The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1973, Volume 19, Number 1
James E. Moss, Editor

By Manuel P. Servin

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No aspect of Borderlands’ history has been more distorted than that of the Spanish colonization of the Southwest. Despite the writings of eminent historians on the racially mixed background of the Spanish-speaking pioneers, the myth that the early settlers, and consequently the old families, were preponderantly of Spanish stock persists in many quarters.

Members of old families, whose mixed-blood ancestors early adopted the Spanish ideals of success, proudly extol their Spanish lineage and background. Viewing history through special lenses, the descendants of early settlers, as well as their Anglo-American friends and relatives, seem to focus only on the Spanish conquistadores, explorers, and settlers of the Borderlands. Overlooking their unbleached mestizo, mulatto, and Indian ancestors, these anointed Spanish-speaking pioneers see themselves as the descendants of intrepid Castilian gentlemen.

This act of self-deception appears to afflict almost the entire Borderlands’ area. New Mexico, perhaps because of its long history and galaxy of noble-like conquistadores, more than any other area suffers from this Spanish fever. The names of Don Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, Don Antonio de Espejo, and Don Juan de Oñate dominate the history of the state. Consequently, New Mexico is generally considered Spanish and its Spanish-speaking inhabitants are consequently Hispanos — not Mexicans of mixed Spanish, Indian, and African stock. Texas, with its so-called Spanish founders of San Antonio, also suffers from a similar affliction. The Spanish-speaking rico, the person of status, is consequently the descendant of either the notoriously indolent Canary Islander or of an alleged Spaniard or criollo. California, where earlier American historians over glorified the Spanish period of the province as well as the names of Junípero Serra and Gaspar de Portolá, relishes in its Spanish origins and traditions. Its distinguished families, suffering from an acute case of color blindness, call themselves californios, descendants of supposed Spaniards.

The recognition of the role that colonial Mexicans — that is, the role that the persons of mixed-blood — played in settling the Borderlands and especially California does not reject the essential part that Spaniards performed in the exploration, colonization, and missionization of the Southwest. Spanish peninsulares overwhelmingly were the adelantados, the officials, and the priests who explored, governed, and served settlers. But to claim that the settlers were preponderantly Spaniards — as the Californios assert — must be rejected as historically untenable. These settlers, as the study of California’s settlement shows, were not Spanish, but overwhelmingly mixed-bloods from Indian, Spanish, and also Negro stock.

Alta California was a most unattractive province to the success-seeking colonist of New Spain. Although California was discovered in 1542 by Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo and explored in the late 1500’s and early 1600’s, its colonization did not occur until 1769, over two hundred years after its discovery.

Although California today has attracted the greatest number of Americans pursuing the great American Dream, it failed to lure its true founder Don José de Gálvez, to its productive and lucrative soil. This former Spanish shepherd, seminarian and struggling lawyer — like many a struggling unsuccessful lawyer — was dominated by a success-seeking desire for political power and status. Gálvez’s inordinate ambition and quest for success, plus his ability and good fortune, made it possible for him to rise in the political sphere. Through his marriage to a French woman, he became a legal councillor at the French Embassy in Madrid; then he moved up as a secretary to the Spanish Minister of State; and, in 1765 in his forty-fifth year, the former shepherd and unsuccessful lawyer was appointed Inspector General of New Spain and thus became the most powerful man in Spanish North America.1

As Inspector General, Gálvez was to reorganize and reform New Spain by such measures as revising the fiscal policies, expelling the Jesuits, and establishing the frontier defense of the northern provinces. Gálvez, however, as a devoted follower of the Spanish Gospel of Success, sought a more exalted position than Inspector General. Consequently, he seized upon the imagined Russian threat to Alta California as a means of furthering his political career — a career that reached its height when he was named Marqúes de Sonora and Ministro Universal de las Indias.2

Since the occupation of Alta California was of utmost importance to the ambitious Inspector General, he directed its entire preparation. In charge of the Alta California expedition, he placed the newly arrived Catalán Captain Gaspar de Portolá. As president of the Fernandino Franciscan missionaries from the overwhelmingly Spanish Apostolic College of San Fernando of Mexico, he chose the Mallorcan Fray Junípero Serra without consulting him “whether the post would be acceptable and without any chance to refuse.”3

The expedition, which in reality consisted of four distinct phases — two voyages by ships and two separate treks by land — was a Spanish-led enterprise. Only one leader, Captain Fernando de Rivera y Moncada, the commander of the soldados de cuera, the leather jackets, was not a Spaniard.4

Although the founding expedition has gone down in California history as the “Portolá Expedition” and both Portolá and Serra have been overly extolled, Rivera played a very significant, but almost unappreciated, role in the founding of Alta California. Rivera, whose work was virtually ignored by North American historians of California until the research of the scholarly Jesuit Ernest J. Burrus appeared in print,5 did much more than just lead the first overland division of twenty-five soldados de cuera, three muleteers, and some forty Hispanicized, former Jesuit-trained Indians to San Diego in Alta California. Actually Rivera not only paved the way for Portolá and Serra into Alta California but also into Baja California.

