Orange County

By Betzaira Ruiz

Knowing the history of Orange County helps us understand how it was created. The first people who lived in Orange County were known as the Juaneno and Gabrielino-Tongva. Spain had claimed California in 1542, but it wasn’t until 200 years after this that more major colonization happened. In 1769, Catholic missionaries and soldiers were sent to establish missions and forts in California. Don Gaspar de Portola led the first expedition in Orange County. Two years after this expedition, Father Junípero Serra founded Mission San Gabriel and later Mission San Juan Capistrano was established on November 1, 1776. Much of the land that now makes up Orange County belonged to these tow missions and were utilized for grazing cattle, horses, and sheep until the 1830s.

During this time, all lands that were under Spanish rule were considered property of the King. Distribution of land to individual people occurred slowly and began with a few retired soldiers who were granted grazing permits. In 1784, Manuel Nieto was one of the first to receive on of these permits and he was allowed to occupy the lands between the Santa Ana and San Gabriel Rivers. His land was divided later on when it was granted to his heirs as five separate ranchos. In 1810, Jose Antonio Yorba and Juan Pablo Peralta received the lands that are known as Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana. This is why Santa Ana College and Santiago College are known as Rancho Santiago.

In 1821, Mexico broke away from Spain, and the Mexican government gave land grants to Mexican Citizens. These land grants were as big as 44,000 acres. By 1846 Orange County was part of a family ranch. When Mexico lost the Mexican American War, Mexico had to secede California to the United States in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago. As a result, there were many disputes over the land between Americans and the pervious Mexican owners. Many families needed to show valid proof that they owned the land. Sadly, many families could not show proof of ownership because the Spanish and Mexican government would give out land freely without documentation. Many of the Mexican families lost their land or went bankrupt trying to defend their land. The lawyers that were helping them would charge more money, knowing the Mexicans could not afford it, which meant they had to sell their land to pay off the lawyers.

In the beginning, Orange County was part of Los Angeles County. As years went by the residents voted for Orange County to be its own independent County in 1889. They felt like Los Angeles County was not paying much attention to them and their journey to make official businesses was long. Anaheim was one of the first cities founded in Orange County. The first known crops grown were corn, oats, and wheat. Around 1807, walnuts, oranges, and apricots were introduced to the farming system. Crops started to disappear, but oranges became more popular in the 1950s. Orange County was always known as an agriculture county, but when Disneyland first opened in 1955, it started transforming into an international tourist destination. Currently Orange County is home to more than 3 million people and the county has 35 cities.

Key Figures of Orange County as presented in our Siempre Santa Ana Mural


On the left, there are a couple of Gabrielino-Tongva Native Americans, this land that we are standing on right now, is believed to have once been a part of what was known as the Pasbenga Village. Here at HMOC, we partner with individuals from the native Tongva community to help share their history and culture. The natural area at HMOC holds an opportunity for us to preserve and restore the land to its natural state as it was hundreds of years ago. We are working hard to keep as much native-plant life thriving here as we can, while slowly driving out the non-native plants.

Gaspar de Portolá (1723-1786) (first person on the left)

He was a Spanish military officer who led the first expedition of what is now Orange County in 1769. Names like Santa Ana, Ortega Highway, Trabuco Canyon, Portolá Springs, and Portolá Hills stem from this journey. He was the first governor of Upper California and the founder of Monterey and San Diego.

William Henry Spurgeon (1829-1915) (second person in the mural)

Founded the city of Santa Ana in 1869 and was its first mayor. Spurgeon and Ward Bradford purchased 74.25 acres of land from Jacob Ross. This land was formerly part of rancho Santiago de Santa Ana which was the home of the Yorbas and the Peraltas- two of California’s oldest families. Spurgeon donated land to build Old Orange County Courthouse, first public library, and the train depot.

Zenobia Yorba (1845-1892) (third person in the mural)

She was a Mexican landowner and an heir to the rancho Santiago de Santa Ana that was composed of about 62,000 acres. She was the last female in her family to have owned property under both Mexican law and American law, and part of the land she owned was sold to Wlliam H. Spurgeon.

Virginia Guzman(1917-2017) (fourth person in the mural)

Virginia was a key figure in the Mendez et al v Westminster et al case. Guzman, along with her husband and four other concerned parents, protested the segregation of Mexican origin children, but when their pleas were ignored, the parents filed a lawsuit against the school district that successfully desegregated schools in California. Prior to the class action, Virginia tried to convince Santa Ana Unified to desegregate Fremont Elementary but failed.

Adeline Walker (1904-1985) (fifth person in the mural)

Adeline was a founder of the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society, and she saved the Dr. Howe-Waffle House from being demolished to make space for a parking lot. She was also the daughter of the famous photographer Ed Cochems. Her main concern was to protect the city’s historical structures from being demolished. One of the most unique aspects about Santa Ana is the many historical buildings around the city.

Harriet Tyler (1926-2018) (sixth person in the mural)

She helped preserve and document the history of African Americans living in Orange County. Tyler was a charter member of NAACP’s Orange County’s sector and was a founding member of the Interested Citizens Group of Santa Ana, which later became the Interested Citizens Group of Orange County. She helped provide scholarships to underprivileged youths in Orange County, and she established senior programs.

Reverend Norman Corbin (seventh person in the mural)

He was a civil rights activist and leader within the African American community. He was active in de-escalating racial issues between black youth and law enforcement and tensions between the black and latino communities. He was well respected in the community. The Corbin Center at Jerome Park is named after Norman.

Iskander “Alex” Michael Odeh (1944-1985) (eight person in the mural)

Iskander was a Palestinian American civil rights advocate and a poet, and he was the Regional West Coast Director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). Odeh was described as a man who fought for peace due to his advocation for an interfaith unity between Jews, Muslims and Christians in Southern California. In an act of domestic terrorism, Odeh was assassinated by a pipe bomb in his work office.

Earl King (soldier)

Earl King was SA resident and part of Santa Ana’s National Guard, and his unit, Company L, were deployed to France during World War 1. Sgt. King’s presence on the mural shows the involvement of Santa Ana during the great war. (1914-1918) For more information visit our Earl King Exhibit on the exhibitions page.

Charles Edward Parker (C.E. Parker) (man with a map)

He was the president of the Orange County Title Company, the predecessor of today’s First American Title Insurance Company. The company issued title paperwork on sale of real estate. Today First American is a fortune 100 company.

Emigdio Vasquez (1939-2014) (holding the paintbrush)

Emigdio is known as the Godfather of Chicano art. His murals represented the life and experience of the Chicano community. He painted over 30 murals in Orange County many of which can still be visited. His son Higgy and daughter Rosemary are also very talented artists.


“A Brief History of Orange County.” Orange County Historical Society,

“History of Orange: Orange, CA.” City of Orange, California,

“Orange County History: Suburbia and Today.” Orange County History: Growth and Maturity,