FOUNDING OF THE PUEBLO DE LOS ANGELES, by James Miller Guinn

“The history of the founding of our American cities shows that the location of a city, as well as its plan, is as often the result of accident as of design. Neither chance nor accident entered into the selection of the site, the plan or the name of Los Angeles. All these had been determined upon years before a colonist had been enlisted to make the settlement. The Spanish colonist, unlike the American backwoods-man, was not free to locate on the public domain wherever his caprice or his convenience dictated.

The Spanish poblador (founder or colonist) went where he was sent by his government. He built his pueblo after a plan designated by royal reglamento. His planting and his sowing, the size of his fields and the shape of his house lot were fixed by royal decree. He was a dependent of the crown. The land he cultivated was not his own, except to use. If he failed to till it, it was taken from him and he was deported from the colony. He could not buy the land he lived on nor could he even exercise that privilege so dear to the Anglo-Californian — the right to mortgage it. Once located by royal order he could not change his location without permission nor could he visit his native land without a passport. He could not change his political opinions — that is if he had any to change. He could not change his religion and survive the operation. Environed and circumscribed by limitations and restrictions on all sides it is not strange that the Spanish colonists were non-progressive.

The pueblo plan of colonization so common in Spanish-American countries did not originate with the Spanish American colonists. It was older even than Spain herself. In early European colonization, the pueblo plan, the common square in the center of the town, the house lots grouped round it, the arable fields and the com- mon pasture lands beyond, appears in the Aryan village, in the ancient German mark and in the old Roman presidium. The Puritans adopted this form in their first settlements in New England. Around the public square or common where stood the meeting house and the town house, they laid off their home lots and beyond these were their cultivated fields and their com- mon pasture lands. This form of colonization was a combination of communal interests and individual ownership. Primarily, no doubt, it was adopted for protection against the hostile aborigines of the country, and secondly for social advantage. It reversed the order of our own western colonization. The town came first, it was the initial point from which the settlement radiated; while with our western pioneers the town was an afterthought— a center point for the convenience of trade.

When it had been decided to send colonists to colonize California the settlements naturally took the pueblo form. The difficulty of obtaining regular supplies for the presidios from Mexico, added to the great expense of shipping such a long distance, was the principal cause that influenced the government to establish pueblos de gente de razon. The presidios received their shipments of grain for breadstuff from San Bias by sailing vessels. The arrival of these was uncertain. Once when the vessels were unusually long in coming, the padres and the soldiers at the presidios and missions were reduced to living on milk, bear meat and what provisions they could obtain from the Indians. When Felipe de Neve was made governor of Alta or Nueva California in 1776, he was instructed by the viceroy to make observations on the agricultural possibilities of the country and the feasibility of founding pueblos where grain could be produced to supply the military establishments.

On his journey from San Diego to San Francisco in 1777, he carefully examined the country; and as a result of his observations recommended the founding of two pueblos: one on the Rio de Porciuncula in the south, and the other on the Rio de Guadalupe in the north. On the 29th day of November, 1777, the Pueblo of San Jose de Guadalupe was founded. The colonists were nine of the presidio soldiers from San Francisco and Monterey, who had some knowledge of farming and five of Anza’s pobladores, who had come with his expedition the previous year to found the presidio of San Francisco. From the fact that the founders, in part, of the first pueblo in California were soldiers has originated the fiction that the founders of the second pueblo, Los Angeles, were soldiers also; although this fiction has been contradicted repeatedly, it reappears in nearly every newspaper write-up of the early his- tory of Los Angeles.

