Photo Courtesy Carmel Valley Historical Society
According to census data in 1850, the agricultural population of Monterey County consisted of 780 persons spread out over 65 land grants which covered practically all of the valley area. At this point land had little value, and ranching, which required a lot of it, was a chief enterprise.
As mentioned, the hide and tallow trade was the primary economic activity of the rancho lands during the early American period. Cattle thrived with little or no attention along the unfenced valley.
Cultivation of the soil during this period was very limited, in part, because cultivated land had to be fenced (at the farmer’s expense, not the cattlemen’s) in order to keep the cattle out, and, in part, because the technology for farming had not yet developed beyond wooden plows and hand sickles. In addition, efficient lines of transportation had not yet been established. It was not until this technology was introduced to the valley that agriculture became as profitable as cattle-ranching.
With the coming of the Gold Rush in 1848, things began to change. The large increase of nonproductive persons (e.g., miners) migrating to California caused the price of necessary items to rise dramatically in the short period of time causing the cattle industry to prosper. Before, cattle was raised primarily for hide and tallow to be sold at $2-3 per head, but with the demand for fresh beef high, the ranchers could now obtain prices of up to $35 per head. This prosperity, however, was to be short-lived.