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About Me

I've never been one for long introductions when I go out as a speaker. I always figure the audience should know within about a minute if I'm worth listening to. But let me tell you just a little something about me.

I was born in Orange, California, back during the last years of the Eisenhower Administration, and went all through school there. I've been interested in local history as long as I can remember (I thought fourth grade California history was the greatest thing since sliced bread), and when I was in high school, I was invited to work on gathering up some of the history of my school. Going out to interview the early graduates introduced me to some of the old timers around town, and they encouraged me to join the local historical society. By the time I was 18, I was on the board of directors.

I'd always wanted to write, and now I had something to write about. I started writing books because no one told me I couldn't. I had finished my first full-length manuscript just before I turned 19, and published my first real book at age 23. In the meantime, I was writing for the local paper, developing the historical society's archives, and doing research whenever I got the chance. My college career suffered accordingly.

I never really expected to make a living as a local historian (I figured I'd end up writing for some small town newspaper), but things just kind of carried me along. A couple of years out of college I started to have my doubts, then I got a call to move out to Hemet and become the historian and museum curator for the Ramona Pageant. I spent the next 13 years out there, and just when I began to despair at ever getting back home to Orange County, I got another phone call, and the opportunity to become the County Archivist. I held that job for almost five years and served as their historical consultant for another year and a half. 

Now I have more time to focus on my own projects (which is to say, I'm among the under-employed).

Over the years, I've been a historical society volunteer, a museum curator, an archivist, a teacher, a public speaker, a historical consultant, a newspaper columnist, and an author. But I always like to say I'm just a local historian.

I come from that older tradition of historians who put an emphasis on gathering up the facts and stress the narrative and chronological account over theory and analysis. You have to start with the facts, after all. The analysis should come later. And too often, I've been the first historian to really research a specific topic or place. My emphasis has always been on telling the story. And there's a lot of them out there left to be told.

Phil Brigandi


Selected Bibliography


The History of Lost Valley and the Surrounding Area (1978)

The Plaza. A Local Drama in Five Acts (1982)

Looking Back . . . on the Ramona Pageant (1985)

A New Creation. The Incorporation of the City of Orange, 1888 (1988)

A Place Called Home. Orange's Architectural Legacy (1990) with Karen Wilson Turnbull

Garnet Holme: California's Pageant Master (1991)  

Prayers, Presence, Gifts and Service. A Centennial History of the Hemet United Methodist Church, 1894-1994 (1994)

Orange, The City ‘Round the Plaza (1997)

The Ramona Pageant. A Pictorial History, 1923-1998 (1997)

Temecula, at the Crossroads of History (1998)

First Church. A 125th Anniversary History of the First United Methodist Church of Orange (1998)

Watson's Drug Store. A Downtown Orange Tradition. A Centennial History, 1899-1999 (1999)

100 Years of Headline News [The Orange County Register] (1999)

Building the Future. The Story of the Eastern Municipal Water District (2000)

Old Orange County Courthouse; A Centennial History (2001)

Borrego Beginnings. Early Days in the Borrego Valley, 1910-1960 (2001)

"Out Among the Groves of Orange" A History of Orange Union High School, 1903-1953 (2003)

Barnstorming the Desert. The Life of Randall Henderson, Founder of Desert Magazine and a Pioneer Pilot of the Desert Southwest (2004)

Orange County Place Names A to Z (2006)

Images of America ... Orange (2008)

On My Honor, A Century of Scouting in Orange County, California (2010)

A Brief History of Orange, California - The Plaza City (2011)

Orange County Chronicles (2013)

A Call for Reform, The Southern California Indian Writings of Helen Hunt Jackson (2015) edited and annotated with Valerie Sherer Mathes


"Orange High School: 75 Years of Educating", Orange City News, September 13, 1978

"By George, he's 100! The Life and times of George Bartley: Former Orange Constable reflects on the last century", Orange City News, October 22, 1980

"Philip Brigandi", CMP Bulletin, [California Museum of Photography], Volume 2, No. 3, 1983

"Where Citrus was King", Preview magazine (Anaheim, CA), June 15-July 15, 1985

"The Death of King Citrus", Preview magazine, October 15-November 15, 1985

"The Grave of the Boy who was Shot in the Back", The Sand Paper [Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association], February, 1986

"A Taste of the Orient -- Chinese Pioneers in Early Orange", Orange Progress, Fall, 1987

"Our Seat of Government -- Orange's City Halls, 1888-1988", Orange Progress, Spring, 1988

"Orange's Pioneer Kindergarten", Orange Progress, Summer, 1988

"Startling the Uninitiated: The Death Valley Chuck-Walla and its Editors" (in) Proceedings, Second Death Valley Conference on History and Prehistory, January 21-25, 1988

"Roscinda Nolasquez Remembered", The Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology, Volume 9, Number 1 (1987)

"Legends abound on start of Peg Leg Liars Contest", Borrego Sun, March 30, 1989

"The First 75 Years of Plaza Printing" (in) Orange Countiana Volume 5. Early Business in Orange County, (Orange County Historical Society), 1992

"Recalling ‘removal' of Cupenos from Warner's", Borrego Sun, May 20, 1993

"Story of ‘murder' survives with simple grave", Borrego Sun, December 30, 1993

"Farmer ‘Doc' Beaty helped Borrego grow too", Borrego Sun, June 16, 1994

"Borrego highways are Beaty's legacy to valley", Borrego Sun, June 30, 1994

"The Killing of Juan Diego: From Murder to Mythology". Journal of San Diego History, Winter/Spring, 1994 (with John W. Robinson)

