Spanish-era government (including post-Spanish Mexican rule, which kept most of the same forms) existed in Santa Cruz County from the establishment of Villa de Branciforte in 1797 until cession to the US in 1848, and some of the structure was kept in place until the first elections following establishment of Santa Cruz County in 1850. The twenty-one missions had their own, largely independent, internal system of government until secularized in 1833-34. A delegation of soldiers (usually three), the escolta, were assigned to each mission as guards.
Although subservient to the military, pueblos and other secular communities had elected/appointed local offices, including:
- alcalde - a combination of mayor and judge
- comisionado - a liaison between the local government and the military commander having jurisdiction, and to the governor's office
- ayuntamiento or cabildo - roughly equivalent to a city council
- regidor - a member of the ayuntamiento
- juez de paz justice of the peace - a police officer with limited judicial authority
- juez de campo justice of the peace for a campo (rural area)
Military authority in the Santa Cruz area rested with one of the two nearest presidios (military bases): either Monterey or San Francisco.
Military ranks - in ascending order (from Naylor, p.28-29):
- invalido - a retired soldier granted land in one of the three pueblos, including Villa de Branciforte. Invalidos could be recalled to active service in an emergency.
- soldado - enlisted man. Soldados equipped with arrow-resistant padded-leather jackets and metal helmets were known as soldados de cuera
- cabo - corporal. Given more responsibility than corporals today, cabos often served as military district representatives to the pueblos
- sargento - sergeant
- alférez - a subordinate officer rank roughly equivalent to lieutenant, subaltern or adjutant
- teniente - a temporary designation for a field commander below the rank of captain
- capitán - captain, often commander of a presidio, usually commanding officer in the field
- sargento mayor - a commissioned rank above an ordinary captain
- generál - a commissioned high command rank
- comandante-generál - civil as well as military commander of a province/department
- Englehardt, Zephyrin (1916), Missions and Missionaries.
- Richman, Irving Berdine (1911). California under Spain and Mexico, 1535-1847: a contribution toward the history of the Pacific coast of the United States, based on original sources, chiefly manuscript, in the Spanish and Mexican Archives and other repositories. New York: Cooper Square Publishers. Google Books.
- Naylor, Thomas H., and Charles W. Polzer (1986). The Presidio and militia on the Northern frontier of New Spain: a documentary history. Tucson: University of Arizona Press [Google searchable].