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Did You Know? Rancho's "Branded" Land
by: Debbie L. Sklar
O'Neil was part owner of the land RSM was built on.
O'Neil was part owner of the land RSM was built on.

If you could fly over the Beach Club at Lago Santa Margarita, you would notice that the shoreline of the Beach Club is in an unusual shape. It's actually in the shape of the “Rafter M” brand, the cattle brand for the O'Neill-Avery-Moiso family, the same family that, since 1882, has owned the land on which Rancho Santa Margarita was developed.

Each year, hundreds of heads of cattle on the remaining 23,000 acres of the family-held Rancho Mission Viejo are rounded up and branded with the “Rafter M” brand. The brand’s “M” represents the Ranch’s long association with the Mission San Juan Capistrano, a historic landmark near the Ranch offering spiritual and physical refuge. The sides of the “M” are bowed to help represent the doors of the Mission, which are open to all. The brand's “Rafter” above the “M” represents the roof of the Mission and connotes a place offering shelter after a long journey.

While the “Rafter M” brand is linked to the Ranch today, the family’s original brand was the “TO” which stood for Texas-Oklahoma, used to identify the shorthorn cattle purchased by the O’Neills to upgrade the herd. The “TO” brand was adopted by the U.S. Marine Corp. in 1942 when the Dept. of the Navy absorbed vast portions of the Ranch from the O’Neills for the establishment of Camp Pendleton. Although the family adopted an interim brand in the shape of a bell, today’s true and lasting brand of Rancho Mission Viejo is the mighty “Rafter M.”

Debbie L. Sklar is a 20+year journalism veteran residing in Southern California, where she is a writer, columnist and editor for many local, regional and national publications. Sklar may be reached via e-mail at

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