History of the land around Fallbrook can be divided into different eras (See chart).  First was the pre-historic Native era that extended for thousands of years.   The Spanish era began with the founding of the missions from 1769 thru-1798.  Due to far away European events, this Spanish period in California roughly coincided with the American Revolution occurring thousands of miles away. The Spanish era abruptly ended with Mexican Independence.  The Mexican era was short lived with the Gold Rush and the Mexican American War bringing California into the American era.

The first peoples entered the New World during the last ice age about 12,000 years ago when sea levels were low enough that people from northeastern Asia (Siberia) could possibly walk or paddle across the lowland plain of Beringia (today’s Bering Sea).  A rich habitat of seals, walruses, bears and fish encouraged hunters to enter and travel across Berengia.  Archaelogy evidence indicates that groups with seaworthy boats followed an ice-free coastline, including California, more than 8,000 years ago.  There are important archeological sites documenting habitation of California sites on the channel islands; Santa Rosa Island, San Miguel and San Clemente Islands. (1)  Early occupation sites between 8,000 and 7,000 B.C. have been documented along the mainland coast in today’s San Diego County. Possible village sites on today’s Camp Pendleton that pre-date European contact are being studied by archeologists. (2)

After Cabrillo first explored the Alta California coast for Spain in 1542, Spain ignored Alta California for over 200 years until the Spanish king heard rumors that Great Britain and Russia were exploring the Pacific coast.  The Spanish governor of Baja California, Gaspar de Portola, was ordered to lead a land and sea expedition northward that resulted in the founding of a San Diego fort (presidio) and father Junipero Sera’s first mission, San Diego de Alcala. (3)

Because England and Spain were enemies during the American Revolution, Spain was persuaded to provide some logistical and financial support to the 13 American colonies that were rebelling against England the on the eastern seaboard.  Spain also worried about England and Russia trying to claim part of Alta California.  This was one of the reasons the Spanish were motivated to finally expand their presence and colonize Alta California, building missions and presidios up along the California coast. (4)

After Junipero Serra’s death, the last California mission La Misión de San Luis Rey de Francia was founded.  At its prime, Mission San Luis Rey’s structures and services compound covered almost 950,400 acres, making it the largest of the missions, along with its surrounding agricultural land, which included today’s Fallbrook and Pala.  The Spanish called all Native Americans within the Mission’s jurisdiction, the Luiseños.

The Mexican War of Independence began in 1810 while Spain was having bigger problems in Europe.  The French under Napoleon had invaded and occupied part of Spain.  Supporting New Spain (Mexico) was too costly and too far away.  California was an even more remote territory.  The Spanish colonists were often left to fend for themselves.  Ironically, it was Mexican born Spaniards who initially led the uprising for Independence.  Following 11 years of conflict, Spain accepted Mexican Independence.

After the departure of Spain, Mexico worried that the Spanish missions held too much property and power over the people.  Mexico began a program of secularization whereby the mission lands were confiscated and redistributed to Mexican citizens.  Some land grants were modest, but others were huge Ranchos of tens of thousands of acres. (5)

Americans and Europeans were already streaming into California looking for land.  American settlers were assuming that California would one day become part of the United States.  The Mexican land owners, the Californios, who felt that Mexico had been neglecting Alta California for years, also believed it was inevitable that the Americans would invade.  In 1846, the Americans did invade California with a large Army force from the east, and landing Naval detachments that had been impatiently waiting offshore. Plus, there were militias of Mountain Men that organized to form the temporary Bear Flag Republic. (6)  In addition to California, the heartland of Mexico was also invaded by U.S. forces, fighting bloody battles, to force an end to the war.

The war was not yet over when gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill and the Gold Rush was on.  By 1853 more than 300,0000 prospectors had come to California. (7)

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was imposed on Mexico, ending the war. The treaty ceded California, Arizona, and New Mexico to the United States.  In return, Mexican residents in these States would become American citizens and their property respected.  However, the treaty called for land titles and boundaries of private property to be verified.

Because survey teams were often led by and composed of military officers who had been trained as civil engineers, the turmoil of the U.S. Civil War, largely fought well east of California, disrupted survey teams’ assignments to California.  The first priority was to survey the international boundary between Mexico and Alta California.  Old Town San Diego was the next priority.  It would be years more before survey teams reached today’s Fallbrook area. (8)

Vital Reche and his family were originally staying in Temecula with his wife’s brother John Magee, while Vital searched for land to homestead.  In 1870 the Reche family was living and farming in Live Oak Canyon, which Vital named his Fall Brook Ranch.  The Census Bureau designated this area as the ‘Pala District’.  Reche could not file for the homestead immediately because the U.S. Survey crews had not yet confirmed the boundaries to Rancho Monserate.  However, Reche befriended the surveyors, renting them crude cabins he built on his farm, so Vital likely had excellent information on exactly where the Rancho Monserate boundary would be drawn and where his homestead could begin. (9)

The California Pacific Railroad was formed to build a railroad from National City to Oceanside, east through the treacherous Temecula canyon and then in a northerly direction toward San Bernardino, 211 miles distant. At Oceanside, a line running east up the Santa Margarita River was built with mostly Chinese laborers. From Barstow, trains would connect San Diego to the rest of the country.   The railroad reached Fallbrook in March 1882.  The Fallbrook station opened with a telegraph station and a Wells Fargo office at the intersection of today’s De Luz Rd and Sandia Creek Rd. (10)

Two land speculators; William M. Scott and his son in law Francis W. Bartlett arrived in 1884, formed the Land and Town Company to buy acreage up the hill from the Fallbrook train station in Santa Margarita canyon.  F.W. Bartlett applied to the County of San Diego to create “West Fall Brook” under the State Townsite law. The County surveyor Charles Sanford arrived to officially lay off 75 acres of Bartlett’s property with street names that we still use today. (11)

Following the Mexican American War, the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo had grantedAmerican citizenship to Mexican residents of California, and promised that their land titles would be respected.  However, Native Americans were not citizens of the United States and they generally did not hold title to the land they were living upon.

On June 2, 1924, Congress finally granted citizenship to all Native Americans born in the U.S.

    Tom Frew
    Fallbrook Historical Society


    1) California Prehistory, edited by Terry Jones & Kathryn Klar.   ‘One if by Land, Two If by Sea:  Who were the First Californians?’ Jon Erlandson, et al. pp.54-56.
    2) California Prehistory, edited by Terry Jones & Kathryn Klar.   ‘Prehistory of the Southern Bight: Brian F. Byrd and Mark Raab pp. 217-219.
    3) Historical Atlas of California, by Derek Hayes pp. 36-38.
    4) The Role of Spain in The American Revolution: An Unavoidable Strategic Mistake, Major Jose I. Yaniz 
    5) Pio Pico the last Governor of Mexican California, by Carlos Manual Salmon
    6) Lay of The Land, by Michael Pallamary pp. 1-12
    7) Historical Atlas of California, by Derek Hayes pg. 88
    8) Lay of The Land, by Michael Pallamary pp. 117, 133
    9) U.S. Census records, Homestead records, History of Fallbrook by Don Rivers, FHS Historian
    10) San Diego History Center, The California Southern Railroad and the Growth of San Diego, by Douglas Lowell.
    11) 1885 map of West Fallbrook by Sanford filed at San Diego County, Union Tribune Feb 24, 1885.