Whereas the Catalán Portolá “was a newcomer of the preceding year” of 17676 and Serra had only set foot on Baja California in 17687 Captain Rivera had had a distinguished career as a soldier, officer, and as military commander prior to the replacement of the expelled Jesuits by the Franciscan missionaries from the College of San Fernando of Mexico.8

Despite Rivera’s excellent record in Jesuit Baja California and his later laudable colonizing record in Alta California, California historians — except for the Jesuits Peter Masten Dunne and Ernest J. Burrus — have been critical, if not hostile, toward Rivera. Whether this attitude toward Rivera is the result of the pro-Franciscan position of most California historians or whether it originates in their unconscious prejudice of extolling Spaniards and things Spanish and of deprecating Mexicans and Mexican activities is impossible to decide. Whatever the reason may be — and I am inclined to believe that it is a latent, unrecognized anti-Mexican attitude that permeated California historians — Rivera, the Mexican pioneer and governor of Spanish California, has suffered undue and unwarranted criticism at the hands of Anglo-American chroniclers who prided themselves on their objectivity.

Rivera, although the best known, was not the only non-Spaniard or gente de razón9 who came as a founder in the so-called “Portolá Expedition of 1769.” In addition to the twenty-five Soldados de Cuera and the three muleteers who accompanied Rivera to Alta California, the Portolá phase included Sergeant José Francisco Ortega of Guanajuato, ten Soldados de Cuera under him, four muleteers, and Portolá’s and Serra’s two servants. On board the San Antonio, the first ship of the expedition to reach Alta California, there were “a few carpenters and blacksmiths,” but the true number of genre de razón on board is still unknown. On the San Carlos, whose records are available, there were “four cooks and two blacksmiths,” probably none of whom was a Spaniard or a Criollo. Therefore, the expeditions — both the two sea phases and the two land divisions — contained some sixty Mexican mixed-bloods. If the Hispanicized, Baja California, Jesuit-trained Indians, who numbered forty-two with Rivera and forty-four with Portolá, are counted as non-Spanish settlers — as they certainly deserve to be counted — the mixed-blood and Indian element arriving and remaining as colonists in Alta California is overpowering.10 And, when the historian considers that of all the Spaniards who made and helped make the four-pronged expedition, only eight remained in California and that three of these (the distinguished Miguel Costansó, the overpopularized Gaspar de Portolá, and the relatively unknown Fray Juan Vizcaíno) soon returned to Mexico, he realizes that the Mexican mixed-blood and Indian contribution to the founding of Alta California has been woefully understated or almost ignored by North American historians of California.

Although the Mexican mixed-bloods and the Baja California Indians constituted the vast majority of the permanent soldiers and colonists of Alta California, the Spaniards — with extremely few exceptions — planned and encouraged the development of the new colony. The Spanish Franciscans not only established twenty missions but also insured California’s permanent settlement and economic development. Spanish officers erected presidios, presidial towns, and civilian pueblos. It was also these officers who originated the rancho system by making the first land grants to retired Spanish soldiers. Yet, as important as Spanish leadership was, without those of mixed-blood Alta California could neither have been occupied nor colonized.

The Mexican mixed-bloods, in addition to being the pioneer soldier-settlers who garrisoned presidios, guarded missions, carried the mail, erected buildings, farmed, and even took care of flocks, soon became the main source of “Spanish” population for securing the territory. In 1775 Captain Juan Bautista de Anza, the distinguished frontier commander who was in all probability a mestizo, left Tubac, Arizona, with some two hundred forty persons. The military colonists of the trek, most of whom were poverty ridden genre de razón recruited in Sinaloa, were the welcome founders and settlers of San Francisco’s presidio and mission. Thus, the Mexican population was predominant in settling and populating Alta California from San Diego in the south to San Francisco in the north.

