Turning Stones - George McKale


Back in the dirt

In July of 2010, to commemorate the 175th anniversary of the founding of our pueblo, I conducted an archaeological excavation at the Casteñada adobe, inviting the public to come out and dig, screen and catalog artifacts.  The owners at the time, Robert and Leslie Demler, were generous enough to allow members of the community to get down and dirty in an empty lot behind their home. It was important to the Demler’s to share the history of one of the most significant buildings in Sonoma.

Since that time, ownership of the Casteñada adobe has changed hands. Now, Three Sticks Wines is renovating the adobe and have adopted a similar philosophy, eager to gain a better understanding of early Sonoma as seen through the bits and pieces of broken glass and ceramics, nails and amorphous ferrous materials, via knick knacks, whatcha-macallits and thingy-ma-bobs found in their back yard. Three Stick Wines is excited to share Sonoma’s unique history with our community.

Recently, during construction excavation in the rear of the building, a small deposit was identified.  I received a call from Prema Behan, COO of Three Sticks Wines, and within a day or two we were digging and screening soil in hopes of uncovering more about the previous inhabitants of the Adobe. Let’s review.

In 1835 Mariano Vallejo was appointed Comandante of the Fourth Military District and Director of Colonization of the northern frontier. It was the highest military command in northern California. One of his responsibilities was to lay out the foundation for the new pueblo of Sonoma.

The adobe was constructed by Salvador Vallejo, Mariano’s brother, between 1842 and 1846, making it one of the few remaining Mexican era residences still standing in Sonoma. Captain don Juan Casteñada arrived in California from Texas when he became a Commandante to Baja California. In 1838 he was involved in the military support of Carlos Carrillo, and a year later became secretary to Mariano Vallejo. In 1839, Vallejo sent Casteñada to Mexico to solicit funds to support the Sonoma Garrison. Casteñada was not successful in bringing badly needed monies to the failing garrison. Vallejo later described Casteñada as “friendly” but not too forceful. Casteñada was one of the initial owners of the adobe.

Over the years, numerous artifacts have been recovered at the Casteñada adobe. During a 1940’s renovation and while gardening in the backyard, a small collection of artifacts were collected. Many of these date to the 1850’s. The diverse collection includes items manufactured in Mexico, U.S., Europe, China, and Japan.

The Three Sticks Wines archaeological crew consisted of Prema and Kevin Behan, Hayden Schmidter, Bill Sikorski and myself. We took to the dirt early Tuesday morning and the sun was gloriously shining down upon us.  Some of the more intriguing finds included a small caliber musket ball, an interestingly designed safety pin, a possible cabinet hinge, glass medicinal and wine bottles (is that an oxymoron?) and a variety of ceramics.

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