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ORANGE : Soldier First to Stake a Private Claim Here

When Juan Pablo Grijalva arrived in the late 1700s, the entire population of what would later become Orange County was limited to the few denizens of the mission at San Juan Capistrano.

Still, after 32 years in the Spanish army, in which he fought natives and explored the state from San Francisco to San Diego, he moved his family here and built the county’s first private residence and ranch, said local historian Jim Sleeper.

“He was kind of the pioneer’s pioneer. He was the first to stake a private claim in Orange County,” Sleeper said.

He first saw the area, known then as part of the Spanish province Alta California, when he was a sergeant during a colonial expedition in 1776.

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He continued on to San Francisco and was present when that city was founded.

After being stationed there for 10 years, he was promoted to sub-lieutenant and then took posts in San Diego and as a scout for potential mission sites, Sleeper said.

For his service as a career soldier, Grijalva received a land grant sometime after 1801 from the Spanish government, entitling him to about 63,000 acres in the Santa Ana Valley.

Called “Arroyo de Santiago,” the area included present-day Santa Ana, Orange, Tustin and Costa Mesa.

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He built three adobe houses on the ranch near Santiago Oaks Regional Park east of Villa Park and drew the first known map detailing a portion of the county, Sleeper said.

“He lived and died all within the county’s Spanish period,” Sleeper said. “Orange County didn’t even become a Mexican province until 1821. Mexico broke from Spain in 1820, and it took us a year to find out about it because we were so far in the boondocks.”

Grijalva’s sons-in-law inherited the land when he died in 1806 at age 65.

Sleeper said the cattle rancher’s two daughters married soldiers from other prominent Spanish families of the day, the Yorbas and the Peraltas, both of which have descendants who remain county residents.

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