Fairfield is located in what was once the homeland of the Suisun People, a relatively large tribe located near Suisun Marsh. A fair distance away from the Franciscan mission chain established by the Spanish, notably Mission Dolores, the Suisun were not "missionized". Indeed many mission Natives fled the harsh environment and sought shelter with the Suisun. Spanish and Natives sent to retrieve the runaways frequently clashed with the Suisuns and by 1810 a large bloody battle broke out between the tribe and the Spanish forces where about 125 warriors were killed. This broke the Suisuns, and many ended up joining the new Mission Solano. In 1817 another Spanish expedition near this spot against a Chief Malica ended with much of the tribe, some hundreds, choosing to commit suicide by setting fire to their homes and leaping into it rather than submitting to the Spanish. The survivors fled into the hills.
By the 1820s, Mexico had become independent from Spain, and Mexican General Mariano Vallejo decided to form an alliance with Sem-Yeto, also known as Chief Solano. With their help, Vallejo was able to defeat most of the surrounding tribes and carve out a semi-fiefdom in Sonoma. Solano received a Rancho in return, one of only two Natives to be recognized by the Mexican government. However after his death, Vallejo retook the property and sold it. Robert Waterman purchased the property and founded Fairfield in 1856, after which he successfully took the county seat from Benecia. The city is known for Travis AFB, and several factories nearby, including Budweiser, Jelly Belly and Clorox.
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Built in 1911, this Classical Revival was built alongside a large Gothic prison. Upon completion, the prisoners were used to move the furniture to the new courthouse. The first judge was Abram Buckles, who had won the Congressional Medal of Honor and lost a leg at the Siege of Petersburg. The courts moved out in 2005 and the building was restored in 2014, now acting as a secondary court location.
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Lanford Hastings was, to put it simply, an adventurer. Born in Ohio in 1819, he traveled to Oregon, helping John McLoughlin found Oregon City, Oregon in 1842, the first city West of the Rockies. Moving to Alta California he liked what he found, and evidently developed a plan to conquer California with American immigrants and make himself president(?) of this new "California Republic". For his plan to work, Hastings needed American immigrants. To that effect, in 1845 he returned East and published "The Emigrants' Guide to Oregon and California", where he somewhat diminished Oregon, described California in glowing terms and also gave some general practical advice of emigrating overland. However he also added a tantalizing sentence:
"The most direct path would be leave the Oregon route, about two hundred miles east of Fort Hall; thence bearing west-south west, to the Salt Lake; and thence continuing down to the bay of San Francisco."
Hastings then set about promoting the route. Unfortunately for everyone involved, he did not travel that route himself before he published his book.
In 1846, Hastings set up fliers, and then rode out to meet with the emigrant party trains of that year to promote his "Hastings Cutoff" at Fort Bridger. Some 40-75 wagons were assembled into the Harlan-Young group, led by Hastings himself to take the new trail. Part of Hasting's advice was disregarded, as the party followed the narrow Weber River and finally crossed the Jordan River after six days. After a rest, the Harlan-Young party climbed Hastings Pass and then drove two exhausting days through the unexpectedly wider Great Salt Lake Desert, which caused the abandonment of almost a third of their wagons and several oxen. Despite all of this and losing a member to tuberculosis, the Harlan-Young group finally managed to reach California. When confronted, "Of course (Hastings) could say nothing but that he was very sorry, and that he meant well"
The next party, 11 days behind, was that of Donner-Reed, led by patrician James Reed and the charitable George Donner. Led by Reed, who had been impressed by the pamphlets, the party broke off from the main emigrant Russell party and under Donner's leadership followed Hastings' Trail. Within days, they found the going was much more difficult than they had expected. They soon found Hastings himself, who elected to lead the Donner Party to an alternative route from the Weber River. Led by Reed, the group again listened to Hastings, though the man quickly disappeared again to rejoin the Harlan-Young Party. However no one realized that the new path wound straight through the Wasatch Mountains. The Donner Party soon found their route choked with bush and rocks. After weeks, the exhausted Donner Party emerged from the mountains, only to find the Great Salt Lake Desert. Another 6 terrible days working through the salt flats occurred before the Donner Party finally reached the original trail on September 26. The "Hastings Cutoff" had dragged out their trip for a month and they were now the last party of emigrants in 1846. That October, the party was stopped at Truckee Lake by early snows, missing ascending a summit by perhaps a day. In the end, some 39 of the 87 members of the Donner Party perished before rescue, the survivors reduced to cannibalism for survival.