Not all Mexican mixed-bloods and Hispanicized Indians, however, were as welcome and appreciated as the first settlers of the “Portolá Expedition of 1769” and the “Anza Trek of 1775.” The first lack of enthusiasm for Mexican settlers was demonstrated by the Fernandino Franciscans. These Franciscans from the beginning were opposed to the establishment of towns whose unruly inhabitants turned out to be mestizos, mulattoes, lobos, and other racial amalgamations. Actually, the opposition to the founding of pueblos appears to have been born not solely from racial prejudice but from other reasons, especially from the fun-loving and unchaste behavior of the religiously lax soldiers and settlers, a behavior that was far from edifying to the California mission Indian.11 Perhaps another significant reason for the Franciscan opposition is that the towns were to be located in what the friars erroneously considered mission lands. At any rate, the opposition by the Fernandino friars was positive and determined:

Notwithstanding Viceroy Antonio Bucareli’s instructions (1773) regarding the erection of pueblos, Neve’s Reglamento (1779), . . . the missionaries, beginning with Father Junípero Serra opposed such projects. Thus, Serra opposed the founding of San José on the basis ‘that the government should wait until the missions developed more. Then they could supply the presidios with produce and more land would be available for settlers by reason of the enrollment of Indians in the missions.’ Apparently that day never came, for on August 30, 1797, the guardian of Fernandinos ‘requested a suspension of the Villa de Branciforte,’ the third and last Spanish municipality founded in Alta California. As had happened in San José, the friars opposed Branciforte on the legality of proximity to
the mission.12

The Fernandino Franciscans of California, when compared to the Franciscan missionaries of other Apostolic Colleges and Provinces, were unique in their opposition to the establishment of pueblos of genre de razón or Mexicans. Following the expelled Jesuits’ example in Baja California, the Fernandino missionaries were adamant against having civilian pueblos in both of the Californias. This, however, was not by any means the general practice of the Franciscans from other missionary colleges. Professor John Walton Caughey, dean of California historians, presents a cogent picture of the situation when he writes that “Prior to [Governor] Neve’s time Alta California had no pueblos. Baja California had none and, for that matter, no presidios either. But in Sonora, New Mexico, Texas, and most other Spanish frontiers the town was present alongside the mission and military post.”13

Governor Neve, with his intense anticlerical and antifriar sentiments, broke the Fernandino Franciscan anti-settler practice. Without waiting for approval from the especially proclerical Viceroy Antonio de Bucareli, Neve established the Pueblo of San José in 1777. Gathering “four soldier-settlers brought by Anza, the widow of another soldier and a vaquero” from San Francisco, and nine soldiers from Monterey, the governor initiated active hostility not only to the civilian pueblos but to the mixed-blood poblanos — the founders of California’s first municipality.

Los Angeles, whose settlers were recruited by Rivera in northwestern Mexican states, was the second civilian pueblo of Alta California. Governor Neve, the anticlerical Spaniard, founded it on September 4, 1781, “with twelve settlers and their families, forty-six persons in all, whose names are given and whose blood was a strange mixture of Indian and negro with here and there a trace of Spanish.” According to H. H. Bancroft, California’s early distinguished historian,

The settlers were as follows: José de Lara, Spaniard, 50 years of age, wife Indian, 3 children; José Antonio Navarro, mestizo, 42 years, wife mulattress, 3 children; Basilio Rosas, Indian, 68 years, wife mulattress, 6 children; Antonio Mesa, negro, 38 years, wife mulattress, 2 children; Antonio (Félix) Villavicencio, Spaniard, 30 years, wife Indian, 1 child; José Vanegas, Indian, 28 years, wife, Indian, 1 child; Alejandro Rosas, Indian, 19 years, wife coyote (Indian); Pablo Rodríguez, Indian, 25 years, wife Indian, 1 child; Manuel Camero, mulatto, 30 years, wife mulattress; Luis Quintero, negro, 55 years, wife mulattress, 5 children; José Moreno, mulatto, 22 years, wife mulattress; Antonio Miranda, chino, 50 years, I child. The last named was at first absent at Loreto. He was not a Chinaman, nor even born in China, as has been stated by some writers, but was an offspring probably of an Indian mother by a father of mixed Spanish and negro blood . . .14

Governor Neve, who established the pueblos to provide an adequate food supply and to populate the almost barren province, unlike Serra and the Franciscans, saw the pueblo founders as Spanish regardless of racial origins.15

