In the livestock area of the Santa Cruz County Fair, there is a pen decorated with hot pink tulle and gold bows that is the staging area for four equally decorated female dairy cattle that belong to the Moules Sisters Dairy of Watsonville. Janell Moules, 17, received two prize ribbons, “Champion Female Dairy” and “Supreme Champion Dairy” for these animals in her last FFA appearance at the County Fair. Following in the footsteps of her older siblings, she showed her first livestock at the fair in 2007. Although she will no longer show her animals, she will continue to raise them on her family’s farm, as her ancestors had for several generations. The Moules Sisters Dairy is one contemporary example of the important contribution that women have made to the history of farming in Santa Cruz County. Furthermore, the female familial connection to dairying in our region reaches back to the mid-nineteenth century and three prominent landowners, known as the Castro Sisters.
María Candida Castro Bolcoff (1808-1860) and her siblings Maria Antonia Jacinta Castro (1815-1878) and María de los Angeles Castro Majors (1818-1903) were the daughters of Jose Joaquin Castro, a member of the 1775-6 Anza Expedition from Sinaloa, Mexico. After the Mexican government seized control of the California Missions from Spain, they subsequently divided each of the Mission’s properties into private land grants. In 1839, the three Castro sisters received the land grant, known as Rancho Refugio, which consisted of 12,147 acres of coastal pastures that extended from the western city limit of present-day Santa Cruz to Laguna Creek. The Castro sister’s property would later become Wilder Ranch, Coast Dairies State Park, and part of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.
In addition to owning some of the most valuable dairy real estate, the sisters also had a significant political presence in the county. In 1822, María Candida married José Antonio Bolcoff, who worked as an interpreter for the Mexican Governor Pablo Vicente de Solá. Years of successful service earned Bolcoff the land grant of Rancho San Agustin, which was bounded by the San Lorenzo River and Branciforte Creek, the southern section of Henry Cowell State Park, and encompassed all of present day Scotts Valley. His family had settled in Branciforte, and he later served as the mayor, and he received the position as the head administrator of Mission Santa Cruz. In 1839, Bolcoff sold Rancho San Agustin to Joseph Ladd Majors, a trapper from Tennessee who became a naturalized Mexican citizen and was baptized as Juan José Crisostomo Mayor. Majors would later serve as the first mayor of the City of Santa Cruz. The following year, Majors married María de los Angeles Castro, Bolfcoff’s sister-in-law. Jacinta Castro lived with the Bolcoff family, and later joined the convent in Monterey.
From the Castro Sisters to the Moules Sisters Dairy, women have contributed and will continue to contribute to the rich history of dairying in our county. In fact, I know that there are women who create fabulous, delicious ice creams in our local neighborhoods!