San Francisco History

The Beginnings of San Francisco

El Camino Real, 1774

Anza found the water of the Cienega de San Sebastian [1] very alkaline and the grass so affected by it that the animals were made sick. At the cienega was a small ranchería of hill Indians (Indios Serranos), a most miserable, half-starved lot, ugly and entirely naked, living on mescal and seeds, with such game as they could kill with their bows and arrows. They also used the boomerang, throwing it with great dexterity and skill. These Indians have been identified with the Comeya who formerly occupied the country from the head of the Gulf of California to the Sierra Madre and from the Pacific to the lands of the Yumas. They were as fierce and treacherous as they were cowardly, and were the only Indians that Anza met on his long march whom he could not convert into friends. There was war between the Comeya and the Yuma, and two of the latter tribe whom Anza had brought with him notified the comandante that they and all who accompanied them would have their throats cut. Anza told the Comeya Indians that the war between them and the Yumas had ceased and that the tribes were now friends. This statement was apparently accepted and with the breaking of arrows the former enemies embraced and assured the comandante that their future excursions into each other's territory would be but pleasure trips.

Remaining at the cienega until three o'clock the next afternoon, March 11, 1774, Anza resumed his journey, and turning his back on the Colorado desert passed into the San Jacinto mountains by the broad dry cañada [2] of the San Felipe river. His animals were very weak from the purging caused by the alkaline grass and water of San Sebastian, and two of them died. He advanced only one and a half leagues, then halted for the night where there were some mesquite trees, whose leaves furnished scanty forage for the beasts. In this place were four or five families of Serranos who informed him that the sea was distant three days' journey to the west, and that some of their relatives near it had seen people like the Spaniards who lived at a distance of five or six days' journey. The sea, Anza inferred, was the Philippine Ocean, and the people were those who lived at the Puerto de San Diego.

Before daybreak the next morning the march was resumed up the gently ascending cañada of the San Felipe, in a west-northwest direction, and turning into the cañon [3] of Coyote creek they camped where there was running water of good quality and better grass than they had seen since they had leftthe Pimería. [4] At this aguage they found some sixty Serranos who scattered at the approach of the Spaniards. Anza sent the native Californian after them to induce them to return. Tarabel succeeded in bringing them back, and Anza rewarded them with presents of trinkets and tobacco; but the pack-mules coming up and scenting the water, set up a terrific braying which put the Indians to precipitate flight. Anza named the aguage San Gregorio and remained in camp the next day to give his sick animals rest. The expedition resumed its march before dawn on March 13th, continuing up the cañon of Coyote creek and camping at the head of Borega valley. Here the Coyote, coming through a narrow cañon where its flow had been forced to the surface, again sinks to its underground channel. Anza notes the good grass and vines and trees which promised improvement further on. He named the aguage Santa Caterina.

Starting two hours before daybreak the next morning, they continued up the cañon, which now began to narrow and rise sharply. For four leagues they followed the cañon of the Coyote, then turning into Horse cañon a sharp climb of two leagues brought them to a bajio and the summit of the San Jacinto mountains, where they found good grass and water. Anza says: "This paraje is a pass and I named it El Puerto Real de San Cárlos (the Royal Pass of San Cárlos). From it may be discovered some very beautiful plains, green and flowery, and the sierra nevada with pines, oaks, and other trees proper to cold countries. In it the waters are divided, some running to the Gulf and others to the Philippine Ocean. Thus is it verified that the cordillera we are now in is connected with that of Baja California." This bajio is Vandeventer flat, at the base of Lookout mountain, and its altitude is about four thousand, seven hundred feet. I have been somewhat particular in tracing Anza's route across the Sierra Madre of California, of which the San Jacinto mountains form a part, because Bancroft, in his History of California, identifies the pass of San Cárlos with the San Gorgonio pass, the route followed by the Southern Pacific railroad, and all subsequent writers have accepted the statement and confirmed the error. [Note 11]

The Indians met on this day's march were of the same appearance and language as those of San Sebastian, but were more impudent in manner and speech. Their harangues were accompanied by movement of hands and feet so violent that Anza called them Danzantes (Dancers). They were great thieves and Anza says they could steal with their feet as dexterously as with their hands.

That night it rained and snowed, and it was not until the next afternoon that the expedition started, taking its way over the divide between Vandeventer flat and Hemet valley, an elevation of four thousand nine hundred and eighty-five feet, and camped at a beautiful lake in Hemet valley which Anza named Laguna del Principe. In crossing the divide he says he found a fair vein of silver ore. The next three days he traveled down the Hemet valley, the San Jacinto river, camping on March 19th on the border of a large and beautiful lake, covered with white geese, which he named Laguna de San Antonio de Bucaréli. This was San Jacinto lake. He is enthusiastic in his description of the beautiful river, the trees, and the flowers. The river he named San José, and the San Jacinto valley he called La Valle Ameno de San José (The pleasant valley of San José). Into this pleasant valley comes the north fork of the San Jacinto river, a bounding, precipitous stream of such crystalline beauty that they named the gorge down which it runs La Cañada del Paraiso—the Vale of Paradise.