"Published on the Brink of Hell. Newspapers and Newspapermen of the Death Valley Area" (in) Proceedings, Fourth Death Valley Conference on History and Prehistory, 1995

"French brothers put Sentenac Canyon on map", Borrego Sun, January 9, 1997

"Carrillo adobe weathers 100 years of untruth", Borrego Sun, June 12, 1997

"A Place Called Borego: Homesteader Days in the Borrego Valley", Journal of San Diego History, Winter, 1997

"The Rancho and the Romance. Rancho Camulos: The Home of Ramona", The Ventura County Historical Society Quarterly, v 42 n's 3 & 4, 1998

"Lelah Porter looks back at Borrego she homesteaded", Borrego Sun, April 1, 1999

"The Outposts of Mission San Luis Rey", The Journal of San Diego History, Spring, 1999

"Horace Parker: Love of desert grew into 1st guidebook", Borrego Sun, May 24, 2001

"Remnants of historic Mollie Mine recall early period in Borrego Valley", Borrego Sun, July 18, 2002

"Temecula as a Cattle Town", The High Country (Temecula, CA), Fall 2002

"The Tunnel", The Valley Chronicle, March 1, 2003

"The Crying Road -- The Cupeño Removal of 1903," The High Country, Summer, 2003

"Backcountry Badman", The High Country, Fall, 2003

"Last of the Old Time Cattlemen", The High Country, Summer, 2004

"From the Desert to the Sea. The Story of Imperial Highway", The High Country, Summer 2005

"'What I sought is that which I have found' - The Origins of the Ramona Myth, 1885-1890", The Branding Iron (The Westerners, L.A. Corral), Winter 2005

"A Desert Cattle Drive of 1890," Desert Tracks, June 2006

"Randall Henderson and the Rise and Fall of Desert Magazine, The Branding Iron, Winter 2006

"The Estudillo Mansion - A San Jacinto Valley Landmark," The Inland Chronicler, Fall 2007

"Breaking New Ground. The Early Years of Knott's Berry Farm", The Branding Iron, Summer 2008

"‘Off for the Desert!' Reverdy Harris on the Southern Emigrant Trail, Travel Accounts from the 1890's," Desert Tracks, January 2009

"Charles C. Painter, Helen Hunt Jackson and the Mission Indians of Southern California," The Journal of San Diego History, Summer 2009 (with Valerie Sherer Mathes)

"The Southern Emigrant Trail," The Branding Iron, Fall 2009 [Revised version reprinted in Overland Journal, Fall 2010]

"Chihuahua Valley - A Brief History," The High Country, Fall 2009

"The Sage County," The High Country, Fall 2010

"The Birth of Orange County," Orange Countiana VI, 2010

"Law But Not Fact, Land Tenure and Legal Fiction on the Warner Ranch," The Branding Iron, Fall 2010

"The Mischief Record of ‘La Gobernadora'," Amelia Stone Quinton, Charles Fletcher Lummis and the Warner Ranch Indian Removal," The Journal of San Diego History, Winter/Spring 2011 (with Valerie Sherer Mathes)

"The Portolá Trek of 1948," (in) The Portolá Expedition Through the Central Coast (TRASH Guide XXXVIII, 2011)

"Drought, Debt, and Development: The Story of the Stearns Ranchos, The Branding Iron, Spring 2011

"‘Fools Rush In' Politics and Gambling in 1930s Orange County," Orange Countiana VII, 2011

“Randall Henderson: A Man of the Desert,” Dezert Magazine, Fall 2012

“Black Gold, Three Buttes, and a One-Legged Man. The Legend of Pegleg Smith,” The Branding Iron, Spring 2012 

“From Horizon to Horizon, The Story of the Pacific Crest Trail,” The Branding Iron, Fall 2014 

“Nell Murbarger – The Roving Reporter of the Desert Southwest,” The Branding Iron, Summer 2015 

“The Birth of an Industry – Early Citrus in Early Orange County,” Orange Countiana XI, 2015




"Past in the Pavement", Orange City News, 1980-81

"Orange Images", Orange City News, 1982

"Voices Across the Years . . .", Orange City News, 1982-83

"Backcountry Days", Rancho News (Temecula, CA) and Anza-Aguanga Stageline, 1983

"Looking back", The Hemet News, 1995-97

"Place Names", Borrego Sun, 1997-99

"Across the Years", The Valley Chronicle (Hemet, CA), 2001-03

"He that would seriously set upon the search for truth ought, in the first place, to prepare his mind with a love of it, For he that lives it not, will not take much pains to get it; nor be much concerned when he misses it." -- John Locke, "Essay Concerning Human Understanding" (1690)

Family stuff

There seems to be some confusion out there between the three Phil Brigandis that show up on line and in library catalogs.

My great-grandfather, Philip Brigandi (1873-1945), was a stereo photographer, who published California views under his own name and worked for the old Keystone View Company. Here is a biography I wrote of him:  

Philip Brigandi - Stereo Wizard

His son, my great uncle, Philip E. Brigandi (1906-1956) was a sound engineer for the movies, mostly at RKO, where his work included noirs, westerns, science fiction, and even a few Groucho Marx comedies (I love that because I was a big Marx Brothers fan when I was younger, and even got to meet Groucho once).

Some of the movies he did the sound for include The Clay Pigeon (1949), I Married a Communist (1949), Never a Dull Moment (1950), The Thing from Another World (1951), Double Dynamite (1951), On Dangerous Ground (1952), A Girl in Every Port (1952) and The Big Sky (1952).  You can find more on the Internet Movie Database.

Later he went to work for Ryder Sound Services, and worked on some of the early television shows.

As for me, Phillip K. Brigandi (note the two L's, though I'm just Phil to most everybody), I'm just a local historian.