The Sanchez File

by Bill Roddy
(copyright 1999)

The Probate Proceedings
on the drowning of José Maria Sánchez
at the Pájaro River, Christmas Eve, 1852
and the Conspiracy to plunder the
estate of his widow Encarnación Ortega.


(My great grandmother)

Based on Court Records
Monterey and San Benito counties

The newcomers were too shrewd for them, too unscrupulous.
They beat them at monte, they surpassed them at cattle stealing,  at whiskey drinking. They swindled them out of their lands, seduced their wives and daughters, and played the mischief generally.
They were a wicked lot.

Hubert Howe Bancroft 


Jose Maria Sanchez drowned in the Pajaro River in Monterey County, California, on Christmas Eve, 1852 at the place called the Malpaso, the evil path.  He left his beautiful, 28 year old widow, Encarnacion Ortega and their five children an estate worth over $300 thousand. (1852 dollars)

Encarnacion, who could not read or write and spoke little English, became the victim of a plot to swindle her estate by corrupt politicians. The probate judge in Monterey, Josiah Merritt,  appointed the sheriff as guardian of her children and a gambler as the administrator. They began to appropriate money for themselves by selling off cattle and other property.

Encarnacion married her attorney, but within a few months he died in a steamboat accident.

She married a doctor, but the sheriff's brother in law killed him in a gun battle in a Monterey saloon in which he was also shot dead.

In the lust for her treasure eight men would die in a little over four years.

Convinced she was Malpaso, she sold her entire estate for a five dollar gold piece to the man who became her fourth husband. He was George W. Crane, the second of her lawyers she married and my great grandfather.

The final mystery occurred when the sheriff's body was found at the bottom of a Watsonville well.

Chapter One

The Cast         Photos          List of all chapters        

Encarnacion's Ortega Ancestry