CityDig: San Gabriel’s Dark Past

The bucolic sprawl of orange groves on this 1893 map belies a history of oppression
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San Gabriel, California, D.D. Morse, 1893

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This lovely booster map of San Gabriel and its environs paints a pretty picture of contented life in the foothill communities. The area’s backstory, though, is far from serene. San Gabriel is one of the oldest settlements in California, dating back to the establishment of the Mission San Gabriel Arcángel in 1771. The fourth of the eventual 21 missions, it was built by Junípero Serra and his crew on the Rio Hondo. When a flood destroyed the complex and its crops in 1776, the entire development was moved five miles north to the present site of San Gabriel.

In the 1830s the missions were secularized by the Mexican government, and their lands were sold off to settlers. In 1850 San Gabriel became the first township in Los Angeles, and over the course of the following decade, its population swelled to 586. Railroad connections in Southern California drew more people to the San Gabriel valley and drove up the value of land. As evident on the map, the Southern Pacific railroad passed right through the area. In addition to points of interest like the blacksmith, old Santa Anita, Mission Church, and the Mount Lowe railway, the map shows the many orange orchards and vineyards—like Sunny Slope farm, winery, and distillery—that spread across the land.

Not immediately evident from this map are the struggles of the first residents of the land—the Tongva people. The peace-loving Tongva were wary but not warlike when the Spaniards arrived, and in November 1771 the first Tongva children were baptized. Those children were dubbed “neophytes” by the Franciscans, who raised them as Catholics. Tongva people who refused to accept the religion were sometimes chained up or beaten.

The trouble worsened. When a Tongva medicine woman, Toypurina, witnessed the murder of a chief and the rape of his wife by Spanish soldiers, she began to organize her people. Along with a neophyte named Nicolas Jose, Toypurina convinced five villages and two chiefs to join her in a revolt against the Spanish. When the padres forbade native dancing as a pagan expression, the outraged Jose planned an attack on the mission. A conversation of his was overheard, however, and the Spanish soldiers were alerted of the impending attack.

On October 25, 1785 Toypurina and her revolutionaries were captured, tried, and convicted of crimes against the Spanish government. Facing death or imprisonment, Toypurina chose to convert to Christianity and was banished to the Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo after repeated flogging and 16 months of solitary confinement. Toypurina’s banishment permanently separated her from her child, and she was given the choice of marrying a Spaniard or staying in jail. Assuming the name Regina, she married a Spaniard who eventually received a land grant in Monterey. They settled there together and raised three children. Toypurina died at the young age of 39.


Los Angeles Public Library map librarian Glen Creason shares a map from the Central Library’s collection at CityThink each week.

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