For over 6,000 years this rich valley filled with oaks and grasses was home for the Ohlone or Costanoan Indians. Consisting of eight politically autonomous subgroups, this major cultural group shared linguistic similarities and populated the area from San Francisco to northern Monterey County. These early people settled in areas with dependable water sources and the valley offered creeks and streams for fishing, grasslands and vegetable materials, and woodlands for hunting abundant game. They moved about the area establishing temporary camps to collect seasonal materials and foodstuffs that were not locally found. An extensive trade network provided important resources that were not found locally.
Life for the Ohlone changed forever with the founding of the missions by the Spaniards in the latter half of the 1770’s. Under Spanish and Mexican jurisdictions, instituted in 1778, a vast region that includes present day Morgan Hill was one of the most substantial Spanish land grants for nearly three quarters of a century. Cattle were introduced to the area and the Ohlone planted vast fields of wheat to sustain them. With Mexican independence in 1821, Californos divided the land into vast ranchos with cattle roaming freely throughout the valley.
The Murphy & Hill Families
In 1845, Martin Murphy, Sr. acquired 9,000 acres known as the Rancho Ojo de Agua de la Coche. Murphy had been a leader of the first party of pioneers to cross the Sierra Nevada range in a wagon train at Truckee Pass, later to become the route for the Southern Pacific Railroad. The Murphy family made its home in the valley below El Toro Mountain. By 1870 Martin’s seven sons and daughters had managed to acquire more than 70,000 acres. In 1851, the youngest son, Daniel, married Maria Fisher, heiress to the neighboring 19,000 acre Rancho Laguna Seca.