The Homestead Act of 1862 created land opportunities for many individuals living in the United States. This image shows the original document.

U.S. National Archives

On May 20, 1862 President Abraham Lincoln passed the Homestead Act. This law allowed any U.S. citizen, or future citizen, to apply for and lay claim to 160 acres of surveyed government land. First, they had to file an application, pay a small fee, improve the land, and file for the deed of title. In the first five years, the homesteader had to live on the land and make improvements by building a 12 by 14 dwelling and by growing crops. When the five years was up they had to show proof of the improvements and could then file for the land patent (now called deed of title).

This act brought more Mexicans to the Santa Monica Mountain area. Many families had already moved to the area when travelers brought news back to Mexico of how well the Missions and their cattle were doing due to the large pasture areas, fresh drinking water, and fertile soil. Spaniard colonists had been struggling to raise their cattle on the rocky landscape of Mexico, which brought the initial wave of people to the Santa Monica Mountains area. It also brought many other people from various cultural backgrounds and provided a polyglot mixture of homesteaders during this time.

In 1886 Manuela and her husband Francisco Trujillo became the second family to homestead in Topanga Canyon.
In 1886 Manuela and her husband Francisco Trujillo became the second family to homestead in Topanga Canyon.

Courtesy Topanga Historical Society. 

Since 1771 California had belonged to Spain and then in 1822 Mexico overthrew their Spaniard control and California became property of Mexico. In 1848 California became part of the United States with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Although many of the Mexican homesteaders and rancho owners moved away from their lands into other parts of California or the United States, they left behind a strong cultural heritage that can be seen from San Diego to San Francisco.

Last updated: March 1, 2015

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