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First Settlers

Mission Days

Rancho Days

Railroad Days


Surrounding Areas

Present Community


Santa Margarita Timeline by Cheri Roe

The Chumash and Salinan Period
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900 (?) BC
First native Americans are thought to have reached the Central Coast of California

6500 BC
Earliest known Native American settlements in San Luis Obispo County: Santa Margarita and Diablo Canyon area

6500-999 AD
Native Americans settle Central Coast in larger numbers, mostly from the Chumash tribe. The Chumash of this region call themselves Stishni, and speak a dialect that differs from the Santa Barbara Chumash. The Salinan tribe expands through Monterey County southward.

1000 AD
Climatic warming trends begin. Native Americans expand settlements inland, away from the immediate coastline.

1500-1700 AD
Chumash and Salinan tribes expand in territory and population; cultures meet in the overlapping borderland beginning north of Morro Bay and running through the Santa Margarita Valley.
The Mission Period
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Spanish explorer Don Gaspar de Portola leads an expedition north from San Diego, reaches and names San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. He pushes on to the north along the coast to what is now Monterey County, turning inward to what is now the San Antonio Valley and discovering the Salinas Valley area near present day King City.

Franciscan missionaries found Mission San Antonio de Padua in what later becomes southern Monterey County. Salinan tribe begins to assimilate to San Antonio Mission Indians.

Franciscan Missionaries Frs. Junipero Serra and Jose Caveller found Mission San Luis Obispo as the fifth of the California missions. The Stishni Chumash ‘converted’ to become the San Luis Obispo Mission Indians. Fr Caveller explores the Chumash route up the Cuesta Grade to find the present-day Santa Margarita Valley. The route over the Cuesta Pass becomes the “Padre Trail” connecting Mission San Luis Obispo with Santa Margarita and the Salinas Valley to the north.

Mission San Luis Obispo chooses Santa Margarita Valley for site of the Mission Asistencia or outlying farm, soon after the Mission is founded. Padres name valley and farm ‘Asistencia de Santa Margarita” after the Italian saint, and plant wine grape vineyards and wheat fields that are farmed by the Chumash of Mission San Luis Obispo. The Chumash also begin building numerous adobes and the stoned-wall Asistencia building, a combination farmhouse, granary, chapel and lodging place.

Asistencia de Santa Margarita becomes key to Mission San Luis Obispo food supplies and increasing wealth. Red wine grapes are brought down the Cuesta Grade in carts to be made into Mission Wine.

Mission San Miguel Arcangel founded in what later becomes north San Luis Obispo County. The Santa Margarita Asistencia becomes a meeting place for Padres of both missions.

1810 - 1821
Mexico declared its independence on 16 September 1810.
Spain recognized that independence on 27 September 1821.

Mission San Luis Obispo becomes one of the wealthiest in the California Mission chain. Asistencia de Santa Margarita provides ample food-enough for export.

The Rancho Days
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Mexican government orders all Mission lands secularized and awarded to private owners through land grants.

Mexican governor of California grants 17,735 acre Rancho Santa Margarita to Joaquin Estrada. Estrada arrives and turns the Asistencia into a profitable cattle ranch.

The Bear Flag Revolt. Americans raise the Bear Flag in Monterey and declare intent to take California for the U.S. Rebels take on the Mexican government. California’s Mexican governor and top Mexican general meet at Rancho Santa Margarita to discuss plans to quell the revolt. They return to San Diego without a plan.

Col. John Fremont rides from Monterey to Los Angles with his “California Battalion of Mounted Infantry,” claiming the state for the U.S. Fremont rides through Santa Margarita, camps there, and orders Joaquin Estrada jailed on site. Estrada is released a few days later, and promises to help Fremont keep order in the area.

California becomes a U.S. territory. Gold is discovered at Sutter’s Mill. Rancho Santa Margarita prospers by selling cattle and grain in the markets of San Francisco and the Mother Lode to supply the ‘49ers.

California is admitted as the 31st State in the Union.

Rancho Santa Margarita owner, Joaquin Estrada, is elected to the first County Board of Supervisors. Estrada annually entertains hundreds of guests from throughout the state at grand fiestas at Rancho Santa Margarita.

