The first known white man to set foot in this area was a Franciscan padre, Father Juan Norberto de Santiago, who trudged into the valley in October of 1797. Santiago was on an expedition out of Mission San Juan Capistrano seeking a site for a new mission. With his exploring party of seven soldiers, he trekked to the shore of what is now Lake Elsinore, then traveled southward through the Temecula Valley and on to the ocean. During his years in California, Juan Santiago logged much information regarding the Temecula Valley area. He established a rancho at Mission San Luis Rey, and in 1810 returned to Mexico.
Little is known about Temecula during the early 1800’s because so many records were destroyed in the fire that followed the great San Francisco earthquake in 1906.
In 1821, Jose Sanchez, a Franciscan priest, recorded that he had accompanied Mariano Payeras, prefect of the missions, on a visit to Temecula. It was during this period that the Pala Mission was built and Christianization of the native Indians was begun.
Thirty-four years after Juan Santiago had visited the village of Temecula, an adventurous party of American trappers rode into the valley. The year was 1831. Among the group were Ewing Young, Isaac Galbraith, and John Turner.
By the mid-1840’s it became apparent that Mexico’s hold on California could no longer be retained and governors of the province began the process of making land grants to individuals. In 1845 Rancho Temecula was granted to Felix Valdez.
The passing of the ranchos into private ownership brought the romantic era of rancheros and vaqueros, for which early California is best known, into full bloom. It was a short-lived era, but perhaps nowhere in California did its aura linger longer than in the Temecula Valley.
One of the most often told stories of Temecula’s early days is of the Massacre in a nearby canyon that took place in January, 1847. The canyon is just below the present site of the Vail Lake Dam and was the scene of the bloodiest battle of the Mexican War. Excited by the fighting taking place around them, the Temecula Indians decided to do a little warring on their own. They captured 11 Mexican soldiers whom they later executed at a place now known as Warner Springs. A Mexican contingency was soon dispatched to run them down and avenge the