Marsh, from Santa Ana, An Illustrated History, ©1994 Heritage
Publishing. Excerpt used with permission. (Updated 9/21/08)
RANCHO SANTIAGO DE SANTA ANA
A Spanish land grant that lay entirely in what is now Orange County,
the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana, became the location of the city of Santa
Ana. The rancho was the home of two of the oldest families in California,
the Yorbas and the Peraltas. Consisting of 62,516 acres, the rancho extended
along the east bank of the Santa Ana River from the mountains to the sea. Settled early enough to
provide homes for the third and fourth generations of the Yorbas and the
Peraltas, it was eventually the location of at least 33 historic adobes. C.
E. Roberts (W.P.A. Adobe project, 1936) considered it to be one of the very
best examples of the California rancho.
The name is derived from two camp sites of the famed Portola expedition
which passed through Orange County in July of 1769 on its way toward
Monterey. Santiago stands for Saint James the Greater who was an apostle and
the brother of St. John. July 29th is Saint James' Day. Santa Ana was named
for Saint Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary. Saint Anne's Day is on July
26. The rancho was known by various names before the American Commission
decided on its official name in 1868. The petition of Yorba was for the "Paraje
de Santiago", which meant Santiago Place. Sometimes the rancho was called
just "Santiago" or Santa Ana de Santiago.
The Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana stretched northerly for 25 miles, from the
ocean to the mountains. Its western boundary followed the southeast bank of
the Santa Ana River. The property was bow-shaped, being two and a half miles
wide at the ocean end and six and a half miles wide in the middle. The land
comes to a rounded point on the north end. Located midway along the southern
border of the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana, Red Hill is the point where
three famous ranchos come together. From the top of Red Hill you can see
lands that once belonged to the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana, the Rancho San
Joaquin, and the Rancho Lomas De Santiago.
JUAN PABLO GRIJALVA
An adventuresome soldier from Sonora, Nueva Espania ("New Spain"), Juan
Pablo Grijalva, and his son-in-law, Jose Antonio Yorba, are thought to have
grazed cattle in the Santiago Creek area in the 1790s. (Before Mexico was
established in 1820-21, Sonora was part of the Spanish territory called
Nueva Espania. The Sonora area is now part of Mexico.) Grijalva is
considered to have been in this area as early as 1784. He lived with his
family in San Diego, but he is known to have built a house on the banks of
the creek in 1796. It was probably used as a base for the Grijalva and Yorba
cattle operation in what is now northern Orange County. In 1801 he filed a
petition in San Diego, requesting a title to the land. His request read:
"The distance I ask is from the banks of the Santa Ana River toward
Santiago, that portion which is along the high road embracing an extension
of a little more than a league. The stream being above, from the highway to
the house will be about a league and a half; from there to the mountains
about three leagues; and toward the south I ask as far as Ranas (Cerritos de
las Ranas) which will be about a league and a half."
Grijalva did not get title to the land in his lifetime but he did get
grazing rights in 1801. A map filed with the claim shows three houses on the
land located in what is now Olive, West Orange and in the El Modena-Villa
Park area. The latter adobe is said to have been the adobe of Juan Pablo
Grijalva and is considered to have been the first house constructed in the
Santa Ana Valley. The foundation stones of the adobe can still be seen at
Hoyt Hill, north of El Modena, above Santiago Creek. It is not thought that
Grijalva actually lived full time in the adobe, since it is believed that he
lived primarily in San Diego. Born in Sonora, Mexico in 1742, he enlisted in
the army in 1763 and became a career soldier. He died in San Diego in 1806,
four years before Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana was granted to his
son-in-law, Yorba and Jose's cousin, Peralta.
