The City of Santa Ana celebrates its 154th birthday today, October 27! The City was founded on October 27, 1869, when William “Uncle Billy” Spurgeon purchased 74 acres of land of an old rancho and called it Santa Ana.
Spurgeon also brought the first railroad to town and helped found Orange County in 1889, making Santa Ana the County seat by giving land to build a courthouse.
Spurgeon first came to California during the Gold Rush. His family was originally from Kentucky. He went back east after making decent money in gold mining and eventually returned and founded the City of Santa Ana. He acquired 76-acres of land from the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana for about $1,000.
Spurgeon was a well-known figure in the region. He worked as an agent for Wells Fargo and also was postmaster for the town. Eventually, the first board meeting was held for Santa Ana. Spurgeon was chosen as the president of the board. Spurgeon also founded the First National Bank of Santa Ana. He served as president of the bank, the Santa Ana Gas Company, and the Santa Ana Valley Irrigation Company. He donated the land for the depot where the Santa Ana Regional Transportation Center now exists. He had a walnut farm. He was a Democrat. He represented Los Angeles County on the California State Assembly for the 78th district from 1887 to 1889. He was also county supervisor, prior to the founding of Orange County. After the creation of Orange County, he served as supervisor for that county, too.
Members of the Tongva and Juaneño/Luiseño tribes lived in this area before the Spanish invaded. The Tongva called the Santa Ana area “Hotuuk.” The village of Pajbenga was located at modern day Santa Ana along the Santa Ana River.
After the 1769 expedition of Gaspar de Portolá out of Mexico City, then capital of New Spain, Friar Junípero Serra named the area Vallejo de Santa Ana (Valley of Saint Anne, or Santa Ana Valley). On November 1, 1776, Mission San Juan Capistrano was established within this valley.
In 1810, the first year of the Mexican War of Independence, Jose Antonio Yorba, a sergeant of the Spanish army, was granted land that he called Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana. Yorba’s rancho included the lands where the cities of Olive, Orange, Irvine, Yorba Linda, Villa Park, Santa Ana, Tustin, Costa Mesa and unincorporated El Modena, and Santa Ana Heights, are today. This rancho was the only land grant in Orange County granted under Spanish Rule. Surrounding land grants in Orange County were granted after Mexican Independence by the new government.
Santa Ana was listed as a township of Los Angeles County in the 1860 and 1870 census, with an area encompassing most of what is now northern and central Orange County. It had a population of 756 in 1860 and 880 in 1870. The Anaheim district was enumerated separately from Santa Ana in 1870.
Claimed in 1869 by Kentuckian William H. Spurgeon on land obtained from the descendants of Jose Antonio Yorba, Santa Ana was incorporated as a city in 1886 with a population of 2000 and in 1889 became the seat of the newly formed Orange County.
The forming of Orange County was unfortunately tainted as the effort to secede from the County of Los Angeles was led by Dr. Henry William Head, a Civil War veteran who served as a Los Angeles County Assemblymember (representing the Orange County region) from 1883-1889, according to the OC Weekly. Head was secretly a member of the KKK. Head was a Klansman almost since the group’s founding 1867 convention in Nashville, by his own admission. You can read more about the Klan’s history in Orange County by reading Annie Cooper Burton’s 1916 pamphlet on the Klu Klux Klan (the Santa Ana History Room has a copy).
Contrary to popular stereotypes, the folks who joined the KKK in Orange County in the 1920s were not psychotic “hillbillies” or outsiders. They were, in fact, prominent members of the community. Using a valid membership list of the Orange County Klan (obtained from the Library of Congress), Cocoltchos shows that the KKK attracted a wide range of some of the county’s most respected leaders, according to the Fullerton Observer.