San Francisco History

The Beginnings of San Francisco


Bac (house). The mission of San Xavier del Bac nine miles south of Tucson was founded by Father Kino in 1700. On the expulsion of the Jesuits Father Garcés was assigned to this mission which he took charge of in 1768 and administered for ten years. The present church, which is described as a most remarkable object to find in so wild a country, was begun in 1768 and finished in 1798. Bartlett, who visited it in 1852, said it was the largest and most beautiful church in the State of Sonora. Benjamin Hayes, writing in 1857, says: "San Xavier is not what it was when I passed in 1849. The magnificent church is becoming dilapidated, the Papagos who had the care of it having left. It then looked magnificently over the dark mesquite forest through which it is approached, with its white walls like marble and its three domes. The altar seemed a mass of gold as the sun's rays streamed upon it in the afternoon. It had thirteen good oil paintings, kept in a side room with the altar furniture and priest's robes. The interior walls were filled with scriptural scenes, fresh as if painted the day before. * * * This church might be an ornament to Fourth Street, Saint Louis, or to any other city." {Benj. Hayes: Emigrant Notes MS. p. 150.}

Tubac. The presidio of Tubac was one of a chain of presidios guarding the northern frontier of Sonora. It was erected in 1752 on the Santa Cruz river, in what is now the Territory of Arizona, about forty-five miles south of Tucson. In 1767 the place had a population of four hundred and twenty gente de razon {People of Reason—Civilized Folk}, including the families of the fifty soldiers of the garrison under Captain Anza. In 1776 the presidio was removed to Tucson. In 1777 the people of Tubac petitioned for a restoration of the presidio and a company of Pimas was organized for a permanent garrison. Later, the post was occupied by a company of Spanish regulars. After the cession to the United States there was a temporary revival of the old town. It is situated within the southern rain belt, in the richest portion of the Santa Cruz valley. The annual rainfall is from twenty to twenty-five inches. In 1858-9, Tubac had a population of eight hundred, and the houses with their gardens and groves of acacias and peach trees made the little town most attractive. It was in the center of the mineral region and had probably one hundred and fifty silver mines within a radius of sixteen miles. During the War of the Rebellion it was occupied for a short time by Confederate troops and later by a regiment of California volunteers. The location is adjacent to the Apachería. It was frequently raided by the Apaches and in 1861-62 and 63 was made uninhabitable by those savage warriors, and several well-known mining engineers fell victims to their fury. There is but little left of the historic town now.

Tucson. The claim that Tucson was settled by the Spaniards in 1560 has no foundation. Anza on his return from Monterey in 1775, reached Tuscon May 25th. He calls it the Pima pueblo of Teson and says it belongs to the Pimas Altas (i. e. the inhabitants of Pimería Alta); that it is within the jurisdiction of his presidio and contains eighty families. Passing through Tucson October 26, 1775, with the second expedition, Father Garcés calls it “A visita of my administration and the last christianized pueblo in this direction" (north). The foundation of Tucson as a Spanish settlement was in 1776, when the presidio of Tubac was transferred thither.



Salvador Palma, chief of the Yumas, whose anxiety to embrace the true religion and have his people converted to Christianity was so extreme that he made peace with the surrounding nations and complied with all of Anza's requirements, headed a revolt against the pueblo-missions of the Colorado and totally destroyed them, killing Captain Fernando Rivera y Moncado, lieutenant-governor of Lower California, the four priests in charge of the missions—including this same Father Garcés—and some forty-two of the soldiers and settlers, one of whom was a private soldier in the company now being entertained by him. While the tale is a cruel one, a study of the events leading up to the outbreak forces the conclusion that from the Indian's point of view there was much provocation. No one can read the accounts given by Anza of the services rendered by this chief and his Yumas without realizing how valuable to the infant establishments of California was the friendship that Anza so carefully and successfully cultivated. He records his opinion that Palma's affection and fidelity may be fully trusted, and says that with the friendly assistance of the Yumas the passage of the Colorado was assured, but if it were opposed by them it would be next to impossible. On his first journey he trusted to the care of the Yuma the lives of seven of his men, and what is especially tempting to an Indian, a large part of his horses and cattle and the most of his baggage with its precious stores of trinkets, tobacco, and other things of value to the savage; all of which was safely guarded and returned to him when he came back from Monterey, although the time set for his return was long passed and reports had been received that Anza and all his party had been killed by the hill tribes of California.

