Local Osuna and Kumeyaay descendant hopes to preserve Rancho Santa Fe’s history

RSF Rotary president Elizabeth Cristensen and Fred Grand,
RSF Rotary president Elizabeth Christensen and Fred Grand, a descendant of both the Osunas and Kumeyaay tribe, San Diego’s first people.
(Karen Billing)

Rancho Santa Fe’s Fred Grand has made history a habit, committed to honoring and preserving San Diego’s past and ensuring that its first people are never forgotten. Grand, a descendant of the Kumeyaay people, who inhabited the San Diego County area for thousands of years, has been involved in historic preservation for 35 years all throughout the county, from Warner Springs to Old Town State Historic Park.

“Some of the stories involving our first people are very ugly stories, they’re very brutal and some bad things happened to the Indians in this area,” Grand said of the Kumeyaay, who were forced off their ancestral lands. “All they care about at this point is that their story is told accurately and so that’s what I try to do.”

Grand has been president of the Old Town Chamber of Commerce for 20 years, is a member of the Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society, and director of community engagement for the Descendents of Early San Diego.

He was the guest speaker at the Rancho Santa Fe Rotary Club meeting on Feb. 9, sharing some stories about the community’s rich history, including his own direct ties to the Osuna family who lived in the Rancho Santa Fe Association-owned Osuna adobe. The speech itself was given at The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, La Morada built by architect Lilian Rice nearly 100 years ago.

In prehistoric times, at least 12,000 years ago, the Kumeyaay lived in present-day Rancho Santa Fe area along the banks of the river in the San Dieguito Valley.

“They were our first people,” he said. “They had great fresh water from the river, they had fertile soil, they had game, they could go take shellfish right out of the ocean, it was a very good life. The same things they enjoyed back then, we enjoy: the beautiful weather and surroundings.”

Grand is a direct descendent of Juan Ismerio Osuna, a leather jacket soldier who accompanied Junipero Serra to San Diego in 1769 to establish the first of the California missions, Mission San Diego de Acala.

Juan Ismerio was the father of Juan María Osuna, the first alcade (mayor) of the pueblo of San Diego established in Old Town. Osuna was given the 8,824-acre Rancho San Dieguito provisional land grant in present-day Rancho Santa Fe in 1836. The Osuna adobe was built circa 1831 on the Osuna Ranch property and was home to the Osuna family—Leandro Osuna is said to haunt the grounds of the ancestral land and home, the sound of his favorite horse’s hoofbeats echoing across Via De La Valle.

Of those original 8,824 acres in Osuna’s land grant, just 25 acres remain, owned by the Rancho Santa Fe Association.

Grand can also trace his roots back to Valera Alto of San Pasqual, a Kumeyaay who married into the Osuna family. Bernadine Osuna was Grand’s great grandmother, born in 1860 in the San Pasqual Valley.

Grand participated in San Diego’s 250th anniversary celebration in 2019 and it was important to him that the Kumeyaay Nation was honored and recognized. For the first time, a new Kumeyaay flag was raised in Old Town alongside the American, Mexican and Spanish flags, representing all 12 tribes of Kumeyaay Nation.

In 2021, he helped celebrate the opening of the Land of the First People exhibit at the Old Town State Historic Park. The site of a former Caltrans building was transformed into a Native American public gathering space with art features and interpretive and educational displays, written in Kumeyaay, Spanish and English.

His late cousin Justin Farmer was equally committed to preserving Native American arts and cultural heritage. Farmer had accumulated one of the largest collections of Luiseño baskets, traditional Kumeyaay baskets woven together with native materials, coiled and adorned with patterns or depictions of plants and animals.

He sold his entire collection to the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Mission Indians, with proceeds from the sale establishing a charitable fund that offers grants to Native American students doing research on local Indian arts, artifacts, culture or history.

The only Osuna dwellings still in existence in San Diego County are in Rancho Santa Fe, one at the privately-owned former Bing Crosby estate on Via De La Valle and the other on the Osuna Ranch, remodeled by Lilian Rice in 1924 and brought out of disrepair when the RSF Association purchased the property in 2006.

“We are so blessed that the Association had the foresight to preserve what’s left of the Osuna Ranch,” he said. “We really need to make sure it’s preserved… It’s a big deal and it’s a beautiful property.”

Grand is now leading a group of historic preservationists throughout California to recognize the Rancho Santa Fe Association for its preservation efforts.