Don Juan Salvio Pacheco was 70 years old when Eliza Clayton Clark rode sidesaddle to his hacienda in Concord on her father’s horse to ask a favor.

She wanted him to sell a 2½-acre knoll overlooking Clayton Valley for a cemetery.

People in Clayton traveled long ways over dusty roads to reach a cemetery. Eliza’s two sisters were buried in her mothers rose garden.

Don Salvio had a reputation for being a generous man. He had given away thousands of acres to his children and grandchildren. He sold land to newly-arrived Americans and then let them pay whenever they got the money.  When he co-founded Concord with his son Fernando and his son-in-law, Francisco Galindo, he sold lots for $1 to encourage the growth of the new little town.

Before Clark approached Don Salvio, a committee of Clayton townspeople had asked to buy the knoll in 1863 for the cemetery. But he said that that particular piece was not for sale.  The young and beautiful Eliza greeted the old don in Spanish. She told him how it grieved her and her parents that her sisters were buried in the garden.  Her arguments were hard to resist. Don Salvio didn’t sell the land. Instead, he donated it to the people as a gift. The only stipulation was that his family would get a free plot at the new Live Oak Cemetery.

None of his family ever took advantage of the free plot. The Pachecos were buried first at the Alhambra Cemetery and later at St. Catherine’s, both in Martinez near what was then the only Catholic church in the area.

By the time Don Salvio died, in 1876, he had given away most of the original 17,921 acres of his Rancho del Diablo. He only had 425 acres left, He didn’t seem to mind the breakup of his huge holdings. It was what he had intended all along.  Don Salvio got his grant because he was a soldier in the army of the viceroy of Mexico. His grandfather marched with the expe­dition of Capt. Juan Bautista de Anza, and his father, also a soldier, was stationed in Monterey, where Don Salvio was born in 1793.

Don Salvio enlisted in the army when he was barely 17, and served 15 years. He was assigned to the Presidio at San Francisco, where he met and married the 25-year-old Juana Flores in 1817. Soon after his marriage, he was promoted to corporal and was sent to Mission San Jose de Guadalupe to be part of the Escolta— the mission guard.

While Don Salvio was in the military, Mexico was fighting Spain for its freedom. The Spanish king, whose power in the New World was slipping badly, could not come up with money to pay the troops who were still faithful to him. Don Salvio, who by 1824 had several children to support, decided to leave the military. The Spanish government owed him more than $1,000.  Years later, in an 1869 interview with a San Francisco newspaper reporter, Don Salvio remembered that he never got his army pay. And what still angered him was that in order to get discharged from the army, he had to sign a receipt for the money he never got.

However, it was the service to Spain that gave his request for a land grant great weight.

Don Salvio probably visited the area around the foothills of Mount Diablo while he was at the Presidio. In 1827, he applied for a grant of the land to pasture his “850 head of horned cattle, a flock of sheep, and three droves of mares of 30 head each.”  In order to speed up the Spanish California bureaucracy, he rode horseback from San Jose to San Diego the next year to present his petition personally to Jose Maria Echeandia, governor of Baja and Alta California for the Spaniards.  The face-to-face visit worked, and Don Salvio got his rancho. When the Republic of Mexico came into power, Don Salvio, a very prudent man, had the grant re-recorded. And he had it recorded once more when the United Slates took over.

He didn’t move to his rancho for 20 years. He was too busy in San Jose serving as secretary of the ayuntamiento (town council) and later as the alcalde (mayor). However, in 1846 something happened that convinced him to leave.

The Bear Flag Revolt -- the rebellion against the Mexican government in Northern California -- had just erupted. Don Salvio was in charge of the public archives. A party of Americans demanded that Don Salvio give them the key to the Hall of Records. He protested, saying that he had to confer with the governor at Monterey. The Americans repeated the demand and pointed their guns at him. He gave them the key.

Soon after, he retired from public life and hired the Miranda brothers of Mexico to build him a fine two story adobe on his rancho near Mt. Diablo.  He picked a spot with a slight rise, a view of the Carquinez Strait, and a naturally flowing spring. He also built a brick-lined swimming pool and a bull ring.  His hacienda became the center of the social activities of the region. There were barbecues, dances, and bullfights. The Benicia military band came to play at the fiestas. The first church services in the Concord area were at Don Salvio’s adobe, with priests coming from Santa Clara to preside.

And while he was proud of the new little town he helped to found, he yearned for the early days in California, he said in an 1869 interview in the Daily Alta California.

“Everybody dressed more elaborately than they do now and in much better taste.

They did not wear paper collars in the good old days.

“People were richer then in happiness and friendship. . . . The hills and valleys from this point to San Diego were full of cattle and horses. . . . A trader could journey from San Francisco to San Diego and back without spending a dollar.

“He was at home in every hacienda and he had but to ask for horses, guides, or guards to get them at the slightest notice. They would get up a fandango for him every evening. Today, few strangers are so honored.”