On Anza's return from San Francisco in 1776, Palma accompanied him to the City of Mexico where he was well entertained. Bucaréli, favorably impressed with him and Anza's report concerning him, promised to establish a presidio and two missions on the Rio Colorado. The project was delayed by Indian troubles in the Pimería Alta, and in the meantime a new element was introduced which gave the execution of the plan into new and untried hands. The office of comandante-general of the Provincias Internas de Occidente was created and made independent of the viceroy; Don Teodoro de Croix was appointed to the place and Anza was sent as governor to New Mexico. Palma was still in the City of Mexico when the new official arrived. Bucaréli commended him to Croix who promised to give the matter his early attention, and Palma returned to his people much pleased with his reception and importance. A year passed and nothing was done. Palma went to Altar to ascertain the cause of the delay. The captain of that presidio satisfied him that matters were progressing and he returned to the Colorado. Another year passed with nothing accomplished. Palma's people taunted him with his failure and his allies regarded him with contempt. The authority of an Indian chief is but precarious at best. He must be wise; he must be strong; but above all he must be successful. The domination of Palma was largely due to the recognition and confirmation of his authority by the Spaniards. He was now being discredited. He went again to Altar and thence to Horcasitas whose commander represented to the comandante-general the uneasiness of the Indians of the Colorado. The king had been advised of Palma's visit to Mexico, had seen Anza's reports of his two expeditions as well as Garcés' reports on the Yumas, and he ordered Croix to concede to Palma the promised presidio and missions. The comandante-general, however, had ideas of his own on that subject and he attempted to console Palma by sending Friars Garcés and Diaz with an escort of twelve soldiers and a scanty equipment to the Colorado. They reached Palma's domain late in 1779 and great was the disappointment and chagrin of the Yumas. The contrast between what they expected and what they got was too great. In 1775 there had passed through their country a great expedition with a large body of troops clad in leather armor (soldados de cuera), great herds of cattle and trains of sumpter mules laden with precious wares, all under command of an officer of high rank and dignified bearing who created governors and alcaldes, conferred decorations in the name of the king, and scattered largess with a liberal hand. All this gallant array was for the purpose of founding a presidio and two missions on the bay of San Francisco. They had been promised a like establishment in their country, and now, after years of patient waiting, the fulfillment of that promise came in the shape of two priests, twelve soldiers, and a beggarly outfit hardly sufficient for their own subsistence. Many Indians were already in revolt and the peace, so carefully established by Anza, had already been broken by the murder of a Yuma by the Papagos. It was the beginning of war between the tribes and of general distrust of the Spaniards. Garcés, whose wide experience had taught him the Indian character, reported the dangers of the situation and Croix resolved to adopt a new plan in the establishments of the Colorado and found two missions each of which should combine the features of a presidio, a pueblo, and a mission. Against the protests of Garcés and the warnings of Anza he proceeded to carry his plan into effect; and the autumn of 1780 witnessed the arrival in the land of the Yumas of twenty settlers, twelve laborers, and twenty-one soldiers, all bringing their wives and plenty of children. The number of priests was increased to four. One presidio-pueblo-mission was established at Puerto de la Concepcion, later the site of Fort Yuma, where the partly demolished remains of stone walls of buildings were seen by Bartlett in 1852; and the other about eight miles down the river, almost on the boundary line between Alta and Baja California, both on the California side of the river. The upper establishment was called La Purisima Concepcion and the lower San Pedro y San Pablo de Bicuñer. The new settlers proceeded to appropriate the best lands and forage their cattle and horses on the growing crops of the Yumas.