JOSE ANTONIO YORBA AND JUAN PABLO PERALTA
Also with Portola in that important expedition of 1769, was a young corporal
named Jose Antonio Yorba. He married Maria Josefa Grijalva in San Francisco
on May 17, 1782. Their first three children were born in the Monterey area
while Jose Antonio was in the army. In 1789 the family moved to San Diego
after he had been assigned to the presidio there. Eleven more children were
born to the family between 1789 and 1810. Juan Antonio retired from the army
in 1797 and, with his father in-law, Juan Pablo Grijalva, he began grazing
cattle on the land that was to become Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana. When
Jose Antonio Yorba, along with his nephew, Juan Pablo Peralta, applied for
their land grant they were required to get permission from Grijalva's widow,
Maria Josefa. On July 1,1810, Governor Figueroa granted the 62,516 acres to
Jose Antonio Yorba and Juan Pablo Peralta.
JUAN PABLO PERALTA
Again, we have the relationships between the first families of California
intertwined like a giant wisteria vine. Juan Pablo's father, Pedro Regalado
Peralta, married Maria del Carmen Grijalva in San Francisco in 1785. Juan
Pablo was born on October 27, 1786, and was named after his maternal grandfather,
the aforementioned Juan Pablo Grijalva. A few years after Juan Pablo Peralta
married Ana Gertrudes Arce on August 24, 1804, he brought his young family
to the Santa Ana Valley, settling along the south side of the Santa Ana
River. The small settlement he built on a rise above the river was called
Santa Ana Arriba. He and his uncle, Jose Antonio Yorba, were the first to
construct an irrigation system using the water of the Santa Ana River.
Although the Peralta family had gardens, vineyards, and fruit orchards for
their own use, most of their income came from cattle raising.
The Yorba and Peralta families, along with the Indians, dwelt upon the lands
and did not seem to mind the communal ownership. There were four informal
divisions of the huge rancho. The Peraltas occupied the upper canyon while
the Yorbas lived near Burruel Point at the mouth of Santiago Creek. Some of
the Indians lived in the area of Upper Santiago Creek. The Mission, along
with the Indians attached to it, occupied the coastal mesas. The small
clusters of adobes were surrounded by gardens, vineyards and sections of
tilled fields. Adobe walls were built and live willow brush fences planted
to keep out the wild livestock that roamed the area.
BERNARDO ANTONIO YORBA
Don Bernardo Antonio Yorba is remembered most for his huge adobe he built in
Santa Ana Canyon. It was said to have been one of the finest adobe homes in
California. Bernardo, the third son of Jose Antonio Yorba I, was born August
4, 1801. He helped to develop the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana, but in 1834
received a grant of his own further up the Santa Ana Canyon, where he built
a large adobe house. He named his ranch
Rancho San Juan Cajon de Santa Ana and his new house San Antonio, after his
favorite saint. The 13,328-acre grant contained some truly beautiful land.
When traveling the Riverside Freeway through Santa Ana Canyon, look to the
north to see the meandering Santa Ana River, the trees along the valley
floor, and the hills and canyons which rise to the north.
This was once Don
The spacious two-story adobe housed not only the large Yorba family but also
many retainers. Estimates of its size range from 50 to over 100 rooms.
Approximately 20 of these rooms were occupied by artisans and tradesmen who
worked at the rancho. There were, at one time: four woolcombers; two
tanners; one butter-cheeseman who supervised the milking of 50 to 60 cows
each day; one harness maker; two shoemakers; one jeweler; one plasterer; one
carpenter; one major- domo; two errand boys; one sheep herder; one cook; one
baker; two washerwomen; one woman who did the ironing; four seamstresses;
one dressmaker; two gardeners; a schoolmaster and a man to make the wine.
Also, there were more than 100 "lesser" employees. Some of these persons
lived at the ranch, while most of the Indian workers lived in a nearly
village of their own. There were two orchards and some plots planted to
wheat. It took an average of 10 steers a month to supply the needs of the
people who lived on the ranch. The vineyards and crops were irrigated by
water from ditches dug from the Santa Ana river.
Bernardo Antonio Yorba married Maria de Jesus Alvarado, the daughter of
Xavier Alvarado of San Diego, on April 16, 1823. In the five years between
her marriage and her death, Maria gave birth to one son and three daughters.