U.S. Land Grant commission affirms Estrada’s ownership of Rancho Santa Margarita. Ranch continues to prosper by supplying
Grain and cattle to the San Jose and San Francisco markets where prices are roughly three times that of Midwestern markets.

Severe heat wave dries the creeks, kills the grasses of Rancho Santa Margarita. Cattle count drops from 200,000 head to 5,000 head. Estrada’s gambling, entertaining and tax debts pile up.

Joaquin Estrada is forced to begin selling off Rancho Santa Margarita. He sells to wealthy Mary and Martin Murphy of San Francisco for $45,000.

U.S. Civil War breaks out. U.S. land grant Commission transfers Rancho Santa Margarita to the Murphys, who turn ‘Santa Margarita Ranch’ over to their son, Patrick Murphy. Wealthy Patrick Murphy is named “General” in the California National Guard, without ever leaving the state to fight in the Civil War. Murphy leases out portions of Santa Margarita Ranch to “sharecroppers,” including many of the Estradas.

The Great California Drought makes farming and ranching tough. Murphy and ranch managers work to restore agriculture to Santa Margarita Ranch.

President Lincoln is assassinated. The U.S. Civil War ends. Normal rains return to California, averaging 35 inches a year on the Santa Margarita Ranch. The Estrada adobe ranch house is covered with wooded clapboard siding, painted white and a Victorian porch is added. The Estradas investigate planting grapes on the ranchland they now lease, but never carry out the idea.

The Railroad Days
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Patrick Murphy tries to interest San Francisco buyers in plots of ranchland. He allows a friend to build a small general store next to the Santa Margarita Ranch house to sell farm supplies and candy to neighbors. It becomes the official stagecoach stop for Wells Fargo and other stage lines. This is the last stop before the winding Cuesta Grade and San Luis Obispo.

The Southern Pacific railroad reaches Paso Robles in northern San Luis Obispo County, connecting it with San Francisco and the rest of the world. The stagecoach is still the only way to connect rail passengers to San Luis Obispo.

Southern Pacific Railroad reaches Templeton. The railroad has already bought right-of-way through Santa Margarita Ranch.

Patrick Murphy sells the Southern Pacific Railroad a chunk of land in the center of Santa Margarita Ranch near the ranch house. SP subdivides the land and sells lots and the town of Santa Margarita
is formed. The SP opens its railway construction headquarters in ‘downtown’ Santa Margarita. The town initially thrives with hotels, saloons and other commerce. In April Patrick Murphy hosts a “Grand Auction Sale” and Barbecue and begins selling lots in the town surrounding the SP lots.

Construction of the rail line down the Cuesta Grade is completed; Southern Pacific Railroad reaches San Luis Obispo.

Murphy has a financial downturn. His efforts to entice land buyers to develop Santa Margarita Ranch have largely failed.
The 20th Century

Murphy sells the Santa Margarita Ranch to the wealthy Reis family of San Francisco. Ferdinand “Frank” Reis continues to operate the Santa Margarita Ranch as a working ranch; dairy and sheep replace beef cattle. Frank Reis begins to reacquire parcels of the ranch previously sold by Murphy and Southern Pacific Railroad.

Frank Reis tries to attract San Francisco buyers to purchase and develop sections of the Santa Margarita Ranch during a healthy economic year. He fails to attract much interest and stops marketing. Frank Reis turns the ranch over to his grandnephew, William “Billy” Reis, who runs the working ranch as president of the Santa Margarita Land and Cattle Company.

World War I. Santa Margarita Ranch prospers as a source of grain, beans and other crops brought to supply U.S. troops in Europe.

Santa Margarita Ranch continues as a working ranch.

Bill Reis dies, willing his estate including the Santa Margarita Ranch to Stanford University with the intention that the University would hold the ranch in perpetuity for agricultural research and a hands on laboratory.

The Reis estate closes and Stanford University takes possession of Santa Margarita Ranch.

Stanford University sells Santa Margarita Ranch to the Robertson family of Texas.

The Robertsons sell off approximately 2000 acres of the ranch west of Highway 101. These parcels become “Spanish Oaks Ranch.”