While Neve actually saw the Mexican mixed-bloods as Spanish subjects who would secure California for the Crown, Serra and friars generally saw them both in the pueblos and in the presidios as problems.16 The genre de razón corrupted the Indian by their irreligious and unchaste behavior. They reduced the friars’ influence over the Indians by their independence and lack of obedience. Furthermore, they were an “unruly element who,” as Humboldt opined, “do not submit-so easily to blind obedience as Indians.” Yet, as disrespectful as some of the Mestizos, Mulattoes, or Lobos may have been, they certainly were not as hostile to the friars as Governor Neve. According to Father Guardian Francisco Pangua, Superior of all the Fernandinos, “So pronounced [was] Neve’s aversion to the friars that soldiers were warned not to become fraileros [friends of the friars], not to perform any service for the missionaries, and not to aid in the bringing back of fugitives.”17

Neve, however, was not the only Spanish official whose hostility undermined the friars’ influence and authority over the Indians and the genre de razón. Such outstanding Spanish officials, as Governors Pedro Fages and Diego de Borica, were equally as critical and uncooperative. Despite the attitude of the Spanish officials toward the Fernandino friars, both at the highest and lower echelons, it was the mixed-blood and not the Spaniard who was singled out as the problem of the Franciscan.

Nowhere were the mixed-bloods so opposed, so criticized, and so uncharitably described as in the 1797 founding of the Villa de Branciforte near present-day Santa Cruz. According to Francis Florian Guest, the leading authority on the founding of Branciforte,

Strenuous efforts were made in New Spain to recruit settlers for California but with small success. On March 3, 1796, the king approved the plan of populating California with families who might volunteer for the project. The intendancies of Guadalajara, Zacatecas, Potosi, Guanajuato, and Valladolid were searched for families, poor, honorable, and of pure blood, who might be sent to California to increase the population and who, far from corrupting the Christian Indians, would give them good example . . . The results were almost nil . . . Ultimately, two groups were organized to make the voyage to the new province. The first, from Guadalajara, consisted of nine men condemned for petty crimes. The second, from Guanajuato, comprised sixteen men of the same class, and three volunteers.18

The colonists, as might be expected from former convicts, proved to be a serious problem to the Spanish officials, the Spanish friars, and Spanish settlers. Yet, it is difficult to see why the behavior of the mixed-blood colonists should scandalize the Spaniards when the moral decadence of Spain and of its rulers, Charles the IV and María Luisa, was at least as pronounced as that of the convict-settlers. Father Guest presents a graphic picture of scandalous conduct of the Branciforte colonists and insight into the attitude toward the mixed-bloods in some California circles.

The trouble the convicts caused the government was more than legal in character. Their reputation for good conduct was not an enviable one. Their immorality and disorderly behavior were a scandal to the troops, the settlers, and the Indians. Sometimes their offenses were more than minor . . . In another letter to the viceroy [Governor] Arrillaga describes the convicts as insolent, vicious, brutal, and immoral and asks that the sending of any more be suspended. Father Ferm7iacute;n Francisco de Lasuén portrays them as lovers of idleness and ease, half-clothed and hungry, wandering around in presidios, ranchos, and pueblos, serving one and now another but not fitting in anywhere. Raymundo Carrillo complained that, with their vices and bad example, the convicts were corrupting the Christian and pagan Indians and the children of the genre de razón. José Argüello declared it would be a great benefit, a distinct gain, if the convicts did not encumber the earth . . . José de la Guerra’s comment was that it would be most favorable to the interests of the province if the convicts were distant a million leagues for a couple of centuries, an occurrence which would be of advantage to both God and king . . .19

Yet, not all Spaniards were as critical of the mixed-blood genre de razón as the somewhat poorly educated friars, the Spanish Peninsular immigrants, and the bleaching successful mestizo. Some Spaniards, like the remarkable, well-educated Miguel de Costansó of the elite Corps of Engineers appreciated both the mixed-bloods and the contribution which they could make for preserving Alta California. Costansó, California’s first historian and New Spain’s greatest architect and military engineer, ignoring the friars’ antipathy to civilian establishments and to mixed-bloods, as early as 1794 recommended that

In order to avoid the problems and setbacks that have developed [in Alta California] and to have the missions prosper, to instruct the Indians in arts which are demanded by society to civilize and to make them more useful vassals to the Monarchy, there are no means more efficacious than from the beginning of a new establishment to introduce among them genre de razón [European, Spaniards, and people of mixed blood are identified as such in order to differentiate them from the native Indians]20 provided they are hardworking and useful. The governors, who are above the missionary priest, and the captains of the presidios of the provinces of this New Spain have clamored, and are clamoring for it — especially those of the Californias, Upper and Lower, or Old and New . . .21

In addition to the benefits that would accrue to the Province and consequently to Spain, Costansó then presents a rather favorable description of the birthrate and integration of the mixed-blood in New Spain. Accordingly, he continues his Report of 1794,

