The Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana, a Spanish land grant that lay entirely in what is now Orange County. The rancho was the home of two of the oldest families in California, the Yorbas and the Peraltas. Consisting of 62,516 acres, the rancho extended along the east bank of the Santa Ana River from the mountains to the sea.
The Yorba and Peralta families, along with the Indians, dwelt upon the lands and did not seem to mind the communal ownership. There were four informal divisions of the huge rancho. The Peraltas occupied the upper canyon while the Yorbas lived near Burruel Point at the mouth of Santiago Creek. Some of the Indians lived in the area of Upper Santiago Creek. The Mission, along with the Indians attached to it, occupied the coastal mesas. The small clusters of adobes were surrounded by gardens, vineyards and sections of tilled fields. Adobe walls were built and live willow brush fences planted to keep out the wild livestock that roamed the area.
In 1854 Jose Sepulveda paid Domingo Yorba, one of the largest claimants (to the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana) $6,000 in cash, 100 heifers, 50 steers, and 50 fillies for his share of land and livestock…Domingo Yorba and his wife thus conveyed to Jose Sepulveda ‘the land of the Rancho Santa Ana where they, the grantees, at present live to where the River of the said Rancho of Santa Ana runs, including the houses, corrals, and fences to them belonging.”
Life was not all fun and games for Don Jose. He had to spend considerable time and money proving his land claims before the courts. He went into debt, borrowing money at huge interest rates. The floods of 1861-62 were followed by the drought of 1863-64. The scorched hills and valleys of the Santa Ana Valley were covered with the corpses and bones of thousands of cattle. Even the great swamp, Cienega de las Ranas, was dry.
As a result of these circumstances Don Jose was unable to keep up the payments on his mortgage. He sold his vast holdings on the Rancho San Joaquin to James Irvine, Llewellyn Bixby and Thomas Flint. He kept the 1,000-acre El Refugio, however, spending time there with his horses and his memories. A fire in 1871 partially destroyed the old adobe home. In 1873 he gave El Refugio to his family and moved to Caborca, Sonora, Mexico. He died there on April 17, 1875.
The 1,000 acres upon which El Refugio sat was located west of Bristol and south of First Street; however, historians disagree as to the actual location of the adobe compound. Some accounts place the house at First and Sullivan streets while others claim the adobe and its compound were at Artesia and Myrtle streets. Artesia is now South Raitt. Three old streets upon which several pre-l900 houses survive are Daisy Avenue, Franklin Street, and Artesia (now Raitt) Street. A 1913 map shows them all ending at Myrtle Street. The adobe was supposed to have been on the south side of Myrtle.
On the other hand, the southeast corner of First and Sullivan is the location of a General Electric pumping plant which could have been the site of the prolific spring shown on the early map.