Nothing more was needed to fan the smouldering discontent into the fierce flame of open rebellion. Ensign Santiago de las Islas was in command and in June 1781, came Captain Rivera y Moncada from Sonora with a party of recruits for the California establishments. The recruits Rivera sent on to California, a portion of his escort he sent back to Sonora and, with about a dozen of his men, he remained to his death in camp on the Arizona side of the river.

On Tuesday, July 17, 1781, the blow fell. Under the leadership of Palma the attack was made simultaneously on both missions and all but seven of the men were killed; the women and children were carried into captivity and the houses were destroyed. Garcés was at Concepcion and both he and his companion, Father Barrenche, survived the first attack, and while the Indians were killing right and left and looting the houses, both padres were busy hearing confessions and administering the sacraments to the dying. Both were beaten to death with clubs two days later. On the eighteenth the Yumas crossed the river, and attacked Rivera, killing the commander and all of his men and destroying his camp. Thus ended the first and last attempt to establish missions on the Colorado.

The death of Father Garcés in his forty-fourth year closed the earthly career of one of the most heroic, spiritual, and lovable of men. Born in the Villa de Morata del Conde, in Aragon, April 12, 1738, baptized Francisco Tomas Hermenegildo, he was carefully educated, ordained in the priesthood, and at the age of twenty-five was sent, at his earnest request, a missionary, to the college of the Santa Cruz de Querétaro (Mexico). In 1768 he was given charge of San Javier del Bac. He visited the various pueblos of the Pimas and Papagos and in August of that year made his first visit to the Gila. In 1770 he made another trip to the pueblos of the Gila and in 1771 traveled to the junction of the Gila and Colorado. The Yumas took him across the Colorado on a raft into Lower California and he wandered for some time among the Indians of the lower Colorado, preaching and baptizing the dying. He accompanied Anza on his first expedition of 1774 as far as San Gabriel, and accompanied him on the second trip as far as the Colorado. He visited the tribes up the river, crossed the Mojave desert to San Gabriel and discovered the Mojave river. Returning he passed into Tulare valley, discovered Kern river and went nearly to Tulare lake. He visited the Moqui pueblos whose .inhabitants refused to receive him and would give him neither shelter nor food. In this journey he was alone, his guide, in fear of his life, refusing to go with him.

In much of his wanderings he was alone, in the desolate desert or in the midst of ruthless savages, yet he was without fear, for he was on the Master's service. In his death at the hands of those he loved and for the welfare of whose souls he labored, he was found worthy of the highest reward, the crown of martyrdom. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of the just.



In order to realize Anza's great achievement, one has but to read the passage of this desert by the advance guard of the Army of the West under General Stephen W. Kearny in November 1846, as told by Lieutenant W. H. Emory, U. S. Topographical Engineers, accompanying the expedition {30th Cong.1st. Ses. Ex. Doc. No. 41.} Kearny, with his staff and one hundred dragoons, a pack-train, and a large supply of extra saddle and pack animals, followed the route of the "great highway" opened by Anza seventy years before. The hardships and sufferings of these toughened soldiers in crossing this desert were great, and they lost a large number of animals. Also read Bartlett {Bartlett: Personal Narrative} who crossed the desert in June 1852.