The next day they reached the Santa Ana river, so named by Portolá, July 28, 1769, but finding the river full were unable to cross. Passing down the river for half a league they looked in vain for a ford, and at four o'clock halted to make a bridge. This they finished at nightfall and rested for the night. Crossing the Santa Ana the next morning on the little bridge, the expedition traveled seven leagues in a west-northwest direction along the base of the Sierra Madre and camped for the night in a fertile valley thickly studded with poplars, willows, and alders, on the bank of a clear stream coming down from the sierra, which Anza named Arroyo de los Osos (Bear creek), having seen and chased several of those animals. The stream was San Antonio creek and the location of the camp was a little north and east of the site of the present town of Pomona. A march of eight leagues the next day brought them at sunset, March 22d, to the mission of San Gabriel where they were received by the padres with demonstrations of joy, the ringing of bells, and the singing of the Te Deum.

Tears of joy filled the eyes of those exiles from home as they looked upon these intrepid men and realized how near Sonora really was to them. As they heard the story of the expedition, wonder filled their hearts at the marvelous journey made by such a handful of men. Anza found the mission on very short rations, the priests and soldiers of the guard being allowed but three corn cakes per day which they eked out by wild herbs, each one seeking for himself; and of this scanty ration of corn they had but one month's supply. Nevertheless, the father superior of the mission offered to supply Anza with food until an expedition could be sent to San Diego, where, the father superior had been informed, a ship, the Nueva Galicia, had arrived. Giving his men two days' rest, Anza dispatched four soldiers with seven mules to San Diego, forty leagues distant, with a request to the captain of the ship and to the comandante of the port for provisions and for horses to enable him to continue his march to Monterey. [5] The soldiers returned April 5th, bringing six fanegas [6]  of maize, half damaged, one sack of dried meat, not edible, one sack of flour and two fanegas of beans which could not be taken because his troops did not carry pots in which to boil them. The horses asked for could not be supplied. As the provisions would last the expedition but sixteen days, Anza sent the two priests, with most of the soldiers, back to the Rio Colorado to await his return, and, with an escort of six soldiers, began the last lap of his journey, one hundred and twenty leagues, to Monterey.

Starting at nine o'clock in the morning of April 10th, he reached the Rio de la Porciúncula (Los Angeles river), [7] passed up the river into the San Fernando valley over the Santa Susana mountains, and camped on the Rio de Triunfo, a march of fourteen leagues. The next day's march of sixteen leagues brought him to the Rio de la Carpentería and the first ranchería of the Santa Barbara channel. This was the Rio de la Asuncion of Portolá and the site of the future mission of San Buenaventura. He also made sixteen leagues the next day along the Santa Barbara channel and stopped at the Rancherías de Mescaltitan. The next day's march was fifteen leagues to the Ranchería de los Pedernales. On the fourteenth he passed Point Concepcion and camped on the Rio de Santa Rosa (now the Santa Inez) near its mouth. He speaks well of the channel Indians, describes their houses, round, like the half of an orange, their well built boats in which they venture out to the channel islands on fishing expeditions, their tools of flint, their manufacture of baskets and dishes of stone. He thinks the estimate of 8,000 to 10,000 previously made of the channel Indians, too large. The country is beautiful and fertile and refreshing to eyes accustomed to the lands bordering on the Gulf of California where there is nothing seen of trees and herbs, while here the sea waves break upon shores as fertile as they are flowery.

A march of twelve leagues the next day brought Anza to the mission of San Luis Obispo, where his arrival gladdened the hearts of the missionaries. His route the next day was over the Cuesta pass of the Sierra de Santa Lucía into the Salinas valley, down the Salinas river to the Rio del Nacimiento where he camped after a march of thirteen leagues. The next morning he reached the mission of San Antonio and, pausing for a brief rest, pushed on into the Salinas valley [8] by the Arroyo Seco, named by Portolá, La Cañada del Palo Caido—the Valley of the Fallen Tree—and camped on the site where, in 1791, was established the mission of Nuestro Señora de la Soledad. The next day, April 18th, a march of thirteen leagues brought him to the presidio of Monterey. He was joyfully received by Don Pedro Fages, comandante of California, but found the garrison in a sad plight and much nearer to starvation than were the people of San Gabriel. All rejoiced in the success of his journey, for now that a road was opened to Sonora, they would no longer be dependent for supplies on the uncertain arrival of ships. The father superior and priests of the mission of San Cárlos Boromeo de Monterey, in the valley of the Cármelo, distant one league from the presidio, called on the successful explorer and extended their congratulations and bade him welcome. Anza returned the visit the following day, and on Friday, April 22, 1774, set out on his return trip, taking with him six of Fages' soldiers to show them the road to the Rios Gila and Colorado. On the sixth day's march while traveling along the Santa Barbara channel, he met the father president of the California mission, Fray Junípero Serra, who was returning from a visit to the city of Mexico, whence he had been to procure the recall of Fages. At Junípero's request, Anza spent with him the rest of the day and the night and gave him an account of his journey.

