In 1769, Gaspar de Portola and his expedition that started in Baja California began trekking up the California coast in search of the bay of Monterey.
About half-way up the coast, to the northwest of what is now Los Angeles, they came upon a beautiful stretch of land that had a great number of prosperous Indians living in a peaceful state. De Portola was impressed by this area, but continued north toward his goal of finding Monterey.
In 1781, the Spanish government decided to settle the area (Santa Barbara) that Portola reported to be an excellent site for a presidio or mission, and the Rivera and Moncada Expedition was formed to go by land from northern Mexico west across the Colorado Desert, enter California and develop a presidio at the Santa Barbara site.
On this expedition was a young soldier, Jose Dario Arguello. Jose Dario was born in 1753 in New Spain and became a soldier at the age of 20 (1773). He joined a regiment of the Spanish dragoons (cavalry men) as a private, but due to his leadership ability rose steadily to become a sergeant and then alferez (a second lieutenant) in 1781. Before leaving northern Mexico, he married Ignacia Moraga. His wife gave birth to a baby at the Mission San Gabriel and he served at Santa Barbara after she recovered from the birth. A popular man, a strict disciplinarian and a good accountant, Jose Dario possessed attributes the government needed and he was sought after for duties other soldiers were not asked to do.
He was assigned to the Presidio in San Francisco as commandant. In 1787, he was transferred to Monterey. He returned to the San Francisco Presidio in 1796 and remained there for 10 years. During this time, his family was enlarged by five sons and eight daughters. His daughter Conception is one of the better remembered children as there were many books written that included her tragic romance with a Russian soldier.
In 1814, Jose Dario was named the interim governor of California and in 1822 he was named governor of Baja California. The tradition in the Spanish form of government was to reward its best soldiers with land grants, and Governor Diego Boric made two land grants in 1795 to Jose Dario Arguello. One of the land grants was named El Pilar and was on the San Mateo coast. The other land grant was called Los Cochinitos. The Los Cochinitos grant was later renamed Rancho de las Pulgas. It covered the area from San Mateo Creek south to San Francisquito Creek (Palo Alto) and from the Bay to the hills in the west. The Arguello family never confirmed ownership of the El Pilar Rancho.
Luis Antonio Arguello was born at the San Francisco Presidio and baptized on June 22, 1784 at Mission Dolores. He grew up surrounded by a military environment becoming a cadet at age 15. After an engagement that lasted from 1800 to 1807, he married Rafaela Sal in 1807. Unfortunately, she died in 1814. In 1822, Luis married Maria Soledad Ortega, who lived on Rancho Refugio near Santa Barbara.
The wedding was a grand affair and a fiesta at the rancho lasted a number days. Luis was appointed as the first governor of California under Mexican rule in 1822 and remained governor until 1825. During this time he tried to make a number of changes that would ensure money for the treasury to run California. In the process, however, he made enemies that eventually resulted in his being replaced as governor. Luis died March 27, 1830, at the age of 46. Maria Soledad, his widow, returned to live on the Rancho de las Pulgas where it is recorded that she had 4000 cattle and 2000 horses in 1838.
In the late 1840s, the turmoil of the 49er gold rush to California led to statehood and the Spanish/Mexican citizens had to prove to the land commission that they were the legal owners to retain their property rights. In June 1852, Soledad tried to confirm 12 leagues of property for the Arguello family. The family ended up with 35,240 acres of property (four square leagues), of which 50 percent was confirmed for Soledad, 25 percent was for son Jose Ramon, 10 percent went to son Luis Antonio, and 15 percent went to their lawyer Simon Mezes.
In 1859, Maria Soledad sold her land in the rancho and moved to Santa Clara where many members of her family lived.