A year after Maria de Jesus died, Bernardo married 15-year-old Felipa
Dominguez, daughter of Juana and Mariano Dominguez. As Bernardo expanded his
home and his rancho thrived, the family grew by 12 more children. Sadly,
Felipa died after having given birth to her twelfth child, Filepe, on
September 8, 1851.
The next year Don Bernardo took Andrea Elizalde as his third wife. The
marriage was conducted by proxy and the 22-year-old bride was 29 years
younger than her new husband. He remained at his rancho while a friend
traveled to Los Angeles to take the marriage vows at the Plaza Church.
Andrea, who was the daughter of Juana and Nicolas Elizalde, and Don Bernardo
had four sons, Francis, Bernardo, Xavier, and Gregorio. In 1858, at the age
of 57, Don Bernardo died, leaving behind a large and prosperous rancho,
including approximately 37,000 acres of land and over $100,000 in assets.
Eighteen years later, in 1875, his widow sold the square league she and her
children had inherited for $3 an acre to John Bixby. Of the 20 children born
to Don Bernardo and his three wives, most survived into adulthood, got
married, and had families of their own.
There were hundreds of descendants of Don Bernardo. His influence was felt
throughout Southern California.
ADOBES SPRINKLE THE SANTA ANA VALLEY
C.E. Roberts, in the 1936 W.P.A. volume entitled Adobes, divides the adobe
on the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana compounds into seven groups:
1. Grijalva Adobe
2. Olive or Old Santa Ana Group (7 buildings)
3. Peralta Group (9 buildings)
4. Fletcher Group (3 buildings) Represented by the T. D. Mott or Fletcher
5. Jose Antonio Yorba II Group (4 buildings) Represented by the Rodriguez
6. West Santa Ana Group (5 buildings) Jose Sepulveda (El Refugio)
7. Old Fairview Group (3 buildings) Gabe Allen Adobe
Much of the information about the adobes and the families that lived in them
is lost in time. The actual location and physical appearance of many of the
adobes is probably the biggest problem to solve because as each family
decided where to settle, they simply picked a spot on the 62,516 acres of
the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana not already occupied by one of their
relatives and built their house and corrals. Probably the most interesting
rancho was El Refugio, whose most well-known occupant was Jose Andres
Sepulveda. The Bates Adobe, located north of Seventeenth and Bristol, has
added significance because it was also the site of an Indian village. The
Julian Chavez Adobe, of which we know very little, is shown on the map as
being west of the Santa Ana River, and north of First Street, at
approximately Fifth Street. The Rodriguez Adobe is important because it was
located at a ford of the Santa Ana River and at the convergence of the
important trails in the Santa Ana Valley.
EL REFUGIO: THE WEST SANTA ANA HOME OF DOMINGO YORBA AND JOSE ANDRES
Some of the most dramatic and exciting events of the rancho days happened at
El Refugio, in what is now West Santa Ana. For those who picture the Santa
Ana Valley as lifeless and deserted until William Spurgeon purchased the
land for his new town in 1869, the legacy left by the Spanish ranchero
owners comes as a surprise.
Domingo de Ia Resurrecci6n Yorba, born in March 1826, inherited El Refugio
from his father, Jose Antonio Yorba II, after his death on January 19, 1849.
Five years later, in 1854, Domingo sold his house and his interest in the
Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana to Jose Andres Sepulveda. the owner of Rancho
San Joaquin. Terry Stephenson, in Shadows of Old Saddleback says "The
Sepulveda ranch house, called El Refugio...was the gathering place for many
a fiesta, many a rodeo, and many a fandango."
