Tuesday, January 15

We Were There with the California Rancheros

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Before 1848, California wasn't even part of the United States, it belonged to Mexico. And the people who lived there were the Californios.  A Californio was a Spanish speaking, Catholic person of Latin American descent born in Alta California between 1769 and 1848.

Before the 18th century, few Europeans had visited the area we know as California.  It belonged to Indian tribes who had lived along the Pacific coast for thousands of years.  Both Spain and England had explorers claim the bay areas in the 16th century, but it was nearly 200 years before any other visitors came to the area.  In the mid-1700s, Spain decided to build missions in northern California, to bring Catholicism to the area.  Twenty-one missions were built between 1769 and 1823, bringing major change to the area.

Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821, and took control of California.  They disbanded the missions and redistributed the lands to be used for ranchos (ranches).  The years of 1833 to 1846 are known as the “golden days of the rancho period,” and are characterized by hard work on the ranchos, great wealth, and leisure time for fiestas.  By the end of this period, there were over 10 million acres of ranchos!

Spain’s original plan for the mission lands (which were now being used as ranchos) was to give that land back to the Indian tribes.  Unfortunately, this rarely happened; when it did, they often traded their land to Mexican ranch owners in exchange for food, liquor, or other goods.

The ranchos, however, had vague boundaries – fences to keep cattle and sheep in were considered more important than a line on a survey map at the time.  After California became a US territory, in 1848, those boundaries became very important!  The end of the Mexican-American War brought new interest in opening up land in California for settlers.  Rancheros suddenly needed to provide a legal survey showing their ownership and boundaries.  Many rancheros lost their land in these legal battles.


Make / Do

    Define / Identify
    • Sir Francis Drake
    • Juan Rodríquez Cabrillo
    • Secularization
    • ranchero
    • Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo 
    • California Land Act
    • About 8,000 B.C.     People first come to what is now California, eventually forming the Indian tribes that lived in California for thousands of years
    • 1542     Juan Rodríquez Cabrillo explores near present-day San Diego
    • 1579     Sir Francis Drake sails near San Francisco Bay
    • 1602     Sebastián Vizcaíno explores the coast from San Diego toMonterey
    • 1769     First Spanish mission established by Father Serra
    • 1784     First land use permits for ranchos given by Spanish Governor Fages
    • 1822     Mexico takes control of California; encourages settlement by giving land grants for more ranchos
    • 1833     Missions secularized; more rancho lands opened for claim
    • 1847     United States takes control of California, ending new grants of ranchos
    • 1850     California becomes a state

    • Check out the primary source map below.  This is an original map of Mexico from the era.  Was your home part of Mexican or American soil at the time?
    • How did government differ between the periods of Mexican rule and when California became a state?
    • Given the language barriers, do you think there could be a fair transfer of ownership of property between the rancheros and the government?  Why or why not?
    Check out all of our We Were There unit studies!


    1. oh, that would have been hard for them. to lose their land over what they would have seen as unimportant

    2. My son would be interested in this - he has been playing Red Dead Redemption II and it has ties to this area.