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Manteca: One heavy name
Its a one-of-a-kind name for a city
Joshua Cowell and his wife Vienetta are shown ready to go for a ride outside of their ranch home that was located on the present day southeast corner of Yosemite Avenue and Main Street in downtown Manteca. - photo by Photo courtesy Manteca Historical Society

Ok, Ok. So Manteca means lard in Spanish.

Go ahead make fun of it. But you’ve got to admit there’s no other city in the United States named Manteca, or elsewhere for that matter.

Oakdales and Oaklands are a dime a dozen. There’s multiple San Franciscos and San Joses. You’ll find more than one Sacramento. There’s even at least two other Ripons in the world.

But a second Manteca?

Who in their right mind would name a place Manteca?

Actually, that’s not what the folks who had settled on the sandy plains wanted to call the place when the Central Pacific Railroad tracks were laid through what would eventually become Manteca.

They preferred Cowell Station.

 It was in honor of Joshua Cowell who walked over the Sierra from Nevada’s Carson Valley to San Joaquin County, arriving here in January of 1863. He immediately purchased a ranch where he continued to live on until his death, which included most of the present City of Manteca.

There’s was one little problem with the name. There was already a railroad stop elsewhere on the line that was named Cowell Station.

That’s where things start to get murky.

Some contend it was supposed to have been named Monteca for sweet butter in Portuguese but when the tickets were printed by the railroad it was misspelled as Manteca. However the Portuguese word for sweet butter is mantegia doce. Straight butter is mantegia.

Others contend Monteca was the Spanish word for butter. Close, but no cigar. Mantequilla is butter in Spanish.

Monteca - as well as Manteca - has been used by some as a surname. There is a hotel in Barcelona, Spain that supposedly goes by Monteca.

Perhaps someone shortened Mantequilla.

At any rate, Manteca is named Manteca.

The name can be interesting at times such as appealing to Hispanic clientele at the Manteca Diet Center that would translate as Lard Diet Center.

Mantequilla Water Slides would not have rolled off the tongue. The late Bobby Davis of Manteca RV fame could have done a pretty good “Monnn-teka!” as he tipped his cigar.

But never Monteca or Mantequilla would have the “buzz” value of Manteca.

If you doubt that, ask former Manteca Visitors Bureau executive director Linda Abeldt when she was at a tourism conference in Guadalajara years ago that was aimed at the growing market of bus tourists from Mexico.

The Manteca booth had the biggest crowds. Why? Because people kept coming up to her all the time and asking her if she knew what “Manteca” meant as they couldn’t believe there was a California city by that name.

Stories - whether myth or reality - have survived through the years. One involved a liquor store robbery in San Diego. Police in that city were told repeatedly by a witness that the fat police had driven by but never stopped. Supposedly a detective - who recalled there was some type of law enforcement gathering in San Diego that day - put two and two together remembering Manteca was there. As the story goes, two off duty Manteca Police officers had taken a marked squad car to San Diego for the gathering and had passed through the neighborhood in question.

Whether that is a true or just a yarn, let’s see you try to come up with a story like that when your city is named Mantequilla or Tracy.


209 staff reporter