Moraga's Account of the Founding of San Francisco
LETTER OF LIEUTENANT DON JOSEF JOACHÍN MORAGA IN WHICH HE REPORTS THE OCCUPATION OF THE PORT OF SAN FRANCISCO, THE ERECTION OF A MISSION, THE COUNTRY EXPLORED AND OTHER ACHIEVEMENTS. [FOOTNOTE 1]
Most Excellent Sir:
The account which I am going to give to your Excellency, both of my [march with] the troops of my command from the presidio of Monterrey to this port of San Francisco, as well as of what has been done in it up to this date, is a summary of the diary which I am preparing, for in order that the exalted attention of your Excellency may understand everything about this new establishment with less inconvenience, I have decided to summarize in this report what in the other I have written out more at length.
With this understanding, let me say that on the 17th of June of this present year of 1776, about three [Footnote 2] in the afternoon, I set the troops in motion, in charge of my sergeant, since it was not possible for me to start that day, because I still had to load on the packet boat of his Majesty, the San Carlos, some of the provisions which he was sending for the port of San Francisco. Notwithstanding; this, since the officers Don Francisco Quirós and Don Diego Choquez, captains of the vessels, and the rest of the officers who were anchored here, wished to accompany the soldiers for a short distance [Footnote3], I could not do less than do the same myself, both in order to accompany the officials as well as to give a send-off to the reverend fathers, Fray Francisco Palóu and Fray Pedro Cambón, ministers who set out destined for that administration. I decided that this first march should be only as far as the Rio de Monterrey, and I so ordered my sergeant when about half a league from this presidio, whence I returned with the officers, except Don Fernando Quirós and the father chaplains of his bark, who wished to be with the soldiers, all of whom were destined to accompany the father ministers.
The next day, having now finished the loading of the provisions, I decided to set out about five o'clock in the afternoon to overtake the soldiers, whom I joined at two o'clock on the morning of the 19th at the camp in the Cañada de San Benito. From here at seven o'clock in the morning we went forward on our road, and crossed the Arroyo del Pájaro and that of San Bernardino.
In the valley of the latter [Footnote 4] there appeared before us a herd of elk to the number of eleven, of which we got three without leaving our road. This merciful act of the infinite providence of the Most High is noteworthy, for the soldiers were by now tired out by the difficulties of the road and weak on account of the customary fare, consisting only of maize and frijoles, on which they were being fed, a reason why the women with continuous sighs were now making known their great dissatisfaction. But this refreshment of meat appearing before us, and we being able with such ease to take advantage of it, the soldiers not only were revived with such a plenty of food, but they were also delighted with the prospect of the abundance of these animals which the country promised. And it is certain, most Excellent Sir, that these elk are of such size and have such savory flesh that neither in quantity nor in quality need they envy the best beef. Their height, which I measured, is seven palms. The length of the body is two varas and a half, and the horns are seven palms long, so that seen with such a crown of antlers they present a very agreeable picture. I noticed that [above] each eye they have a hole resembling the eye itself. This day at one in the afternoon we camped on the Arroyo de las Llagas [Footnote 5] de Nuestro Padre de San Francisco, having experienced that it was so hot that the families suffered great discomfort, a thing which caused us surprise in view of the experience which we have had of the coldness of this climate.
I intended on the 20th to continue my journey in order to arrive as soon as possible at the destination, but a woman who was enceinte having become ill and I having permitted the soldiers to take some rest from their previous fatigues, I was obliged to defer going forward until the next day. And it was impossible for me to set forth on that day either, because in the morning the woman was worse, and we did not set out from the Arroyo de las Llagas until the 22d, about seven o'clock in the morning.
We traveled this day without incident until a quarter past eleven in the morning, when we camped at the site called the San Juan Baptista, from which we set forth at half past seven in the morning of the 23d, halting at a quarter to twelve on the Arroyo de San Josef Cupertino. [Footnote 6]
On the 24th we started at a quarter to seven in the morning, and at one o'clock in the afternoon we camped at the Arroyo de San Matheo. [Footnote 7] At this place I remained during the 25th and 26th, the first day because one of the soldiers was taken ill, and the second because it seemed to me appropriate to go ahead to find out if there was water at the port, fearful lest it might not be the same as in the arroyos [early in] April of this present year [at the time of] the exploration made by Lieutenant-colonel Don Juan Baptista de Ansa. At that time they were running, but at present we have found them with very little or no water. For this purpose, with four soldiers I went to the port, which I found not only abundantly supplied with water, but also endowed with many fine qualities, which greatly encouraged the soldiers.
