The intent here will be to provide a coherent and highly abbreviated account of adventures and misadventures in the earliest settlement efforts of our state and region. First, the goal primarily was to secure the vaguely explored territory from the perceived threats of Imperial Russia to next securing the land as a home for anticipated generations. The process has left some tangible evidence as mementos but the reality of understanding any day requires the reader to mentally travel back to times only vaguely possible to recreate an informed panorama of local history.
Here’s the story.
The Spaniard’s arrival in San Diego in the spring and summer of 1769 was an ominous sign of things to come. Indeed, the explorers had little to base their adventures on as maps and orders were formed from records 167 years old. It was on November 10, 1602, when Sebastian Vizcaíno entered and renamed the bay. He, in turn, was relying on documents provided by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo some 60 years earlier who had named the harbor San Miguel. The Spaniards kept records of explorations as national treasures.
The accounts could have languished in governmental files if Joseph Bernardo Galvez Gallardo (see Journal Plus magazine: March and April 2016) had not received orders from the Crown to secure the unexplored northern territory. A consummate bureaucrat, impulsive, sometimes delusional, Galvez organized the exploration by land and sea. Ill-equipped for the undertaking, both the Argonauts and land parties depended on their grit and God for a safe journey. Many, if not most, never returned home.
On July 1, 1769, along with a religious ceremony, Portola claimed the territory for Spain and the beachhead on the bay became the first European settlement on the Pacific coast. Fortifications at first were a rudimentary stronghold with Adobe being introduced a decade later. More than a military base, the Presidio served the government throughout most of the Mexican era (1821-1846). Since Portola’s orders were to find and fortify Monterey, he gathered the least afflicted men and left on the 14th on the first (and fruitless) journey along the coast.
In the meanwhile, a more celebrated event finds Fray Junipero Serra dedicating the first of nine mission sites founded in his lifetime (1713-1784) on July 16. The original site was abandoned in 1774 for its present location some six miles east. Indeed, all four missions preceding the one locally moved from their original locations.
The Mission San Diego de Alcala (St. James of Alcala [Spain]) was to be the first of three missions ordered by Galvez. The next ordered would be in Monterey and a third somewhere in between. His orders were followed as to the first two.
The Portola Expeditions are heavily documented with the most complete record composed by the chaplain and chronicler, Friar Juan Crespi. Meticulously rendered in Alan Brown’s A Remembrance of Distant Roads, the hefty volume (850 pages) is a daily record of the arduous journey. Locally, the party passed through along the coast in early September. However, the first record of the name San Luis Obispo was near Santa Barbara on August 19, the saint’s feast day. Little did anyone know the fifth mission would be named after the young saint three years later followed ninety years later by a county and town. While the saint’s remains are in Toulouse, France, his name is used only here in the secular world.
Undoubtedly discouraged and exhausted, upon their return, the first Christmas by the Spaniards was celebrated near Cayucos/Morro Bay. The “gift” to all was surviving the trek.