Early History of Los Angeles

The Los Angeles area was originally home to the Tongva and Chumash Indigenous people for thousands of years. The Spanish arrived in 1542, when Juan Cabrillo visited the area.

They did not come back until 1769, when Gaspar de Portola led an expedition across Southern California with Catholic monks Junipero Serra and Juan Crespi. Portola named a "beautiful river" they crossed "El Río de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles de Porciúncula," "The River of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels of the Porciuncula," porciúncula meaning "little portion." Juan Crespi, one of the monks, had picked out a site along the river for a Spanish mission. The mission was cancelled though, and one was built in San Gabriel instead.

On September 4, 1781, 44 Mexican settlers set out from the San Gabriel Mission to establish a town at Juan Crespi's Porciuncula River site. Of these 44 people, documents show that nearly half were full or mixed Africans, and the other half were Indigenous people of Mexico. The town they founded was named El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles sobre El Río Porciuncula, ("The Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels on the River Porciuncula"). It remained a small ranch town for decades. Today the outline of the Pueblo is preserved in a Historic Monument area called Olvera Street.

Mexico's independence from Spain was achieved in 1821. Greater change took place after this. Americans gained control of the area after they flooded into California during the Gold Rush. This led to California becoming a state in 1851, soon after the Mexican-American War. Pio Pico was the first governor of California. His family came from those 44 original settlers. He was mixed Black and Indigenous. He is recognized in an abundance of streets, schools, and cities that carry his name. 

Los Angeles was incorporated as a city in 1850. Railroads arrived when the Southern Pacific completed its line to Los Angeles in 1876. Some of the first railroads connected the harbor at San Pedro to downtown Los Angeles. Oil was discovered in 1892, and by 1923 Los Angeles was supplying one-quarter of the world's oil. Even more important to the city's growth was water. In 1913, William Mulholland completed the canals that assured the city's growth, but left dozens of neighboring communities without water supplies of their own.

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