De Anza Expedition
On the eve of the American Revolution
in 1776, Spain sought to control the Pacific coast of today's United States
against British and Russian incursions.Juan Bautista de Anza, a third- generation
frontier soldier of New Spain, shepherded 198 emigrants and their escorts
and 1,000 head of livestock on the first overland colonizing expedition
from Sonora, Mexico into Alta, or Upper, California. The goal of the expedition
was to reach the lands discovered during the Portola expeditions in 1769,
when san Fancisco bay was discivered, and in 1772 when Eurpoeans traveled
inland for the first time to the san Joaquin and sacramento Valleys. The
De Anza expedition led to the founding of the Presidio of San Francisco
and missions San Francisco de Asís (Mission Dolores) and Santa Clara de
By the 1770s, the Spanish had been in the New World for over 200 years.
Their empire included the present-day western United States, Florida, and
the Philippine Islands. Still, they needed to secure the Pacific coast from
Russian and English influence. Expeditions led by Gaspar de Portolá in 1769
and 1771 created only small settlements in Alta California.
By 1773, there were two presidios and five missions, but the total Spanish
population was about 70. Settlement and supply of Alta California was difficult:
the small ships that could make the arduous sea voyage from San Blas, Mexico,
could not carry cattle or many people. The land route through Baja, or Lower,
California proved to be treacherous, and difficult to supply. To ensure
their possession of Alta California, the Spanish needed a new overland route
originating in Sonora. This situation prompted Juan Bautista de Anza, among
others, to pursue opening such a route. Anza was Captain of the Royal Presidio
at Tubac, Sonora (now southern Arizona). In 1774, he proved that an overland
route was possible by financing his own successful exploratory trip. Planning
to return with emigrants and a herd of livestock, he charted watering spots
and pasturage, and established contacts with native tribes along the route.
In 1775, the Viceroy of New Spain authorized Anza to command an expedition
escorting soldiers and their families to occupy and settle the port of San
Francisco. Anza began to enlist volunteers in the large city of Culiacán,
where poorer people might be likely to accept the rigors of an arduous trek
to start a new life. Recruits gathered at the Presidio of San Miguel de
Horcasitas, Sonora's provincial capital. Anza chose as his lieutenant José
Joaquín Moraga. Friar Pedro Font, a Franciscan missionary, was picked as
expedition chaplain for his ability to read latitudes.
The final staging area was Tubac. Apaches had driven off the entire herd
of 500 horses three weeks prior to the expedition's arrival, forcing it
to continue with no fresh mounts. Food supplies included six tons of flour,
beans, cornmeal, sugar, and chocolate, loaded on and off of pack mules every
day. Materials from cooking kettles to iron for making horseshoes added
more tonnage. The commander and his servants had a tent, as did Padre Font
and his assistants. The families, cowboys, muleteers, and soldiers shared
ten tents among them. Over 240 people set out from Tubac on October 23,
1775. The first night out, the group suffered its only death en route when
María Manuela Piñuelas died from complications after childbirth. Her son
lived. Two other babies born on the trip brought the total number of settlers
to 198. Of these, over half were children 12 years old and under.
The expedition continued down the Santa Cruz River to its junction with
the Gila River. While they camped, Anza, Font, and a few soldiers visited
Casa Grande, which was already known as an ancient Indian site. They followed
the Gila to the Colorado River crossing, one birth occuring along the way.
They were assisted in crossing the Colorado by Olleyquotequiebe (Salvador
Palma), chief of the Yumas (Quechan), whose tribe had befriended Anza on
his 1774 trek. As the route headed through the sand dunes and deserts of
southeastern California, the journey became more difficult. To better secure
forage and water during one of the coldest winters on record, Anza divided
the expedition into three groups, each traveling a day apart to allow water
holes to refill. They regrouped near what is now Anza Borrego Desert State
On Christmas Eve they welcomed
another birth and reached Mission San Gabriel Arcángel on January 4, 1776.
From there they followed known trails through Indian villages along the
coast of California, visiting Mission San Luís Obispo de Toloso and San
Antonio de Padúa, to arrive at Monterey and nearby mission San Carlos Borromeo
de Carmelo on March 10. Anza then took a small group to explore San Francisco
Bay, where he chose sites for the presidio and the mission. Following orders
to explore the "River of Saint Francis," he traveled the east side of San
Francisco Bay before turning south to return to Monterey.
On April 14, 1776, Anza left Monterey for Mexico City and a later appointment
as governor of New Mexico. In June, Lieutenant Moraga brought the settlers
from Monterey to San Francisco Bay to build the presidio and found the mission.
(Salvador Palma), chief of the Yumas (Quechan), whose tribe had befriended
Anza on his 1774 trek. Anza successfully opened the first southern overland
route of emigration and supply from Sonora to the missions and settlements
of Alta California. He confirmed that San Francisco Bay was a great harbor.
The soldiers and families that Anza escorted brought with them their language,
traditions, and diverse New World Hispanic culture. The backgrounds of all
soldiers and settlers were carefully recorded as español, mulato or mestizo.
Almost all the expedition members were born on this continent and had mixed
European, African or Indian parentage. These influences changed the lives
of the indigenous peoples and shaped the development of Arizona and California.
The route Anza opened supplied the settlements of Alta California long enough
for them to become established.
In 1781, another band of Mexican settlers, following the overland trail
from Spanish-held Mexico, escape a massacre by once-friendly Yuma Indians
along the Colorado River. This attack closed the route during the rest of
the colonial period. Fifty-five members of the party were killed and nearly
70 are taken captive. The 46 survivors forged on to Mission San Gabriel,
near which they establish Los Angeles. But the overland route to California
was abandoned and Spain's northernmost province became increasingly isolated
and self-dependent. In later years, Anza's trail served the military, settlers,
cattlemen, forty-niners and other desert travelers.
Portions of this history have been excerpted from the National Parks
web site and from The West, a PBS web resource.Additional ReadingHerbert
Eugene Bolton, Editor, Anza's California Expeditions, 5 Volumes, Berkeley,
CA, 1933. Don Garate, Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, Southwest
Parks and Monuments Association, 1994.Richard F. Pourade, Anza Conquers
the Desert, Copley Books, 1971.