Spaniard Juan Cabrillo sailed into Malibu Lagoon on October 10th, 1542 and claimed thousands of surrounding acres for the King of Spain. Preoccupied by other colonial projects, the indigenous Chumash people and the lands they stewarded were largely undisturbed by Spaniards for centuries.
Over 200 years later in 1775, western expeditions supported by Russia and Britain motivated King Charles II of Spain to bring settlers into previously claimed lands. Juan Batista de Anza led the first of these large expeditions north from contemporary Mexico to what is now called Malibu Creek. One of the younger members of this expedition was a boy named José Bartolomé Tapia.
A quarter century later, José Bartolomé Tapia was a respected farmer and former army official. He requested a concession to the land he first laid eyes on as a child. This 14,000 acre land lie was referred to as the Rancho Topanga Malibu Sequit.
Governor of the Californias José Joaquín de Arrillaga took note of Tapia's military service and granted Tapia use of the land. This was in accordance with Spanish law stipulating land ownership was the king's domain.
Chapter 2 of The Malibu Lagoon Museum's The Story of Malibu records the boundaries of the Rancho Topanga Malibu Sequit as "Extending from a place called 'Topanga,' the dividing line between these lands and the Ranch of 'Santa Monica,' on the southeast, along the Pacific to a point called Mugu on the northwest, and bounded on the northeast by a ledge of rocks on the top of and extending the whole length of a range of mountains; and adjoining the lines of the ranchos of 'Las Virgines,' 'Triunfo,' 'Santa Ysabel,' and 'Conejo."'
José Bartolomé Tapia's widow, Maria, transferred the Rancho to her granddaughter Maria and her husband, Leon Victor Prudhomme in 1844. In 1852, Prudhomme submitted a claim for Rancho Malibu to the newly established state of California in 1852. However, neither the family nor officials ever found or produced documentation that Tapia applied for a Mexican Land Grant after Mexico established its independence from Spain.
Despite statements supporting long residency of the Tapia and Prudhomme families, the claim for Rancho Malibu as private land was rejected. Financially reeling from the post-Gold Rush Panic of 1857, Prudhomme looked for someone else to steward the Rancho.
Aware that the Tapias and Prudhommes never owned the Rancho Topanga Malibu Sequit outright, Irish immigrant Don Mateo [Matthew] Keller accepted a quit claim deed from the Prudhomme family for the land at $1400. Highly involved in Los Angeles civic life, Keller had established himself as a vintner and even planted some of the first orange trees in California with seeds from Central American and Hawaii.
Equipped with both stronger documentation and a legal team, Keller successfully applied to the U.S. District Court for the claim to the land in 1864. This decision was confirmed in an 1870 land survey.
Matthew Keller's son, Henry, sold the Topanga Malibu Sequit to a wealthy Boston transplant named Frederick K. Rindge for $10 an acre in 1892. 35 years earlier, his father had secured that land for about 10 cents an acre.
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