Los Angeles itself was founded on September 4, 1781, by Spanish governor Felipe de Neve, and became a part of Mexico in 1821 following the Mexican War of Independence.
Los Angeles was originally named “El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles”, meaning the “Town of the Queen of the Angels”, or alternatively “El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles de Porciuncula,” meaning “The Town of Our Men of the Angels of Porciuncula”, near the site of the Indian village of Yang-na. It is not known which original name is correct at the present time.
Los Angeles and the rest of California was purchased in 1848 under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, so becoming part of the United States. Following the discovery of gold in Coloma, the small town in 1849 went from an agricultural frontier of just 400 settlers, to a mining frontier of 90,000 in just one year. It was transformed from a small community of neighbors and families to one of strangers and transients.
Miners came in their thousands from Sonora in northern Mexico on their way to the gold fields. There were so many of them that the area north of the Plaza became known as Sonoratown.
Los Angeles was known as the “Queen of the Cow Counties” during the Gold Rush years. Northern California’s miners needed the beef and other foodstuffs produced in this area. Los Angeles County came top of the list with the largest herds in the State, followed closely by Santa Barbara and Monterey Counties.
Due to the over-rapid expansion of the town, lawlessness was rife. Some of the New York regiment that had become disbanded after the war were charged with keeping law and order, but in reality were thugs and troublemakers. They would roam the streets accompanied by gamblers, outlaws, and prostitutes driven out of San Francisco, and the northern mining towns by Vigilance Committees or lynch mobs. Los Angeles was known in those days as the “toughest and most lawless city west of Santa Fe.”
Thus it was that by the 1850s, the once tree-covered plain was now barren and desolate. What the Spanish had once known as a beautiful wide river in a very lush environment ideal for settlement; had now become virtually a desert. The forests were felled, the wetlands had been dried out, and the once beautiful river later became diverted through irrigation ditches, often spilling over with garbage and foul matter.
Helen Hunt Jackson, a New England author and an Indian-rights activist came to see the Indian villages of Southern California in 1883. She was appalled by the racism of the whites, who treated the Indians worse than animals. They were hunted for sport, robbed of their farmlands, and brought to the edge of extinction. While the Indians were commonly portrayed as lazy and shiftless, Jackson found most of them to be hard-working craftsmen and farmers.