Explorers, Traders, and Slavers: Forging the Old Spanish Trail, 1678-1850

By Joseph P. Sánchez | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
Fages, Garcés, Moraga and Muñoz Early California and the Southern Route of the Old Spanish Trail, 1769-1806

LITTLE WAS KNOWN about California during Juan María Antonio Rivera's exploration of the Yuta country, as it had not yet been established by Spain. For a long time California was all but totally ignored by Spanish officials. From 1540 to 1768 the California coast was visited mainly by mariners either exploring New Spain's northwestern littoral or stopping there to recuperate from the ravages of scurvy suffered during trans-Pacific voyages from the Philippines. While it does seem that little was accomplished in occupying California during this period, these years represent a silent unfolding of Spanish planning. Much of the data reported by seagoing Spaniards regarding the land, coupled with intelligence concerning the danger of Russian encroachment on Spanish claims in the northwest, generated forces leading to the eventual settlement of California.

Although Spanish fears regarding the possible loss of territory to Russia prompted a newly found vigilance concerning California and the interior colonies, other factors were present in 1768 for Spain's consideration of a California colony. The fear that Englishmen would eventually discover the Strait of Anian, the Spanish version of the "Northwest Passage," also stimulated Spanish interest in the north. Stories about bearded white men dressed in buckskin clothing living in the interior reinforced such fears. Heretofore-ignored missionary petitions to evangelize Indians in northern New Spain and its frontiers thus received re-

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