A great change has been wrought in this desolate region. The waters of the Rio Colorado have caused the desert to bloom as the rose; grains and grasses, fruits and flowers cover the once glistening sands, and the mesquite and cactus have given way for the date, the fig, and the olive. But the genius of the desert was not to be overcome without a struggle. By the advancing forces of reclamation and civilization the mighty power of the great river had not been sufficiently considered and suddenly the Colorado asserted itself; it deserted its channel and poured its flood through the canal opened to convey a portion of its waters to the arroyo of the Álamo river and thence to the irrigating canals. The force of the river soon widened the intake to a channel of six hundred yards and the entire flow of the Colorado went racing down the comparatively steep incline to the Salton sea. Desperate attempts were made to dam the new channel. A channel was opened between the Álamo and the Rio Padrones in an effort to divert the flood through the Rio Padrones, Volcano lake, and Hardy's Colorado to the gulf; but just north of the lake the water cut a channel for itself from Rio Padrones through to New river and flowed thence northwest to Salton sea, which began to fill under the flow from two channels; the Álamo and New rivers. The water rapidly eroded the soft silt of the desert forming deep channels and cataracts which, progressing up stream, threatened to result in conditions that would not permit of the waters being diverted into the irrigating canals, being from sixty to eighty feet below the surface of the surrounding country.

An appeal was made to the Federal government and on January 12, 1906, the president sent a message to Congress asking for an appropriation of two million dollars to control the Colorado river and save the homes of the settlers of the Imperial valley of California, as it is called; but it was not until February 1907 that the stream was finally subjugated.

In December 1908 I visited the valley and plucked a delicious orange from a four year old tree in a grove in the midst of the terrible desert. The so-called rivers of the Colorado desert are but dry channels through which the waters of the Colorado flow when the river is in flood. The flow is northward, and in times of great freshet the waters have reached and filled the Salton sea, a depression in the northern part of the desert lying some three hundred feet below sea level. There are two of these rivers, the Álamo or Salton river, and the New river. The Rio Padrones connects the New river with the Colorado. It takes the overflow of the great river at a point six or eight miles below the boundary line and conveys it through several channels to Volcano lake, thence through New river to Salton sea, and also through Hardy's Colorado to the gulf. The waters of the Colorado have reached Salton sea several times within the memory of the present generation; the depression is now filled to a depth of nearly eighty feet and the water covers an area of about three hundred square miles.

Hardy's Colorado is another of these overflow rivers—in this case being supplied by the flood from above. In May 1826 Lieutenant R. W. H. Hardy of the British navy, traveling in Mexico, chartered in the port of Guaymas a twenty-five ton schooner, El Bruja, and sailed to the head of the gulf. Encountering a good deal of trouble in high winds and shoals he finally reached a vein of reddish water which he surmised came from "Red" river and at two o'clock of the same day he saw an opening ahead which he took to be the mouth and he sailed into it and anchored for the night at half past six. At midnight he cast the lead and found but a foot and a half of water. He got off without damage at the next rise of the tide but next day he broke his rudder and continued his exploration for some distance upward in a small boat. He thought the mouth of the Gila was below him, but what he took for the Gila was the Colorado itself. He was in a bayou or flood water channel from which he finally extricated himself. This channel is still called Hardy's Colorado.



To those who have only seen the dry bed of the Santa Ana river in summer Anza's account of the passage will seem strange. Some one has said that the bed of a southern California river is on top; and the Santa Ana is a typical river of southern California. The visible water supply is not by any means all there is if one of these streams. A great part of the flow is under the surface, and though the bed of the river may be dry, abundance of water may be generally found by sinking. Where the rock approaches the surface, as in the entrance to a cañon, the water rises, only to sink again as the rock recedes. The Santa Ana river, the crossing of which was so serious a matter to Anza's expedition, shows to most persons passing through San Bernardino valley but a dry bed of sand; yet this river forms one of the most important and valuable water supplies in the south. Rising in the San Bernardino mountains (Sierra Madre) it comes out of a broad cañon at the east end of the valley where its surface flow in summer is all taken by the ditch companies supplying the Highlands and Redlands districts. The San Bernardino valley, bed of an ancient lake, receives at its edge several streams, tributary to the Santa Ana, which promptly disappear. The subterranean flow of the river, probably spread out through the basin of the valley, is gathered with the water of the tributaries and thrown to the surface again by the rim of the basin as the stream passes from the valley through the gap between Slover mountain and the Riverside mesa. Here the water is taken for the Riverside district. Ten miles below, the stream rises to the surface again as it enters the head of its cañon through the coast range and during its passage through this cañon the ditches supplying Orange county take their water. {Hall: Irrigation in California. 119 et seq.} Emerging from the cañon the waters again seek their underground channel and flow onward to the sea, spreading through the land and in some places creating large cienegas. In one of these cienegas, on Las Bolsas rancho, an important industry was begun some years ago—the raising of celery. From this rancho there is shipped annually two thousand carloads of celery.

