The Explorers, 1492-1774

CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Settlement At Last

With a land route to California now open, Viceroy Bucareli in Mexico City was anxious to send settlers to San Francisco, an area which Capt. Rivera, now at Monterey, had been instructed to explore. Again, Anza was assigned to do the job; his orders were to conduct the colonists, hand them over to Capt. Rivera upon arrival, do some more exploring of the San Francisco area, and return with ten veteran soldiers. A new expedition was put together at Culiacan, with colonists drawn from the impoverished settlers of the state of Sinaloa. Before they left, a considerable number of horses again were stolen in another Apache raid, and some of the colonists had to walk all the way to Monterey.

Of all the treks across the wilderness areas of North America, none was more strange nor more fortunate than this one. Altogether there were 240 persons, including thirty soldiers – of whom 29 had wives – four other families of colonists, and 115 children. Four more children were to be born en route, one in California. Only one person died on the march of more than 1600 weary miles. In addition, there were herders, interpreters, muleteers, servants, and twenty army recruits; 140 pack mules carrying food and, among other things, women’s clothing and four casks of brandy; 450 saddle horses and riding mules, and 355 cattle. Fr. Pedro Font was chosen to be the diarist and observer, and Frs. Garces and Eixarch were to accompany him as far as Yuma and remain there to work among the Indians whose cooperation was so necessary.

What Anza had learned on his return trip from the first expedition now stood him in good stead. This time the expedition moved north from Culiacan to Tubac, where Font said final Mass on October 23, 1775. Then it moved north by way of Tucson and followed the Gila River west to its junction with the Colorado at the old Yuma crossing. There, a woman died in childbirth, but her son survived to reach California. At the Colorado they searched for a new fording place, as the old one was too deep at that time of year, and once over they went south over the former route to Santa Olaya in Baja California. The winter proved to be a hard one; there was a great deal of suffering ahead for all of them.

At Santa Olaya, Anza decided to split up the expedition into three sections, each starting on a different day in order to allow water holes to fill up between arrivals. Anza led the first one with Font, twelve soldiers and families, a pack train and some loose mules and horses; the second and third divisions were to be led by Sergeant Grijalva and Lt. Moraga respectively. The cattle were to be driven directly from El Carrizal to San Sebastian near Harper’s Well, in Imperial Valley, accompanied by the herders and the rest of the soldiers carrying water bags. Anza went by the old route to the wells of Santa Rosa of the Flat Rocks, but all were finally reunited at San Sebastian. Winter was closing in fast, the desert was freezing at night and wet often, and snow was piling up in the mountain valleys through which they knew they must pass. Relations between Anza and Font were beginning to grow strained, Font being ill much of the time and critical of Anza’s giving liquor to his men after strenuous marches.

Just as it did in 1774, the trail led from San Sebastian to Borrego Valley and San Gregorio in San Felipe Wash, and then up Coyote Canyon. As they neared Borrego Valley, they saw their first sunshine in six days, though the mountains, except those directly on their line of march, were covered with snow. The cold was taking its toll of the cattle, seven being lost in 24 hours. It was at this time that Anza let the sorry company relax, amid some drinking, and Font was most unhappy at the result. He took particular offense at a widow’s ribald singing. His diary records the following:


“I said Mass and in it spoke a few words about the fandango of last night, censuring the performance, saying that instead of thanking God for having arrived with their lives, and not having died from such hardship, as the animals did, it appeared that they were making such festivities in honor of the Devil. I do not think that the commander liked this very well, for he did not speak to me during the whole morning. I suppose he was offended at me a good many times, for I spent most of the journey in this way; because, since he has a sensitive and proud spirit, he took offense at every little thing, appearing very much hurt and bearing an air of great seriousness. Sometimes he even went two or three more days without speaking to me, or passing very few remarks with me, and sometimes he spoke somewhat gruffly without listening to what I said, even though he might have asked me a question. This, together with the illness which I suffered from flux, and which kept me very much prostrated, served me as quite a sufficient cross, thank God.”

