Before contact in 1769, the Ohlone people lived and managed the land here. Their total population once numbered 10,000 or more with many villages in and around Santa Cruz.
Village populations ranged from 50 to 500. In the smaller seasonal villages, the villagers would take advantage of seasonal sources of food, such as game, fish, fruits, berries, nuts, and acorns.
The Ohlone associated with this area belonged to the Awaswas language group, of which at least three tribelets were associated with the San Lorenzo River and Valley. These were the Sayant living by Zayante Creek and for whom the creek takes its name, the Achistaca living in the vicinity of Boulder Creek, and the Uypi living at the mouth of the San Lorenzo River.
The last speaker of Awaswas died in the nineteenth century, though some words from the language have survived.
In 1769, the Portola Expedition "discovered" and named the San Lorenzo River for Saint Laurence. They gave the name Costanoa, meaning "coast people," to the indigenous people that lived here.
In 1791, Mission Santa Cruz, or Holy Cross, was established. It was the 12th Alta California mission. The first Ohlone to be baptized at Mission Santa Cruz, on October 9, 1791, was an eight year old girl from the Achistaca village. According to the baptismal records her name was Moslon, the she was the daughter of Y-noc and Trocsen.
Between 1791 and 1795, 85 members of the Achistaca village went to Mission Santa Cruz, 75 of them were baptized of which just six were parents. Of the Sayant village, 54 were baptized, of which just 6 were parents.
Records indicate that most neophytes at the mission were forcibly detained, poorly treated, and their way of life obliterated. The Santa Cruz Mission gained the moniker “the Hard Luck Mission” because of its troubled history. Its population was the smallest of the 21 missions and it shrank from a peak of 523 in 1796 through flight, and death from disease and maltreatment.
After Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821, it could not afford the missions, and in 1834, Mission Santa Cruz was one of the first to be secularized. The Ohlone found it impossible to return to their former way of life. Much of their ancestral land had been awarded as Mexican Land Grants.
Three land grants were awarded in the San Lorenzo Valley - Rancho Zayante to Joaquin Buelna in 1843, Rancho Cañada del Rincon en el Rio de San Lorenzo (meaning valley on the corner on the San Lorenzo River) to Frenchman Pierre Sainsevain in 1843, and Rancho La Carbonera (meaning relating to charcoal) to Guillermo Bocle, aka Englishman William Thompson, in 1838.
William Ware, an Irishman who settled in Santa Cruz County in 1836, resided with his wife Twaneeya on the Zayante Ranch. She has been referred to as the last of the Zayante. When she died, she was buried in Felton Grove. At one time her gravesite had a marker, undoubtably now washed away with one of the Felton Grove floodings.