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Grijalva, Yorba and Peralta

Three families are interrelated in the founding of this area. As nearly as possible, this material is presented chronologically for clarity. It is hoped that so many dates do not interfere with interest in the material. The names of the three family heads that created Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana are in bold type.

Of the three families, the Grijalvas were the first to arrive in the New World. The earliest was Juan de Grijalva. In 1518, he received a commission from his uncle, Cuban Governor Diego de Valasquez, to explore the east coast of Mexico from about Tulum in the south to Tampico in the north. Along the way, at a point now near Villahermosa, he discovered the mouth of a river which originates in the Guatamalan highlands. The river now bears the name Rio Grijalva. After 200 years, the Grijalvas were settling in Central Mexico, Sonora and Arizona.

The patriarch of the Peralta family was Gabriel Antonio Peralta, who was born in 1730 in Sonora.

In 1740, Juan Pablo Grijalva was born near Mission Guevav in Arizona.

In 1746, Jose Antonio Yorba was born in San Sadurni de Noya near Barcelona, Spain.

In 1756, Gabriel Antonio Peralta married Maria Francisca Javiera Valenzuela. They had four children. Of them, Luis Maria Peralta was born in 1759 and Pedro Regaldo Peralta was born in 1764.

Grijalva enlisted in the Spanish army in 1763 and a year later, he married Maria Dolores Valencia. Two years later in 1766, Maria Josefa Grijalva, their first daughter, was born. Maria del Carmen Grijalva, their second daughter, was born in 1772.

Jose Manuel Perez Nieto arrived at the San Diego Presidio from Sinaloa in 1772. He later would become the other Spanish Concession holder of Orange County land.

Yorba, an illiterate, saw opportunity in the New World. In 1767, he became a soldier in the Royal Catalonian Volunteers and was shipped to New Spain. In the New World, he joined the Portola expedition to colonize and Christianize Alta California. With the expedition was Junipero Serra. This was early 1769. In mid-1769, now a corporal, Yorba was in the Portola expedition to find Monterey. Yorba and the other soldiers were encouraged by Serra to marry Indians. In 1773, Yorba married an Indian lady, Maria Garcia Feliz at Monterey. (They had two boys, one drowned at age six and the other died in his mid-twenties.)

In 1775, the Anza Party, the second Spanish expedition, left for Alta California from Sonora with Sergeant Juan Pablo Grijalva as the next in command to Juan Bautista Anza. With Grijalva was his family. Also in the party was Gabriel Antonio Peralta, his wife and four children.

When they arrived in this area, Anza split the expedition into three parties lead by Anza, Grijalva and Moraga. Grijalva headed a group exploring the area around the Arroyo Santiago, so he was already familiar with the area long before he settled here.

The Portola Expedition arrived in San Francisco with Peralta and Yorba in 1776. They were assigned to the Presidio.

In 1777, the Anza Expedition arrived at the Presidio. It is at the Presidio that Yorba met the Grijalvas and Peraltas. Grijalva, Peralta and Yorba were military escorts with the Franciscan monks in the founding of many Alta California missions. Grijalva was later connected with two Baja California missions. Yorba's wife Maria Garcia Feliz Yorba died in 1781. After a year, in 1782, Jose Antonio Yorba married Maria Josefa Grijalva, older daughter of Juan Pablo Grijalva. Yorba was 36. She was 16.

In 1784, Jose Manuel Perez Nieto received the first of two Spanish Land Concessions in Southern California. The other Concession went to Jose Verdugo the same year. There was only one Concession earlier, that for the Pueblo de San Jose. It needs to be pointed out here that Spain never gave Land Grants - only Concessions usually returnable with the death of the owner. Land Grants were given later by the Mexicans. Rancho Los Nietos was not totally in what is now Orange County. The rancho was too large to fit. It was bordered by the Santa Ana River and the San Gabriel River, from the ocean into San Bernardino County and including some of Los Angeles County. It totaled 300,000 acres, four to five times larger than the future Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana. Because his adobe was in Los Angeles, Nieto's rancho is listed as being in Los Angeles County.

Pedro Regaldo Peralta, third son of Gabriel, married Maria del Carmen Grijalva, the remaining daughter of Juan Pablo, in 1786. Peralta was 21 and the girl was 14. Also in that year, Juan Pablo Grijalva accepted a vacancy at the Presidio in San Diego and with his wife, left their two daughters with husbands at the Presidio in San Francisco. Grijalva was promoted to second lieutenant. In 1787, Juan Pablo Peralta was born to Pedro Regaldo and Maria del Carmen and was named after his grandfather. In 1789, Jose Antonia Yorba transferred to the Presidio in San Diego with his family.

