The First Inhabitants
Several thousand years before the first European explorers arrived in 1602, the coastal area of central California was inhabited by triblets of indigenous people known collectively as the Ohlone. Each triblet, averaging about 200 people, had one or more permanent villages usually consisting of dome-shaped thatched huts clustered around an open area. Here at Point Lobos, the Ohlone established spring and summer village sites near the mouth of San Jose Creek at the Reserve's northern boundary and along Gibson Creek, which forms the southern edge of the Reserve. Their village along San Jose Creek, known as Ichxenta, was first occupied about 2,500 to 3,000 years ago, and is thought to be the longest inhabited Ohlone village site in the Monterey area.
The Ohlone enjoyed a plentiful food supply of acorns, birds and mammals from the nearby mountains, as well as fish from the ocean and local streams. Within the Reserve, 19 sites have been identified which were used as seasonal camps while gathering abalone and mussels or grinding seeds and acorns into meal. Today, signs of the Ohlone's former presence can be found in many forms: black dirt from years of campsite fires, grinding stones, and large mounds of cast-away shells called middens.
The Spanish Period
The Ohlone living near Point Lobos may have been the first indigenous people encountered by Spanish exploring expeditions, beginning in 1602 when Sebastian Vizcaino's ship entered Carmel Bay. About 170 years later, the Portola expedition on the move north from San Diego camped along San Jose Creek. Portola's assignment was to find a route from Mexico (then part of the Spanish empire) to Monterey, and along the way, locate suitable places to establish the soon-to-follow missions and military camps called presidios. This expedition also ushered in the Spanish Colonial period of California history which lasted until 1822.
The second of 21 Spanish missions was established at Monterey in 1770, but within a year it was moved to Carmel and named San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo. The mission's cowboys, or vaqueros, tended herds of cattle on the nearby grasslands and became the first non-native people to use what is now Point Lobos State Reserve property. It was also during the era of Spanish occupation that Point Lobos was first named, when the barking of sea lions inspired the name Punta de los Lobos Marinos, Point of the Sea Wolves.
The Mexican Period
Soon after Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1822, the new government began a policy of awarding land grants to loyal Mexican citizens, one of whom was Don Marcelino Escobar, a distinguished official in Monterey. The property that now makes up the Reserve was once part of an 8,818 acre grant given to Escobar in 1839. A couple of years later, the land was sold to Doña Josefa de Abrego for $250, or about 3 cents an acre. Doña Josefa held onto the property for about a year. Then, in a curious transaction where no money changed hands, she deeded the land to a group of soldiers stationed at the Monterey Presidio. The soldiers maintained possession of the land for six months, then in 1844 gave it to their superior officer, Jose Castro. After California was annexed from Mexico by the United States in 1848, Castro's claim to the land was reviewed by a commission established to sort out the multiple claims to private property in the new territory. Complicating matters further, Castro sold the land. Other claims to the property were filed, and it was not until 1888 that this tangled web was settled by a patent signed by President Grover Cleveland. After everything was said and done, the original Mexican land grant had been divided into 34 parcels. A month after President Cleveland signed the patent, several owners of the parcels in and around Point Lobos sold their interests to the Carmelo Land and Coal Company. Now, for the first time in 45 years, most of the old rancho including Point Lobos was under single ownership.