A Brief History of Henry W. Coe State Park
The portion of the Diablo Range that now encompasses Henry W. Coe State Park was occupied at least 10,000 years ago by nomadic hunters whose primary food source was large game animals. About 2,000 years ago they were gradually replaced by hunter gatherers who had adopted acorns as their primary food source. This stable and reliable food allowed them to construct semi-permanent villages near the resources they needed for survival: water, food, and shelter.
Spain’s colonization of what is now California and the establishment of missions at San Juan, Santa Cruz, and San Jose, brought drastic changes to the native population. Viewed as a source of free labor, the Indians were coerced or enticed into the mission system, and the hills were most likely vacant of their native occupants by the first decade of the 1800s. When California became part of Mexico in 1821, the missions were secularized, and the Indians were turned out to fend for themselves. Having forgotten the skills they once used for survival, they were unable to return to their old lifestyle. Many of them found work as vaqueros or house help on the ranchos.
The hills, mostly vacant now, became the refuge of horse thieves, the most famous of whom, Joaquin Murietta, drove bands of stolen horses through the Diablo Range on his way to Mexico. Within the hills that encompass the park, he established campsites at Paradise Flat, Valle Atravesado, (the valley that encompasses Mississippi Lake), and Arroyo Hondo, (today’s Pacheco Camp).
A huge influx of population during the Gold Rush created a demand for food and clothing. Ranchers began raising sheep for their meat and wool for clothing and blankets. Sheep camps and the trails to them are clearly shown on the first detailed maps of today’s park, the 1881 Federal Survey maps. The largest of these was probably George McCracken’s sheep camp at what is now named the Miller Field. Though there is no proof, Mack’s Corral on the North Fork of Pacheco Creek may also have been part of McCracken’s enterprise.
When the Gold Rush was over, many of the newcomers stayed on in the new state of California. The land was rich, the climate benign. Since the Federal Survey of the hills was complete, some filed homestead claims, but subsistence farming is difficult on 160 acres. Many of those who filed homesteads in the present-day park knew that 160 acres was not enough land for a ranch. Family members, friends, even hired hands filed contiguous claims in a process called homestead consolidation. The Dowdys, the Willsons, the Mahoneys, and the Robisons all acquired large parcels of land in this way.
Henry Coe and his younger brother Charles grew up on their father’s ranch, the San Felipe Ranch, east of San Jose. They fell in love with the ranching lifestyle, and in 1892 they purchased 500 plus acres of a former homestead in the hills east of Morgan Hill. They called their ranch Pine Ridge, and it became summer range for their cattle. The cattle spent late spring through early fall at Pine Ridge and were driven back to the San Felipe Ranch in the winter.
Henry and Charles ended their partnership in 1907, but Henry continued to ranch, gradually purchasing more land, often from homesteaders who were leaving, adding it to Pine Ridge until the ranch grew to almost 13,000 acres.
Henry Coe passed away in 1943, and for a time, Pine Ridge Ranch passed out of the family. Then in 1949 Henry’s daughter, Sada, purchased it, intending to turn it into a modern cattle operation. The metal barn, corrals, squeeze chute, squeeze pen and loading chute were constructed in 1950. Then she changed her mind. She saw change coming to the Santa Clara Valley. For years the economy in the valley had been based on agriculture, but when World War II ended, farmers lost their largest consumer, the Federal Government. Row crops, especially strawberries, replaced prune trees. Tract homes replaced row crops. Property taxes rose at an alarming rate and farmers and ranchers would see no relief until the Williamson Act was passed in 1965.
In August 1953, Sada gave Pine Ridge to Santa Clara County Parks. Unfortunately, county parks were not equipped to manage a large wilderness park, and while it was known as the Henry W. Coe Memorial Park, the gates remained closed and locked. In 1958 Santa Clara County deeded the park to California State Parks.