San Francisco History

The Beginnings of San Francisco


There has been much discussion over the original location of the mission of San Francisco and to what stream or body of water was given the name of Los Dolores. Franklin Tuttle says: "The first site chosen for the mission was near the 'lagoon' back of Russian Hill, but the winds were so bitter that it was soon removed to the spot on the creek where the crumbling old church and some of the houses that surrounded it still stand" (Hist. of California, p. 86). Soule, Gihon, and Nesbit say: "On the 27th of June, 1776, an expedition which had started from Monterey arrived on the borders of a small lake, the same which is now called 'Washerman's Lagoon,' near the sea shore from which it was separated by low sand-hills. This was situated towards the northern extremity of the peninsula of San Francisco and the surplus waters of which discharge themselves into the strait that connects the bay with the ocean and which was afterwards called the Golden Gate. {Washerman’s Lagoon was never connected with the bay. The conformation of the land forbids it.} The neighborhood of this lake promised the best place for a mission, though it was subsequently planted about two miles to the south" (Annals of San Francisco. 46). General M. G. Vallejo says: "The lake of Dolores was located and could be seen to the right of the road coming from the presidio to the mission, between two hills" (Discurso Historico. Centenial Memoir, p. 107). The editor of the memoir (p. 25) identifies the spot as the San Souci valley, immediately behind the hill on which the Protestant Orphan Asylum now stands. John W. Dwinelle says: "I have been to the mission of Dolores and had an interview with a lady resident there, Doña Carmen Sibrian de Bernal. She was born in Monterey in 1804 was married in 1821 to José Cornelio Bernal, and came here to reside the same year. She is a woman of great vivacity and intelligence, and states that the tradition is that when the missionary Fathers came here to establish the mission, they encamped at a pond which existed where the Willows now are, and to which a great tide creek made up from the bay. I also visited the site of the 'Willows,' and found that although the soil had been filled in there several feet during my own recollection, the fresh water was still flowing out towards the bay" (Colonial History of San Francisco, p. xiii). "The Willows" was a resort of the early fifties occupying what is now the block between Valencia, Mission, 18th, and 19th streets. Judge Dwinelle was correct in his location of the Laguna de los Dolores. Bancroft says: "It will be remembered that Anza applied the name Dolores to an ojo de agua, a spring or stream which he thought capable of irrigating the mission lands, making no mention of any laguna" (Hist. California, i, 294). Bancroft is mistaken. Anza wrote on March 28th that at a little more than half a league to the southeast of Laguna Pequeña there was a rather large laguna that appeared to be permanent, on the margin of which garden stuff could be raised; and on the 29th: "I again went to the Laguna de Manantial spoken of yesterday and also to the ojo de agua which I called Los Dolores." Palou says: "He (Anza) followed a course along the inside of the port, going around the land, coming out on the shore of the estero or arm of the sea (bay of San Francisco) on the southwest and arriving at the shore of the bay which the mariners (Ayala's men) called Los Llorones, {The Weepers. The name being given by Aguirre, second mate of the San Cárlos, because of some Indians weeping on the shore.} crossed an arroyo where a great lake empties itself which (lake) he called Los Dolores, and the site seemed to him a good one for a mission" (Noticias de Nueva California iv, 142). Father Palou established the mission of San Francisco and administered it for eight years, and when he took the name Anza gave to the ojo de agua and applied it to the Laguna de Manantial, it stuck.

I have spent a good deal of time over the location of the Arroyo de los Dolores and the Laguna de Manantial. The oldest inhabitant of the Mission has no tradition of there ever having been a lake there. It had been filled up by the natural wash from the mountains long before the oldest resident appeared, and had left no memory behind. Dwinelle however, writing in 1865, found those whose memory went back to the early part of the century and whose knowledge of the traditions, then fresh, of the foundation of the mission, was full and accurate. To-day the memory even of the "Willows" is dim and fading. On the United States Coast Survey map of 1857 there appears on the Mission road continuation, about in the neighborhood of Eighteenth street, a piece of land two hundred by three hundred and fifty feet, planted with trees and marked "Willows"—a roadside house with stables, sheds, etc. This was the place referred to by Doña Carmen and was about the center of the laguna. The only map I have seen which shows the Laguna de los Dolores is that of La Perouse. This map shows a large lake near the shore of Mission bay (Ensenada de los Llorones) and immediately west of it is shown the mission, which agrees with Palou's account of the founding of the mission. La Perouse was a commodore in the French navy commanding an expedition sent to explore the coasts of the Pacific. He was in Monterey in 1786.

