Crumbling Walls, Cactus, and Bare Hills Mark Site of Old Pueblo at Peralta

Alfonso Yorba
Santa Ana Journal, March 7, 1936

Many an adobe home and ancient name are to be found amid the crumbling walls, clumps of cactus, barren hillsides and spreading orchards of the old settlement of Peralta on the upper Santa Ana.

Here on the canyon road between Olive and Prado one of the oldest families in California has managed to cling tenaciously to the oldest settled portion of its once mighty domain.

Unaffected, for the most part, by modern changes about them, the Peralta and their paisanos live in pastoral simplicity on their few remaining acres, maintaining as few Californian families do the speech, names, customs and traditions of their ancestors.

In 1785 their Spanish soldier ancestor, Don Pedro Peralta, had married Maria del Carmen Grijalva y Valencia, youngest daughter of Lieutenant don Juan Pablo Grijalva—original grantee of the rancho.

Don Juan Pablo was a fiery Spanish conquistador of old. From 1764 to 1776 he had been an Indian fighter on the Sonoran frontier, engaged in 20 major and minor campaigns against the Yaquis, and in the latter year he became Colonel Anza’s right-hand man in colonization of Alta California. After serving 10 years in the San Francisco presidio, Grijalva was commissioned an alferez by General Ugarte on July 20, 1787.

By the end of the same century he was occupying the Paraje de Santa Ana rancho, also called Santiago de Santa Ana, in the vicinity of Olive with his Peralta and Yorba sons-in-law and their families, and on his death at San Diego in 1806 the aged warrior had possibly a written, and certainly a verbal, grant or right to occupy the rancho issued in 1801 or 1802.

It was on this rancho and near the present town bearing his name that don Pedro Peralta and his family finally settled. Peralta had been corporal in charge of the mission guard at Santa Cruz from 1797 to 1800 and was later retired from active service. Here in Peralta his eldest son, Juan Pablo Peralta, grandson and namesake of Lieut. Grijalva, founded the family that resides in the vicinity today.

It was Juan Pablo Peralta’s son Rafael who, in 1850 or earlier, erected most of the picturesque old Peralta adobe still standing behind its olive and pomegranate trees a short distance east of the Peralta schoolhouse on the main highway. As his family increased in late years don Rafael added the two adobe wings to the front corridor.

Built with unique, exceptionally small adobes by his Indian retainers, don Rafael’s two-storied, seven-room home, although in ruinous condition, still remains in the possession of his son, don Genaro Peralta. Another son, don Rosendo, who also resides near the adobe, has in his possession priceless manuscripts, diaries and letters of the old Peraltas of Spanish and Mexican days which his grandson, Roger Peralta, is compiling into a history of their family and rancher. Efforts are being made to preserve and repair the historic house and make it a museum of Peralta and Yorba history. Today it is the only standing adobe on Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana built, owned, and occupied by descendants of the original grantees before the Great Partition of 1868.

In that year the U.S. courts partitioned the huge grant of more than 60,000 acres and definitely broke the Peralta-Yorba control of the Santa Ana valley, thus opening the way for establishment of modern Santa Ana, Olive, El Modena, Orange, Tustin, Fairview, Costa Mesa and other communities within the far-flung rancho borders.

yorba rafael peralta adobe 1936
The ruins of the Rafael Peralta Adobe, 1936
Courtesy the First American Corp.

A little to the east of Rafael Peralta’s adobe, and hidden behind orange groves and a protective wooden covering, stands a much older, although better preserved adobe. Built long before the days of American rule, with enormously thick walls, huge hand-hewn roof beams, and massive door and window cases, the five-room Carlos Dominguez house it today the home of don Vicente Yorba y Peralta and his wife, Doña Teresa Marron de Yorba.

Carlos Dominguez erected the house in bygone days on the lands of his wife, Paula Peralta, a sister of Don Rafael, and it was later acquired by don Vicente, the present owner, who is descended from both the Yorba and Peralta families. Among his ancestral treasures housed in the newly remodeled adobe, don Vicente and his wife have the old Peralta family four-poster bed of Spanish cherry wood—an heirloom they are giving their son, Horacio Yorba, as a wedding present.

Across the street from the Dominguez house stand the ruins of Jose Rosas Marquez’s adobe saloon or cantina, erected in the wild days of 1863 when three men were known to be killed there in the knife-throwing, pistol-firing cowboy melees then so common in the saloons of pastoral California.

Only last year the adobe cantina stood intact and in perfect preservation at the edge of the highway but had to be sacrificed for a slight widening of the road, leaving only a shell of the back portion standing today.

Directly in front of the Peralta school and to the west of the already mentioned structures is the perfectly preserved two-story Ramon Peralta adobe, built by a son of don Juan Pablo Peralta II in 1871. Don Ramon dying in 1873, the adobe was acquired by his cousin, Pablo Dominquez, and has been maintained in good repair by subsequent owners although covered with a protective coast of white cement and modernized in a few other details. This was the last adobe to be erected in Peralta and one of the latest in the entire county.

Here and there amid the standing adobes and green orchards of Peralta one comes across broken and ruined adobe walls or mounds sheltered by ancient trees or high cactus hedges—for once a score of such houses as these lined the long crooked single street of the Peralta pueblo of old.

Although reduced in size through time and progress this typically Californian settlement of yesterday retains much of the charm of Orange County’s pastoral days to those who know its picturesque houses, people and traditions, and its lingering spirit of our lost California.

[Today, only the Ramon Peralta adobe survives. It is now a county historical park, located at 6398 E. Santa Ana Canyon Road in Anaheim Hills.]