Experience has demonstrated the fertility of the Spaniards and of the persons of mixed blood of this kingdom is much greater than that of the Indians. Perhaps this is so because when they are reduced to a civilized life or a less wild existence, they [the Indians] procreate much less; or because when they intermarry with Spaniards or white persons, there is generally produced from the second or third generation some individuals who barely have a trace of Indian since they are reared among Spaniards and their language, habits and customs no longer differ from ours.22

Unfortunately for the mixed-bloods, too few Spaniards, particularly the Fernandino Franciscans, were as accepting and as appreciative of them as California’s Forgotten Founder, Costansó. Most mixed-bloods, because of their racial mixture, especially if they possessed a natural tan and were poblanos (townspeople) were stigmatized in varying degrees. Consequently, to escape discrimination or to achieve status, the second generation (the hijos del país or californios), especially the rancheros (ranch owners) and the politicos (governmental officials), started to revert to the centuries-old custom of New Spain of becoming bleached Mexicans; namely, the crillos of Mexico and the Californios of Alta California. Therefore, it is not surprising that even in the Spanish period, the early California mixed-blood settlers who considered themselves as whites, and soldiers, demonstrated a spirit of superiority over the newer immigrants (the cholos) who arrived from Mexico. While some of this discrimination may be attributed to the fact that the immigrants of the 1780’s and 1790’s were convict-artisans and those of 1800 happened to be foundlings, the element of status-seeking and racial self-deception on the part of the early California mixed-blood poblanos cannot be ignored.

Actually, very few of the mixed-bloods, especially the poblanos, became acceptable or managed to pass as españoles (Spaniards) in the period before 1821. Such mobility
appears to have been at first restricted to a great degree to the rancheros. Furthermore, it does not appear to have taken root until either very late in the Spanish period or early in the Mexican regime. Actually, the poblanos — because of their lack of gospel of success — remained during the Spanish period as just plain Mexicans or genre de razón.

Consequently, it is neither startling nor amusing to read the description which the late Professor Charles E. Chapman (the teacher of so many California historians, university and college-level professors, and public and parochial school teachers) perpetuated of the poblano in his widely used volume, History of California: Spanish Period (1921). Chapman, reflecting the prejudice, or perhaps the honesty, of his generation and of previous generations of Americans, wrote that

The inhabitants [of pueblos] were of poorer quality than those of the presidial towns, and were of mongrel racial type. The original settlers of Los Angeles, for example, had far more Indian and negro blood than white, though all were part Spanish. None of them could read or write. By all accounts they were a dissolute, immoral, lazy, gambling lot. Between 1792 and 1795 the pueblos received an increase in population through the sending of a number of artisans from Mexico; these artisans were criminals. Present-day Californians need not feel in the least shocked by these details. No pioneer country in real life is ever very lovely, especially if the inhabitants are unwilling settlers. Nor should the modest character [the lack of a gospel of success] of certain of the Spanish Californians lessen one’s pride in the greatness of their service . . . Many of the English settlers of the West Indies and what are now the southern states of this country were as poor as the Spanish Californians.23

Chapman was more understanding, or perhaps less biased, regarding the Spanish period rancheros. Although acknowledging that the “Least important of the types of settlement in Spanish days were the private ranches,” he nevertheless raised the status of the grantees by asserting that “Some twenty such grants were made in the Spanish period, however, usually to retired presidial officers.”24

Actually, the first grant made in Alta California was made by Rivera in 1775. Two years prior, as W. W. Robinson states,

Viceroy Bucareli authorized the military commanders of San Diego and Monterey, the two existing presidios, to assign lands to Indians and colonists, at the same time cautioning such recipients of land not to move away from the town or mission where they were

Under his authority, Manuel Butrón, a soldier of the Monterey company, married to an Indian girl, Margarita, a Carmel Mission neophyte, was the first man in Spanish-ruled Upper California to get a plot of land he could call his own . . .25

Butrón, however, was not destined to initiate a family of rancheros (and California Dons.) Unlike the veteran Mexican mixed-blood soldados de cuera who later received grants and who sired distinguished and even “pure Spanish” families, Butrón failed. His small plot, less than some 140 square yards, was abandoned as he settled in the Pueblo of San José.

The first real rancheros of California were the Mexican inválidos — the retired soldiers. Governor Pedro Fages, on his own initiative, originated the rancho movement in Alta California in 1784 by making provisional grants to at least three soldados de cuera who came to the province with the founding expedition. “In that year,” writes W. W. Robinson, “several retirement-minded, land-hungry veterans got permission from Governor Fages, their own commander, to put cattle on lands of their own choosing.” Fages, however, was unsure of his action, and referred the matter to higher authorities in New Spain. His actions were confirmed, but with some restrictions.26 Thus, it was as a result of Fages’ actions that lowly mixed-blood frontier soldiers first became rancheros — the rancheros whose children in many cases would become Spanish Californios and who would later disclaim Mexico and things Mexican.

