Hunger Valley, California

By Charles M. Skinner in 1896

San Pablo Bay, California courtesy Wikimedia Commons

San Pablo Bay, California, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

East of San Francisco, California, is a narrow valley opening to the bay of San Pablo. Despite its pleasant situation and fruitful possibilities, it had no inhabitants until 1820, when Miguel Zamacona and his wife Emilia strayed into it while on a journey and, delighted with its scenery, determined to make it their home. In playful mockery of its abundance, they named it El Hambre [Hunger] Valley.

After some weeks of such hardship, as comes to a Mexican from work, Miguel had built an adobe cabin and got a garden started while he caught a fish or shot a deer now and then, and they got on pretty well. At last, it became necessary that he should go to Yerba Buena, as San Francisco was then called, for goods.

His burros were fat and strong, and there should be no danger. Emilia cried at being left behind, but the garden had to be tended, and he was to be back in precisely three weeks.

She waited for 22 days; then, her anxiety becoming unendurable, she packed an outfit on a burro and started on the trail. From time to time, she called his name, and “Miguel!” echoed sweetly from hills and groves, but there was no other answer save when an owl would hoot. Rolled in a blanket, she slept on lupin boughs but was off at peep of day again, calling — high and clear among the solitudes.



During the second day, her burro gave a rasping bray, and a hee-haw answered from the bush. It was Miguel’s burro. He had come at last! Leaping to her feet, impatiently, she ran to meet him and found him lying on the earth, staring silently at the sky. All that day, she sat beside him, caressing his hand, talking, crying, bathing his face with water from the marsh — the poison marsh — and it was not until sunset that she could bring herself to admit that he was dead–had been dead for at least two days.

She put the blanket over him, weighted it with stones, and heaped reeds upon it; then she started for home. A wandering trader heard her story, but years elapsed before any other settler entered Hunger Valley. They found her skeleton then in the weedy garden. The adobe stands tenantless in the new village of Martinez, and the people have so often heard that the ghosts of the Zamaconas haunt the place that they have begun to disbelieve it.


Compiled and edited by Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated January 2024.

About the Author: Charles M. Skinner (1852-1907) authored the complete nine-volume set of Myths and Legends of Our Own Land in 1896. This tale is excerpted from these excellent works and is now in the public domain.

Also See:

California – The Golden State

Folklore & Superstition

Legends, Ghosts, Myths & Mysteries

San Francisco, California