At San Gregorio, in the entrance to the valley, the springs that had flowed so well two years before were dry before half of the cattle were watered. More stock was left dead in the cold desert. For the first time, Anza mentions in his diary that there seemed to be openings in the sierra, not only ahead but farther south, through which they could pass directly to the Mission of San Diego. On the morning of December 20th, after a night in which few slept because of the intense cold, they found that three saddle animals and five cattle had frozen to death, and others had stampeded in the darkness back toward the water of San Sebastian. They pushed on across the valley floor to begin the crossing of the range, camping to rest for a few days at a place Anza named El Vado (The Ford) along Coyote Creek at the entrance to Coyote Canyon. The loss of stock continued, and then came the greatest blow of all. They learned that at least fifty cattle in a train behind them had been found dead in the mire of the San Sebastian marsh. That night, Friday, December 22nd, it began to rain, and they could see the snow falling in the mountains. They spent the night at Santa Catarina, in Coyote Canyon. Most of the expedition welcomed the sight of some trees and fresh water, but to Font it was just another dreary stop on an unhappy journey. He describes the upper part of Coyote Canyon as follows:

“The canyon is formed by various high and very rocky hills, or better, by great mountains of rocks, boulders, and smaller stones which look as if they had been brought and piled up there, like the sweepings of the world. Consequently it is arid, fruitless, and without trees or any green thing. Of grass in this place there is none, and on the way there are only a few small willows on the banks of the arroyo. The road in places is somewhat broken and grown with shrubs or brush and a little hediondilla, for since this is a shrub of evil augury, it is not lacking in these salty and worthless lands. We saw several Indians on the tops of the hills, hiding among the rocks, totally naked, and so wild that they appeared like fauns.”

They also caught glimpses of big horn mountain sheep.

Sunday, December 24th, they drove on despite the rain. After going seven or eight miles up the canyon they halted for one of the important occurrences in California’s pioneer history, just over the San Diego county line near a place called the Upper Willows. Anza’s diary tells the story.

“Although it continued to rain until nearly daylight and the signs of rain continued, I decided to leave this place and did so at half past nine, continuing along the valley to the northwest with some turns to the west-northwest, through the stoniest country. Having traveled in this direction three leagues in as many hours, we halted at the villages of the people who on our last journey we called Los Danzantes (The Dancers), the stop being made necessary because a woman was taken with childbirth pains. Although from seven o’clock in the morning until two in the afternoon it had been cloudy, with a fog so dense that one could hardly see anything twelve yards away, several heathen as timid as the foregoing allowed themselves to be seen by us on the march … At a quarter to eleven in the night our patient was successfully delivered of a boy.”

Font consoled the mother but rebuked Anza for the celebration that he permitted to take place in observance of Christmas Eve. His diary records the exchanges he had with Anza as a result of that evening’s events:

“I learned at night that because it was Christmas Eve refreshments would be given to the soldiers; and in order if possible to prevent a drunken carousal, after dinner I said to the commander:

“‘Sir, although my opinion is of no value and I do not cut any figure here, I can do no less than to tell you that I have learned that there is drinking today.’

“‘Yes, there is,’ he replied.

“‘Well, Sir,’ I continued, ‘I wish to say that it does not seem to me right that we should celebrate the birth of the Infant Jesus with drunkenness.’

“‘Father,’ he said, ‘I do not give it to them in order that they may get drunk.’

“‘Clearly this would be the case,’ I said to him, ‘because then the sin would be even greater, but if you know that they are sure to get drunk you should not give it to them.’

“He said to me then, ‘The king sends it for me and they deliver it to me in order that I may give it to the soldiers.’

“‘This would be all right at the proper time,’ I replied. ‘But I understand that to be in case of necessity.’

“‘Well, Father,’ he said, ‘It is better that they should get drunk than to do some other things.’

“‘But, Sir,’ I replied, ‘drunkenness is a sin, and one who cooperates also sins, and so if you know that a person will get drunk on so much you should give him less, or none at all.’

“He did not say any more, and I went to my tent without being able to prevent this disorder, because the commander had already made up his mind to distribute the liquor. And so he immediately gave it to the people, a pint to each one, saying in a loud voice:

“‘Be careful that you don’t get drunk, because if anyone is found drunk outside of his tent, I’ll punish him.’

“With this he satisfied his conscience, and the people that night were very noisy, singing and dancing from the effects of the liquor, not caring that we were in so bad a mountain in the rain, and so delayed with the saddle animals and the tired and dead cattle. Such is the rule of these absolute lords, in evidence of which I have related this incident.

“In the afternoon they called to me to confess the wife of a soldier who since yesterday had been suffering childbirth pains, the one of the delicacy which I mentioned on November 24. She was very fearful of dying, but having consoled her and encouraged her as best I could I returned to my tent and at half past eleven at night she very happily and quickly gave birth to a boy.”

On Monday, Christmas Day, the expedition remained at rest, because the mother was unable to continue the march. Font had an opportunity to say three Masses, and after them he baptized the baby boy, naming him Salvador Ygnacio.

