Hidden History: Tejon Ranch’s crucial role in the California Gold Rush

The California gold rush is often tied to the history of San Francisco and its legacy and development, and rightly so. But I wanted to share a little-known (but fun) piece of California history regarding the gold rush, and that’s the crucial role the founder of Tejon Ranch played in the gold rush, the state’s population boom, and the birth and growth of California as we know it today.

But first, let’s step back before the days of the gold rush and take a look at the history of the land that one day would become Tejon Ranch.

What’s in a name?
Tejon Ranch got its name from Lt. Francisco Ruiz who called the region El Tejon, Spanish for badger, after his soldiers found a dead badger at the mouth of the canyon. Ruiz also named the canyon Cãnada de las Uvas (Grapevine Canyon), because of the abundance of grapevines found there. From there, word got out about the natural beauty and available bounty, like beaver, and the exodus was on.

Trappers, explorers … and war
Soon, trappers, traders and explorers flooded into the Tehachapi Mountain area, led by Jedediah Strong Smith. Tejon Ranch had some famous visitors, too. Kit Carson, one of the West’s most noted figures, rode the ranges of Tejon, scouting and trapping beaver in the early 1800s.

In 1843, Tejon Ranch was officially established as a Mexican land grant, and all the while Col. John C. Fremont, Kit Carson and Alex Godey, another frontiersman, explored the region.

By the mid-1800s, war was brewing between the U.S. and Mexico and in 1846, the Mexican American War broke out. During the war, Lt. Edward Fitzgerald Beale, the eventual owner of Tejon Ranch, arrived in California as a naval officer, and served with Fremont, ultimately being recognized as a war hero for his role in the battle of San Pasqual, 30 miles north of San Diego.

‘There’s gold in them thar hills!’
With the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, the Spanish-Mexican rule ended in California. The other big news that year?  Gold!  News of the discovery was confined to California until Beale made the perilous journey across Mexico on horseback, eventually boarding a ship in Vera Cruz, sailing to the Southeastern U.S., then made his way by stagecoach to the east coast, becoming the first person to carry the news to Washington, DC of the discovery of gold in California. Though it’s been widely reported that Kit Carson was the first Californian to bring the news about the discovery of gold to the Army, Beale beat him by two months.

The legacy lives on

The news of gold eventually brought hundreds of thousands of people to California from the rest of the U.S. and abroad.  In 1850, California became one of the few American states to go directly to statehood without first being a territory.

Today, at 422 square miles, Tejon Ranch is the largest single expanse of private property in the state.  It’s also the next great opportunity in California with existing and future real estate developments strategically located along Interstate 5—the main artery that connects northern and southern California.  It also boasts thousands of acres of orchards and vineyards, bountiful wildlife, and vast stretches of land that will remain in their natural state, protected by California’s largest and most significant private conservation agreement. We’re proud of the history of the Ranch and the future it offers to California and beyond. 

By Barry Zoeller

Zoeller is vice president, corporate communications & investor relations at Tejon Ranch.