From various causes the founding of the second pueblo had been delayed. In the latter part of 1779, active preparations were begun for carrying out the plan of founding a presidio and three missions on the Santa Barbara Channel and a pueblo on the Rio Porciuncula to be named ‘Reyna de Los Angeles.’ The Comandante General of the Four Interior Provinces of the West (which embraced the Californias, Sonora, New Mexico and Viscaya), Don Teodoro de Croix or ‘El Cavallero de Croix,’ ‘The Knight of the Cross,’ as he usually styled himself, gave instructions to Don Fernando de Rivera y Moncada to recruit soldiers and settlers for the proposed presidio and pueblo in Nueva California. He, Rivera, crossed the Gulf and began recruiting in Sonora and Sinaloa. His instructions were to secure twenty-four settlers, who were heads of families. They must be robust and well behaved, so that they might set a good example to the natives. Their families must accompany them and unmarried female relatives must be encouraged to go, with the view of marrying them to bachelor soldiers.

According to the Regulations drafted by Gov. Felipe de Neve June 1st, 1779, for the Government of the Province of California and approved by the King, in a royal order of the 24th of October, 1781, settlers in California from the older provinces were each to be granted a house lot and a tract of land for cultivation. Each poblador in addition was to receive $116.50 a year for the first two years, ‘the rations to be understood as comprehended in this amount, and in lieu of rations for the next three years they will receive sixty dollars early.’

Section 3 of Title 14 of the Reglamento provided that: ‘To each poblador and to the community of the Pueblo there shall be given under condition of repayment in horses and mules fit to be given and received, and in the payment of the other large and small cattle at the just prices, which are to be fixed by tariff, and of the tools and implements at cost, as it is ordained, two mares, two cows and one calf, two sheep and two goats, all breeding animals, and one yoke of oxen or steers, one plow point, one hoe, one spade, one axe, one sickle, one wood knife, one musket and one leather shield, two horses and one cargo mule. To the community there shall likewise be given the males corresponding to the total number of cattle of different kinds distributed amongst all the inhabitants, one forge and anvil, six crowbars, six iron spades or shovels and the necessary tools for carpenter and cast work.’ For the government’s assistance to the pobladores in starting their colony the settlers were required to sell to the presidios the surplus products of their lands and herds at fair prices, which were to be fixed by the government.

The terms offered to the settler were certainly liberal, and by our own hardy pioneers, who in the closing years of the last century were making their way over the Alleghany Mountains into Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, they would have been considered munificent; but to the indolent and energy-less mixed breeds of Sonora and Sinaloa they were no inducement. After spending nearly nine months in recruiting, Rivera was able to obtain only fourteen pobladores, but little over half the number required, and two of these deserted before reaching California. The soldiers that Rivera had recruited for California, forty-two in number, with their families, were ordered to proceed overland from Alamos, in Sonora, by way of Tucson and the Colorado River to San Gabriel Mission. These were commanded by Rivera in person.

Leaving Alamos in April, 1781, they arrived in the latter part of June at the junction of the Gila and Colorado Rivers. After a short delay to rest the main company was sent on to San Gabriel Mission. Rivera, with ten or twelve soldiers, remained to recruit his live stock before crossing the desert. Two missions had been established on the California side of the Colorado the previous year. Before the arrival of Rivera the Indians had been behaving badly. Rivera’s large herd of cattle and horses destroyed the mesquite trees and intruded upon the Indians’ melon patches. This, with their previous quarrel with the padres, provoked the savages to an uprising. They, on July 17, attacked the two missions, massacred the padres and the Spanish settlers attached to the missions and killed Rivera and his soldiers — forty-six persons in all. The Indians burned the mission buildings. These were never rebuilt nor was there any other attempt made to convert the Yumas. The hostility of the Yumas practically closed the Colorado route to California for many years.

The pobladores who had been recruited for the founding of the new pueblo, with their families and a military escort, all under the command of Lieutenant Jose Zuiniga, crossed the gulf from Guaymas to Loreto, in Lower California, and by the 16th of May were ready for their long journey northward. In the meantime two of the recruits had deserted and one was left behind at Loreto. On the 18th of August the eleven who had remained faithful to their contract, with their families, arrived at San Gabriel. On account of smallpox among some of the children the company was placed in quarantine about a league from the mission.

On the 26th of August, 1781, from San Gabriel, Gov. de Neve issued his instructions for the founding of Los Angeles, which gave some additional rules in regard to the distribution of lots not found in the royal reglamento previously mentioned.

