Vast rangeland was opened to private ownership when the newly formed Mexican Republic passed the Secularization Act in 1833. Mission property was confiscated, and any eligible Mexican citizen (native or naturalized) could petition Mexican governors for large grants of land. In addition to being a Catholic, an applicant had to show an ability to raise crops or cattle and to occupy the property. Of 700 grants made or reconfirmed throughout California between 1833 and 1846, 20 were either all or partly within today's Orange County borders. They were:
1. Rancho Boca de la Playa
"Mouth of the beach," the most southerly rancho in the county, was granted to Emigdio Vejar by Mexican Gov. Pio Pico in 1846. Vejar, who had been a "judge of the plains" (authorized to dispense justice in rural areas) in the Los Angeles area in 1838, was justice of the peace in San Juan Capistrano in 1844 and 1845. In 1869, he sold the 6,607-acre rancho to Juan Avila. It eventually was acquired by Juan Forster, an Englishman who became a Mexican citizen and a major regional landowner, second only to Abel Stearns.
2. Rancho Bolsa Chica
The 8,107-acre "little pocket" or "bay" was granted to Joaquin Ruiz in 1841 by Mexican Gov. Juan B. Alvarado. Formerly part of Rancho Las Bolsas, Rancho Bolsa Chica eventually was bought by Abel Stearns, a Massachusetts native who became a naturalized citizen in Mexico before coming to Los Angeles as a trader in 1829. Through marriage and land purchase, Stearns became the largest landowner in Southern California.
3. Rancho Canada de los Alisos
Bounded by mountains on the northeast, the "glen of the alders" was granted in 1842 to Jose Serrano by Gov. Alvarado. Supplemented by a later grant from Gov. Pico in 1846, the Serrano property swelled to 10,668 acres. Serrano had been a judge of the plains in Los Angeles in 1835. Dwight Whiting acquired most of the rancho in the 1880s, and it became the Whiting Ranch.
4. Rancho Canon de Santa Ana (sometimes called Canada de Santa Ana)
Taking its name from the Santa Ana River, the 13,328-acre rancho was granted in 1834 to Bernardo Yorba by Mexican Gov. Jose Figueroa. Yorba was one of four sons of Jose Antonio Yorba, a soldier in the Gaspar de Portola expedition that set out from San Diego in 1769 in search of Monterey Bay. Bernardo Yorba eventually acquired land that extended his holdings from Riverside County to Newport Bay.
5. Rancho La Habra
This rancho, whose name meant low pass in the mountains or valley (possibly derived from a low pass through the Puente Hills crossed by the Portola expedition), was partly in what is now Los Angeles County. It was granted in 1839 to Mariano R. Roldan by Manuel Jimeno on behalf of the Mexican nation. The acreage is not known. Roldan had been an auxiliary alcalde, or judge, in the Los Angeles district in 1836 and later had served as a judge of the plains. Andres Pico acquired the land, and it was later sold to Stearns.
6. Rancho La Puente
Only a small portion of "the bridge" was within what is now Orange County. The 48,790-acre rancho was granted in 1845 by Gov. Pico to John Rowland and William Workman--trappers who had brought a party of Americans to California from New Mexico in 1841.
7. Rancho Las Bolsas
This rancho was part of a vast Spanish concession given to former soldier Manuel Nieto in 1784 by Spanish Gov. Pedro Fages. Las Bolsas was created when Nieto heirs asked for a partition of the larger grant. Gov. Figueroa gave the land in 1834 to Catarina Ruiz, the widow of one of the Nietos. By the time the United States Land Commission was formed in 1851 to consider the claims of rancho owners, Las Bolsas ownership was in dispute. Ramon Yorba and Jose Justo Morillo each claimed a half-interest. Stearns later became full owner. The acreage of the rancho is not known.
8. Rancho Lomas de Santiago
The 47,266-acre "hills of St. James" was granted in 1846 by Gov. Pico to Teodocio Yorba, son of Jose Antonio Yorba. It later was acquired by James Irvine Sr. in deeds dated 1868 and 1876.
9. Rancho Los Alamitos
"Little cottonwoods" (or willows) was part of the larger 1784 Manuel Nieto concession. Los Alamitos was created during the partitioning and in 1834 was granted by Gov. Figueroa to Juan Jose Nieto. The acreage is not known. It was later acquired by Stearns.
10. Rancho Los Coyotes
Rancho Los Coyotes also was created during the breakup of the Manuel Nieto concession and was given to Juan Jose Nieto in 1834. Stearns later added it to his holdings. Its acreage is not known.
11. Rancho Mission Vieja or La Paz