On March 28, 1776, Basque New-Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza was the first to reach the San Francisco Bay by land. De Anza was the first European to establish an overland route from Mexico, through the Sonoran Desert, to the Pacific coast of California. New World Spanish explorers had been seeking such a route through the desert southwest for more than two centuries.
Juan Bautista de Anza was born in Sonora, New Spain in 1736. De Anza enlisted in the army at the Presidio of Fronteras in 1752 and became a captain in 1760. De Anza proposed an expedition to Alta California in the early 1770s. The region had been colonized in the late 1760s and the colonies had been established at San Diego and Monterey. Still, a direct land route was desired and De Anza’s mission was apporoved by the King of Spain and on January 8, 1774. The expedition including 20 soldiers, and 140 horses was guided by a Native American. Together they took a southern route along the Rio Altar, then paralleled the modern Mexico California border. The expedition crossed the Colorado River at its confluence with the Gila River. The expedition was observed by Viceroy and King and they decided that De Anza should lead a group of colonists to Alta California. The expedition arrived at Mission San Gabriel Arcángel in January, 1776 and continued to Monterey with the colonists.
De Anza and 247 colonists arrived at the future site of San Francisco on this day in 1776. De Anza established a presidio, or military fort, on the tip of the San Francisco peninsula. Six months later, a Spanish Franciscan priest founded a mission near the presidio that he named in honor of St. Francis of Assisi – in Spanish, San Francisco de Asiacutes. However, San Francisco remained an isolated settlement for many years after Anza founded the first settlement. It is believed that in the 1830s, the potential of the area was eventually realized. Back then, San Francisco was only a rather small town of 900 people, but after gold had been discovered, more and more settlers came to the city and by the 1850s, it is believed that more than 36.000 people lived there.
Juan Bautista de Anza himself was appointed governor of New Mexico in 1777. He negotiated a critical peace treaty with Commanche Indians, who agreed to join the Spanish in making war on the Apache. He retired in 1786 and passed away two years later.
At yovisto you may learn more about Native Americans in a lecture at Berkeley University.
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