Portolá reached the neighborhood of the river July 26, 1769, Saint Anne's day, and crossed it on the 28th, giving it the saint's name, by which it is still known. Crespi named it Rio Jesus de los Temblores, because of an earthquake they experienced there.



On August 18, 1769, Portolá came to a large lake of fresh water, on the bank of which was the largest ranchería they had yet seen. They were courteously received by the Indians who supplied them with an abundance of fish both fresh and roasted. Crespi says that the fish given them as a present amounted to four cargas (1100 lbs.) The lake appeared to be a permanent one, fed from springs, and the mesa near by was covered with great oaks. They named the lake Laguna de la Concepcion; the pueblo being called the Pueblo de la Laguna.

On the 15th of April 1782, Felipe de Neve, governor of California, accompanied by Junípero Serra and a large company of soldiers, arrived at Laguna de la Concepcion where they were handsomely received by the chief, Yanonolit, ruler of thirteen large rancherías. The advantages of La Laguna and those of Mescaltitan, two and a half leagues to the west, were considered and it was decided to establish the presidio and mission at the Laguna. The presidio was formally founded April 21, 1782, when Father Junípero said mass and chanted an alabado. Ortega was given the command with José Dario Argüello as ensign and fifty-five non-commissioned officers and men. Thus was established the presidio of Santa Barbara, the strongest military post in California. Eight of the company, including Lieutenant Ortega and Sergeant Pablo de Cota, were veterans of Portolá's expedition.



This was the largest group of rancherías the Spaniards found in California. The Indians of the Santa Barbara channel were superior to all others seen in California and the large and populous towns of this group Portolá called the Contiguous Rancherías of Mescaltitan. The marshes surrounding the estero have been mostly drained and contain some of the finest walnut groves in California. The four rancherías of this group were called Salspalil, Hello or the Islet, Alcas, and Oksbullow; while the group was known as the rancherías of the Mescaltitan. Around the estero and marshes are numerous mounds containing the remains of a large population. These rancherías were on the Goleta and Dos Pueblos ranchos. The map of Santa Barbara county has the island designated as Mescalititan, but the quadrangle of the geological survey (Goleta special) has it "Mescal" island. The matter has been represented to the director of the survey but he has not seen fit to notice it. Thus are our historic names destroyed through the ignorance and carelessness of the public servants.



At Petra on the island of Mallorca there was born November 24, 1713, Miguel José Serra, son of Antonio Serra and Margarita Ferrer, his wife. The boy early developed religious tendencies and his favorite reading was the lives of the saints. He took the Franciscan habit at Palma September 14, 1730, and made his profession a year later, at which time he assumed the name of Junípero. He was an earnest and proficient student and taught philosophy in the chief convent of Palma for a year before his ordination. He was noted for doctrinal learning and for sensational preaching, and often bared his shoulders and scourged himself with an iron chain, extinguished lighted candles on his flesh, or pounded his breast with a large stone, as he exhorted his hearers to penitence.

On March 30, 1749, he obtained his warrant to join the college of San Fernando and devote himself to missionary work in America. He sailed from Cadiz in August, reached Vera Cruz December 6th, and walked to Mexico where he arrived January 1, 1750. For seventeen years he preached and taught in various places and on July 14, 1767, was appointed president of the California missions. In company with the governor (Portolá) he marched with the rear guard—always on foot—reaching San Diego July 1, 1769. He was unable to accompany the expedition on its march to Monterey but sailed April 16, 1770, reached Monterey May 31st and founded the mission of San Cárlos June 3d.

