In just its second year, the Fiesta en el Molino Bale feels like a Napa tradition that already has deep roots in the community, and indeed it does.
The event commemorates Latinx (a gender-neutral term for Latin American) Heritage and Mexican Independence Day, and the spirit it evokes is a rich and varied history in the Napa Valley. According to Napa Open Space District, the organizers of the event, it is meant to educate and honor those who came before and to realize where we are today, and especially the contributions of the Latino community to the Napa Valley.
This year’s event was held on Sept. 14, a hot Saturday afternoon at Bale Grist Mill, with the large, old, watermill gently turning in the background as bilingual speakers interpreted the story of the mill. Girl Scouts also provided artistic instruction on making paper flowers and traditional corn husk dolls, and Pomo tribe leaders gave blessings, sang songs and told stories. Mariachi provided music and dance performances, Mexican food was provided by local vendors, and community organizations participate by setting up engaging booths with information including local emergency services, health awareness, recycling programs, and family assistance.
The mill was built by Edward Bale in 1846. Along with honoring local Rancho History, the memory of Maria Sobrantes Bale, Edward’s wife, was alive and well at the event. More than a few have asserted that the mill should be named after her.
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Sobrantes Bale is revered as a smart business woman of the time, the mid 1800s. She was also the niece of Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, regarded by many to be the most powerful man in California in the era when it was a region owned by Mexico.
Her daughter, Caroline, married Charles Krug, and Sobrantes Bale crafted what would today be called a prenuptial agreement, to protect her daughter’s birthright. This, in an era when custom required that when a woman married she turned over her dowry, essentially all she owned, to her husband.
Edward Bale was rather a scoundrel, according to historical accounts. He died in 1849, and Sobrantes Bale was faced with running the ranch alone. With diligence she succeeded, and paid off the mill’s mortgage that her husband had borrowed.
Sobrantes Bale significantly expanded and automated the mill’s operation, which is really what turned it into a money-making enterprise and secured Maria’s fortune, according to local historians.