On the 4th of September, 1781, the colonists, with a military escort headed by Governor Felipe de Neve, took up their line of march from the Mission San Gabriel to the site selected for their pueblo on the Rio de Porciuncula. There, with religious ceremonies, the Pueblo de Nuestra Senora La Reina de Los Angeles was formally founded. A mass was said by a priest from the Mission San Gabriel, assisted by the choristers and musicians of that mission. There were salvos of musketry and a procession with a cross, candlesticks, etc. At the head of the procession the soldiers bore the standard of Spain and the women followed bearing a banner with the image of our Lady the Queen of the Angels. This procession made a circuit of the plaza, the priest blessing it and the building lots. At the close of the services Governor de Neve made an address full of good advice to the colonists. Then the Governor, his military escort and the priests returned to San Gabriel and the colonists were, left to work out their destiny.

Few of the great cities of the land have had such humble founders as Los Angeles. Of the eleven pobladores who built their huts of poles and tule thatch around the plaza vieja one hundred and nineteen years ago, not one could read or write. Not one could boast of an unmixed ancestry. They were mongrels in race — Caucasian, Indian and Negro mixed. Poor in purse, poor in blood, poor in all the sterner qualities of character that our own hard-pioneers of the west possessed, they left no impress on the city they founded; and the conquering race that possesses the land they colonized has forgotten them. No street or landmark in the city bears the name of any one of them. No monument or tablet marks the spot where they planted the germ of their settlement. No Forefathers’ day preserves the memory of their services and sacrifices. Their names, race and the number of persons in each family have been preserved in the archives of California. They are as follows:

  1. Jose de Lara, a Spaniard (or reputed to be one, although it is doubtful whether he was of pure blood) had an Indian wife and three children.
  2. Jose Antonio Navarro, a Mestizo, forty- two years old; wife a mulattress; three children.
  3. Basilio Rosas, an Indian, sixty-eight years old; had a mulatto wife and two children.
  4. Antonio Felix Villavicencio, a Spaniard, thirty years old; had an Indian wife and one child.
  5. Jose Vanegas, an Indian, twenty-eight years old; had an Indian wife and one child.
  6. Alejandro Rosas, an Indian, nineteen years old and had an Indian wife. (In the records, ‘wife Coyote-Indian.’)
  7. Pablo Rodriguez, an Indian, twenty-five years old; had an Indian wife and one child.
  8. Manuel Camero, a mulatto, thirty years old; had a mulatto wife.
  9. Luis Ouintero, a negro, fifty-five years old and had a mulatto wife and five children.
  10. Jose Morena, a mulatto, twenty-two years old and had a mulatto wife.

Antonio Miranda, the twelfth person described in the padron (list) as a Chino, fifty years old and having one child, was left at Loreto when the expedition marched northward. It would have been impossible for him to have rejoined the colonists before the founding. Presumably his child remained with him, consequently there were but forty-four instead of ‘forty-six persons in all.’ Col. J. J. Warner, in his ‘Historical Sketch of Los Angeles,’ originated the fiction that one of the founders (Miranda, the Chino) was born in China. Chino, while it does mean a Chinaman, is also applied in Spanish-American countries to persons or animals having curly hair. Miranda was probably of mixed Spanish and Negro blood, and curly haired. There is no record to show that Miranda ever come to Alta California.

Another fiction that frequently appears in newspaper ‘write-ups’ of Los Angeles is the statement that the founders were ‘discharged soldiers from the Mission San Gabriel.’ None of them had ever seen San Gabriel before they arrived there with Zuiniga’s expedition on the 15th of August, 1 781, nor is there a probability that any one of them ever was a soldier. When Jose de Galvez was fitting out the expedition for occupying San Diego and Monterey, he issued a proclamation naming St. Joseph as the patron saint of his California colonization scheme. Bearing this fact in mind, no doubt, Gov. de Neve, when he founded San Jose, named St. Joseph its patron saint. Having named one of the two pueblos for San Jose it naturally followed that the other should be named for Santa Maria, the Queen of the Angels, wife of San Jose.

