History

History at Old Town San Diego

San Diego’s story is varied and elaborate, a mosaic pieced together by a variety of cultures. At times the pieces fit together seamlessly; at other times they were forced together with difficulty.

Archaeologists say Indians have lived in this area for at least 10,000 years. The people lived in small, independent bands and moved as the seasons and food sources changed.

San Diego was colonized in 1769, when the Spanish decided build a series of presidios and missions up and down the coast to secure their claim to Alta California. The native peoples, Kumeyaay, were to be converted to Christianity so they could become Spanish citizens. Every aspect of their culture was changed or erased, but the Kumeyaay endured, and their descendants are still here today.

Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821. Cattle ranching became the economic cornerstone of the Californios, who could now own land in Mexican California.

In 1846, the United States gained control of California. What might have been a gradual cultural change from a largely trade-based ranching economy shifted rapidly with the discovery of gold in January of 1848. Settlers began streaming into California bringing with them ideas and attitudes that would impact the culture and economy of the Californios and the Kumeyaay.

The American influence was profound and established a different kind of old west in San Diego, even though the familiar and iconic notion of cowboys and Indians presented by Hollywood films never existed. Today Indian, Mexican and many other cultures remain important and beautiful elements of the cultural mosaic that we call San Diego.

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