In 1542 Juan
Rodriguez Cabrillo left Navidad on the western coast of Mexico
(New Spain) with a fleet of thirteen ships on the voyage that
would claim the ports of San Diego, Los Angeles and Monterey,
among others. Although Cabrillo himself died of gangrene on San
Miguel Island off Point Conception, his crew pushed northward
all the way to Oregon.
years his accomplishments were ignored. Then, in 1566 the first
successful trading expedition was accomplished between Acapulco
and the Philippines, thus necessitating a California re-supply
port along the seven-month route.
ships, laden with silver and gold, attracted the attention of
pirates off the California coast, including Sir Francis Drake,
who made tremendous hauls hijacking the rich Spanish ships.
Drake had landed and claimed all of the Pacific Coast in the name
of Queen Elizabeth. If Spain hoped to extend her territory north
of Mexico, she had to act quickly.
In 1602, Sebastian
Vizcaino was sent on a surveying expedition. He eventually reached
San Diego, Los Angeles and Monterey--which he named for the Viceroy
of Mexico, the Conde of Monte Rey.
At this time
Spain was engaged in several long and costly wars that diminished
her dreams of world empire, so for 150 years, nothing more was
But in 1767,
alarmed by rumors that the Russians, English and Dutch all had
designs on Alta California, Spain finally launched a serious effort
to colonize the territory. Gaspar de Portola and Father Junipero
Serra set off in 1768 with a combined sea and land expedition.
Serra was the father-president of the fourteen missions already
established by the Jesuits in Baja California. The Jesuits, always
under suspicion, were replaced by the Franciscans, headed by Serra.
along the coast was an incredibly grueling one through difficult
terrain, with many lives lost due to failed plans and missed rendezvous.
Only later did they discover that an inland route along the Salinas
Valley would have saved months of travail.
Indians the Portola expedition encountered were welcoming and
generous, greeting the exhausted men with gifts of food.
In 1770, Serra
and Portola founded the first Spanish outposts in Alta California--the
missions at Carmel and Jolon.
Serra demanded complete conversion from the Indians he encountered,
but his own example of hard work and stoicism, combined with his
theatrical reenactments of Biblical stories, resulted in a large
number of Indians around the missions being absorbed into Spanish
interactions between soldiers and natives had the tragic effect
of spreading diseases for which the Indians had no resistance.
After a very short number of years, most of the original Big Sur
inhabitants had either disappeared or lay in the mission graveyards.
Many of the
surviving converts, called neophytes, eventually escaped to the
inland valleys, mingling with native groups there. The Spanish
culture influenced their music, agriculture and language. Later,
after the secularization of the missions, the huge ranchos were
plagued by horse raiders from these inland areas, causing significant
depredations that took a serious economic toll. Horses were essential
for working the cattle that fueled the hide and tallow industry.
The prized Spanish horses stolen by displaced Indians were either
eaten or bartered to horse traders from Arizona and New Mexico.
occupation of California closed in 1822 with Mexico's declaration
of independence from Spain.
missions eventually established by the Spanish in California,
from San Diego in the south to Mission Solano at Sonoma in the
north, were active for a brief sixty-five years.
secularization of the missions and their holdings of livestock
and land, wherein the Indians were to receive half of all properties,