The Laguna de los Dolores covered the present city blocks bounded by Fifteenth, Twentieth, Valencia, and Howard streets, now closely built up with residences. It was on this filled land of the ancient laguna that the earthquake of April 18, 1906, did such damage, wrecking buildings and causing loss of life. The Arroyo de los Dolores had its rise in Los Pechos de la Choca (The breasts of the Indian girl)—now Twin Peaks, and flowed down about the line Eighteenth street into the laguna. Bayard Taylor who saw the Mission valley in 1849 says: "Three miles from San Francisco is the old mission of Dolores situated in a sheltered valley which is watered by a perpetual stream fed from the tall peaks towards the sea. * * * Several former miners in anticipation of a great influx of emigrants in the spring, pitched their tents on the best spots along Mission creek and began preparing the ground for gardens. The valley was surveyed and staked into lots almost to the summit of the mountains" (Eldorado pp. 64, 298-9).

The mission was established on the spot designated by Colonel Anza and was never changed. The mission church, which was finished in 1784, is still in use as a parish church.



The royal order for the establishment of San Francisco also included a pueblo in the vicinity under the jurisdiction of the presidio. The site selected was on the Rio de Guadalupe. Under orders of Governor Neve, Lieutenant Moraga took nine soldiers, skilled in agriculture, from the presidios of San Francisco and Monterey, five settlers (pobladores) and one servant, numbering with their families seventy-eight persons, and with them founded, on November 29, 1777, the pueblo of San José de Guadalupe, the first pueblo established in California.

I have found no record of the names of these fifteen heads of families. Some of them evidently did not remain, for when, in 1783, the citizens were formally invested with the title to their lands, there were but nine who received the grants. Each settler received a solar (house lot) of thirty-three varas, and four suertes (planting lots) of two hundred varas each. Surrounding each solar was an alley of ten varas in width, and around each suerte one of four varas. Each also received a yoke of oxen, two horses, two cows, one mule, two sheep, and two goats, together with the necessary implements and seed, all of which was to be paid for in farm products delivered at the royal warehouse. Each settler was to receive ten dollars per month pay and soldiers' rations. In addition to all these rights, privileges, and emoluments, each settler had the use of the common lands, ejidos—the four leagues provided by law for pueblos de razon in the Indies—for the pasturing of his cattle; and for the common use of all were the rights of the woods and waters.

The first earth-roofed structures of palisades were erected a little more than a mile north of the center of the modern city, but the site was flooded by the river freshets and the pueblo was moved to higher ground. Thus the beginning of beautiful San José, the Garden City. It had a guard of two soldiers from the presidio of San Francisco, and owing to its location and mild climate it early became the favorite place of residence for the retired soldiers (invalidos) of San Francisco and Monterey. Following is a list of the nine original grantees:

1. Ignacio Archuleta born in San Miguel de Horcasitas, 1754. His wife was Ignacia Gertrudis Pacheco, daughter of the soldier Juan Salvio Pacheco. He was the first alcalde of San José.

2. José Manuel Gonzales; came with Anza; see note 12.

3. José Tiburcio Vasquez; came with Anza; see note 12.

4. Manuel Domingo Amézquita; came with Anza, see note 12.

5. José Antonio Romero; born in Guadalajara in 1750; married María Petra, daughter of José Antonio Acebes.

6. Bernardo Rosales; born in Ville de Parras, Durango, in 1744; his wife was Monica, an Indian.

7. Francisco Avila; born in Villa del Fuente, Sonora, 1744. In 1790 he was living in San José, a widower, with one son. He was reported by the governor as a hard citizen.