On the 27th at half past six in the morning I set out with the soldiers from the site of San Matheo, and at half past eleven, without any incident, we camped at the port of San Francisco and the Laguna de los Dolores. [Footnote 8] This very day I gave orders to the sergeant to set the soldiers at cutting trees for the building of their houses, an occupation which they continued daily, so that when the vessel should arrive everything would be prepared, and when on consultation with Don Fernando Quirós we should decide on the most suitable site for the presidio we should be ready to go at once to cut timber for its erection.
On the 29th, accompanied by the reverend fathers, I set out to explore the sites of the interior of this port, and although we went with great care we encountered no more than some small timber, serviceable hardly for making some incommodious barracks. The bark was now tardy and provisions were getting low, so I ordered the sergeant to prepare four soldiers, two servants, and fifteen mules equipped with pack saddles, so that on the 30th they might go to Monterrey to request some provisions of Don Fernando Ribera and at the same time ask him to supply me with some goods, for the soldiers are naked and the cold in these days is severe, and it is a pity to see all the people shivering, especially since they were raised in hot climates and this being the first year in which they have experienced the change of temperature. For this reason I am living in fear that such nakedness may bring upon us some disastrous sickness. It was now necessary to reduce the ration for the soldiers until the bark should arrive or the pack train return, and, in order that hunger might not make the people disconsolate, on the same day I detached my sergeant with three soldiers and six servants with the order that, not sparing any effort whatever, he should see if he could capture some elk, but although he tried hard he was unable to aid us with this succor.
Since the purpose of this account is only to report to your Excellency the things which merit some further reflection, I will omit recounting for each day the common labors in which for a new foundation the men ought to be employed, but I will not excuse myself from relating the exploration of these lands which I have made, in order that your Excellency may form an idea of the country newly rehabilitated, and of what, according to the exploration, it might offer, although it might be years hence, for the convenience of its future inhabitants.
But before relating these things I will inform your Excellency that on the 6th of August, about four in the afternoon, one of the soldiers assigned as escort at the mission came to me with the news that about forty armed Indians had arrived near the mission. The corporal of the guard made them signs asking them [where they were going] and they gave him to understand that they were bound for a ranchería [near] the mission, whose Indians had wounded one of their companions. And so they were planning to avenge themselves for this grievance. These aggrieved Indians were from the Cañada de San Andres [Footnote 9], but doubtless fear of our men caused them to withdraw without engaging in battle, and up to the present we have had no news of any other trouble between them.
On the 18th, about half past eleven o'clock in the morning, the packet boat of his Majesty, the San Carlos, cast anchor in this port without other incident than that of having spent forty-two days coming from Monterrey, a delay which obliged me to send the pack train three times to Monterrey for provisions. It was my plan to await the bark, in order that in consultation with its captain I might decide on the site for the presidio and indeed we have had the notice that it has arrived. [Footnote 10] There has arrived also the occasion to talk of more than the material building of a new fort and of the imponderable labors with which it has scarcely been possible to produce a sketch of the plan which I made for this foundation. Although I have lacked artisans, I have not on that account omitted the greatest care that the buildings should be erected in the best and surest way permitted by such a scarcity of these artisans. In fact, even the building which I have done I confess I owe to the aid which Don Fernando Quirós has given me with the men of his bark. The place where the fort is situated, although it is not the most level in its entire extent, yet it is one of those most protected from the strong wind which prevails here and one of those nearest to the [harbor]. No arroyo runs close to it, but with a well which I had opened on a slope very close to the presidio, I discovered a spring sufficient for all necessities and which would be superabundant even though there were a larger number of families. Firewood is abundant and close by, and not far away there is a lake suitable for washing the clothing.
With respect to the number of buildings, their disposition and measurements, I insert the accompanying plan, [Footnote 11] in order that by means of it your Excellency may get an idea, without molesting your discreet attention with my crude statement. The royal store house, the church, and the guardhouse, might now be secured with their doors, but misfortune wished that both the carpenter and the blacksmith should find themselves unable to exercise their functions. And so the little building which has been done with timber has been accomplished by car- penters from on board, this being the principal reason why everything is not finished and secure.
