Santa Ana: Established 1769

No, it’s not a typo. Many people think Santa Ana’s history begins in 1869, which is when Kentuckian William Spurgeon plotted some acres and called it the town of Santa Ana, but his plot was only a tiny fraction of what Santa Ana was prior.

Friar Junípero Serra set out of Baja California, Mexico and accompanied soldier Gaspar de Portolá to Alta California, then part of New Spain, in 1768. After settling San Diego they continued north until they arrived at a great valley they named in honor of Saint Anne. They called their finding el Valle de Santa Ana (Santa Ana Valley). It was within this valley that they established Misión San Juan Capistrano, which was built in 1776.

With Serra and Portolá came other soldiers and the higher-ranking of these received land grants called ranchos. One was granted to Manuel Nieto, which was called Rancho Los Nietos (part of modern-day Los Angeles and Orange Counties). His grant was further north but still expanded into the Santa Ana valley.

The other ranch was granted to sergeant José Antonio Yorba in 1810 and his grant covered the extent of what later on was called central “Orange County.” Yorba’s grant was called Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana.

With the arrival of squatters and the land rush, the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana gradually was chipped away at until only the core, the heart of the valley next to the Santa Ana River remained, which is what Spurgeon very honorably named Santa Ana.

Prior to the Mexican-American War (1846-48), the Mexican government partitioned the ranchos of Alta California to the descendants of the first grantees. The Nietos enjoyed grants as did the Yorbas.

As far as “Orange County” is concerned, many if not all cities once had a name association with Santa Ana. Anaheim, Fullerton and Placentia were called Rancho San Juan Cajón de Santa Ana. Irvine was formerly Rancho Lomas de Santiago (Santiago Hills), in reference to Santiago de Santa Ana.

What many modern-day South Orange County dwellers largely ignore is that most of their cities were named by the Mexican government in the nineteenth century. Some of these are Trabuco, Niguel, Misión Vieja (NOT “Mission Viejo”), and so on.

The Santa Ana name that those outside of here detest has a great history. It is one that is nearly one hundred years older than the gold rush, the massive land grab with its squatters, and one hundred years older than what the “official record” says: 1869.

Editor’s note: The Wikipedia articles mentioned in this article (except Los Nietos), in addition to all others related to Orange County as well as an article on the Ranchos of Orange County, were started by me and later added to by others.


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