El Cajon, California received its name not like many of the other cities in California. There was no business tycoon that seized the opportunity to place himself on the map (literally) in order to immortalize him. On the contrary, the only reason El Cajon is named as such is because of the physical landscape of the area. “El Cajon” is a Spanish phrase meaning, quite literally, “the big box.” The city is situated between two mountains where it sits in the valley and looks like a big open box.
The city had an alternative known name, however. Since its inception in September of 1821, the area wa also known as Santa Monica ranch. The space between the two words were once one, as some maps indicate that the city used to be referred to as Elcajon. Zoeth Skinner Eldredge, a California banker and historian dedicated to archiving small town histories like El Cajon’s, insisted on changing the name to its proper spelling, and was not refused at all.
The area has had a complicated past, especially because of its past turmoil and confusion in possession with Mexico and the United States. The land that surrounds El Cajon was once supposed to be dived among the former Indian tribes that were pushed out or killed for the sake of profiting off the land. That plan fell through when land-hungry Californios from Spain shook the right hands and bought the land off their owners.
There was one owner, however, that was most important in the establishing of the little San Diego city that we know today. After Governor Pio Pico took the land grants from the Mission San Diego de Alcala, seven square leagues was given to Dona Maria Antonio Estudillo. She was a daughter of Jose Antonio Estudillo, who was an alcalde of San Diego, in order to pay off a debt. It held much more than the land called El Cajon today, but that would be carved up eventually as debts needed to be paid and whatnot
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