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Landmarks, Santa Clara County, Parks, Video

Bernal Ranch: Unlikely cowboy recalls his youth

The final years of a historic Mexican land grant

History immortalized at Santa Teresa County Park

World War II turned Patrick Joice into an unlikely cowboy, forcing him to grow up on what is now preserved as historic Bernal-Gulnac-Joice Ranch at Santa Teresa County Park in south San Jose.

Patrick was just a 4-year-old sprout in December 1941, when waves of Japanese warplanes devastated the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Within weeks, after spotting Japanese subs off Santa Cruz, Uncle Sam told his parents they urgently needed their home at South 12th and East William streets in San Jose to house military personnel. The Bay Area would be the gateway to the Pacific theater.

The Joices didn’t put up a fuss. Off they went to live on granny’s green acres.

Goodbye, city life!

“If you were renting a house, you were gone,” Joice said in a recent interview. “That’s why we moved to the ranch.”

By that time, Rancho Santa Teresa was well over 110 years old and had already played a big role in the development of what is now south San Jose.

Primitive quarters

When the young Joice family arrived, there was no room in the main house, which stands to this day.

“There was a bunkhouse with no bathrooms and no (private) bedrooms,” Joice said. For the time being, Patrick, mother Alora Basom and father James Carlos Joice, a car salesman, bunked with the ranch hands until James could make improvements.

And so began the ranch life of Patrick Joice.

Today, what’s left of the ranch Joice grew up on is a part of popular 1,600 acre Santa Teresa County Park, restored to resemble what it looked like in the early 20th century.

De Anza expedition

What makes the Bernal-Gulnac-Joice Ranch historic and Joice’s life on it worth recounting?

Well, the ranch played a key role in the development of south San Jose for more than 150 years until it finally succumbed to encroaching development in 1980.

Joice’s great-great grandfather, Jose Joaquin Bernal, a soldier in the second expedition of Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza (1776), founded Rancho Santa Teresa in 1824.

In 1834, near the end of Bernal’s life, the Mexican governor of Alta California rewarded Bernal with a roughly 10,000-acre (15.6 square mile) land grant, greatly expanding the old Californio’s holdings. The U.S. recognized the grant after the Spanish-American war.

Over the following decades, Bernal’s descendants contributed to the development of the area south of the growing town of by raising cattle and fruit. In 1956, IBM located its West Coast headquarters nearby and supercharged the need for housing in the area, especially after Big Blue invented the disk drive in 1962. The family gradually sold off parts of the ranch to make way for the workers.

Today, a vast suburb surrounds what’s left of the once-sprawling rancho.

Joice is the last Bernal descendant to run the ranch. The last remnant of the land left the family’s hands in 1980 amid heavy development pressure. The County acquired it in 1986, and eventually preserved it as Bernal-Gulnac-Joice Ranch, a cultural asset that’s part of popular Santa Teresa County Park.

A Stetson and a smile

Newsbeat meets the old-timer at his grandmother’s restored ranch house. Joice wears a cream-colored Stetson cowboy hat, a flannel shirt, jeans and work boots. His grin’s as warm as a pot-bellied stove at 4 a.m.

The parlor looks much as it did in the early 20th century. There’s the wood stove, a settee, and a high-backed wooden bench where people sat to remove their dirty boots.

Caught up in a reverie, Joice regales his guests with recollections of his life on this historic ranch, where he was put to work at the age of 8.

He can no more manage to keep his hands still as he talks than a mare can stop swishing her tail at flies.

A diverse group of more than 60 people showed up at Santa Teresa County for an interpretive program about the Lunar New Year.

 

Event attendees gather outside a barn on the Bernal Ranch. Patrick Joice remembers struggling to close the enormous doors when he was little whenever the wind rose.

He remembers how, as a little feller, he struggled mightily to shut the enormous, heavy doors to the cattle barn when the wind got to blowing. With weathered hands, he points to where the milk house was and to the upland acreage the family rented to a cattleman.

Then there was the time the michievous litle brother Michael jumped out from behind the corner of a barn, waving a white sheet and spooking his horse. Patrick nearly fell off, and Michael disappeared into the house and hid there for the rest of the day.

A few years later, the two of them were branding cattle. A neighbor from the encroaching neighborhood, perched on a split-rail fence, objected to the animals’ bawling. That was too much for Michael, so he walked over and punched the guy.

“He had a short fuse,” Patrick said. Soon, however, the man and his brother were fast friends.

Hard knocks

Another horse-related incident had much more serious consequences.

The boys were tending cattle up on a ridge with father James one day in 1957. Patrick was home after one semester at the University of California at Davis. James spurred his horse to drive the cow back to safety. They watched as James, 51, pitched forward and fell hard off his horse. He had suffered a massive heart attack that might have killed him if the broken neck did not.

Patrick was 19, his brother four years younger. That was the day Patrick, a Bellarmine High School grad, also saw his dream of veterinary school die. The young men had a ranch to run.

The brothers did fine, under the circumstances. But one day in 1979, Michael dropped dead in his mid-30s, felled by a massive heart attack in the old ranch house where so many other relatives had also passed away. Patrick soon realized running the ranch, by then nearly 150 years old, was too much. He had to move on.

All of these tales Joice tells with a dry eye. But he grows misty at one point as he talks about his grandmother. The specific memory he chooses to keep to himself.

And so he sold the remnants of the ranch to IBM. Accepting “an offer we couldn’t refuse,” he made way for the Almaden research lab the tech pioneer would build over the ridge. Within a few years, it was no longer a working ranch. The County acquired land in 1986 and eventually decided to preserve the last 20 acres of the ranch.

Old cowboys never die …

Today, 81-year-old Joice is retired and no longer works as a cowboy and rancher. But he did ride off into the sunset with his second wife. With the proceeds of the land sales he made over the years, he bought 40 acres north of Henry W. Coe State Park outside of Morgan Hill. He still relishes the rural life he unexpectedly inherited as a nation went to war.

Joice occasionally visits his old Bernal Ranch stomping grounds, and on this day, he expresses satisfaction with how it all turned out with the County preserving the place. It’s “great,” he says, “because now I can come out here and say, ‘Yay! It looks just like when I left it.’ In fact, it’s even better because they’ve got the money to keep it up.”

June 10, 2019

4 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Bernal Ranch: Unlikely cowboy recalls his youth”

  1. Ed Martini says:

    “1.6 square miles” should be 15.6 square miles.

  2. Barry L Newman says:

    Great story about the Valley I grew up in and Love, I am going to miss this place when I leave in a few years, its too expensive and way too Crowded. I miss the Orchards and Ranches that dotted the “Valley of Hearts Delight” as I grew up, I miss the Old San Jose,progress I guess.

    • santaclaracountynewsbeat_5mb6qf says:

      Thanks, Barry. Nothing lasts forever. right? Let’s save what remains of the good stuff while we still can?

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