Meanwhile Hastings had returned to California, working for the Mormons to establish a new colony. He chose this spot, which he named Montezuma. Hastings then built the small 27 feet by 27 feet, 22-inch thick wall adobe house seen in the distance. However he did not live there long. The Mormons ended their colony attempt in California in lieu of what would become Salt Lake City (ironically using the Hastings Cutoff to do so). Furthermore, outside of his control the Bear Flag Revolt broke out, and Hastings ended up joining the California Battalion. While he received death threats as his role in the Donner Party disaster became known, Hastings remained in the state, helping write the Constitution of the State of California.
In 1850 Lansford Hastings sold the Montezuma House to Lindsay Marshall and moved to Yuma, Arizona. During the American Civil War, he sided with the South, eventually meeting up with Jefferson Davis in 1864 to propose a preposterous plan to get California to secede and join the Confederacy. The plan was a non-starter and as the war ended a year later and the adventurer went to Brazil to join the Confederados, unrepentant Southerners who had fled the crumbling Confederacy. Up to his old tricks again, Hastings published the Emigrant's Guide to Brazil (1867) in the hopes of attracting settlers to his colony in Santarém. However he soon died, possibly of Yellow Fever in St, Thomas, Danish West Indies.
The Marshall family owned the Hastings Adobe and had a prosperous little farm until the early 1900s. In 1964 the property was purchased by PG&E for a planned nuclear plant that ultimately fell through. The Hastings Adobe/Montezuma House, the earliest building in Solano County and one of the last monuments to this colorful if unethical adventurer, now lies beyond a fence, slowly crumbling to the elements.
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A tiny half-ghost town, Collinsville was established in 1859 on the edge of Suisun Bay as Montezuma Township after L.P. Marshall's Montezuma House nearby. The small port/fishing village became a major ferry stop for hides and tallow to cross the Carquinez Strait to the cities further South. In 1867, the town was purchased by a S.C. Bradshaw, who renamed the town Newport and began selling some 29000 lots, many of which were (literally) underwater (at high tide). The scam failed and the sheriff seized the town and renamed it Collinsville. By the 1870s, Collinsville had a large salmon cannery and hotels and stores that serviced its workers. When the cannery closed, Collinsville was devastated and began declining, eventually falling to just 8 people and some 20 homes. While the population has climbed slightly since then, a fire in 2014 destroyed half of the remaining sleepy town.
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Located at the edge of San Francisco Bay in the Delta Region, Suisun Marsh is at 470 km^2 the largest brackish Marsh in the West Coast of the United States. It is the largest remnant of the once-great marshes of California, fed by the rivers of the area that fought the salinity of the tides, before hydraulic mining, diking and agriculture respectively smothered, channeled and dried most of those marshlands. Abandoned from development after the rising salinity levels destroyed the farms, Suisun Marsh became a favorite of local hunters, who found plentiful flocks of wildfowl seeking refuge in this last major marsh. Legislation in the 1930s preserved Suisun from development and kept the salinity level from rising further. Suisun Marsh now preserves 80% of the state's commercial salmon industry, protects the endangered Suisun thistle, and gives shelter to egrets, wrens, pelicans and pheasants among other wildfowl, as well as a population of river otters.
Suisun Marsh, Suisun City, California
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