Fray Junípero's administration of the missions was very successful and while kind-hearted and charitable he was most strict in his enforcement of religious duties. He was not always in accord with the military commanders and the viceroy was at times put to it to maintain the peace in his new establishments of California. Serra's death at San Cárlos August 28, 1784, cast a gloom over the province, for he was greatly beloved. He was buried the next day in the mission church and Palou acted as president until the appointment of Fray Fermin Francisco Lasuen in 1785.



The scrub oak which Anza describes reaches a height of from ten to twenty-five feet, though this does not indicate the length of the trunk which frequently extends some distance in an almost horizontal position. The winds of which he speaks blow regularly during the summer months from ten o'clock in the morning until ten or eleven o'clock at night. They begin about the first of May and are over by the first of October. They are practically confined to the upper end of the peninsula—the city of San Francisco. These winds, which blow from the west and have been erroneously called trade winds, are caused by a circulation established by the displacement upward of the warm air of the great valley of the Sacramento-San Joaquin which appears to move seaward at a height of about 4,000 feet probably descending slowly to sea level some distance from the coast, and the cool air flowing in from the sea has its movement accelerated both by the topography and by the temperature gradient. From experiments which have been made by weather bureau officials the depth of the surface flow in midsummer is about 1,700 feet. It is these winds that give to San Francisco its peculiar climate and make the citizen hesitate to name the coldest month of the year. They have been much abused and afford to many inhabitants of the city a constant and fruitful cause of complaint. To persons of weak lungs and to those subject to bronchial affections they are sometimes trying. It is not the west wind, however, that exerts a baleful influence, but the north wind, and that, fortunately, is not frequent. The summer winds are healthful and invigorating. A chart of mean summer wind velocity, prepared by the weather bureau, shows the increase of velocity from 8.6 miles per hour at 9 A. M. to 21 miles at 5 P. M. and a decrease to 11 miles at 10 P. M. These are the averages for the three summer months. The highest recorded velocity for those months in a period of thirty-nine years is forty-eight miles an hour, southwest, on June 30, 1873. With the wind direct from the ocean at a velocity of twenty-one miles, laden perhaps with fog, a mean temperature of 59? Fahrenheit, with an occasional drop to 47?, one can readily understand why summer visitors to San Francisco are advised to bring warm clothing with them. Warm weather comes but rarely, usually lasts three days, and is accompanied by north wind. A period of warm weather during the summer months is usually brought to a close at the evening of the third day with strong west winds, dense fog, and a temperature ranging from 49? to 54?. The highest temperature recorded in San Francisco is 101?, September 8, 1904; the lowest, 29?, January 15, 1888; the greatest daily range recorded 43?, June 29, 1891, and the mean daily range for June, July, and August, is 11? 8'. San Francisco's pleasantest weather is after the winds cease in the fall and before they begin in the spring. This is during the so-called rainy season. People who do not know California imagine that the rainy season is one of gloom when those of the unfortunate inhabitants who are obliged to venture out do so in peril of the floods. It is, on the contrary, the most delightful season of the year. The rainfall is not excessive; the average in San Francisco for sixty years being only 22.98 inches per annum. The rains begin after the summer winds close and come with the soft southeast wind. The air is warm and springlike and as the Egyptians rejoice over the rising of the Nile, so the Californians are happy in the coming of the rain. It means for them not only prosperity but health and a relief from the nervous tension caused by a long dry summer. {See Climatology of California, by Alexander G. McAdie, Professor of Meteorology, Bulletin U.S. Dept. Agriculture.}


Source: Eldredge, Zoeth Skinner. The Beginnings of San Francisco. 1912: San Francisco.

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