By Timothy R. Mullins II
Birth to Later Years
Stationed at Mission San Gabriel in 1784, Nieto petitioned Governor Fages––the same man who led him to Monterrey––for a land grant near the Mission, with the intention of grazing cattle. Such a request was expected considering the little pay that soldiers received. Approving the initial request, Governor Fages wrote a formal request to the Comandante General in Chihuahua, Mexico asking permission to grant Nieto land. Nieto’s request was approved with the following conditions: that he must respect the land belonging to other pueblos and missions, he must build a stone house on the land, he must stock cattle on the land, he needed to hire enough herders to manage his cattle, and he must accept that the land still belonged to the King of Spain. This colonial land concession, initially known as Rancho la Zanja, consisted of 300,000 acres ofland––the largest land grant that the Spanish colonial government had ever bestowed upon anyone––that spanned from the Santa Ana River to the East and the San Gabriel River to the West. On this land, Nieto established his homestead and expanded his family. Spanning the years of 1785 through 1796, he and his wife had five more children. Josef Antonio Maria Nieto was born on August 14, 1785 at Mission San Gabriel, Antonio Maria de los Santos Nieto was born circa 1788, Maria Manuela Antonia Nieto was born on August 4, 1791, Maria de los Santos Nieto was born circa 1795, and Antonia Maria Nieto was born on July 13, 1796.
Death and Legacy
Unfortunately for Manuel Nieto’s legacy, each heir did not hold onto their land, as some could not afford the mortgage bills and others lost their land when they could not afford the expenses necessary to keep their land claim after the United States adopted California as a state. Nonetheless, Nieto’s historic land grant is truly significant, as it encompasses a vast portion of Southern California, including Rancho Los Nietos (modern-day Sante Fe Springs), Long Beach, Huntington Beach, Lakewood, Buena Park, Norwalk, Downey, Garden Grove, some parts of Whittier, and small towns such as Cerritos.