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Nieto Family Ranch

Granted to:  Manuel Nieto in 1784 by Governor Pedro Fages

Size:  146,454 acres

Location:  Los Angeles & Orange Counties

It was not usual for a ranchero (rancho owner) to use his own name when naming his rancho.  Likely Manuel Nieto did not choose any name for his rancho, and it became known as Rancho Los Nietos for lack of any other name.  Nieto's rancho is better known by the names of the smaller ranchos into which it was divided in 1834:

Rancho Los Alamitos -- Ranch of the Little Cottonwood Trees

Rancho Las Bolsas -- Ranch of the Pouches

Rancho Los Cerritos -- Ranch of the Little Hills

Rancho Los Coyotes -- Ranch of the Coyotes

Rancho Santa Gertrudes -- Ranch of St. Gertrude


When Mission San Gabriel was founded in 1771, there were many Indians living along this part of the California coast.  Known as the Gabrielenos and Fernandeños because of their contacts with Mission San Gabriel and Mission San Fernando, these Indians had a rich culture.  It was on Indian lands that the missions and ranchos were built.


Manuel Peréz Nieto came from Sinaloa on the northwest coast of Mexico.  He was a soldier at the presidio in San Diego.  He owned some cattle and horses which he had gotten from the presidio's stock, and was grazing them on the presidio grounds.  When he was near retirement age, he sent a request to Governor Fages saying that his herds were increasing and he needed a better place to keep them.


For the third time in the same year (1784), Spanish Governor Pedro Fages granted to an individual the permission to use a large tract of land.  Earlier, Fages had granted Rancho San Pedro and Rancho San Rafael.  This third grant, given in response to  Manuel Nieto's request, extended from the ocean inland to within twelve miles of Mission San Gabriel.  It included the land between the Santa Ana and San Gabriel (Los Angeles) rivers.


Don Manuel Nieto built an adobe hut on his land and when he retired from military duty, he went to live there.  He was an old man by this time, but he took care of his cattle.  He also raised wheat and corn.

The padres at Mission San Gabriel were not pleased to have Don Manuel using land that they wanted, and they protested.  Don Manuel felt that he was being harassed by the padres, and he complained to the governor in Monterey.  Though the Spanish governor generally did not favor the missions, in this case he sided with the padres.  A portion of Nieto's rancho was taken in 1796 for the use of Mission San Gabriel.

Rancho Los Nietos bordered Rancho San Pedro, owned by Juan José Domínguez.  Nieto and Domínguez argued about the boundary line between their ranchos.  The original boundary was the San Gabriel River, but each year the river changed its course a bit.

Also, Nieto claimed that Domínguez was rounding up calves that belonged to Los Nietos and branding them as his own.  Domínguez made the same claim against Nieto.  When Manuel Nieto died in 1803, his will claimed half of the cattle on Rancho San Pedro, saying that Domínguez had stolen that much from him over the years.

The argument between Nieto and Domínguez went on through their heirs for almost fifty years.  Perhaps the quarrel was finally ended when María  de Cota, a granddaughter of Manuel Nieto, married Manuel Domínguez.  They had a long and happy marriage.


In 1822, when Mexico took control of California, Rancho Los Nietos was regranted to the Nieto family.  In 1834 the rancho was divided into five smaller ranchos, each of which was granted to a member of the Nieto family.  Rancho Las Bolsas, a grant of about 31,000 acres, was given to Catarina Ruiz, widow of Manuel Nieto.


Rancho Los Alamitos, a 28,000-acre portion of Nieto's rancho, went to Don Manuel's son, Juan José.  He sold it the next year to Governor José Figueroa for $500.  About 1843 the rancho and its cattle were purchased by Abel Stearns for $6,000.

Juan José Nieto also became the owner of Rancho Los Coyotes in 1834.  This land changed hands several times in the next few years.  At one time it, too, was owned by  Stearns.

Abel Stearns was an American from New England who came to California in 1828 and began acquiring land and cattle.  He was soon the richest "foreigner" (non-Spanish) in California.   Stearns was a shrewd businessman who got wealthy by lending money to his friends, then taking their land when they couldn't repay the loans. 

Stearns was married to Arcadia Bandini, daughter of the prominent Don Juan Bandini.  Doña Arcadia died in 1912 at an age believed to be about 100.

A famous oil well, Alamitos 1, began producing in July 1921 on Rancho Los Alamitos land.  This was the start of one of the most productive oil fields in the world, making California a major oil-producing state.   


In 1834 this portion (about 27,000 acres) of Rancho Los Nietos was granted to Don Manuel's daughter, Manuela Nieto, who was married to Guillermo Cota.  In the 1840's Rancho Los Cerritos came into the hands of John Temple. 

Temple was an American who came to California in 1827 and, like Abel Stearns, ran a store and began acquiring land and cattle. He became a Mexican citizen, changing his name to Juan Bautista Temple.  He got Rancho Los Cerritos by marrying Rafaela Cota, a cousin of Manuela's husband and one of the heirs to this rancho.  In 1843 Temple paid each of the other eleven heirs $275.75 for their shares.

The ranch house built in 1844 by Don Juan Temple was used for a hundred years as the ranch headquarters.  The drought years of the 1860s forced Temple to sell the rancho to the Bixby family, who ran Los Cerritos as a sheep ranch.  The Bixbys later bought Rancho Los Alamitos as well.  Don Juan Temple's ranch house is now California Historical Landmark No. 978, owned by the City of Long Beach.


This 22,000-acre portion of Rancho Los Nietos went to Doña Josefa Cota de Nieto, widow of Antonio María Nieto.  The rancho passed through many owners until, in the 1870s, it became one of the first ranchos to be subdivided.  The town of Downey was founded here in 1873.


Today the land granted to Manuel Nieto is covered by many cities.  The largest of these is Long Beach, situated on what was once Rancho Los Cerritos.  Two other cities -- Cerritos and Los Alamitos -- get their names from the old ranchos.  The city of Buena Park is on Rancho Los Coyotes land.  Rancho Santa Gertrudes became the site for Downey, Norwalk, and Santa Fe Springs.

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