The mission of San Francisco, which was founded at the Laguna and Arroyo de los Dolores, a site very beautiful and abundant in water, wood, and stone, is now also completed, and so handsomely built that I can do no less than marvel to see in so brief a time erected in the face of such a shortage of men a presidio and a mission such as in many years these northern California establishments will not have seen.
Now returning to the explorations which I have made of these lands, in which I was accompanied by the reverend fathers, toward the southeast I encountered timber sufficient to build commodious houses, and I saw the land to be well pastured and able to maintain a great number of cattle, and to support no small plantings of the necessary grains. Moreover, I saw that the heathen had burned many patches, which doubtless would produce an abundance of pasturage. In the rest of the explorations which I have made in the vicinity of the mission and the presidio I have found good lands, some large lagoons, little arroyos, and innumerable springs of fresh water which are permanent, although the year has been so short of rain. The Indians in the vicinity of the presidio and mission are of such good disposition that ever since the day when we arrived at this destination they have daily frequented one establishment and the other with such satisfaction on our part that we hope soon to see harvested the fruit which so Catholic a breast as that of your Excellency desires.
As soon as I had partly finished the founding of this new establishment I arranged with Don Fernando Quirós to start on the 23d of September to make an exploration of the Rio de San Francisco, Don Fernando going by sea and I by land, in order to meet at an appointed place, which was that of Santa Angela Fulgino [Footnote 12]. On that day we set forth about six o'clock, having arranged that Thursday the 26th should be our day for meeting, in order that together we might make this useful exploration with all exactitude. But, although Don Fernando did not fail in what was proposed, I was unable to see the launch on account of having come out higher up. I remained there some time, thinking that he perhaps, having engaged in some other exploration, was unable to reach on time the place where I was.
It was now very late and my supplies were getting low, for which reason I decided before they were [completely] used up to go to explore the river [Footnote 13] and seek a ford by which to pass from one side to the other, and at the same time to see if I might discover its source. Then an unusual thing happened to me with the Indians of those villages. It was this. When they saw me seeking a crossing over the river, without my asking them a single thing they showed me a ford by which with ease I was able to pass from one side to the other, they themselves going ahead of the horses serving as guides, an action for which I thanked them and for which I attempted to reward them with glass beads, a present much esteemed by them. It is certain that these and the rest of the Indians whom I encountered while my exploration lasted I found affable, generous, and not at all mistrustful of communication with us. I spent sixteen days, and I not only discovered many fords but also in some manner I inferred the source of this river, which is not in keeping with some ideas that have been reported to your Excellency. At the place where I crossed the river the first time it must be seventy varas wide and a vara and a quarter deep. The rivers which join with this one are three small ones, although I saw that toward the north others may enter it. And finally I saw that it does not prevent transit to New Mexico.
All this, Most Excellent Sir, I have done without orders from Captain Don Fernando Ribera, but two reasons have been sufficient to oblige me to proceed in this manner. In the first place, I knew the Catholic fervor with which your Excellency looks upon these establishments and that to await in them an order which would delay me would be to run the risk that the just indignation of your Excellency might attribute to lack of due haste what was only obedience. In the second place, Don Fernando de Ribera was at the presidio of San Diego, and I had too few men to send a courier so far. And even assuming that it should be decided to send one, while he was going and returning I would lose the best opportunity, which was the aid of the bark, and I would run the risk that, the rains beginning, it would not be possible to erect any building until the following year, which would be most disappointing to the reverend fathers who spiritually succor us here. I protest, Most Excellent Sir, that this my decision had no other purpose than to fulfill as soon as possible the wishes of your Excellency, and that such miserable heathen may have the advantage which so Catholic a breast seeks for them, that is, that without delay they may receive this spiritual good which your Excellency desires for them. If I have done wrong, I humbly beg the charity of your Excellency to mitigate my guilt with the sincerity of my intentions. I beg this for the love of God, to whose divine Majesty I pray that in greatest prosperity He may spare the life of your Excellency the many years which these your humble soldiers need for their support.
Most Excellent Sir,
Señor Josef Joachin Moraga
To the Most Excellent Señor Viceroy, Frey Don Antonio Bucareli y Ursua.
I certify that this is a copy of the original. Mexico, March 20,1777.
Melchor de Permás (Rubric).
Source: Garate, Donald T. (ed.). Captain Juan Bautista de Anza, Correspondence of Various Subjects, 1775. In Los Californianos: Antepasados (Vol. VIII). San Diego: Los Californianos, 1994. Used by permission.