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Santa Maria California City History

Before the Spanish explorers and settlers came to the Santa Maria Valley, it was a stretch of sagebrush, deer, bears and rabbits stretching from the Santa Lucia Mountains toward the Pacific Ocean. The Chumash Indians made their homes on the slopes of the surrounding hills among the oaks and sycamores where there was more moisture and shelter, and along the beach areas. In 1769, the Portola exploration party came through the Santa Maria Valley on its trek up the coast of California to find the Monterey Bay.

The Santa Maria Valley saw oil exploration begin in 1888, leading to large-scale discoveries around the turn of the century. In 1901, William Orcutt urged his company (Union Oil) to move forward by leasing more than 70,000 acres within a year. Soon, Union Oil and a number of smaller companies were pumping for oil. By the end of 1903, Union Oil, the major player in the region, had 22 wells in production. Several significant discoveries followed, including the Orcutt and Cat Canyon fields in 1904 and 1908, respectively. Union Oil's Hartnell Well No. 1 (known as Old Maud) struck a large oil-bearing reservoir in the Orcutt field in late 1904 and reportedly produced one million barrels of oil in its first 100 days of operation.

Faced with the need to provide local governance to the rapidly growing population attracted to the Valley due to the discovery of oil, Santa Maria incorporated as a general law city in 1905.