California is a large state, so why are the Franciscan missions located where they are? Below is a map showing their locations.
Reading of the extraordinary efforts of the members of Governor Portolá's expedition to find the fabled harbor of Monte Rey, it's clear to understand why the mission sites selected are where they area. Especially is one examines the topography of the state as shown by this map:
It doesn't look like much, especially if viewed driving along modern highways. But, 260 years ago, it was a difficult trek, as there were no roads – nothing by trails made by wild animals – to include the natives who lived there and rarely traveled more than twenty miles from the birthplaces.
One unsung hero of this expedition [detailed in The King's Highway, Book Two of Father Serra's Legacy] was Sergeant José Francisco Ortega, a Soldao de cuera, who scouted the entire length of California from San Diego to San Francisco. Sergeant Ortega and his men had already scouted along the length of Lower [Baja] California to Bahia San Miguel, seven hundred grueling miles through difficult desert where every plant reached out to grab clothing and draw blood.
To make matters worse, some members of the expedition suffered from lingering scurvy and severe diarrhea, the latter something more severe than even advanced stages of Vitamin C deficiency. During parts of the trek, some soldiers had to be carried in improvised stretchers hung between two mules.
What is truly amazing is how Father Serra walked the entire way with a festering sore on his length. The cure for that is now known to be quite simply – rest. But, throughout his entire life, the reverend father never rested.
A perfectly good example of the impassibility of the shoreline is the coast between Gaviota and Surf Beach where Mission la Purisima Concepción is located still has no roads leading from the south.
And, the scouts received no help from the natives. As indicated earlier, none had traveled more than a day's journey away from their homes.
To make matters worse, when the reached the mouth of the Salinas River [known to them as El Rio Elizario] searching for the fabled Harbor of Monte Rey [The King's Mountain], it did not meet any of the descriptions contained in reports for earlier Spanish sea explorations. They spent days searching in both directions and finally came to the conclusion it was further north.
They easily reached the present site of Mission Santa Cruz and even struggled to follow the coast further north. It was as bad as what they had encountered to the south.
They continued to struggle north, Sergeant Ortega and his scouts constantly turned back by towering cliffs and impassible stretches. At least it gave the remainder of the expedition a chance to turn back.
At last, they reached milder shores where they could continue north. Their goal was to find Punta Reyes [The King's Point], another favorable landmark reported by other expeditions.
[Not any buildings, of course!]
At last, they turned east and found a huge bay awaiting them. It was one the early explorers had somehow bypassed. A funny story follows here. All missions to be established had been named by the Viceroy of Mexico, Don Carlos Francisco de Croix, Marquis of Croix. All Father Crespí, the expedition diarist, was permitted to do was assign a name from the approved list. However, when President Guardian, Father Serra, asked why none was to be named for Saint Francis, the founder of the Order of Friars Minor, he was told, “If Saint Francis wishes a mission to be named for him, let him find one for you.” So, when they found the bay, they named it for Saint Francis.
The site Father Crespi selected for a mission was on a stream and he wrote down it was to be Mission San Francisco de Asis. However, Governor de Anza, sent from Mexico to find suitable sites for settlers, reached the site and named the stream Arroyo de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, meaning "Our Lady of Sorrows Creek." This is another name for the Virgin Mary due to her sorrows in life.
A later expedition traveled south from Mission Dolores and found a site for Mission Santa Clara, and much later for Mission San José.
One only has to examine the map to see what a massive amount of land was unexplored by the early Spanish expeditions. As time passed, they learned of other tribes further east and, at one time, had even seen the snow-capped mountains far to the east, the Sierra Nevada. But, it wasn't until 1804 that anyone set out to explore in that area. Father Juan Martín from Mission San Miguel, led an expedition into the San Joaquin Valley and others further east. He found an adequate site at what is know as Lake Tulare [Laguna de Tache], named for the towering rushes that grew profusely around it. Later expeditions confirmed it would be a good spot to create a missions.
[And these are the dwellings of the inland Indians]
But, nothing happened. In 1820, President Guardian Payeras sent a letter to Mexico asking for friars to found that mission. It was denied due to lack of friars. It also didn't help that Mexico was in the throes of rebellion.
Ah, the thoughts of what might have been.
What do I mean by that?
What would have happened if a mission had been found near the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains – and the friars or the soldiers had found the gold plentiful in the streams and rivers?
Spain, or more likely, Mexico, would have flooded the area with soldiers and Mexico would have dug out and removed the gold, denying it to the Americans who surged in and took California away from them.
An interesting thought, isn't it?
The Mexican State of California!!!
Instead of this:
See ya next time.