The Spanish government grants Manuel Nieto the land we now know as Long Beach.


Originally, this land was not part of the United States. Native American peoples have lived in what is today LA County for over 11,000 years. The native peoples of the Long Beach area are known as the Tongva.

From 1542 through the 1700s, Spanish explorers and governors often commented on the Tongva’s friendliness and hospitality.  The Tongva fed and invited Spanish travelers to stay with them in their villages, and as a result the history of native peoples in Long Beach is full of hospitality and diversity.

Several Tonvga sites in Long Beach have been excavated by archaeologists, including sites near North Long Beach! The closest known site, called Tibahangna, is just down Atlantic Ave south of Del Amo Boulevard. You may have visited a portion of that land, as it operates today as Rancho Los Cerritos Historic Site.

In 1784, the Spanish government granted Manuel Nieto the area between the San Gabriel and Santa Ana Rivers. Nieto became the legal owner of what is now Long Beach before it was divided up into smaller pieces of land. Upon his death, his family (including his granddaughter Rafaela Cota) inherited the land.

John Temple acquired the land from the Nieto family in 1843, and in 1844 he employed several Tongva people to build and work on his rancho. In 1850, the rancho had 36 residents (22 of whom were native peoples.)

Through middlemen, the Tonvga traded tools and materials they valued like seashells and soapstone with groups located as far away as central Arizona.  Soapstone, a type of rock that is able to withstand extreme heat, was quarried from Catalina island and brought to Long Beach using small boats.

When this land was colonized by the Spanish, Tongva peoples were forced to work as laborers in the Spanish mission system.

Puvungna, a Tongva village located on the present site of California State University, Long Beach, was a sacred place for multiple native groups. To honor this history, first peoples who reside in our community today organize annual Pow Wows in March at “Cal State Puvungna.”


Sources we used and further reading on this era of Long Beach:

  • Rancho Los Cerritos Historic Site is open for tours. Visit their website to learn more about the rancho and schedule a visit.

  • Visit the American Indian Student Services webpage to learn more about and make a plan to attend the next annual pow wow on campus at California State University, Long Beach.

  • Brian F. Byrd and L. Mark Raab, “Prehistory of the Southern Bight: Models for a New Millennium,” California Prehistory: Colonization, Culture, and Complexity (Lanham: AltaMira Press, 2007), 215, 219.

  • Jon M. Erlandson, Torben C. Rick, Terry Jone, and Judith F. Porcasi, “One If By Land, Two If by Sea: Who Were the First Californians?,” California Prehistory: Colonization, Culture, and Complexity (Lanham: AltaMira Press, 2007), 58-59.

  • Henry R. Wagner, Spanish Voyages to the Northwest Coast of America in the Sixteenth Century, reprint (San Francisco: California Historical Society, [1929] 1966), 85, 234-236.

  • Herbert Eugene Bolton, Fray Juan Crespi: Missionary Explorer on the Pacific Coast, 1769-1771 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1927), 141.

  • Father Juan Viscaíno, The Sea Diary of Father Juan Viscaíno to Alta California 1769 (Los Angeles: Glen Dawson, 1959), 13.

  • Bernice Eastman Johnston, California’s Gabrielino Indians (Los Angeles: Southwest Museum, 1962), 39-40,82.

  • William E. Evans, "California Native Pottery: A Native Contribution to the Culture of the Ranchos," Pacific Coast Archaeological Society Quarterly 5 no. 3 (1969): 71-81.

  • Lowell John Bean and Charles R. Smith, “Gabrielino,” Handbook of North American Indians Volume 8: California, ed. Robert F. Heizer (Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1978), 547.

  • Robert H. Jackson and Edward Castillo, Indians, Franciscans, and Spanish Colonization: The Impact of the Mission System on California Indians (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995).

  • James Robert Moriarty, Chinigchinix: An Indigenous California Indian Religion (Los Angeles: Southwest Museum, 1969).

  • La Casa de Rancho Los Cerritos Chronology. Special Collection. Rancho Los Cerritos. Long Beach Main Library.

  • Krythe, Maymie R. The Day Fortune Favored Don Juan Temple. Special Collection. Rancho Los Cerritos Collection Vol 4. Long Beach Public Library.

Image Captions:

  1. Rafaela Cota, granddaughter of Manuel Nieto, who inherited Rancho Los Cerritos. Sketch about 1850, Long Beach Public Library Photo Collection.

  2. Los Cerritos Ranch House, photo about 1890. The house still stands today and is open for tours at Rancho Los Cerritos Historic Site in Long Beach. Huntington Digital Library.

  3. John Temple (who later changed his name to Don Juan Temple due to his love of Spanish culture) married Rafael Cota and ultimately became the owner of Rancho Los Cerritos. This photograph of him dates from the late 19th century, and belongs to the Huntington Digital Library.

  4. Jotham Bixby, who later purchased Rancho Los Cerritos and played a key role in founding the City of Long Beach, is seen here riding his horse on the property. Huntington Digital Library.

Important Note: Throughout history, written records and photographs have been taken by individuals with wealth and formal education. These individuals, through their own lens of what “matters’ have decided what to document and what to ignore. Due to the fact that those with wealth in our region in this period were white or Spanish, the existence, everyday life, and structures of the Tongva people and other first peoples were largely undocumented and erased from history. The photographs here, which depict others from this story, are displayed because they are available and help to illustrate this history. The lack of documentation of first peoples in this photo set is not a reflection of their importance in this period.