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 Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana

The Grijalva, Yorba, Peralta, and Sepulveda Families

by Diann Marsh, from Santa Ana, An Illustrated History, (1994 Heritage Publishing. Excerpt used with permission).  (Updated 9/21/08)


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.

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.

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.

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.

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 Bernardo's land.

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.

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 Adobe
5. Jose Antonio Yorba II Group (4 buildings) Represented by the Rodriguez Adobe
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.

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 hospitality.
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 hundred sheep."
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.

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.

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