On the 1st of August, 1769, Portola’s expedition, on its journey northward in search of Monterey Bay, had halted in the San Gabriel Valley near where the Mission Vieja was afterwards located, to reconnoiter the country and ‘above all,’ as Father Crespi observes, ‘for the purpose of celebrating the jubilee of Our Lady of the Angels of Porciuncula.’ Next day, August 2, after traveling about three leagues (nine miles), Father Crespi, in his diary, says: ‘We came to a rather wide canada having a great many cotton- wood and alder trees. Through it ran a beautiful river toward the north-northeast and curving around the point of a cliff it takes a direction to the south. Toward the north-northeast we saw another river bed which must have been a great overflow, but we found it dry. This arm unites with the river and its great floods during the rainy season are clearly demonstrated by the many uprooted trees scattered along the banks.’ (This dry river is the Arroyo Seco.) ‘We stopped not very far from the river, to which we gave the name of Porciuncula.’ Porciuncula is the name of a hamlet in Italy near which was located the little church of Our Lady of the Angels, in which St. Francis of Assisi was praying when the jubilee was granted him. Father Crespi, speaking of the plain through which the river flows, says: ‘This is the best locality of all those we have yet seen for a mission, besides having all the resources required for a large town.’ Padre Crespi was evidently somewhat of a prophet.]

The fact that this locality had for a number of years borne the name of ‘Our Lady of the Angels of Porciuncula’ may have influenced Governor de Neve to locate his pueblo here. The full name of the town, El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora La Reyna de Los Angeles, was seldom used. It was too long for everyday use. In the earlier years of the town’s history it seems to have had a variety of names. It appears in the records as El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles, as El Pueblo de La Reyna de Los Angeles and as El Pueblo de Santa Maria de Los Angeles. Sometimes it was abbreviated to Santa Maria, but it was most commonly spoken of as El Pueblo — the town. At what time the name of Rio Porciuncula was changed to Rio Los Angeles is uncertain. The change no doubt was gradual.

The site selected for the pueblo of Los Angeles was picturesque and romantic. From where Alameda street now is to the eastern bank of the river the land was covered with a dense growth of willows, cottonwoods and alders; while here and there, rising above the swampy copse, towered a giant aliso (sycamore). Wild grape vines festooned the branches of the trees and wild roses bloomed in profusion. Behind the narrow shelf of mesa land where the pueblo was located rose the brown hills, and in the distance towered the lofty Sierra Madre Mountains.

For ages the Indians had roamed up and down the valley, but the Indian is so ardent a lover of nature that he never defaces her face by attempting to make improvements — particularly if it requires exertion to make the changes. For centuries within the limits that Neve had marked out for his pueblo had stood the Indian village of Yang-na or rather a succession of villages of that name. When the accretions of filth encroached upon the red man’s dwelling and the increase of certain kinds of live stock, of name offensive to ears polite, had become so great and their appetites so keen that even the phlegmatic Digger could no longer endure their aggressive attacks, then the poor Indian resorted to a heroic method of house-cleaning. On an appointed day the portable property was removed from the wickeups, the village was set on fire and myriads on myriads of piojos and pulgas were cremated in the conflagration. After purification by fire poor Lo built a new village on the old site — a new town with the same old name, Yang-na. Probably all of the Indians of Yang-na had been gathered into the mission fold at San Gabriel before Neve’s pobladores built their huts on the banks of the Rio Porciuncula, still there seems to have been fears of an attack by hostile Indians, for the colonists built a guard house and barracks and a guard of soldiers was stationed at the pueblo for many years after its founding.”

-Excerpt courtesy of the Internet Archive, Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center, “Historical and biographical record of Los Angeles and vicinity : containing a history of the city from its earliest settlement as a Spanish pueblo to the closing year of the nineteenth century ; also containing biographies of well known citizens of the past and present,” by James Miller Guinn, 1901

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