All Over the Map with California Public Surveys, 1858

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

All Over the Map, a new series of posts, highlights some of the interesting maps in the Homestead’s collection, starting with an 1858 edition of California Public Surveys.

These were issued by the state surveyor general as part of the land claims proceedings that took place from the early 1850s on, involving over 800 ranchos granted in California under Spanish and Mexican rule.

More will be said in future posts about this complex and controversial process that, with many other factors, dramatically transformed how land was owned and used by the 1870s. For now, let’s focus on the interesting elements of the map.

1858 public surveys map
A portion of the Public Surveys of California map from 1858 showing the area from about where Bakersfield soon appeared to the north to near San Juan Capistrano on the south.  From an original in the Homestead Museum collection.

As to the map:  by 1858, only two greater Los Angeles ranchos had actually gotten close to receiving their patents and both were owned by Spanish-speaking residents.  Rancho Potrero Grande in modern El Monte, South El Monte, South San Gabriel, and Rosemead was granted by Governor Pío Pico on 8 April 1845 to Manuel Antonio, a native Indian who used the surname Pérez, and who married María Florentina Alvitre, daughter of a Spanish soldier who settled in the area.  Potrero Grande, which means large meadow, was a square league, or about 4,400 acres in size.

While Pérez was on the rancho when the 1850 federal census was taken in early 1851 (due to California statehood not happening until September 1850), he began selling parts of the ranch soon after.  When the land claim was filed for Potrero Grande, it was done by Juan Matias Sánchez, a New Mexican native who was foreman at the nearby Rancho La Puente for one of its owners, William Workman.

When Workman foreclosed on a loan and took possession of Rancho La Merced, just south of Potrero Grande, he gave half to Sánchez and the other to his son-in-law, F.P.F. Temple.  After Sánchez received his patent in 1859 for Potrero Grande, he sold even shares to Workman and Temple.  Later, the three men had to fend off American squatters from El Monte who felt the trio were not using the land and took it for their own.

A series of lawsuits gave Sánchez, Temple and Workman a judgment against the squatters, but it was one thing to win in court and an entirely different matter to carry out the judgment.  The three men wound up working out deals with many of the squatters for the disputed land, though others were evicted.  When a bank owned by Temple and Workman failed, much of Potrero Grande was lost to “Lucky”Baldwin, who loaned the bank money, but only if Sánchez put his lands in as collateral, as well.

Rancho San Pedro came out of one of the first land grants made in Spanish California to retired soldier Juan José Dominguez in 1784.  The Dominguez grant of 75,000 acres went to a nephew, Cristobal, who was also a soldier in 1809, but a resurvey in the first years of the Mexican era, about 1823, for what became Rancho San Pedro brought the ranch’s size down to just under 49,000 acres, the maximum allowable under Mexican land law.  Cristobal’s eldest son, Manuel, took possession of San Pedro when his father died in 1825.   The following year, an official recognition of the ownership of the ranch was recorded.

Manuel Dominguez became one of Los Angeles’ most prominent citizens, serving on the ayuntamiento (much like the city council), becoming alcalde (similar to a mayor), and serving in the departmental asamblea (legislature).  When California citizens, impatient with Congress about what to do with the recently conquered American possession, decided to create their own constitution and government late in 1849, Dominguez was one of seven Los Angeles-area delegates to the convention.  Some delegates, however, objected to his presence under the belief that he was more Indian than Mexican!

While Dominguez quickly received his patent, which was dated in December 1858, the ranch was whittled down in surveys to about 25,000 acres.  Still, he retained much of the ranch, though some was sold in 1866 to F.P.F. Temple, mentioned above, and El Monte’s Fielding W. Gibson, for what became the town of Compton, until his death in 1882.  Dominguez had six daughters and three of them were married to men like Watson, Carson and Del Amo, whose descendants still own some land on the ranch today.  His adobe is a historic landmark in south Compton (click here for more.)

1858 public surveys map detail
A closer view of the map shows the greater Los Angeles region with the two ranchos, San Pedro and Potrero Grande, that were close to getting their land claim patents.  Other interesting details like place names, rivers, and other items are notable.

There are many other interesting details, such as place names, including the misspelled “Los Angelos.”  South of that is the Rancho Sausal Redondo, from which Redondo Beach got its name and “Los Cuervos” just above the Rancho San Pedro.  In what is now northwest Orange County is “Los Coyotes,” where there was a rancho by that name near modern La Habra, Fullerton and La Mirada.  The “Coyote River” is actually a creek that now contains the modern San Gabriel River channel for much of its course.  To the lower right is the Santa Ana River.  The only place name is the vast San Fernando Valley was the old mission and a rancho known as “ex-Mission San Fernando” covered nearly the entire area, though the origins of the Los Angeles River are, somewhat incorrectly, shown, too.

Most place names fall within the San Gabriel Valley, which had the water, fine soil and other amentities that San Fernando mainly lacked. Between the San Gabriel River, which is actually today’s Rio Hondo and the Los Angeles River is “Mis. Vicia,” which is mangled Spanish for Misión Vieja, the first site of Mission San Gabriel, though the circle identifying the spot is just under the boundary for Rancho Potrero Grande.  The old mission was near the corner of San Gabriel and Rosemead boulevards near modern South El Monte.

El Monte and San Gabriel were the two small towns in the valley then, though above San Gabriel is “Cuati,” referring to a small ranch, the Huerta de Cuati that was given to the prominent Indian woman, Victoria, who later married Scotch native Hugo Reid.  The property was often referred to as Reid’s before his 1852 death, but it really was his wife’s, due to her prominent role at Mission San Gabriel.

Further east is a name that appears almost nowhere else, other than these public survey maps, “Mis. Cranoras,” which, again, is bungled Spanish, apparently, for Mision Graneros. Located on Rancho La Puente, just a half-mile or so north of the Homestead, this was the granary for Mission San Gabriel for all of the field crops raised at La Puente when it was mission-owned ranch.  The ruins of the adobe structure were still visible into the 1870s, but its existence has been all but forgotten, except for this and other maps in the series.

Further east are the ranchos Chino (Santa Ana del Chino, in Chino and Chino Hills), San José (modern Pomona area) and the place name of San Antonio in modern Claremont/Upland.  To the far south are the Rancho San Joaquín and the place name Los Alisos (The Alder Trees), maintained with today’s city of Aliso Viejo.

Note also off the coast near modern Long Beach and San Pedro the reference to Deadman’s Island, so named because a group of American soldiers killed in an engagement in 1846 during the Mexican-American War were buried there.  Finally, the reference to “Base Line” is to the San Bernardino Baseline and Meridian, which is one of three baselines for all surveys in California.

Check back for more in this series highlighting fascinating maps from the Homestead’s collection.

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