Our Secret Sign: The Bernal Family’s Cattle Brand

No, this isn’t Prince’s latest unpronounceable name-glyph. Instead, according our fellow history geeks at The Bernal History Project, this symbol was the cattle brand used by the Bernal family to mark their livestock in the days when José Cornelio Bernal ruled the rancho that is now our neighborhood.

The meaning of the symbol is unknown, but that only adds to our aura of mystery. Two things need to happen right away: Someone needs to turn this into a t-shirt to be sold at Heartfelt, and a few intrepid souls need to get this tattooed onto their body parts. (Free beer for the first person to send me a photo of same.)

Update: Reader Marina Cazorla has a theory about the meaning of the brand:

I was intrigued by the mystery of the brand, which looked like VF. After doing a bit of poking around, I’m fairly sure that the “V” stood for Vernal, an early spelling of Bernal. (Juan Francisco “Vernal,” born 1737, was José Cornelio Bernal’s grandfather, and the first member of the family to settle in the area.)  And perhaps the F is for Francisco? Spanish/Mexican/Californio surnames usually have two names (one from the mother, one from the father) which would explain why the brand’s two letters possibly come from one person. Of course, it would be helpful to know what year (if any) that brand is associated with, that way we’d be slighter clearer on whether the brand was made during JFV’s lifetime.”

Updated Update: Reader someJuan comes through with an important confirmation. He writes:

Found it. The owner of the brand is listed as Francisco Bernal on the Bureau of Livestock Identification’s website. Look under the “First County Brands” link. However, it’s listed as belonging to the County of Santa Clara.

Ah yes. But it is most definitely listed:

11 thoughts on “Our Secret Sign: The Bernal Family’s Cattle Brand

  1. Uncanny. The second I laid eyes on it I thought “A tattoo. No, a tshirt in Heartfelt.”


    • A bunch of the Bernals had ranchos down in San Jose and Santa Clara. José Joaquín Bernal (a son of Juan Francisco Bernal the younger) retired down there in 1826 on Rancho Santa Teresa. “Our” Bernal, Jose Cornelio, got married to his wife Carmen in Santa Clara.

      All these Bernals are getting ridiculously confusing (especially since they reeeally liked naming themselves after their ancestors) — I’m working on a family tree / timeline so I can more easily write articles about them while consuming beer and burritos.

  2. This just made me realize that there’s a very famous Bernal who stars in certain amazing Spanish-language films and used to date some actress… who was in a movie… about a swan, or something? (teehee) Hmm… wonder if there’s a connection…

  3. You are correct that Bernal was also noted as Vernal in the early written bautismo records. I’ve seen it with both, V & B. However, I have only seen the Vernal listing once; rest being as Bernal. The same is true for Valenzuela; have also seen it as Balensuela. V’s, B’s were often interchanged so I’m not sure which came first. It’s the same for any S and Z surname as well. And just as often others such as Cuevas were written as Cuebas. Even Christoval was also found as Christobal. It either depended on the Padre getting it right, maybe just spelling it phonetically. Just as the number veinte is found also as beinte.

    Just today, I saw a Fran.co Bernal listed as a padrino … have to locate it again. It was during the early 1730’s so it wasn’t the FB born in 1737, likely the one before.

    I’m a descendant of the early Californianos as well, but namely Osuna, Alvarado, Arballo de Gutierrez de Lopez (the widow of the JB de Anza exp 1775-1776) branches … nonetheless, they all married into the other EC families. I believe many of those in California were; if they look back several generations to see the writing left behind.

    Lisa M. Cross

    • Forgot to state that the records I’m researching and happened to spot the FB in the 1730’s are of Culiacan, Sinaloa, MX. Those records actually begin in the year of 1690.


  4. I am tenth generation descendant of juan francisco bernal and I grew up on bernal heights as did many of my family over the past generations. My family was amongst the first eleven spanish/mexican families in california. We are also descendant of jose joaquin moraga the first commander of the presidio whom build the first structure which was the commanders headquarters in the presidio. this building is being restored at this time. other california family names are alvarado, soto, sanchez, lugo and more
    I am happy and proud to see so much interest in my familys history. Bien venidos a mi querida san francisco.

    • Selena, I am also a descendent of Juan Francisco Bernal. My grandfather is Jose Cornelio Bernal who died in 1925. HIs father was Jose DeJesus Bernal. I have more information that I can share if you are interested. I am certainly interested in what happened to the many cousins, aunts, and uncles in my family tree. A bunch of them wound up in the Livermore area as well as San Jose.

      My name is Albert Bernal. E-mail is grampagasman@att.net

  5. I think it is fantastic the Bernal Heights neighborhood celebrates its history. Your website and community spirit is wonderful. I wanted to bring light (and research) to the cattle brand issue in this post. Bernal Heights was not occupied by a Francisco Bernal, so the cattle brand featured in this post is not associated with Bernal Heights. Bernal Hill / Bernal Heights was named for rancho owner Jose Cornelio Cipriano Bernal, or possibly (when developed into housing) a tribute to the Bernal family who were among the first Spanish residents of San Francisco. Juan Francisco Bernal (c1763-1803) arrived to establish the Presidio in 1777 and stayed in that area of Yerba Buena/San Francisco. His son Jose Cornelio Cipriano Bernal (1796-1850) owned the property of Bernal Heights when he received the Mexican land grant of Rancho Rincon de las Salinas y Potrero Viejo in 1839. Jose Cornelio Cipriano Bernal did not have a son named Francisco. After Jose Cornelio Cipriano Bernal passed away, the rancho did not remain long in the Bernal family. The “Francisco Bernal” that had the 1852 registered cattle brand (seen above) lived in Santa Clara County. It was one of three possible Francisco Bernals: (1) Francisco de Gracia Bernal (1827-1878), a ranchero on Rancho Santa Teresa (Santa Clara County) in 1852, and son of Bruno Bernal; (2) Jose Francisco Bernal (1833-1860), a ranchero in Santa Clara County in 1852 who went by “Francisco,” son of Juan Pablo Bernal, and a first cousin of Francisco de Gracia Bernal; or (3) Francisco Maria Bernal (1824-1882), a farm laborer in “San Jose township” in 1870, and son of Joseph Dionisio Bernal. It is most likely (1) or (2) because they were known to own many head of cattle. Thanks.

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