By John Lawrence / From the original San Diego Free Press, circa 1969
A land and sea expedition set out from Mexico in 1769. After major navigational difficulties, two ships, the San Antonio and the San Carlos, landed at San Diego on April 11 and April 29, 1769, respectively.
It seems that the incompetent Cabrillo had reported that San Diego was at 34 degrees latitude whereas actually it is at 32 degrees. The result of this bungling was that most of the sailors were sick or dying when they reached San Diego. In fact all the seamen on the “San Carlos” died except for one and the cook. We can see that the plight of sailors in San Diego hasn’t changed much in 200 years.
Concerning the land expedition, Smythe reports: “It was on the 14th of May that Captain Rivera arrived with the first land party. This consisted of 25 soldiers, from the Presidio of Lareto, Father Juan Crespi, Jose Canizares, who had been designated to write a diary of the land trip, three muleters, and a band of converted natives who had been drawn from one of the missions in the South. The natives were brought along for the purpose of performing the drudgery.” Converted natives, indeed. Ah, Sweet Jesus, would that I had the faith to become a human pack-horse.
After some trouble with a bum foot, Father Serra eventually made it. Shortly after his arrival, he dispatched a letter to his old friend, Father Palou, from which we quote: “We have seen Indians in immense numbers; and all those on the coast of the Pacific contrive to make a good subsistence on various seeds and by fishing; this they carry on by means of rafts or canoes made of tale with which they go a great way to sea. They are very civil. We found in our journey, as well as in the places where we stopped, that they treated us with as much confidence and good will as if they had known us all their lives …”
Obviously, the Indians had achieved a high degree of civilization in that they were materially well off, but, more importantly, they exhibited a highly developed appreciation of humanity in their culture. This would all change with the “help” they were about to receive from the Spaniards.
The Spanish settlement’s first order of business was the construction of a fort on Presidio Hill presumably to protect them from the friendly Indians. On July 16, 1769, ceremonies were held dedicating the fort christened the Mission of San Diego. Nice name for a fort. We quote Smythe: “The military and naval officers were on hand with their troops (sounds like the parade in Balboa Park last Saturday), who strove to make up in dignity what they lacked in numbers. Father Serra and his priests performed their part with the utmost reverence and solemnity, praying that they might put to flight all the hosts of hell and subject to the mild yoke of our holy faith the barbarity of the gentle Dieguinos.” We see that either Father Serra has had a change of heart since his letter to his confidant, Father Palou, or, more plausibly, he has cut out the monkey business and is finally getting down to real business. Little did the civil (Father Serra’s word) Indians know what barbarities lay in store for them at the hands of the Spanish imperialists.
*Editor’s note: Originally, there were thought to be seven articles in this series; please note, there are only six.