On reaching San Gabriel Anza sums up his observations concerning the people and the country of the new foundations. He confirms the reports of Captains Don Gaspar de Portolá and Don Miguel Costansó concerning the mildness and docility of the gentile nations and says that, were food abundant, the conversions to Christianity would be greatly increased; that the scarcity of food among many of the missions was due more to lack of seed than any sterility of soil; that the lands produce most abundantly wheat, barley, peas, beans, and other vegetables.

On May 3d he left San Gabriel for the Rio Colorado, returning by the same route he had come, save that in crossing the Colorado desert he avoided the long detour of his coming, and by a forced march of twenty-two leagues from San Sebastian, reached Santa Olalla on the morning of May 9th. On his journey eastward to the Laguna de San Antonio Bucaréli (San Jacinto lake) May 4th, he saw to the north of it, in the cordillera nevada, a good pass which he thought might be a direct route from Sonora to Monterey. He was looking into the opening of San Timoteo cañon and the San Gorgonio pass. After a rest of a few hours Anza continued his march up the valley of the Colorado and halted in the land of the Yumas who received him with extravagant demonstrations of joy, for they had heard reports that the expedition had been destroyed by the Serranos and Anza and all his men killed. The Yumas informed Anza that on receipt of the report the soldiers he had left in care of Captain Palma had fled to the Rio del Altar in spite of the remonstrances of the Yuma chief.

The following day, May 10th, Anza reached the junction of the Colorado and Gila, where Palma met him with much affection and informed him that Padre Garcés was encamped on the other side of the river, and he, Palma, had delivered to him the cattle and provisions Anza had left in his care. By three o'clock in the afternoon Palma had a raft prepared and ferried the party over the river, which, Anza notes, was six hundred varas (sixteen hundred and fifty feet) wide. The passage of the river was safeguarded by five hundred Yumas swimming beside the raft. At five o'clock he reached the camp where he found Garcés and the troops he had sent back from San Gabriel. Sending the soldiers brought from Monterey back to their presidio, Anza resumed his march May 15th, after praising Palma for his fidelity and rewarding him by giving him his staff (baton), four oxen, and some articles of dress. He enjoined him to keep the peace with his neighbors and requested him to send to Altar any Spaniard who might come within his jurisdiction. He then took his way up the Rio Gila, past the pueblos of the Papagos, Cocomaricopas, and the Pimas Gileños, to all of whom he announced the cessation of wars warning them to keep the peace and report to the Spanish presidios any infraction of it. Leaving the river at the eastern extremity of the Gila Bend, he passed up the valley of the Santa Cruz river and arrived at the Pima pueblo of Tucson on May 25th. Here he found dispatches requesting him to hasten his return as there was danger of an Apache raid. Starting before dawn the next morning he made a forced march of twenty leagues and arrived at sunrise of the second day, May 27th, at his own presidio of Tubac, and the end of his journey, for the accomplishment of which he gives praise to the Lord of Armies.

Anza had conquered the desert and had overcome the natural barriers between a paternal government and its feeble establishments in distant California. He had realized his cherished dream and had opened the King's Highway. He had secured for Spain the friendship of the powerful tribes of the great river, a friendship without which, he says, the river could not be passed. He was now to establish a presidio and mission worthy of the serafic patron and father, Saint Francis, to found a city that, in the fullness of time, was to dominate the great ocean and take its place with the mighty ones of earth.

1. The Cienega de San Sebastian is on the San Felipe river near where the Carrizo creek joins it, in Section 2, township 12 south, range 9 east. It is a little below sea level and the water, while abundant, is brackish.It must not be inferred that a "river" in Southern California is necessarily a stream of water visible to the naked eye. Frequently the flow is underground, except in times of freshet. [back]
2. Cañada: a dale or glen between mountains: a valley. [back]
3. A cañon is a narrow valley with more or less precipitous sides, a defile or ravine. [back]
4. Pimería: the country of the Pima Indians. It extends, roughly speaking, from the Sonora river to the Gila east of the one hundred and twelfth meridian. Anza left the Pimería and passed into the Papaguería when he crossed the Altar river at the mission of Caborca, January 22d. [back]
5. On March 24th, Anza stood god-father to an Indian baby baptized by the padres, and gave him his name—Juan Bautista. [back]
6. Fanega: about 1.6 bushels. [back]
7. Portolá crossed the Los Angeles river on the 2d of August, 1769, the day of the Feast of Porciúncula and named it in honor of the day Rio de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles de Porciúncula. It is to this incident the city of Los Angeles owes its name which is in full Nuestra Señora La Reina de los Angeles de Porciúncula—Our Lady the Queen of the Angels of Porciúncula. [back]
8. The Salinas river was named by Portolá September 26, 1769, Rio de San Elizario. Later when the presidio of Monterey had been established the river came to be called Rio de Monterey. [back]
Source: Eldredge, Zoeth Skinner. The Beginnings of San Francisco. 1912: San Francisco.


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