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July 22, 2011 > The Anza Trail

The Anza Trail

Submitted By Al Minard

In 1773, Juan Bautista de Anza, captain of the small Presidio of Tubac in Sonora (now southern Arizona) received permission from Antonio Maria Bucareli y Ursua, Viceroy of New Spain, to find an overland route from Sonora to northern California. Such a route was needed for two primary reasons. First, supplying the early California missions and presidios by ship had turned out to be risky and unreliable - something more predictable and safe was needed if these establishments were to thrive. Second, the king of Spain wanted the Viceroy to initiate a strong colonizing effort in "Alta California" in order to combat recent encroachments by other European powers (most notably England and Russia) and to ensure Spanish control over the recently rediscovered San Francisco harbor.

In January of 1774 Captain Anza, Father Francisco Garces, a small group of soldiers and servants, and a herd of about 200 cattle and pack animals left Tubac to explore and open the needed supply route from northern Sonora to California. Under Captain Anza's leadership this first expedition established formal and friendly relationships with the Yuma tribe at the juncture of the Gila and Colorado Rivers, and elicited the active support of the tribe's chief, Salvador Palma. This support turned out to be crucial for ensuring safe passage over the rivers and preventing death from thirst and starvation when Anza was forced to retrace his steps after becoming lost in the sand dunes. On March 22, 1774 Anza and a portion of his expedition arrived at mission San Gabriel (near what is now the city of Los Angeles), having successfully found a route through near waterless deserts and uncharted mountain passes. An overland route to Alta California was now available for use in transporting supplies and colonists to the outermost reaches of northern New Spain.

For his accomplishments, Anza was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel and charged by Bucareli to take an expedition of settlers over the newly opened route to establish both a presidio and a mission in the area of San Francisco bay. Thus, in March of 1775, Juan Bautista de Anza assumed the responsibility of recruiting families and organizing supplies for the first colonizing expedition to northern California. After numerous months spent preparing the newly recruited families for the arduous journey and delays due to Apache raids on the expedition's horses; Anza, a small military escort, and approximately 240 men, women and children departed Tubac on October 23, 1775. For nearly five months they traveled by horseback, mule, and on foot; arriving at the Presidio of Monte Rey on March 10, 1776.

The trip had often been difficult and the colonists endured lack of water and food, life threatening weather conditions, debilitated and dying animals, and roads that often seemed impassable due to rain, mud, sand or snow. At least twice the expedition was hampered by desertion of servants or military personnel. Nonetheless, only one woman died (due to childbirth complications) and four babies were born. Without the help of Native American tribes they met along the way, the expedition may not have been so successful.

In June of 1776, the colonists, led by Anza's second in command Lieutenant Jose Joaquin Moraga, were given permission to continue their journey to the bay of San Francisco and build there the presidio and mission for which the colonists had left their homeland. The expedition then travelled to what is now Mission San Jose and to the hot springs near what is now the Higuera Adobe. Mission San Jose area was nearly flat with lots of year round water, which made it ideal for farming and the Higuera Adobe site was ideal for defensive purposes. From the Higuera site they could see all the way across the bay and nearly to the Golden Gate for approaching ships. It was about 20-years later that Mission San Jose was founded and nearly 50-years later that the Higuera Adobe was built.

Washington Township Historical Society, The National Park Service and the Alameda County Library have teamed up to bring the Juan Bautista de Anza Trail travelling exhibit to the Fremont Main Library. This is a large multiple panel exhibit that tells much of the story of the Anza Party along with the names of at least some of the people who came with Anza. These families - men, women and children as well as cattle, horses and other animals - left their homes and everything they knew to come to Alta California.

The exhibit will be in Fremont from the Grand Opening Monday, July 25 until September 16; it will then be shipped to Arizona where it will spend the next couple of years on display. At the Grand Opening, Steven Ross, an Outdoor Recreation Planner for the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail (Anza Trail), will give a presentation.

Anza Trail Exhibit
Monday, July 25 - September 16

Grand Opening Celebration
Monday, July 25
7 p.m.

Fremont Main Library
2400 Stevenson Blvd., Fremont
(510) 745-1500

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