Dirt (Part 2)

The Spaniards—a mixture of Spanish, Basque and Indians—were the first Europeans to settle here in the Santa Clara Valley. Captain Juan de Anza, a Basque, led what I believe is the greatest migration in local history. He left the garrison town of Tabac, in what is now southern Arizona, in the dead of winter 1775-76, with 241 men, women and children. They were to arrive in California with 242; one woman died during childbirth and two were born on the harrowing, three month, overland journey. Because water was so scarce in the Sonoran and Mojave deserts that the party had to cross, de Anza split the party into two divisions so that the limited waterholes would have a chance to recharge.

Why were the Spaniards in California? The answer is twofold. In 1496, Pope Alexander IV divided the world into two parts because of conflict between Spain and Portugal who were trying to get to the riches of China and the Orient. With dominion over the Philippines, Spanish galleons sailed from Manila loaded with silks, spices and treasures by the Great Circle Route, eventually coming down the west coast on the Humboldt Current to Acapulco. The goods were then transported across Mexico and shipped onward to Spain.

It was a dangerous journey. The sailors often suffered from scurvy, and pirates, like Sir Francis Drake, tried to intercept the galleons off the west coast. The Spanish administration proposed that the Manila galleons put in at California ports to restock with fresh vegetables, but usually the captains preferred to continue, being so close to their destination. Another threat was the Russians who came down from Alaska and established Fort Ross in northern California.

In order to reduce the threats, the Spanish colonized lower and central California. Catholic priests were sent to convert the local Indians, attempting to educate them to become Mexican citizens and eventually take ownership over the lands. Unfortunately, the task proved too difficult as the Indians had no concept of land “ownership” and didn’t want it.

Before the Spanish came, the Indians were living quite well on acorn mush, acorns being plentiful in the Llano de Robles, plain of the oaks. There were fish in the streams—salmon, trout and steelhead—and lots of small and large frogs and birds. The streams ran year round and the weather was mild, so the Indians didn’t need to build permanent shelters, like their counterparts in the northwest and southwest.

In order to put their plan for the Indians in place, the mission system was introduced by the Spanish, bringing the concepts of permanent settlement and agriculture to the Native Americans. Next week, I’ll tell how the dirt under our feet became the foundation of this new agricultural economy.


  1. Hi Leonard,

    I am really enjoying reading the information you’re providing…about this type of “clean” dirt, as opposed to the other dirt I read on the front page of the newspaper.  Thanks very much, it’s a nice and very welcome change.

  2. Leonard,
      Several books I found very interesting and informative were found at the San Francisco Library and various archives. Sadly no material was found in out own library relative to how we came to exist as a city. This of course was research done 30 years ago, with out the aid of a data base and computers. Mission to Mission, Libraries, Archives one at a time.
      Frontiers of New Spain; Nicolas de Latore’s Description 1766-1768; Lawrence Kinnaid. Berkeley Library or San Francisco Library
      Mexican-American Genealogist Research; Following the Paper Trail to Mexico; John P. Schmal; Donna S. Morales. Santa Clara Public Library.
      I also posses copies from the originals of the accounting by Father Junipero Serra, Pena and Palou. The first 400 confermations, marriages, burials, births,baptismals, inventories on hand when the site in San Jose was located and established by Moraga and his settlers from the alcaldias of Culiacan, Sinaloa, and Fuerte from the province of Sonora.
      There is so much rich history to be uncovered that gives our lives meaning and definition.
      Thank You Leonard for all of your efforts to bring to our lives the richness of our past. Enjoy!
              Gil Hernandez

  3. Man of the Past,
      You can come to my Foundry and I can let you make copies. Corner of West St. John and Montgomery.
                    Gil /The Village Black Smith

  4. #3 Gil,
    Where could I get a copy of ” the first 400 confermations, marriages, burials etc. ? 
    Have you ever seen the “Pueblo Papers” at History San Jose.  They are in old world Spanish, but Frank Pantoja and others have been working hard for years to translate the to English.

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