Probably the first to profit from Fages’ action was sixty-five-year-old Juan José Domínguez, founder of a renowned family of Mexican and American period Californios.27 Domínguez, despite his descendants’ rise to status as Californios in the later Mexican and United States periods, appears to have been a man of very modest background and heritage.28 Yet his lowly station in life and his liaison with an Indian neophyte who bore him a child did not prevent Governor Fages from granting him “a site near the mouth of the Los Angeles River,” where “On the slope of a hill he built several huts and corrals and established . . . Rancho San Pedro. As finally surveyed there were 43,000 acres in this rancho, though originally it had included Rancho Los Palos Verdes.”29 But even without Palos Verdes, the Domínguez family rise from frontier soldiers to Dons in the Mexican period was not only rapid but lasting.

A second soldier-grantee, whose family became recognized Californios, was Corporal José María Verdugo.30 Born in the Villa de Sinaloa like Domínguez, Verdugo became a Soldado de Cuera, accompanied Rivera to Alta California, served at San Diego and at Mission San Gabriel, and received Rancho San Rafael on October 20, 1784, before retirement.31 According to Robinson, Verdugo “remained in the army. Thirteen years later, however, he was so weary of military life, according to his own statement, suffered so much from dropsy, and felt so keenly the burden of his family, which included six children, that Governor Diego de Borica let him retire to his rancho. Verdugo’s Rancho San Rafael comprised more than 36,000 acres, and within its boundary are today Glendale and part of Burbank. With 36,000 acres of property, his descendants had slight difficulty in attaining racial, social, and political status in Mexican California.32

Manuel Pérez Nieto, also a native of the Villa de Sinaloa and compadre of Juan José Domínguez, upon retiring petitioned Governor Fages for a grant to graze his cattle and horses. While he humbly petitioned the governor and meekly signed his name with a cross, his request for the grant of the acreage at La Zanja was far from humble. “Rancho Los Nietos was almost twice the size of the Domínguez grant (75,000 acres). . . Altogether, these tracts [of Domínguez and his compadres Verdugo and Nieto] comprised almost one-third of the coastal plain now included in Los Angeles County, or in the excess of four hundred square miles.”33

Nieto, despite being an “old man” when he retired as an enlisted man from the Presidio was easily the giant of the Big Three Grantees. As Robinson states,

he was described as an “old man,” but he was not too old to raise cattle and horses successfully, nor too old to plant wheat and corn, nor too old to avoid having title disputes with the priests of San Gabriel. His adobe hut was built southwest of the present city of Whittier and within what later became Rancho San Gertrudes. By 1800 it was the center of a colony of white [sic] settlers. Nieto died in 1804, his vast holdings — Los Nietos — later forming five ranchos regranted during the Mexican period to his heirs and members of his family. These five ranchos were San Gertrudes, Los Coyotes, Los Cerritos, Los Alamitos, and Las Bolsas. A number of cities were to arise within their boundaries, the largest of which is today
Long Beach.34

These three ranch-grants, although there were perhaps some thirty such grants made in Spanish Alta California, clearly indicate how the mixed-blood retired soldiers could and did become landowners. It also indicates how their families became prominent hijos del pals or Californios in the Mexican period when they, like the Mexican period grantees, minimized their Mexican ancestry and heritage.

Probably, there would have been many more “Spanish” Californios and “Pure Spaniards” tracing their roots to Spanish and not the Mexican grants had it not been for the antipathy of the Fernandino friars to rural establishments. Fray José Antonio Señán, a distinguished, future Father-President of the Alta California Mission System clearly voiced the Franciscan opposition to Spanish grants and ranchos when he wrote to Viceroy Branciforte in 1796:

Towns cannot exist without people; as the number of inhabitants increases, so do the opportunities for their well being. I therefore believe that under no circumstances should retired soldiers or others with special credentials who wish to settle in the Province be permitted to establish themselves separately in remote areas or in villages outside the towns, a practice that I have tolerated these past few years. Such persons should rather be required to reside in towns, . . . otherwise we shall never have towns. The consequences to be expected from scattered and isolated colonization are distressing to contemplate. Colonists thus openly exposed are likely to suffer mischief at the hands of gentiles [pagan Indians] . . . In short, they will live in those remote regions without King to rule or Pope to excommunicate them . . .35

Obviously, the King did rule and the Pope had an opportunity to excommunicate. Rancheros in the Spanish period, unlike the Mexican era, barely increased in number. Yet, it was in this period that the California mixed-blood soldier-settler first sought and laid the foundation for attaining a Spanish-type success. He secured large grants by honestly requesting them at retirement. Although he himself did not become a nonworking aristocrat or a Californio of Spanish descent, his offspring would as they inherited his lands in the post-1821 Mexican period.

