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Courts favor old Mexican system

San Francisco 1851 fire
San Francisco 1851 fire

Squatting began early in San Francisco and continued vigorously until land titles became substantially settled by the courts decisions in favor of the old Mexican pueblo system and the subsequent acts of congress of 1864 and 1866 which granted to the city and county of San Francisco all lands included in such pueblo limits in trust for the lot holders and occupants on such terms as might be prescribed by the state legislature. There was hardly any part of the city and county that had not at one time been seized and held by squatters, and squatter fights, often bloody and sometime fatal, were not unusual. While the embers of the great fire of May 13, 1851 still smoldered many lot owners felt compelled to place fences across the hot ashes to prevent their property from being jumped or squatted by the many hungry groups then engaged in that business.

These precautions were far from unnecessary for in several places about the state men had taken advantage of fires to squat upon land left vacant by the flames. One such attempt took place on June 18, 1852 in Sonora in Tuolumne County. Here however, the better class of citizens armed themselves and prevented any takeover of property. The public spirit, thus evoked, led to public meetings which brought about the widening of the streets and the construction of much finer buildings than those swept away by the flames.

John Putnam is the author of hard driving historical fiction from the California gold rush. See his website at