Highlights of Orange County
The first people to live in Orange County came here thousands of years ago. They lived by hunting and fishing, and gathering plants and seeds. Later, Shoshonean-speaking people arrived, the ancestors of the tribes we know today as the Juaneño and the Gabrielino.
Though Spain had claimed California for more than 200 years, it was not until 1769 that the first efforts were made to colonize the area. Catholic missionaries and Spanish soldiers were sent north to establish a chain of missions and forts. Don Gaspar de Portolá led the first overland expedition through Orange County in 1769, and two years later Father Junípero Serra founded Mission San Gabriel in what is now Los Angeles County. Mission San Juan Capistrano was founded on November 1, 1776. These two missions laid claim to much of what is now Orange County, grazing cattle, horses, and sheep here until the 1830s.
Under Spanish rule, all lands were considered property of the King. But a few retired soldiers were granted grazing permits. One of the first was Manuel Nieto, who in 1784 was allowed to occupy all the land between the Santa Ana and San Gabriel Rivers. Part of his lands would later be granted to his heirs as five separate ranchos.
Around 1800, Juan Pablo Grijalva began running cattle south and east of the Santa Ana River. In 1810 his son-in-law, José Antonio Yorba, and his grandson, Juan Pablo Peralta, received a formal concession to the land that became known as the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana.
Mexico broke away from Spain in 1821, taking California with them. In 1834, the Mexican government began the secularization of the California missions, restricting the padres to their religious duties, and placing civil administrators in charge of the operation of the missions.
The Mexican government also authorized land grants of up to 44,000 acres to Mexican citizens who would occupy and improve the land. By 1846, almost all of Orange County was part of one rancho or another.