The Ortega Family Story
We begin the story by acknowledging the long legacy of our family’s contributions to the founding of California. Inspecific Santa Barbara County. Including the city of Santa Barbara, Montecito, Goleta, Refugio, The Gaviota Coast, Las Cruces and Santa Ynez. Despite many of the myths surrounding our family’s history, we would like to share the true account of our Ortega ancestry. We, the Ortega’s of Nuestra Señora del Refugio, are an organized Chumash family who are direct lineal descendants of one of California's most notable historical figures, José Francisco Ortega.
Contrary to popular narratives that conflate the story of the Ortegas into a romanticized Spanish fantasy past, our family history tells of the important leadership roles Indigenous people played in the early formation of California. Our family history, like those of many Indigenous families, is imbued with hardship, including the dispossession of our land, the historical erasure of our ancestors’ contributions, and the ongoing invisibility of our family today. Despite the challenges of colonization, the historic strength and resilience of our family brings us a vision of community awareness to honor our ancestors and future generations of our Ortega family and extended family members.
We, the Ortegas of Rancho Nuestra Señora del Refugio, represent the kinship between various Chumash lineages associated with the Southern California coast and the northern Channel Islands. José Francisco Ortega was the progenitor of our family name, a man of mixed Indigenous and Spanish heritage, originally from Guanajuato, Mexico, born in 1734. He was chosen to lead the Portola Expedition into Alta California, establishing the presidios and missions along the coast.
By the late 1500’s our Chumash matrilineal bloodlines began to marry into the Ortega family to become the Indigenous Nobles of California and the founding family of Santa Barbara. By the early nineteenth century The Nuestra Senora del Refugio Ortega family had established a Monarchy through their continuity of selected intermarriages and regional ceremonial participation. In our family line, 5th generation descendants of José Francsico Ortega would be documented in the original registry of Santa Ynez Indians, when the Indian census arrived in the region during the late nineteenth century.
We have organized ourselves as the Chumash Ortega family to bring awareness to our ancestors’ historical land grant, Rancho Nuestra Señora del Refugio, which was awarded to our ancestor José Francsico Ortega in 1794. he was awarded this land by the Catholic Church and the Spanish Crown for his military service, and his contributions to the founding of California, this land was owned by the mission Santa Barbara and was to be left alone for the self determination of the indigenous families. Rancho Nuestra Señora del Refugio covers thousands of acres encompassing present day Santa Barbara County, From Santa Barbara, along the Gaviota coast, to Point Conception, and along the foothills of the Santa Ynez mountains.
Upon Jose Francisco Ortega’s death in 1798, his sons José María Ortega and José Francisco continued to operate the family rancho. When Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, Jose Maria Ortega Petitioned the Mexican Government for title to Rancho Nuestra Senora Del Refugio, not until after his death was the title formally granted to his Son Jose Antonio Maria Ortega. Within three decades, the results of the Mexican-American War ended in the appropriation of the previously held Mexican land into American hands in 1848.
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo resulted in the cessation of the northern Mexican regions, while containing clauses recognizing the former property rights of Mexican citizens living within those territories. As supreme law of the land, the treaty confirmed the property rights to Rancho Nuestra Señora del Refugio to the Ortega Family. Our ancestor, a third generation lineal descendant of José Francisco Ortega, Antonio María Ortega and his aunt, Magdalena Cota, were granted a legal patent to the territory by the United States government in 1866, to be handed down to their heirs and assigns forever.
At the beginning of the American colonial period, many Indigenous families found themselves forced into various forms of survivalism, like hiding from major settlements, changing one’s identity, and conforming to a rapidly changing world. Between 1850 and 1862, the State of California sanctioned the genocide of the Indigenous people, which resulted in fraud, bribery, loss of land, and the enslavement of the “Indian” population in Santa Barbara County. Quickly the law of the land changed the political landscape and American settlers began to lay false claims to our Ortega family land and the invasion of Rancho Nuestra Señora del Refugio ensued. Over the course of the next century, the land, the cultural property, and landmarks pertaining to our family have fallen into the hands of settler families who have Impersonated our family and profited immensely from their historical thievery, while our Indigenous families continue to exist in the margins.
We, the Ortegas of Rancho Nuestra Señora del Refugio, hope that by sharing our life story told by the living lineal descendants a true history of Santa Barbara and California will emerge, where the acknowledgement of historical wrong doings can begin steps towards healing and reconciliation. As the original stewards of this land, we, as a family, envision the restoration of the flora and fauna on our ancestral lands, and the restoration of our identity, indigenous practices and our need for food sovereignty.
The complex histories of the three waves of colonization in California, Spanish, Mexican, and American made it difficult to maintain our Chumash way of life, but our ancestors were resilient people who left us a vast historical legacy. Through the revitalization of our cultural practices, our ancestral lands, and our traditional leadership we will restore the legacy of our family and culture