8. Sebastian Alvitre, was a soldier of Portolá's expedition. He was an incorrigible scamp and, like Avila spent most of his time in jail. About 1786 he was sent to Los Angeles because San José could no longer stand him, and Los Angeles passed him on.

9. Claudio Alvires; born in Tetauch, Sonora, 1742; wife, Ana María Gonzales. He was also in constant trouble with the authorities and they were finally obliged to ship him out of the country. The condition (calidad) of these original grantees, as shown by the padron of 1790, is as follows: Españoles 3; Coyote, (Half-breed)1; Indio, 1; Mulato, 2; Mestizo, 1; unknown, 1.



The genesis of California contains no more notable figure than that of Don Fernando Javier de Rivera y Moncada. Quarrelsome, jealous, self-willed, and impatient of control or advice as he was, his abilities were recognized by the government which found constant employment for them, though his limitations were ascertained by one trial of independent command in California. He was captain in command of the presidio of Loreto in Baja California when Galvez organized the first expedition and was by him placed second in command to Portolá. He was given command of the first land division of that expedition and was thus the first explorer to enter California by land. On the march to Monterey Rivera commanded the rear guard. When Fages was recalled in September 1773, Rivera was appointed to succeed him and assumed command of the California establishments May 24, 1774. He had been captain of presidial troops for seventeen years; he had resented the preference shown Fages by Portolá, both officers of the regular army, and in relieving Fages of his command at Monterey his manner was arrogant and his demands peremptory. The padres who found Fages difficult now found Rivera impossible. He was aggressive, overbearing, and hard to get along with. He would neither listen to advice nor permit any suggestions whatever regarding the affairs of the province, and he opposed the padres in everything. The viceroy, Bucaréli, requested Rivera to keep on terms with the priests, as friction between the military and religious organizations retarded the conversion of the natives. Bucaréli's suggestions were unheeded and on July 20, 1776, the viceroy ordered Felipe de Neve, governor of the Californias to take up his residence at Monterey. Rivera was ordered to Loreto and given the post of lieutenant-governor of Baja California. In 1781 Rivera was detailed to enlist recruits for the military service of California and settlers for the proposed pueblo on the Porciúncula (Los Angeles). This was his last service. He recruited his men in Sonora and in June 1781 arrived at the junction of the Gila and Colorado with forty-two soldados de cuera for the California presidios. These with their families he sent across the desert to San Gabriel under a guard of veteran soldiers, and with a personal escort of ten to twelve men remained in camp on the left bank of the Colorado opposite the mission of La Purisima Concepcion to await the return of the guard sent with the recruits. On July 17th the Yumas rose, and under the leadership of Palma destroyed the missions of La Purisima Concepcion and San Pedro y San Pablo de Bicuñer, and then crossed the river and slew Rivera and all his men. Thus perished a brave and gallant officer, an indefatigable explorer, and one of the most famous of the founders of California.


In February 1540 Francisco Vasquez de Coronado started from Compostela at the head of an army of three hundred Spaniards and eight hundred Indians to conquer the Seven Cities of Cibola. To co-operate with the army and to carry the heavy baggage, a fleet of two vessels sailed from Acapulco May 9th under command of Hernando de Alarcon whose instructions were to sail as close to the coast as possible and keep in communication with the army. For a time the course of the army and that of the ships was parallel, but from San Hieronimo de los Corazones (modern Ures) the route of the army was north, and from Cibola (Zuñi) it was east-northeast while the trend of the coast was northwest.

Alarcon sailed to the head of the gulf of California and discovered that California was not an island, as had been supposed, but a peninsula. He also came on August 26, 1540, at the head of the gulf, to a great river which at its mouth was two leagues wide. Alarcon gave the river the name Rio de Buena Guia—Good Guide river, and he ascended it, he says, eighty-five leagues.

