At that time, American Indians dwelled in Orange County until the period of Spanish colonization in the late 1700's.
Gaspar de Portola, a Spanish explorer, marched through the San Joaquin Valley, abruptly ending the quiet life of the Gabrielinos (Indians). With the Spaniards came forts, missions and herds of cattle (City of Irvine, 2007). The Spanish Empire wanted to colonize quickly on the West coast of the New World because their enemy, Britain, was preoccupied on the East coast with the Revolutionary War from 1763-1775 (Middlebrook, 2005).
One of the members of the Portola expedition was a young soldier by the name of Jose Antonio Yorba (The Colton Letters, 2002), born in San Sadurni de Noya, Spain, in 1746 (Timeline, n.d.). After retiring from military service in 1797, Jose Antonio Yorba later returned as one of several large landowners who established ranchos in the area ("San Antonio," 2005). Yorba settled in the lush California valleys around the Santa Ana River south of Los Angeles. In 1809, he petitioned the King of Spain for a grant of land in this area covering 62,516 acres, which included the current communities of Irvine, Anaheim, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, Tustin and several others (City of Irvine, 2007). Yorba Linda in Orange County was eventually named after him.
The Spanish promoted intermarriage between Spanish soldiers and American Indians. For example, Corporal Jose Antonio Yorba, born in Spain, married an American Indian by the name of Maria Garcia Feliz at Monterey and had two children (Middlebrook, 2005). It is said, one boy drowned at age six, and another died in his mid-twenties. Yorba's wife also died early in 1781. Yorba then married a 16 year old by the name of Maria Josefa Grijalva, an older daughter of another Spanish military leader named Juan Pablo Grijalva who eventually received the highest rank in the Spanish expedition in California and also founded Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana (Middlebrook, 2005).
In 1810, Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana, 62,516 acres, was granted to Jos Antonio Yorba and Juan Pablo Peralta by Spanish Governor Jos Joaqun Arrillaga; it was the only Spanish land grant wholly in Orange County (Hallan-Gibson, nd.). Most of Rancho Santa Ana became Orange County, CA, and one of the haciendas became Yorba Linda, birthplace of President Nixon (Harrison, 2000). At that time, the King of Spain began to parcel out lands for missions and for a few large, private land grants. In 1831, after gaining independence from Spain, the Mexican government secularized the missions, assumed control of land holdings and began dispensing ranchos to Mexican citizens who went for grants. (City of Irvine, 2007).
In time, Jose Antonio Yorba passed his land to his heirs - the most notable being his son, Don Bernardo Yorba (The Colton Letters, 2002). On August 1, 1834, Bernardo, moved across the Santa Ana River from what is now Anaheim Hills, to establish Rancho Caon de Santa Ana.
Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana. Three large Spanish/Mexican grants made up the land that later became the Irvine Ranch: Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana, Rancho San Joaquin and Rancho Lomas de Santiago. The oldest was the Rancho Santiago