Spain Paid Soldiers with Land
The Native American way of life was greatly altered by the arrival of Europeans. Spaniards first came into the Cypress area when Gaspar de Portola led an exploratory party into what is now Orange County in July, 1769. These first European visitors were frightened by a series of earthquakes on the banks of the Santa Ana River on July 28.
The first ownership of land in Cypress resulted from Spain's having to give land to soldiers in place of a payment of money. In 1784, Manuel Nieto, an old line officer, was given a 300,000-acre land cession, which included the area that is now the modern city of Cypress.
Nieto retired to his vast holdings, and when he died in 1804, he was the wealthiest man in California. His four sons kept the vast estate intact until 1833, when they petitioned Governor Jose Figueroa to partition and distribute the land between the heirs.
Juan Jose Nieto, the eldest son, received the ranchos of Los Alamitos and Los Coyotes, which included the Cypress area. Rancho Los Alamitos (Little Cottonwoods) was promptly sold to Governor Figueroa for $500, or about two cents per acre.
After the governor's death, Rancho Los Alamitos and its livestock were sold to Able Stearns, a Yankee merchant, for $6,000. This was the first land purchase by Stearns, who would become the wealthiest and largest landowner in Southern California.
Rancho Los Coyotes was sold in 1840 to Juan Baptiste Leandry, a French merchant and mariner, and ultimately also was acquired by Able Stearns. From the 1820s to the 1860s, Southern California was dominated by the ranch life and an economy built on the hide and tallow trade. It was a time when hides became "California bank-notes", and there literally were "cattle on a thousand hills."
With Rancho Los Alamitos as the center, Stearns built up the largest land and cattle empire in the area (200,000 acres) and was easily the wealthiest rancher in Southern California.
The preceding history is from the News-Enterprise Archives, written by Eileen Wheeler and Dr. Warren Beck. It is reprinted here with permission.