Jose Andres Sepulveda, who was living on the Rancho Bolsa de San Joaquin by
1836, seemed to leap from one adventure to another. He had a home in
downtown Los Angeles, in addition
to homes on the San Joaquin (which became the Irvine Ranch) and, after 1854,
at El Refugio. Saddleback Ancestors notes that Jose Andres became famous for
the extravagance of his fiestas and the excellence of his race horses. Money
from his productive ranch properties flowed into his hands but flowed out
again almost as quickly, thanks to his penchant for gambling and unrivaled
The eldest son among the 12 children of Don Francisco Sepulveda and his
wife, Ramona Serrano, Jose Andres Sepulveda spent a great deal of time in
Los Angeles, where he was involved politically for several years. By 1851 he
was the owner of 102,000 acres of land in Los Angeles County, including his
holdings in what is now Orange County. He became very prosperous as a result
of the increased need for cattle during the gold rush days.
Don Jose's greatest love was horses and horse racing. He owned hundreds of
horses and loved to ride. The race between an Australian mare, Black Swan,
and Pico's stallion, Sarco, will go down in history as one of the most
legendary races of Southern California. Held on March 1, 1852, the race
inspired much excitement among early California residents and, according to
Thomas D. Mott, almost everyone living between San Luis Obispo and San Diego
attended. Black Swan won the nine-mile-long race, which took place in Los
Angeles, by 75 yards.
Robert Glass Cleland notes in The Irvine Ranch that "the wagers included
twenty-five thousand dollars in cash,...five hundred calves, and five
After the race Don Jose bought Black Swan and took her to San Joaquin.
Within a year the mare stepped on a nail, contracted lockjaw, and died.
Referring to Sepulveda's purchase of El Refugio, Cleland reports in The
Irvine Ranch that "...In 1854 Jose Sepulveda paid Domingo Yorba, one of the
largest claimants (to the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana) $6,000 in cash, 100
heifers, 50 steers, and 50 fillies for his share of land and
livestock...Domingo Yorba and his wife thus conveyed to Jose Sepulveda 'the
land of the Rancho Santa Ana where they, the grantees, at present live to
where the River of the said Rancho of Santa Ana runs, including the houses,
corrals, and fences to them belonging."
By the time Jose Andres and Francisca moved to the adobe at El Refugio, they
were the parents of at least 14 children, ranging in age from three to 27
years of age.
THE END OF AN ERA
Life was not all fun and games for Don Jose. He had to spend considerable
time and money proving his land claims before the courts. He went into debt,
borrowing money at huge interest rates. The floods of 1861-62 were followed
by the drought of 1863-64. The scorched hills and valleys of the Santa Ana
Valley were covered with the corpses and bones of thousands of cattle. Even
the great swamp, Cienega de las Ranas, was dry.
As a result of these circumstances Don Jose was unable to keep up the
payments on his mortgage. He sold his vast holdings on the Rancho San
Joaquin to James Irvine, Llewellyn Bixby and Thomas Flint. He kept the
1,000-acre El Refugio, however, spending time there with his horses and his
memories. A fire in 1871 partially destroyed the old adobe home. In 1873 he
gave El Refugio to his family and moved to Caborca, Sonora, Mexico. He died
there on April 17, 1875. In 1876 Mort Hubbard tore down the last remnants of
the great El Refugio adobe.
There appear to be no existing photographs of El Refugio. It has been
described as el-shaped and quite pretentious. E.P. Stafford recalls, in the
W. P. A. book, Pioneer Tales, that the Sepulveda family "lived in one of the
adobe houses located about a quarter of a mile east of Bristol Street and
about the same distance south of First Street. The main living room was on
the north. There was an annex extending to the south which was used first
for help and then as a storeroom and a harness and saddle room, and at last
a room for horses."
The 1,000 acres upon which El Refugio sat was located west of Bristol and
south of First Street; however, historians disagree as to the actual
location of the adobe compound. Some accounts place the house at First and
Sullivan streets while others claim the adobe and its compound were at
Artesia and Myrtle streets. Artesia is now South Raitt. Three old streets
upon which several pre-l900 houses survive are Daisy Avenue, Franklin
Street, and Artesia (now Raitt) Street. A 1913 map shows them all ending at
Myrtle Street. The adobe was supposed to have been on the south side of
Myrtle. On the other hand, the southeast corner of First and Sullivan is the
location of a General Electric pumping plant which could have been the site
of the prolific spring shown on the early map.