Malibu Complete SPANISH EXPLORATION & EARLY OWNERS OF MALIBU

Spanish exploration & early owners of Malibu

Cabrillo National Monument, a heroic statue of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, looks out over San Diego Bay which Cabrillo discovered for the Spanish on September 28, 1542.  A few weeks later, October 10, 1542, Cabrillo's expedition dropped anchor at Malibu, the first known visit by Europeans.
Cabrillo National Monument, a heroic statue of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, looks out over San Diego Bay which Cabrillo discovered for the Spanish on September 28, 1542. A few weeks later, October 10, 1542, Cabrillo's expedition dropped anchor at Malibu, the first known visit by Europeans.

Spanish exploration & early owners of Malibu

Prior to the arrival of the Spanish explorers, the coastal areas of California from Malibu to San Luis Obispo were the lands of the Chumash, native Americans who built villages in favorable locations including "Humaliwo" village near the lagoon at the mouth of what is now Malibu Creek. The word is recorded as meaning one of three phrases: where "the surf sounds loudly"; "where the mountains meet the sea"; or "Place on the cliff".

The first accounts of the Malibu area came from the explorations of the Spaniard Juan Cabrillo, who set sail from Navidad, Mexico in June 1542. From October 10-13, 1542 he anchored in the small bay of Malibu Lagoon, claiming the landfall for the King of Spain, naming it "Pueblo de las Canoas" (Town of the Canoes), because of the many impressive Chumash canoes which came to his ships to greet him.

More than 200 years later in 1775 an expedition by Juan Bautista de Anza brought 250 men, women, and children from Mexico, across then unknown deserts and mountains, to establish a permanent Spanish settlement in California. Traveling through inland valleys, on February 22, 1776, they made camp on a fine stream under the oak trees in the vicinity of today's Malibu Creek State Park. They recorded that young Jose Bartolome Tapia, eldest of nine children of a soldier's family, rode his horse along an old Indian trail, following the creek through a beautiful canyon until he could see the lagoon and beach. Years later, around 1800, Tapia applied for a grant of the land he saw as a youth, as a reward for his Army service. The grant was made in 1805, with the name Rancho Topanga Malibu Sequit, possibly the first recorded use of the name Malibu. Tapia settled on the land, to graze his cattle and raise his family.

In 1848, Leon Victor Prudhomme, who married Tapia's granddaughter, acquired title to the Rancho Malibu. By that time it comprised about 14,000 acres described as:

"Said land is bounded on the North by the Sierra Mayor; on the South by the Pacific Ocean; on the East by the Rancho Santa Monica, where it joins the Canada de Topanga; and on the West by the mouth of the San Buenaventura River."

The US-Mexican War brought American government to California and in 1852 the U.S. Land Commission held hearings to determine ownership of the former Spanish/Mexican lands. Prudhomme put in his claim for the Rancho Malibu but could not document the Tapia title and his ownership. After the Gold Rush boom ended in 1857 he sold his undefined interest in the land to Don Mateo Keller (born Matthew Keller in Ireland in 1811) for about ten cents per acre. By 1864 Keller was able to perfect his claim to the land, and receive full title to 13,330 acres described as:

"Extending from a place called 'Topanga,' the dividing line between these lands and the Ranch of 'Santa Monica,' on the southeast, along the Pacific to a point called Mugu on the northwest, and bounded on the northeast by a ledge of rocks on the top of and extending the whole length of a range of mountains; and adjoining the lines of the ranchos of 'Las Virgines,' 'Triunfo,' 'Santa Ysabel,' and 'Conejo."'

Other claims and appeals had to be disposed of before, on August 29, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant did "give and grant" the Rancho Topanga Malibu Sequit to Keller. All later deeds to Malibu real estate are traceable to "the land of Matthew Keller in the Topanga Malibu Sequit."

In 1892 Frederick Hastings Rindge and May K. Rindge, the fourth and last owners of the entire Rancho Malibu, purchased this 13,330-acre tract from Henry Keller's son Matthew, for a then fabulous price of $10 per acre (increased from ten cents per acre 35 years earlier). Rindge later expanded the ranch to 17,000 acres by buying adjacent land held by homesteaders and other Spanish land grants. Some homesteaders held on to their claims, however, such as the Decker family in the canyon that now bears their name.

Continue with Malibu History: The Rindge Family ...

Acknowledgement: The material in this section is adapted from The Story of Malibu, presented by the Malibu Lagoon Museum.

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