Despite his own denial of his racial heritage, it was the mixed-blood and not the Spaniard, who settled and populated California. To deny this fact, and continue the myth of the Spanish settlers and settlement, is to perpetuate a deception, a deception which is not history, but in many cases, prejudice of an earlier era.


1. See Herbert Ingram Priestly, José de Gálvez, Visitor-General of New Spain (1765-1771) (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1916), pp. 1-8; Charles E. Chapman, A History of California: The Spanish Period (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1930), pp. 207-209.

2. Charles Edward Chapman, The Founding of Spanish California (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1916), pp. 68-91; Priestly, José de Gálvez, passim; “José de Gálvez,” Diccionario Porrua: Historia, Biografía y Geografía de Mexico (3rd ed.; Mexico: Editorial Porrúa, 1970), 1, 806-807; Chapman, A History of California, pp. 209-215; “José de Gálvez,” Enciclopedia Universal Ilustrada Europeo-Americana (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1924), XXV, 557.

3. For an excellent account of Portolá’s brief stay in California see Donald A. Nuttall, “Gaspar de Portolá: Disenchanted Conquistador of Spanish Upper California,” Southern California Quarterly LIII (September 1971), 185-198. For Gálvez’s imperious selection of the president of the Alta California missions see Chapman, A History of California, pp. 220-221; Priestly, José de Gálvez, pp. 253-254.

4. Rivera was born around the year 1725 in Compostela, Mexico, or its vicinity. See Ernest J. Burrus, Diario del Capitán Comandante Fernando de Rivera y Moncada (2 vols.; Madrid: Ediciones José Porrúa Turanzas, 1967), 1, xx.

5. Ernest J. Burrus, “Rivera y Moncada, Explorer and Military Commander in Both Californias, in the Light of His Diary and Other Contemporary Documents,” The Hispanic American Historical Review L (November 1970), 682-692; Burros, ed., Diario del Capitán Comandante Fernando de Rivera y Moncada.

6. Nuttall, “Gaspar de Portolá,” SCQ, LIII, 185-186.

7. For Junípero Serra’s life and achievements see Maynard Geiger’s scholarly and objective The Life and Times of Fray Junípero Serra, O.F.M. (2 vols.; Washington: Academy of American Franciscan History, 1959). Serra arrived in Baja California on Good Friday, April 1, 1768. Geiger, Life and Times of Serra, I, 189.

8. For an insight into Rivera’s career see Burrus, “Rivera y Moncada, Explorer and Military Commander in Both Californian,” HAHR, L, 682-692; Burrus, Diario del Capitán Comandante Fernando de Rivera y Moncada, passim; and Manuel Patricio Servín, The Apostolic Life of Fernando Consag, Explorer of Lower California (Los Angeles: Dawson’s Book Shop, 1968), pp. 67; Peter Masten Dunne, Black Robes in Lower California (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1952), pp. 327, 333, and 418.

9. According to John L. Kessell, gente de razón were “free rational persons subject to the laws of the land and to the jurisdiction and tithe of the secular clergy. They were, in other words, not wards of a mission. But because they lived so far from the nearest secular priest, the settlers and their families turned for spiritual needs to the missionary of Guevavi.” See John L. Kessell, Mission of Sorrows: Jesuit Guevavi and the Pimas, 1691-1767 (Tucson, 1970).
Father Maynard Geiger states that gente de razón are “all non-mission people of whatever racial strain or mixture.” See Maynard Geiger, O.F.M., “Mission San Gabriel,” Southern California Quarterly, LII (September 1971), 249, note 3. In accordance with usage of the truly Spanish settlers, I define gente de razón as Hispanicized non-Spaniards who were generally a mixture of Indian, African and Spanish stock. Spaniards referred to themselves as “Spaniards” and as gente de razón — a term that would equate them to mixed-bloods.

10. Bancroft, History of California, I, 127-136, is the statistical source for the number of persons who arrived in the colonizing expedition.

11. Manuel P. Servín, “The Beginnings of California’s Anti-Mexican Prejudice,” MS, Arizona State University, 1972.

12. Manuel P. Servín, “The Secularization of the California Missions: A Reappraisal,” Southern California Quarterly, XLVII (June 1965), 136.

