Juan Bautista de Anza's father had a dream. He wanted to find an overland route to Alta California beyond the Spanish frontier, butr he died in an Apache ambush in 1740 when Anza was three years old. Anza followed in his father's footsteps and joined the Spanish military, eventually becoming a Captain on the frontier at the Tubac Presidio.
Spain had been struggling to secure its outposts in Alta California from Russian and English exploration adn colonization. Existing sea routes were dangerous and difficult. Just like his father, Anza requested permission from the Viceroy of New Spain, Antonio Marla Bucareli, to prove a land route to Alta California was possible. Permission was granted.
Following Indian trading and mission travel routes, Anza identified a path in 1774. This allowed an avenue for much needed livestock and supplies. Upon this success, he was granted permission to recruit and lead a group of settlers to Alta California. Spain's goal was to establish the first colony in a place called el Rio San Francisco. Anza's goal was to safely deliver the settlers, thus fulfilling his father's dream.
Trusting a Promise
In September 1775+, Anza arrived in places like Culiacan in Sinaloa and Horcasitas in Sonora. Residents heard a call from this military man who told stories of lush lands and plentiful resources in a place far from their desert homeland. Anza invited the men to join this expedition as paid soldiers on two conditions: they would not return and they had to bring their families.
When the expedition left the Tubac Presidio on October 23, 1775, thirty families had joined anza totaling about 240 settlers; men, women, and children. These families put their trust in a promise for a better life, from a man who did not guarantee they would reach their destination, Alta California. However, it was a risk these families were willing to take.
They were diverse in their heritage with a blending of indigenous, European, and Afro-Latino ancestry. Most of the families did not have many prospects, so when Anza offered an opportunity, they took it.
The settlers, with their military escorts and support workers (cowboys, mule packers, and Indian guides) comprised an enormous group of over 300 people and more than 1,000 head of livestock. Led by Anza, the people, their supplies and livestock resembled a traveling town making their way through the desert.
Most days started with Mass and the alabado, a hymn of praise, led by Franciscan priest Pedro Font, the expedition chaplain. Not only did Font provide relibious leadership, he recorded the latitudes with a quadrant and kept a meticulous journal. Where the tone of Anza's journal was official, Font's was eloquent. These two journals document dates, supplies issued, distances traveled, places visited and people encountered, covering the struggles and successes of the journey. Without the diaries, details of this epic journey would never have been known.
Success and Impacts
On June 27,1776, led by Lt. Moraga, the expedition families arrived in what is now San Francisco. Anza ensured the settlers reached their destination, and Spain successfully established its northernmost colony in Alta California. In the new land, the colonists obtained the better life Anza had promised.
Part of the journey's success was due to Anza's ability to forge alliances with a few of the Indians along the route. Some were very generous in their assistance. The Pima and Chumash provided much needed food. A Quechan group, led by Chief Palma, helped them cross the Colorado River.
Spain intended to expand their society by acculturating the local Indians into mission life. To Spain, the frontier was full of souls to be saved. Viewed as the beneficiaries, Indians were the required labor that build missions. Many were forced to accept an unfamiliar lifestyle.
The Spanish believed this lifestyle would elevate the Indians in their new society. In reality, the approach significantly altered the tribal world. Indian populations declined and their traditions were disrupted. Ultimately, Spanish colonialism spelled the end of the tribal world as it had existed.
Descendants of the expedition live today. Familyu names such as Berryessa, Bernal, Peralta, Moraga, and Alviso can be found on streets, towns, counties and landmarks throughout California.
Native people encountered throughout the expedition route remain and continue their traditions today. Public presentations of Indian lifeways occurs in places such as Satwiwa Native American Indian Culture Center and Coyote Hills East Bay Regional Park.
The 1776 Anza Expedition changed the course of California history. Today, descendants and native people are all a living legacy within the population.
Source: Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail brochure.