In 1796, a horse was shot out from under Grijalva during an Indian campaign in Baja California. Later that year, he retired from the army. The next year, 1797, Yorba retired from the army as a sergeant while Grijalva was given a post-retirement promotion to full lieutenant. That was the highest rank in California, the rank held by the commandants of the presidios.

In 1798, Grijalva petitioned for a Land Concession of Rancho Los Flores (now part of Camp Pendleton), but lost it to Mission San Luis Rey. In 1801, Grijalva filed another petition for [what was to become] Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana. It was adjacent to the Nieto rancho on the Rio de Santa Ana (for St. Ann) and it included the Arroyo Santiago (for St. James). It went from the ocean at Newport Beach to the mountains. Its size was between 60,000 and 80,000 acres, though 62,824 acres is the figure usually given. Grijalva received the Concession for ranching on the land, verified in 1810 by his widow. Apparently, not all Concessions returned to the Spanish Crown.

Juan Pablo Peralta married Ana Gertrudis Arce in 1804. The same year, he came south and settled with his family on a rise he named Santa Ana Arriba (on top). He joined his grandfather Grijalva and uncle Yorba in running the grazing operation. Juan Pablo Grijalva built an adobe on the land for himself, but also remained a resident of San Diego. Three years later, 1806, Juan Pablo Grijalva died.

Peralta and Yorba continued to work the rancho and in 1809 they applied to the Spanish crown for a Land Concession. But before they could do that, Yorba had to get permission from Maria Dolores Valencia Grijalva, his mother-in-law. The petition indicated that the land was to be worked by Juan Pablo Peralta and Jose Antonio Yorba II and to be used for raising cattle. (Jose Antonio Yorba was 64 at this time.) They received the Concession in 1810, naming it the Rancho Santiago (for the arroyo) de Santa Ana (for the river). This is the first Spanish Concession exclusively in what is now Orange County.

As a point of interest, Luis Maria Peralta, Juan Pablo's uncle, received a Spanish Land Concession for Rancho San Antonio in the Bay area in 1820.

Peralta and Yorba each had nine children. Of those 18 children, nine were grandchildren and nine were great-grandchildren of Juan Pablo Grijalva. (Therefore, all Yorbas and Peraltas in Southern California are related to Juan Pablo Grijalva.) Adobes were built for all of them on the Rancho...and for their children. The adobes were built at random, where the land was not taken by another adobe's land. Evidence of 33 adobes has been found. After a rebellion, Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821. Jose Antonio Yorba died at age 79 in 1825, the year the territorial government of California ratified the constitution of Mexico. Yorba willed the rancho to his four sons. It was contested in court by Yorba's widow Maria Josefa Grijalva-Yorba because the five daughters were excluded. She won the case and half the rancho became the possession of all nine Yorba offspring.

The Mexican government reaffirmed the Yorba/Peralta title to Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana in 1839. The Rancho was no longer a Concession, but a Land Grant.

Benardo M. Yorba, third son of Jose Antonio, was granted three leagues (13,328 acres) of land by Mexican Governor Jose Figueroa in 1834. The land was north of the Santa Ana River, up the Santa Ana Canyon near present day Yorba Linda. Named the Rancho Cañon de Santa Ana, it was on the dismembered rancho of Jose Manuel Perez Nieto, who died that year. (That Nieto's rancho was short lived may help explain why he is rarely mentioned in Orange County history.) Bernardo was the son most remembered because of lavish fiestas given at his baronial adobe. The other three sons, however, also applied for and received Land Grants from the Mexican government.

In 1848 following the Mexican war, Mexico ceded California to the United States. Juan Pablo Peralta, the last of the three founders, died in 1852. The boundaries of Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana were validated by the United States government in 1857. The Peralta and Yorba families continued to live there.

In the early 1860's, Leonardo Cota, a member of the extended family, borrowed money from Abel Stearn. Stearn, born in Massachusetts, arrived in California as a Mexican citizen in 1829. A businessman, he acquired money enough to make loans at rates as high as 5% per month. Cota defaulted on the loan in 1866. Stearn went to court in Los Angeles demanding a partitioning of the Rancho to determine Cota's share of the land.

In 1868, the court verdict went in favor of Stearn. The Rancho was broken up into 1,000 units and distributed to the heirs and the receiver. Stearn got his share. Alfred Chapman and Andrew Glassell, lawyers for the Yorbas and Peraltas, received shares in payment for their services. With further acreage the two purchased, they started Richland, which became Orange. Several of the heirs sold off their shares to James Irvine (who enlarged his ranch), Columbus Tustin (who started the town of Tustin), Jacob Ross and others. Ross sold some of his land to William Spurgeon for the creation of Santa Ana.

Cota's default, and Stearn's partitioning destroyed Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana. It was the end of the pastoral life and the beginning of our urban life.


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