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Jelmini - Gnecco Ranch in Jesus Maria

The ranch at the north end of Jesus Maria was owned over time by the Hughes, Beffa, Dotta, Jelmini, and then Gnecco families.

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The Jelmini house burned in 1935, barn is to the right (Courtesy Mokelumne Hill History Society,Judge Smith Collection). 

Hughes.  Known as the “Milk Ranch” for many years, this was the home and farm of four families and individuals who operated a dairy on the property.  The first to be noticed were Christopher Columbus Hughes and Juliana Calkins Hughes, natives of Illinois.  In 1850 they were residing in White County, Illinois, but by September 1858 had settled in Jesus Maria where they were operating a livery and a dairy.  That year Phillips & Hughes Livery Stable was noted in a deed from C.C. and Juliana to Alexander Beffa.  The deed noted that it included land in western Jesus Maria, bounded south by Main Street, east by an alley between the lot conveyed and Phillips & Hughes Livery Stable, 400 feet on the street, about 10 acres.  Included with the property were “7 head of milch (milk) cows, 2 calves, 3 yearlings, 1 ton of bran, a cooking stove and fixtures, pails and dishes belonging to said dairy, as well as the good will in and to the milch business in Jesus Maria and vicinity” (Deed Book C:124).  The Hughes family then settled on a ranch near Whiskey Slide and the seventh generation still resides there, as do some in Jesus Maria. 

Beffa and Dotta.  Alexanader Beffa, born in Switzerland in 1831, listed his occupation as “dairyman” in 1860, noting real estate worth $250 and improvements at $2500, a substantial sum, and was residing with Guiseppe Dotta (U.S. Federal Census 1860).  On January 18, 1865, Beffa deeded the now 20-acre ranch to Guiseppe (Joseph Dotta), a Swiss born in 1827.  Noted were the former Phillips & Hughes Livery, “now occupied by an Italian,” and 12 milch cows, 13 head of cattle 2 horses, harness, and wagons (Deed Book M;160).  The 1865 assessment stated that it was bounded east by Frank Nache’s land, with improvements valued at $200; by 1869 improvements were valued only at $150, but still noted as the “Milk Ranch.”  By 1870 Dotta was listed as a “stock dealer, with real estate at $300 and improvements at $2000 (U.S. Federal Census, 1870).  The discrepancy in the valuations between the county assessments and the federal census records is unknown.

On April 10, 1875, Francisco Gnecco patented what then included the entire townsite of Jesus Maria (E2 of Section 16, and NW4 of SW4 and SW4 of NW4 of Section 15, T5N.R12E) (Calaveras County Land Patent Maps).  He then began deeding back the individual properties in the community to those who had been living on the land (Calaveras County Deed Books, various; Hughes 2015).  On December 4, 1876, he deeded Dotta’s property back to him, noted as the “enclosed lot or field on the north side of Main Street now occupied by Dotta, bounded by his fence and enclosure, about 15 acres” (Deed Book Z:399).  (See Gnecco chapter for more information on the family and Jesus Maria land ownership).

Jelmini.  On March 28, 1877, Gnecco deeded the Milk Ranch to Gaetano Jelmini (pronounced Yelmini), another Swiss-Italian, for $1500.  Included in the deed was additional property in Alpine County, located in Bear Trap Valley near Big Meadows, “occupied for pasture and grazing purposes” (Deed Book Z:451).  The Alpine County property has been known as Jelmini Basin for many years (USGS 1974); in 1879 it was known as “Dona’s” (sic Dotta’s) (GLO 1879), and in 1891 as “Gitana Cabin,” undoubtedly for Gaetano (USGS 1891). 

