, but could produce nothing in writing to document a legal claim to the land. When Jacks sought to have them removed as illegal “squatters,” they joined to form the Squatters League of Monterey County. In 1872, the executive committee of the League wrote to Jacks,
“…you have been the cause of unnecessary annoyance and expense to the settlers.…Now, if you don’t make account of damages to each and every one of us within ten days, you son of a bitch, we will suspend your animation between daylight and hell.” The League sued Jacks in California superior court, but Judge Dorn in Salinas ruled in favor of Jacks. As mentioned above, in 1870, the United States government took action under its power of eminent domain to condemn the twenty-five acres of land surrounding the lighthouse that it built on Point Piños. Upon seizure of the land by the government, Jacks and the other owners of the property were entitled to “just compensation.” However, in fixing the amount of compensation, the government only wanted to pay them for the value of the land, not the value of the improvements—which was the lighthouse previously built at the government’s expense and which had already been in the government’s possession for many years. Jacks insisted that he be paid for the lighthouse, too, and filed suit in state court. The California Supreme Court sided with Jacks, holding that when, in 1854, the United States entered the rancho property to build the lighthouse, it was acting illegally. Jacks and his co-owners, being owners of the land, were also the owner of all improvements made to it by whatever means—they therefore, were entitled to compensation for both the value of the land and the lighthouse. Lest the reader think this was the limit of the man’s good fortune, it should be added that during the same year the case was decided in Jacks’s favor, the Point Piños lighthouse keeper at the time, Captain Allen Luce, was authorized by the U.S. government to fell trees and cut a trail through the forest to Monterey so that mail and supplies could more easily be obtained. The resulting trail became Lighthouse Road (now, Avenue), a trail cut at government expense, but ultimately inuring to the benefit of David Jacks.
Monterey Jack Cheese
David Jacks’ controversial association with Monterey was not limited to land transactions. For nearly a century after his death, David Jacks has been the center of a debate over the origin of the cheese we know as “Monterey Jack.” The cheese itself is probably a descendent of the semi-soft Italian cheese that fed the armies of Julius Caesar. The process for making it probably migrated to Spain with the Romans and later brought to California, via Mexico, by the Franciscan Monks of the 18th Century. The early form of jack cheese made in California by the Spanish missionaries was called “Queso del Pais,” or country cheese. It is said that Dona Juana Cota de Boronda, who lived with her crippled husband and fifteen children on the Rancho de los Laurales, along the Carmel River in present-day Carmel Valley, was among the first to locally manufacture this country cheese, using perhaps her own recipe in the process. Though the cheese became a popular item in local markets, Senora Boronda could not produce enough of it to meet demand. Her success apparently caught the attention of David Jacks, who owned a dairy farm on the Salinas River. There were fourteen other dairies in the area and all of them suffered from the same problem: surplus milk. With the shrewd eye for business opportunities, Jacks put together a consortium of the dairies and, in 1882, began producing the Queso del Pais in mass quantities. It is not known whether Señora Boronda was among the dairies that benefited from the consortium or was simply wiped out by the competition that Jacks interposed. In any event, cheese marketed by David Jacks was not likely to be of his own recipe. The name since associated with the product is another matter. According to one account, Jacks first attempted to market the cheese under the name El Queso del Pais. But, because the San Francisco merchants couldn’t pronounce it, they simply referred to it as “Jack’s Monterey Cheese,” after David Jacks. Another account, told by Samuel F.B. Morse, who later managed the Pacific Improvement Company and founded the Pebble Beach resort, insists the cheese was manufactured by a Domingo Pedrazzi of Carmel Valley. According to Morse, the cheese required “the application of pressure,” which was applied by a device called a “horsejack.” The cheese became known has “Pedrazzi’s jack cheese” and was later marketed to guests of the Del Monte Hotel as “Del Monte Cheese.” According to third account, not necessarily inconsistent with any of the previous, the San Francisco merchants were asking for a cheese by the name of “Monterey Jack,” and David Jacks cleverly adopted the name as his brand. If he had competition, such as Pedrazzi’s jack cheese, they wouldn’t have had a chance against a brand that fully embraced what had become the generic term for the product. Whether the name “Monterey Jack” owes its origin to David Jacks, to a simple “horsejack,” or (more likely) to both, may never be known with certainty. We do know, however, that the early mass production of the product is properly credited to David Jacks. Monterey Jack may or may not have been Jacks’ cheese, but few would argue with the common sentiment of the time: Monterey was Jacks’ County.