After the departure of Coronado's army from Corazones Captain Melchior Diaz, who had been left by Coronado in command of the town, took twenty-five of the most efficient men and went to find the coast and the ships of Alarcon. Taking guides, Diaz traveled north and west and in a journey of about one hundred and fifty leagues, came, perhaps in October 1540, to a province of exceedingly tall and strong men living on a great river, which by reason of a practice these men had of carrying in cold weather a firebrand (tison) to warm themselves, the Spaniards called Rio del Tison {see Anza's description of the Yumas, chapter iii}—River of the Firebrand. Diaz probably traveled by Horcasitas and Caborca, thence across the desert of the Papaguería by the route afterwards taken by Kino in 1701 and by Anza in 1774, by way of the wells of San Eduardo Baipia; San Luis de Bacapa—Anza calls it Quitobac, the Papago name—to San Marcelo de Sonoitac; thence via the Camino del Diablo to the Colorado. Quitobac may be found on the map of Mexico and it is connected with the Gulf of California by a little railroad running to San Jorge's bay. The distance traveled by Diaz to the Colorado is about one hundred and thirty-eight leagues.

Diaz learned from these Indians (Yumas) that there had been ships at a point three days' journey down the river and proceeding thither found written on a tree: "Alarcon reached this place; there are letters at the foot of this tree." Digging up the letters Diaz learned that Alarcon had waited long for news of the army and that he had gone back with the ships to New Spain, because he was unable to proceed farther since this sea was a bay, which was formed by the Isle of the Marquis (Cortes), {Cortes was given the title of Marques del Valle de Oaxaca.} which is called California; and it was explained that California was not an island but a point of the mainland forming the other side of that gulf.

Passing up the river five or six days' journey Diaz, with the help of his Indian allies, crossed it on rafts and continued his exploration. Here he met with a grievous accident and his men retreated carrying their dying captain and fighting with hostile Indians. Diaz lived twenty days and after his death his men returned to Sonora.

In 1605 Juan de Oñate reached the mouth of the Colorado, coming overland from Santa Fé, and named Rio Grande de Buena Esperanza (Good Hope). In his journey he crossed that branch of the river now known as Colorado Chiquito (Little Colorado) and named it Rio Colorado a name which was later extended to the principal river.


Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, United States Navy, commanding a fleet of six vessels engaged on a scientific exploring expedition, reached San Francisco October 19, 1841. From the Columbia river he had sent the sloop-of-war Vincennes under command of Lieutenant Ringgold who, from August 20th, had been exploring the bay and San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers. Another party under Lieutenant Emmons had been sent overland from Oregon and reached Sutter's fort October 19th. Wilkes' Narrative, that part of it relating to California, is a mass of misinformation concerning the climate, soil, and people. His criticism of the inhabitants appears to have been drawn from all the ill-natured accounts of disgruntled foreigners who had gone before, and he seems to accept for truth any statement discreditable to the people, however absurd. His statements are mostly hearsay, for his experience among the people was confined to a trip of two or three days to Santa Clara and San José and back to San Francisco. He says (vol. v, p. 153): "At Yerba Buena there was a similar absence of all authority. The only officer was the alcalde who dwells at the mission of Nostra Señora de los Dolores some three miles off. He was full of self-importance, making up for what he wanted in the eyes of others by a high estimate of his own dignity. I could find no one who could furnish me with his name, which must be my apology for not recording it in this place." This is ridiculous. The alcalde (juez de paz) was Don Francisco Guerrero, a man as well known as any in northern California; owner of Rancho Laguna de la Merced and a man of sufficiently high standing among Americans to be elected sub-prefect of the district, 1849-1850. Again Wilkes says: "The state of society here is exceedingly loose; envy, hatred, and malice predominate in almost every breast, and the people are wretched under their present rulers; female virtue, I regret to say, is also at a low ebb; and the coarse and lascivious dances which meet the plaudits of the lookers-on show the degraded tone of manners that exists” (p. 198). "They have a reputation for hospitality, but will take money if offered through a servant, and will swindle a guest should he wish to hire or buy anything." His own experience during the only time he was brought in personal contact with them should make his cheek burn with shame for writing such stuff. This very censorious gentleman made, as I have said, a trip to Santa Clara and San José, and records the hospitable and courteous treatment he received throughout. Going in his ship's launch to the Embarcadero de Santa Clara (now Alviso) he there took horse for the mission, six miles distant. It being late at night he stopped with his companions about midway at the rancho house of one of the Peraltas. The family were in bed and asleep, but after considerable hammering the officers succeeded in arousing Peralta, who is described as a large Californian over six feet in height with the countenance of a ruffian. Making known their wants they were courteously invited to enter while Peralta awakened his wife and daughters who proceeded to get up a hot supper of beef, tortillas, tea, etc., most appetizing and welcome to the weary travelers, while the ranchero looked after their horses. While the mother was serving the supper the daughters changed the beds, and on finishing their supper the guests were shown to their room where comfortable beds with fresh sheets awaited them. The mother and daughters had given up their beds and bestowed themselves elsewhere; but so quietly was this done the guests were unaware of it until morning. A comfortable breakfast awaited their rising, after which they set out on their journey. There were eight of them; and there was nothing to pay. Arriving at the mission of Santa Clara they were hospitably received by the administrador and the priest, Father Mercado. Wilkes says that the administrador, tired of his own name, had taken the name of his wife, Aliza, one of the most famous in early times. Señora Aliza entertained the visitors with a most delicious repast, prepared with her own hands; after which they went to the pueblo of San José. Here they were received by the alcalde (sub-prefect) whom Wilkes calls "Don Pedro"; says he was a Frenchman who had been twenty years in the country, and who, he says, had the appearance of a French pastry cook. This was Don Antonio Suñol who was a Spaniard—however much he may have looked, in the eyes of Commander Wilkes, like a French pastry cook. They were entertained by Suñol and returned to Santa Clara for more of "Señora Aliza's" deliciously cooked food, and thence by horse to Yerba Buena. The administrator of Santa Clara who had "taken his wife's name," was Don Ignacio Alviso who came, a child of three years, with his father, Corporal Domingo Alviso, with the Anza expedition. His wife's name was Margarita Bernal.

The foregoing will give some idea regarding the accuracy of this accomplished officer's observation of a people who received him and his officers everywhere with courteous hospitality, who permitted him to enter their harbors, ascend their rivers and spy out the weakness of their hold upon the country, and the care with which he prepared his report to his government. I have given but few of his comments on the inhabitants; they are too absurd. His miscalling of Spanish names is inexcusable in the work of an educated officer. The Carquines straits he calls Kaquines; the Cosumnes is Cosmenes; the Moquelumne is the Mogueles; Natividad is Nativetes; José de la Guerra y Noriega is Señor Noniga; San Joaquin is San Joachin, etc. He asserts that the land between San Francisco and San José is unfit for cultivation; a large part of the Sacramento valley is undoubtedly barren and unproductive, and must forever remain so; the country was involved in anarchy and confusion, without laws or security of person or property. With California is associated the idea of a fine climate. "This at least was the idea with which I entered its far-famed port; but I soon found from the reports of the officers that their experience altogether contradicted the received opinion." Only a small portion of the country offers any agricultural advantages. A Californian is content with coarse fare, provided he can get enough strong drink to minister to his thirst. "The palm for intemperance was, I think, generally given to the padres."

The report of Wilkes was very much quoted by writers of the period, and of the accuracy of his observation and the justness of his comments the reader can judge.



El Bailio Frey Don Antonio María Bucaréli y Ursúa lieutenant-general of the royal armies, was a nobleman of the highest rank, a soldier of distinction, and the forty-sixth viceroy of New Spain. His address of El Bailio Frey is that of a knight commander of Malta. Bucaréli was not only a great but a good man and the term of his rule was the happiest that New Spain had experienced. Peace and prosperity reigned and the country took long strides in advance. He took the oath of office September 3, 1771, and his untimely death April 9, 1779, spread sorrow throughout the land, for he had won the title of Virey amado por la pax de su gobierno—Viceroy beloved for the peace of his government.


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

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