Anza’s diary continues:

“Tuesday, December 26. Today having dawned fair, at the regular hour the sun came out bright. For this reason and because the mother was better and had the pluck to march, we prepared to break camp, and at a quarter to nine set forth, ascending the valley which has been mentioned, going west-northwest. Having traveled along the valley for about three-quarters of a league, at a place where it narrowed greatly we left it at our left and immediately climbed a small ridge. This was followed by two other smaller ones, by which we arrived at the pass or opening of San Carlos … Here we halted for the night because it has been raining ever since nine o’clock, although very lightly, since this rain, if it should become harder, might injure the woman who was delivered night before last, and since the march although short has been for the most part up and down. With this march the Sierra or cordillera which runs to and ends at Baja California is now overcome or passed. Rain continued until half past four in the afternoon. After it began to get dark, a heavy, distant thunder was heard, and this was followed by an earthquake which lasted four minutes.”

Continuing generally over the route set out on the previous expedition, they entered Cahuilla Valley, and though he evidently hoped at this point to be able to by-pass the San Gabriel Mission and go on directly to Monterey, Anza knew this could not be done because of the poor condition of the stock, and the unhappiness of so many of his people. He wrote:

“All the sierras which we have seen today in the direction of the South Sea, which in the main are independent of the cordillera of Baja California, are so snow-covered that scarcely any trees can be seen on the summits. This sight has been terrifying to most of the people of our expedition, who, since they were born in Tierra Caliente (hot country), have never seen such a thing before. As a result they have become so melancholy that some of the women had to weep. Through their tears they managed to say, ‘If so many animals died of cold and the people nearly died in places where there was less snow, how will it be in the place where we see so much of it?’ I checked these complaints by various counsels, telling them that the cold would be moderated when we got to the seacoast and its missions, as had already been experienced. And so, since the coast where they were born is hot, they have concluded that it will be the same here, and that in the missions there will be a remedy for troubles which may arise.”

There were many difficulties for Anza to face at San Gabriel, and these, along with a revolt of Indians at the San Diego Mission, delayed his departure for San Francisco until February 21st. Anza and a little band of some of the colonists finally arrived at Monterey on March 10th in a pouring rain. After he recovered from a brief illness, he and a few of the soldiers went on to San Francisco to locate sites for a presidio and mission. When it was time for Anza to say farewell to Monterey and return to Mexico, he wrote graphically of the hour:

“This day has been the saddest one experienced by this presidio since its founding. When I mounted my horse in the plaza, the people whom I have led from their fatherlands, to which I am returning, remembering the good or bad treatment which they have experienced at my hands while they have been under my orders, most of them, especially of the female sex, came to me sobbing with tears, which they declared they were shedding more because of my departure than of their exile, filling me with compassion. They showered me with embraces, best wishes, and praises which I do not merit. But in remembrance of them, and of the gratitude which I feel to all, and the affection which I have had for them ever since I recruited them, and in eulogy of their faithfulness, for up to now I have not seen a single sign of desertion in anyone of those whom I brought to remain in this exile, I may be permitted to record this praise of people who, as time goes on, will be very useful to the monarchy in whose service they have voluntarily left their relatives and their fatherland, which is all they have to lose.”

On his return to Mexico, Anza received the honors which were due to his great leadership. He eventually became governor of New Mexico, serving with dignity and distinction, and winning more fame as an administrator and Indian fighter. He died in 1788 at the age of 51.

From Cabrillo’s discovery of California to the arrival of Anza’s first colonists, it had been 234 years. A finger of Old Spain in the form of a thin chain of little missions was extended from San Diego to San Francisco. It was still a lonely and isolated land. Far away on the eastern seaboard the Battles of Lexington and Concord were being fought, and the Declaration of Independence adopted. But Spain’s great explorations were over, and her day in the Americas was drawing to a close. Six years after Anza’s second expedition, Chief Palma, his old friend, led an Indian uprising which saw the massacre of fifty persons, including Frs. Garces and Diaz, at the Yuma crossing. The myth of the invincibility of Spanish arms was shattered, and the land route to California was all but closed. Then Spain forgot. But the names of Cabrillo, Vizcaino, Serra and Anza are written forever in the history books of California, on its buildings and monuments, and in its culture and even its language. The old paths of the explorers can be retraced, and the raising of Point Loma never ceases to be a thrill to those, who, as did Cabrillo, approach from the sea. The past never dies.