Earliest land grants, Part 3

Los Angeles 

About the time Rancho San Diego started, another rancho was being developed by ancestors of Trinidad Vela who took possession of Santa María de Los Ángeles de Abajo (or El Mesquite) grant, located on Arroyo de los Ángeles or Palo Blanco, 36 miles from San Diego and 51 miles northeast of Carrizo.

Old land documents show lands at Los Ángeles de Abajo were denounced in 1810 or 1811. Vela’s ancestors had houses and pens at Los Ángeles de Abajo, but as was the case for all landowners in the frontier, Indians forced them to abandon their property from time to time. Indeed, Indians killed Vela’s father as well as several neighbors while attending stock at the ranch. The Vela family returned to Los Ángeles de Abajo with stock and rebuilt houses and pens. They roped and herded cattle that had gone wild after the Indian attacks.


José Faustino Contreras also surveyed the Santa Cruz de la Concepción grant for Francisco Cordente on August 7, 1809. The description of the survey yields interesting information on the process used in this early land development.

José Antonio Guerra served as the presiding judge at the survey site. The survey got underway on the morning of August 7 with José Ygnacio Ibáñez and José Ypolito Peña as Contreras’ assistants. Contreras and his crew prepared their instruments in the customary way, by taking a staff and tying it at one end a cord especially prepared for this purpose. The cord measured a vara and was tied to a second pole. A vara was a unit of measurement that equaled slightly less than a yard.

Contreras began the survey on the west side of the property, at the foot of a hill located in a small grove of mezquite called San Pedro. With compass in hand, Contreras directed the survey crew to proceed to the north. They extended the cord 200 times, which equaled to about a mile and a quarter, where they encountered a large mezquite near what was known as the Laguna de Retamas, which they renamed Mesquite del Cuervo.

At noon the men took a break until Guerra ordered them to resume the work. Contreras adjusted his instruments and set the compass on the line they were on and had Ybañez and Peña step off 100 cords until they arrived at where the rancho headquarters had been located. Cordente, who was also along for the survey, pointed out that the route the survey was on would bypass his improvements. He asked Guerra that more land should be included to avoid this problem. José Simón Rodríguez (may be Ramírez), who was a co-applicant with Cordente, also asked for more land. At Guerra’s direction, Contreras and his men walked off an additional 30 cords from east to west arriving at a small mezquite tree they used as a marker. They measured off four cords south to north, crossing the Concepción Creek. Very large mezquite trees marked that point and they called it San Francisco de Peña Blanca. With sunset approaching, they ceased their work for the day.

The next day, August 8, 1809, the survey crew began by measuring 162 cords from west to east where they came to a hill covered with chaparral. They designated this corner with a stick and called it San Amador. Guerra ordered the cord to be readjusted and the instruments calibrated again and then the survey crew resumed on a north to south track marking the east line of the survey. They measured off 100 cords and stopped again at noon. The survey was resumed in the afternoon and walked off 204 cords, coming upon a prairie. They planted a large tree to mark a corner and named it Santa Catarina. At this point the survey was suspended for the day.

August 9, 1809 was a holy day and no work was done. The survey was resumed on August 10, 1809 at Santa Catarina and continued east to west for the south boundary. They extended the cord 133 times and came to point of origin at San Pedro de Charco Redondo. Contreras pointed out that tract was larger than four leagues because of additional piece added to include ranch improvements. Guerra informed Cordente that he had to survey adjoining land and would return to his home when finished at which time they would conclude the transaction.

On August 17, 1809, Contreras concluded that the grant consisted of four leagues for large cattle valued at $10 per league; two leagues for small livestock; and one lot 87 varas square.