13. John W. Caughey, California: A Remarkable State’s Life History (3rd ed.; Englewood Cliffs, 1970), p. 76.

14. Bancroft, History of California, 1, 345.

15. For Governor Felipe de Neve’s views on the pueblos and settlers see Bancroft, History of California, I, 314; Feli de Neve “Sobre tierras y fundación de So. José de Guadalupe,” 15 April 1778, MS, C-A 22, BL; Felipe de Neve to the 1 Comandante General, Monterey, 10 August 1778, C-A 22, BL; Felipe de Neve to the Comandante General, Monterey, 3 April 1779, C-A 22, BL; Instruction que da [Felipe de Neve al parecer a Pedro Fages) sobre el gobierno interino de la Peninsula, 7 September 1782, MS, C-A 2, BL.

16. For Serra’s and the Fernandinos’ views toward the settlers see Servín, “The Secularization of the California Missions,” SCQ, XLVII, passim; Bancroft, History of California, 1, 314; Geiger, Life and Times of Serra, II, passim; Florian F. Guest, “The Establishment of the Villa de Branciforte,” California Historical Quarterly, XLI (March 1962), passim.

17. Bancroft, History of California, I, 381.

18. Guest, “The Establishment of the Villa de Branciforte,” CHSQ, XLI, 37.

19. Guest, “The Establishment of the Villa de Branciforte,” CHSQ, XLI, 40-41.

20. Costansó here uses the term gente de razón as the missionaries did, but not as the Spanish settlers of California. The Spanish settlers always referred to themselves as “Spaniards” and not as gente de razón which to them connoted an Hispanicized mixed-blood.

21. Manuel P. Servín, tr., “Costansó’s 1794 Report on Strengthening New California’s Presidios,” CHSQ, XLIX, 226. It is interesting to note that Costansó, a Peninsular, referred to the criollos as gente de razón, while the latter would have called themselves “Spaniards.”

22. Servín, “Costansó’s 1794 Report,” CHSQ, XLIX, 227.

23. Chapman, A History of California, pp. 391-392.

24. Chapman, A History of California, pp. 392 and 393.

25. W. W. Robinson, Land in California (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1948), pp. 45-46.

26. Robinson, Land in California, p. 46.
   For confirmation of Fages’ action by the Commandant General see Galindo Navarro to the Commandant General, Chihuahua, 21 June 1786, C-A 52, BL.

27. See Robert Cameron Gillingham, The Rancho San Pedro (Los Angeles: Dominguez Estate Company, 1961).
   For documentation and testimony on Dominguez’s Rancho presented to the Board of Land Commissioners see L-C 398, SD, BL.

28. Hubert Howe Bancroft, Register of Pioneer Inhabitants of California, 1542-1848 (Los Angeles: Dawson’s Book Shop, 1964), pp. 782-783; Gillingham, Rancho San Pedro, pp. 67-89.

29. Robinson, Land in California, pp. 46-47.

30. Leonard Pitt, The Decline of the Californios (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966), pp. 251-252.

31. Gillingham, Rancho San Pedro, p. 70; Hubert Howe Bancroft, California Pioneer Register and Index, 1542-1848 (Baltimore: Regional Publishing Company, 1964), p. 369. For documentation and testimony on Rancho San Rafael see L-C 381, SD, BL.

32. Robinson, Land in California, p. 48.

33. Gillingham, Rancho San Pedro, pp. 70, 44; Robinson, Land in California, pp. 48-50. For documentation and testimony on Rancho los Nietos see L-C 290, SD, BI-.

34. Robinson, Land in California, pp. 49-50.

35. Fray José Senan to Viceroy Marques de Branciforte, Mexico, 14 May 1796, in The Letters of José Señán, O.F.M., Mission San Buenaventura, 1796-1823, tr. Paul D. Nathan, ed. Lesley B. Simpson (San Francisco: John Howell-Books, 1962), p. 88.

Manuel Patricio Servin is Professor of Southwestern and Mexican-American History at Arizona State University, Tempe. Dr. Servin was editor of the California Historical Society Quarterly from 1961-70 and Professor of History at the University of Southern California from 1963-70 where he served as Co-director of the Latin-American Studies Program. He is the author of several books including The Mexican-Americans: A Late Adopter of the Gospel of Success, to be published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, as well as a great number of articles and book reviews published in professional journals. He has served as an assistant to the Governor of California in Education and currently is an editorical consultant for the Journal of San Diego History.