In an effort to reduce the power of the church and open the rich mission lands to colonization, the Mexican Congress passed a secularization bill in August 1833. Supporters of the law pointed out that the friars had been teaching for more than fifty years, and that should have prepared the Indian converts for self-sufficiency.
At each of California’s 21 missions, every adult male Indian received a tract of 28 acres and his fair share of one half of the domestic animals and tools of the Mission. The appearance of generosity, only thinly concealed the looting of mission property, as the departing friars and newly appointed administrators strove to prevent each other from self-enrichment by taking what they could.
The secularization of the missions set off a wave of Mexican land grants in California under a process that dated back to an 1824 law, the Law of Colonization. The procedure was a simple one in which the petitioner asked the governor of Mexico for a specific tract of empty land. This written request was frequently accompanied by a map. If the petitioner had performed some service for the government, such as being part of the army, the claim was generally granted. Since the act aimed to encourage settlement, land grants were made to petitioners of foreign origin as well, provided they formally adopted both the Catholic faith and Mexican citizenship; many of these petitioners married the daughters of Mexican families.
Under the original law of 1824, lands owned by the mission were not subject to petition, but with the 1833 secularization act much of California’s most valuable land was free to be awarded to colonists. They had only to qualify and agree to fence the land, erect permanent dwellings, and protect the rights of previous inhabitants (that is, the Indians), who became free labor for the rancho owners. From 1834 to 1845, 95 percent of the California ranchos were created.
Source: Rancho Life, 1833 – 1846
FoundSF, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0