Born in 1852, Jelmini was naturalized in Amador County in 1869, where he was residing with a brother, Basilio.  He married Giovanna (Johanna) Cavanna a native of Jesus Maria, in June 1878, when she was only a teenager.  Their first child, Maria, was born in April 1879, and two sons, James, born in 1880, and Louis in 1886, were also born to the couple.  In 1876-7, Gaetano’s assessment listed a house, barn and fence valued at $190, as well as an adjoining 40 acres.  Also noted were 15 cows, 35 calves, and 10 stock cattle, valued at $696, to be taken to Alpine County. 

Gaetano was listed in the Great Register in 1877 as a farmer, and in 1880 as a dairyman.  His assessment in 1882 noted 60 acres of land, with a house, barn and fence valued at $150 and land at $120; an additional 40 acres, and land at the forks of Jesus Maria and Esperanza Creek (Calaveras River), with a cabin.  Personal property consisted of furniture, firearms, wagon, harness, 2 horses, 20 cows, 30 calves, 11 stock cattle, poultry, and a dog.  In 1884 he patented the 80 acres at the junction of Jesus Maria Creek and the Calaveras River (Calaveras County Land Patent Maps). 

He homesteaded the property in 1889, and in November 1892, John and Louisa Gnecco deeded him the land lying west of Gnecco’s enclosure and north of Jesus Maria Road in the NE4 of SE4 of Section 16, T5N.R12E: and all land north of Jesus Maria Creek in the NE4 of SW4 of Section 16,T5N.R12E (Deed Book 22:185). 

On April 20, 1896, Gaetano was received into San Quentin Prison, convicted of manslaughter in Calaveras County, for beating and kicking his daughter Maria to death.  He served six months, and in June 1897, deeded his property to Johanna Jelmini (Deed Book 29:60).  An informant recalled that Jelmini was a good man, but mean when drunk (Tiscornia n.d.). 

In 1900 the Jelmini sons were residing on the ranch with James working as a farm laborer and Louis at school.  On March 17, 1901, Johanna married Cyprien Mailles, born in California in 1864 of French parentage.  Mailles had lived and worked around Mokelumne Hill since at least 1886 when he registered to vote as a farmer; he then worked as a clerk in Charles Jacob’s store in town, and as a ditch tender in Happy Valley by 1900 (   

In 1902 Johanna Mailles patented the NE4 and the NW4 of NE 4 of Section 16, T5N.R16E (Calaveras County Land Patent Maps).  In 1907 she and Cyprien were assessed for 30 acres of land in Negro Gulch, bounded north and east by Gnecco, south by the road, with a house, barn, shed, and fence valued at $500, as well as the remainder of their lands in Section 16, and 40 acres in Section 9.  In 1910 Johanna Jelmini Mailles and Cyprien Mailles deeded all of their lands in Jesus Maria and Alpine County to John Gnecco , noting that it included the 15-acre parcel of land deeded to Jelmini by Dotta in 1877.  At that time Johanna and Cyprien were residing in a rented house in Happy Valley where he was working as a ditch tender for the Mokelumne Hill Canal and Mining Company ( 

Johanna’s son Louis died in 1907, and her husband Cyprien in 1914.  Johanna was married to Vincenzo Maredda, a native of Sardinia, Italy, in June 1916.  Vincenzo operated the Maredda Gardens, also known as Italian Gardens (now Maredda Park) in Mokelumne Hill.  Johanna died in 1932 and Vincenzo in 1948.  Son Louis never married and died in San Andreas in 1955 (  The Jelmini House and barn burned in 1935, having been used by the Gnecco family as a storehouse for many years (Calaveras Prospect, January 18, 1936), and were no longer extant when the Butte Fire raged through Jesus Maria in 2015.  The stone foundations of the two-story house and barn, fences, and an unusual underground milk storage room in the gulch behind the residence were identified and recorded during the Butte Fire survey. 


By Judith Marvin

Article Source:  Rabellino, Kyle, Julia Costello, and Judith Marvin, 2016.  Recordation of Historic Properties Destroyed in the 2015 Butte Fire, Calaveras County, California.  Prepared for CALFIRE by Anthropological Study Center, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, CA.