The History of Santa Ana, CA
Santa Ana of Southern California has a rich history, a history which reflects the complex and exciting history of American development. Spanning over 20,000 years, the exciting past of the city reflects its dynamism today!
The Pre-Columbian Era in Santa Ana, CA
During the last Ice Age, which lasted from 20,000 to 10,000 BC, a bridge of ice formed between Siberia and Alaska. This allowed people to migrate from Asia to the Americas by foot, and some very intrepid early travelers were found in Southern California as early as 19,000 BC! It’s estimated that 80% of the Native American population, in California and beyond, descended from a single migration event which occurred from a people crossing that ice bridge over 15,000 years ago.
From these early explorers descended the Native American population of Southern California. They were the sole occupiers of that territory until the mid-16th Century. The two most predominant tribes were the Payómkawichum and the Tongva. Both were hunter-gatherers, and the majority of their food was found through foraging, with the occasional hunt to supplement the supply of fruits, roots and berries.
The First European Settlers in CA
The territory we today call California was first claimed by the Spanish Empire in 1542, after Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo explored the Western Coast of the United States on behalf of Spain. It is believed that Cabrillo and his team were the first Europeans ever to reach the Pacific coast of the U.S.
It took over two hundred years after that initial discovery for European powers to realize how important holding the Pacific coast would be for maritime trade. In the late 1760s, the Spanish king ordered an expedition from New Spain (Mexico) to secure his territories across the Pacific coastline.
This expedition set off in 1769, and it was a Franciscan Friar, Junípero Serra, who gave the territory of Santa Ana the name it still holds today. By this time, the diseases the European settlers had passed to the Native American community, such as smallpox and syphilis, had massively decreased their population.
The Franciscan friars went about converting the Native American population to Catholicism and, in Santa Ana, the Mission San Juan Capistrano was founded. Over 4,000 people were converted there, most because the Spanish government promised the Native Americans they could become land owners if they became Catholic.
Becoming an American Territory
Two months before the Mexican war of Independence began, in 1810, the respected Spanish soldier Jose Antonio Yorba and his nephew were awarded land he named the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana. This territory was 35 square miles long, and spanned Santa Ana, Orange, Villa Park, Anaheim Hills, Tustin, El Modena, Costa Mesa, and some of Irvine. This was the only land grant in Orange County awarded by the Spanish Empire.
It remained a de facto Spanish territory until the end of the Mexican war of independence, where, in 1821, it became Mexican land. With the independence of Mexico, any proclamation that Native Americans could claim land in the area was gone and they were ejected from working land on the mission.
Santa Ana remained a Mexican territory until the end of the Mexican-American war in 1848. Then, the whole of Alta California became a part of the United States. The new administration honored Mexican land grants, and so the area stayed in the hands of the Yorba family, until, falling into decline, they had to sell their land. It was in 1869 William Spurgeon bought the land upon which the modern city was founded.
William H. Spurgeon and the Birth of the Modern City
William H. Spurgeon rode from Kentucky to California, until he reached this territory, overflowing with tall mustard plants. He liked what he saw, and paid $595 for the 74.2 acres that were to become the city we today know as Santa Ana.
Spurgeon built 24 blocks which were to be the foundation of his new city. Within only two years, the then town had erected its first school, which is now the city’s YMCA. Spurgeon was dedicated to making his town modern and inhabitable; he built roads, and a well for a good water. On the 1st June 1886, Spurgeon was named Mayor of a town with 2,000 inhabitants. Less than a year later, by March 1887, Santa Ana had grown by 500 people.
After Spurgeon, the city grew and grew. The addition of a major rail link and an important freeway only contributed to its growth; today the city is the second most populous in Orange County. Although having suffered some decline in the 1980s, the city seems to be reviving, and with its youthful population, Santa Ana, CA is a city on the up!
Explore Santa Ana, California
Santa Ana, CA by Zip Code