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Yaangna - Early Los Angeles Community

Yaangna Village, Indian, Gabrieleno, Gabrielino, Tongva, Kizh

Reproduced drawing of the straw hut village of Yaangna Indians. Photo by Charles C. Pierce, courtesy of the California Historical Society & USC Libraries.

Six months prior to the establishment of the Los Angeles pueblo in 1781, Spanish Governor Felipe de Neve had sought to develop a relationship with the local native people, according to research by Dr. Harry Kelsey, curator of history at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. These people, who would later become known as the Gabrieleño, lived in a settlement in the vicinity, named Yaangna (alternatively Yangna, Iyáangẚ or Yang-Na).

Yaanga is believed to have been the largest of Gabrieleño villages. Although we have no record of the size of its population, it is estimated to have had up to 200 residents. It was an important trading center for the native people of the region. Neve’s contact with Yaangna was meant to develop friendly relations with the village before he moved Spanish settlers into its vicinity. He arranged for baptisms of dozens of Yaangna residents and even assumed the role of padrino (godparent) for 12 of its children. One couple sponsored by Neve, having been baptized and remarried under the Catholic religion, even assumed the names Felipe de Neve and Felipa de Neve. Dr. Kelsey believed that Neve might have been grooming this couple as a nucleus family around which Yaangna would become a Christian Indian community.

Although the exact site of the settlement has not been definitively established, it is believed to have been marked by a natural landmark. There, not far from the new pueblo of Los Angeles, grew a grand old sycamore tree, believed to be around 300-years-old at time the Spanish settlers arrived. The towering tree was believed to have been a shady gathering place for Gabrieleño councils. It was later named El Aliso (The Alder) by the Spanish. It long survived the Yaangna village, but, beset by surrounding industrial development, eventually fell to the axe in 1892. Had Yaangna been centered around El Aliso, the village would have been located adjacent to the Los Angeles Civic Center area, centered at the location of today’s Garey Street on-ramp to the southbound 101 freeway, just a little more than a third of a mile southeast of the Old Plaza.

El Aliso, Los Angeles, 1876

Drawing of Los Angeles, circa 1876, looking southeast from Fort Hill. El Aliso tree seen in distance. In the foreground is Los Angeles Plaza, Pico House and rear of La Placita Church. From the California Historical Society collection at USC Library.

Whatever hopes Neve might have had that Yaangna would become a Christian community never came to pass. Later in the year that the Los Angeles pueblo was founded, Neve was replaced by Pedro de Fages, a governor who preferred that Indians be forced to the missions and subjugated there. As the nearby pueblo of Los Angeles grew and encroached upon Yaangna, the village was forced to relocate. Increasing numbers of its residents chose or were forced to live at the Mission San Gabriel. It is believed that Yaangna survived longer than other Gabrieleño villages because it became a refugee camp. Gabrieleño from smaller villages that were disbanded or destroyed by the Spanish joined Yaangna, hoping to avoid the mission. The growing displaced numbers at Yaangna only served as a source of forced manual labor for the nearby pueblo. The Yaangna community and its importance as a center for the Gabrieleño withered.

In 1828, with authorization from the Mexican government, French immigrant Jean-Louis Vignes was allowed to purchase the land upon which the remaining Yaangna community resided. He had all Indian residents evicted. The community of Yaangna, having existed in the Los Angeles region for perhaps two to three thousand years, came to an abrupt and pitiful end.

Sources: Mexican Los Angeles by Antonio Rios Bustamante, Floricanto Press, 1992; From Site of Ancient Tribal Tree, the City of Angels Grew by Cecilia Rasmussen, LA Times, 4/12/1997; El Aliso: Ancient Sycamore Was Silent Witness to Four Centuries of L.A. History by Nathan Masters, KCET, June 27, 2012; Yaanga, Wikipedia.