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Friday, August 17, 2012

Recent Acquisitions: There's Much More to Napa than Wine

Posted By on Fri, Aug 17, 2012 at 7:30 AM


Cultural institutions in San Francisco continually search for new acquisitions. Alexis Coe brings you the most important, often wondrous, sometimes bizarre, and occasionally downright vexing finds each week.

George Yount didn't seek out adventure, but he certainly didn't resist it. He had fought in the War of 1812 and the Indian Wars, and by 1826, he had left Missouri on bad terms after a business deal gone sour. He moved his wife and three children to New Mexico and devoted himself to fur trapping in earnest, but by 1831 he was restless.

Rumor had it that the cowboy William Wolfskill was going to risk life and limb to seek his fortune out West, and he soon found himself hunting sea otters off the Santa Barbara Channel Islands. Wolfskill saw promise in southern California, where he successfully hybridized the Valencia orange, but the north was calling to Yount. He traded in trapping for carpentry, and earned the favor of General Mariana Vallejo in Sonoma, who helped him procure a land grant. This made Yount the first permanent Euro-American settler of the Napa Valley, and he took to Rancho Caymus, which would be posthumously renamed in his honor.

Yount built a block-house and a saw mill and sent for his family, but his children arrived without their long-suffering mother in 1843. She had divorced and remarried in his absence. The children and their significant others put down roots in the block-house, and when it became too crowded, they built cabins around it. Yount had no choice but to accept this fate, finally marrying Eliza Gashwiler in 1855. Yount's grandchildren would marry locally as well, his granddaughter most significantly: As a present to Elizabeth Vines and her betrothed, Thomas Rutherford, Yount offered 1,040 acres of Rancho Caymus, now known as the town of Rutherford.

Yount understood his land to be of personal and local importance, and so he stipulated that it not be subdivided until five years after his death. He passed away at the age of 71 on the property, and exactly five years and one day later, a map advertised the lots of land for sale. The map was recently donated to the Napa Valley Museum by the Stephen and Pat Bardessono Family. According to the executive director, the map is now one of the most significant pieces in the collection.

George Yount (1794-1865)
  • George Yount (1794-1865)
"It represents the first American settler to own land from the Mexican government, which eventually helped lead to the U.S. acquisition of California," Kristie Sheppard explained, "and is one of the earliest maps of Yountville, the town in which the museum resides."

Sheppard considers the map an iconic piece of Napa Valley, a modern representation of the origins of Yountville which is of historical interest to locals, visitors, and researches alike. "Most only think of Napa Valley as wine wine wine, but there is much more to our history than that."

The map is currently on display and, as of next month, available upon request in the archives. The Napa Valley Museum is open Tuesday - Sunday, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Admission is free-$5.

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook. Follow Alexis Coe on twitter @alexis_coe.
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