Plain, hard-working Yankee farmers with plain names – like Brown, Jones, Allen, and Bradley were the first Americans to settle within the boundaries of modern Lafayette. Leidesdorff sold the Acalanes Rancho along with 300 head of cattle to one of these pioneers, Elam Brown, in the fall of 1847.
Brown, a man of remarkable achievements, had headed a wagon train across the plains from St. Louis in the spring of 1846. A 49-year old widower with four children, he’d already tasted pioneer life as he moved from Massachusetts, later to Ohio, then into Missouri and Illinois in search of fertile farmland.
During the six month-long trek, the pioneers encountered hostile Indians, suffered rampant sickness, mourned the deaths of three of their party, and scaled the Sierra cliffs just two weeks before the Donner party tragedy began. Before acquiring the rancho, Brown had fought in the Mexican War, married Margaret Allen, a widowed member of the wagon train with 11 children, and spent the summer of 1847 whipsawing lumber in the San Antonio redwoods sector (Canyon) of the Moraga Rancho.
He moved his family into the Happy Valley area on February 7, 1848, to become the first citizen of the future Lafayette and the second American in what was to become Contra Costa County.
Brown’s first permanent home was a frame house, pre-cut from redwood timbers, which he erected two miles north of Lafayette. Later this piece of land was purchased by Thomas W. Bradley, who’d married the Widow Allen’s daughter Rebecca, in December, 1846.
Soon after occupying the ranch, Brown sold 372 acres to Nathaniel Jones for $100. A pioneer who’d married Elizabeth Allen, another of the Widow Allen’s daughters, Jones had also made the overland trip with the Brown party, fought in the Mexican War and worked in the San Antonio redwood forests.
The settlement was started. It was peaceful and pastoral. But because of its location, it was destined to become more than a cluster of isolated farms. It would grow into a country settlement … and years later, a suburban community.