Rancho San Pedro

 Life on a Rancho
Mexican Period 3, Rancho Life

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Photo credit: Dominguez Adobe
The adobe of Rancho San Pedro as can be seen today.
How did the Rancho make a profit? 

Cattle were slaughtered for hide, tallow, and dried beef. Each full-grown steer yielded about 200 pounds of tallow, and about 50 pounds of carne seca. According to the Los Angeles Star, a steer yielded a gross return of $12.00 to $13.00. Phineas Banning estimated that the cost of slaughtering, skinning a steer, and trying out the tallow came to $4.50; which left a net profit of $7.00 or $8.00 to the ranchero. The cattle that were raised were long-horned, slim-bodied, and half-wild Mexican breed.


Photo credit: Avila Adobe, Olvera Street
Saddle, hides and branding irons typical of those used during rancho times.

Hides or rawhide was used for everything, from latches to hinges, shoelaces to chairs (woven rawhide), it was used universally as a fix-all.

Contracts and promissory notes were usually made payable in cattle, hides, or tallow. Even judges levied fines and judgments in these terms. Merchandise such as yardage of cloth, sugar, even cigars were purchased with the standard currency, the cattle hide, known everywhere as the “California Bank Note”.


Photo credit: Webmaster's sketch
Hides were stretch similiar to the sketch above.

Tallow was processed near the casa in large kettles over hot fires. The fat was melted into tallow. Tallow was sold in large vats or blocks and exported. Some tallow was retained by the rancho to use to make soap and candles. After the tallow was boiled, then wicks were dipped in the fat. This process was repeated until the wick was covered with a thick layer of fat. These candles were used for light at night.


Photo credit: Webmaster's sketch
A drawing of a crude scale used to weigh blocks of tallow.

Carne seca or “jerky” was made quite simply. The steer hide was spread out, hair side down, and used to hold the meat. The meat was cut from the carcass in one-inch thick strips, five to six wide, and from one to three feet long. The strips were dipped in brine and hung on a rope or reata, in the hot sun, and turned every twenty-four hours. In four to five days the meat was hard, black, and dry. Then it was bound into fifty- or sixty-pound bales. Carne seca was not great looking, it was well-flavored and nourishing. Uncooked or prepared, it was a main stay for most Californios.

Where were the cattle slaughtered?

Every rancho had its calavaras, its slaughter-corral, where cattle and sheep were killed by the Indian butchers. Every Saturday morning the largest animals were chosen and driven there, and by that evening the hides were stretched on the hillsides to dry.

 The rodeos were when cattle were driven in from surrounding pastures, and the herds of different ranchos were separated. The rancheros elected three to five, juezes del campo, judges, to govern the proceedings and decide disputes. After the rodeo there was a feast or fiesta. Other days of fiesta were December 12 (the day of our Lady Guadalupe), Christmas, Easter, and St. Joseph’s Day, or the day of the patron saint of the mission.


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