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Californios, technically, the Spanish-speaking residents of Alta California during the Spanish and Mexican era (1769–1848). More commonly the term referred to the property-holding elite, the 500 families who were given land grants during this period, including the most politically prominent families: the Bandinis, Carrillos, Picos, de la Guerras, Vallejos, Coronels, Castros, Alvarados, and others. Together they enjoyed economic and political dominance during the Mexican era (1821–1848). Among their numbers were a few Americans who had married into Californio families, such as Abel Stearns and John Warner.

Prominent Californios served as members of the State Constitutional Convention that met at Monterey in 1849. Others served as officials of town and county governments during the first few decades after the American takeover. After 1848, however, the economic and political fortunes of the Californios generally declined because of the immigration of more than 100,000 people to California during the gold rush. The newcomers' demand for land prompted squatter violence and the passage of several discriminatory laws that led to the loss of Californios' land. The Land Act, passed by Congress in 1851, established a lengthy process, lasting an average of twenty years, of legitimizing Californio land claims, leading to increased squatterism and speculation. In order to pay new, higher land taxes (Americans based land value on future productivity rather than actual usage) and lawyers' fees, the Californios mortgaged their grants; many ultimately lost them to banks, lawyers, and moneylenders. Some of the sons of the Californios became bandits, such as Nicolás Sepúlveda, Chico Lugo, Pedro Vallejo, and Ramón Amador; others continued to be active in politics; and many Californio families intermarried with Anglo immigrants.

See alsoCalifornia .


Leonard Pitt, The Decline of the Californios: A Social History of the Spanish-Speaking Californians, 1846–1890 (1966).

Richard Griswold Del Castillo, The Los Angeles Barrio, 1850–1890: A Social History (1979).

Douglas Monroy, Thrown Among Strangers: The Making of Mexican Culture in Frontier California (1990).

Additional Bibliography

Río, Ignacio del. Crónicas jesuíticas de la antigua California. México: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Coordinación de Humanidades, Programa Editorial, 2000.

                           Richard Griswold del Castillo

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