Posts Tagged ‘intrepid explorers’

The Spaniards had begun exploring the area north of mid-Mexico in the 1500s. Rather than looking for the fabled Northwest Passage and mapping unknown territory and its natural history as Lewis and Clark had been commissioned, Spanish/Mexican expeditions were undertaken not by explorers but by the military and Catholic missionaries. Their goals can be boiled down to three: hunting for gold and silver; protecting far-flung Spanish claims of northern empire from English and Russian exploration and colonization; and, of course, saving souls.

Along the de Anza Trail ©AME

Along the de Anza Trail ©AME

There are many historians who think at least one such expedition can compete with Lewis and Clark for sheer magnitude and results. That’s the two trips Juan Bautista de Anza the Younger, a Basque military man and head of the Presidio at Tubac (then in Sonora Mexico, now in deep southeastern Arizona) took from 1774—1776. Earlier this spring, we followed a small portion of their journey, a four mile trail which connects the Mission at Tumacacori to the  Presidio at Tubac.

Along the Trail at Tumacacori © SR Euston

The Santa Cruz River Aong the Trail at Tumacacori © SR Euston

Like Lewis and Clark, de Anza was looking for a land-based trade route, in this case across deserts and up the coast from northern Sonora (now Arizona) to Alta California. But there was also another goal: to found a Presidio and mission at San Francisco. This colony of Spanish settlers, military personnel and missionaries would establish an “on-the-ground” beachhead of Spaniards to protect its claims in Northern California. After successfully scouting Indian trading and mission travel routes in 1774, de Anza returned to Mexico where he organized a large group of colonists (30 families totaling about 240 men, women and children) and military escorts to travel the 1200 miles to the Presidio of San Francisco.

They must have looked like a traveling town as they set out: families, military, cowboys, mule packers, Indian guides and 1000 head of live stock. The group was accompanied by Franciscan priest Pedro Font. He and de Anza kept journals detailing the journey. Setting out on October 2, 1775 from San Miguel de Horcasitas (north of Hermosillo in Sonora), they headed north through Tubac (where de Anza recruited Basque friends and fellow military men), Mission San Xavier del Bac, and Casa Grande, then headed west to Yuma Crossing where Quechan (Yuma) Indians provided them aid in crossing the Colorado as well as feeding them beans, squash, corn and wheat and, according to de Anza, more than 3000 watermelons. They labored across the Mojave Desert, across the San Gabriel mountains and on to Mission San Gabriel Arcangel. From there they headed up the coast to Mission San Luis Obispo, arriving at Monterey five months later on March 28, 1776. Along the way eight children were born. Only one person died, a woman probably in childbirth. In June, 1776 the colonists, led by de Anza’s second in command, Jose Joaquin Moraga, established the Presidio and Mission at San Francisco.

de Anza Expedition Map  Courtesy of webdeAnza at uoregon.org

de Anza Expedition Map
Courtesy of webdeAnza at uoregon.org

(Then What? to be continued)


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Lewis and Clark Icon

Earlier this month we were in Great Falls, Montana. A slightly scruffy prairie town, one of its major attractions (for us anyway) is the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretative Center, a sprawling, multi-level complex administered by the US Forest Service and staffed by an army of very informative docent volunteers. Exhibits tell the story of the intrepid explorers and their 44 member “Corps of Discovery”, from their May 14, 1804 departure, as they undertook their arduous 4,134 mile journey up the Missouri, across the Rockies and ultimately down the Columbia to its mouth. There at the Pacific, their 18-month-long journey ended and they constructed Fort Clatsop, where they wintered over. The following spring, in 1806, the group returned, and on September 23, 1806, 28 months of exploring later, they reached their original starting point on the Missouri.

Lewis and Clark Expedition

Lewis and Clark had fulfilled the 1803 goal President Thomas Jefferson had set out for them after finalizing the Louisiana Purchase: “to explore the Missouri river and such principal streams of it as by it’s (sic) course and communication with the waters of the Pacific ocean, whether the Columbia, Oregon, Colorado or any other river may offer the most direct and practicable water communication across this continent for the purpose of commerce.”

Brant Duck from the Journals Courtesy of the Missouri Historical Sociey

Brant Duck from the Journals
Courtesy of the Missouri Historical Sociey

White Salmon Trout from the Journals courtesy of the American Philosophical Society

White Salmon Trout from the Journals
Courtesy of the American Philosophical Society

While their expedition found there was no direction river connection from the Missouri to the Pacific, it did yield spectacular results: copious maps, charts, samples, specimens, and notes on minerals and natural history (they identified 178 previously unknown plants and 134 birds). With only one exception, they had peaceful encounters with a variety of Indian tribes, including the Lemhi Shoshone, the tribe to whom their Native guide, Sacagawea belonged. Only one Corps member died, probably of a ruptured appendix. As Gary Moulton editor of The Lewis and Clark Journals: An American Epic of Discovery notes: “The Lewis and Clark expedition is the most universally known event of American exploration and discovery.”

True. All of us learned about Lewis and Clark and their trusty woman guide Sacagawea in elementary school history.

But here in the Southwest there is another long history of exploration—those expeditions originating in Spanish Mexico. (to be continued)

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