The Esselen people, known to date back at least 3000 years in the area, occupied settlements along the coast, surviving primarily on acorns, rabbit, deer, bear and sea mammals. They were wiped out by diseases brought by the Spanish before the first US settlers arrived.
Big Sur was named by the Spanish settlers living in Carmel’s mission who referred to the unexplored wilderness as el pais grande del sur (the big country to the south). They named the two coastal rivers el rio grande del sur (the big river to the south) and el rio chiquito del sur (the little river to the south).
In 1852, John Rogers Cooper (also known as Juan Bautista Rogerio Cooper) filed claim to Rancho El Sur, stretching from Cooper Point to the mouth of the Little Sur River. Cooper Point and the headquarters for the ranch are now part of Andrew Molera State Park.
Homesteaders arrived in the early 1900s and supported the canning and lumbering industries. At the turn of the 20th century, Big Sur supported a larger population than it does today. Electricity arrived in the 1950s and TV reception in the 1980s.
In the 1950s and ‘60s, Big Sur became a favorite retreat for writers and artists, including Henry Miller, who lived here from 1947 to 1964, and Beat Generation members Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Jack Kerouac. The death of Hunter S Thompson in 2005 brought forth a score of articles recalling his raucous days here in the early 1960s. Today, Big Sur still attracts its share of New Age mystics, artists and eccentric types.