Within days of reaching San Diego, discovering many dead and almost dead from scurvy and diarrhea, Governor Portolá musters the Leatherjacket Soldiers under Captain Rivera and the Catalonian Volunteers fit to travel under Lieutenant Fages. His goal is to search for the harbor of Monte Rey (King's Mountain) reported to be an excellent harbor with many friendly natives to establish the capital of the Territory of California.
They have no idea how far it is, only that they must follow the coastline as much as possible. The way is difficult, nothing but animal trails through thick scrub brush, salt marshes, and steep cliffs. The natives are no problem as their stone-tipped spears and arrows present little danger.
This excerpt takes place after many days of difficult travel, often forced to go inland by impassable places along the coast. They had to divert inland at San Juan Capistrano to the Los Angeles Basin, returning to the sea at Ventura. Their next diversion was going through San Luis Obispo and later going to the Salinas Valley. They finally returned to the sea where the river emptied into it, only not to recognize the bay called Monte Rey by previous explorers. Continuing north, they find the future site of Santa Cruz and are now making their way north along the coast.
October 1769 - More difficult Travel
Sergeant Ortega had determined the best route north followed the shore. Portolá and the others agreed as that would be their only way of finding the harbor of Monte Rey.
They reached a point of land they named Punta Año Nuevo from the description on Bueno's chart, realizing they had indeed bypassed Monte Rey. But, the charts also indicated a large bay highly recommended by Captain Vizcaino, so the governor decided to press on.
Camp was pitched. Meat had given out and they ran out of turnips, potatoes and onions. Their rations of flour and bran tortillas was reduced to five per man. Once again, the Spaniards refused to eat corn tortillas or the various herbs and roots the three women gathered. Father Juan named the camp San Luis Beltran, while the soldiers called it la Cañada de Salud. Both Portolá and Rivera were now added to the sick list. However, on the 23rd, when they moved forward, both refused litters, riding their horses.
They reached another creek with a large Ohlone settlement. The Indians received them kindly, offering fish and small game. The Baja sappers and muleteers eagerly accepted the wide variety of animals such as gophers and mice but the Spaniards could not bring themselves to. They certainly refused offers of insects and reptiles, something the Indians did not understand.
It was only at Father Juan’s insistence that the officers and Sergeant Ortega accepted corn tortillas and atole with pieces of local roots and wild leeks. In fact, after trying them, they smiled and agreed the fare was tasty. The friars named the camping place for Saint John Nepomuceno, while several soldiers named it Punta Paloma for the many doves which lived there - and filled spits turning over fires.
They traveled four leagues the next day and, as they made camp, it began to rain. Slow at first, it increased in volume until one could barely see beyond an outstretched hand. Carla and Butterfly had sensed it coming and broke out the canvas to make shelters for themselves and the friars. The governor’s party quickly set up his tents and the soldiers brought their tent halves out of their packs. Two were joined and provided shelter for bedrolls. However, they could not stop the runoff and more than a few tents had to be moved to higher ground.
To make matters worse, diarrhea struck. Every one of the soldiers was stricken, most severely. Timothy’s party had a slight case, suffering soft stool. Much to their chagrin, both friars suffered greatly. Only the muleteers, Baja sappers and the drovers were spared.
“Oh Lord God, Almighty, spare us. We beg Your forgiveness for whatever we have done to bring upon Your displeasure with us.” Both friars worked their prayer beads - when they did not have to run into the brush to relieve themselves.
The governor was convinced this latest problem would end the expedition. He and the others eagerly accepted the Eucharist given at the mass the friars held.
And then, a miracle occurred. The rain clouds broke and bright sunshine bore down on the camp with a light unlike any they had seen before. Steam and mist rose from damp earth, plants, livestock and shelters. Most took turns staggering into the creek to cleanse themselves and wash their clothes, the soldiers at the orders of their officers.
But, that was just the minor part of the miracle. Those who suffered most from the scurvy found the spots and rashes disappearing and swollen limbs became less painful. Hunger came and, with the help of the Indians, they ate to make up for what had been scourged from their bodies. For two days, they dried their things, reshuffled loads, cared for mounts and generally recuperated from their ills. Wild fowl fell easily to muskets, along with nets cunningly woven by the Indians. The ladies recognized a large patch of wild onions and other greens. Iron pots soon boiled, causing savory aromas to fill the nostrils of all. For a change, the Spaniards did not hesitate to sate their hunger.
Butterfly busily trimmed and smoothed Blaze’s hoofs, showing Jaime, Timothy and Carla how to do the same for their mounts. Claudio and Ismelda toiled with the muleteers to ensure the same was done for their animals. Each soldier carried a file and tool to tend to their horses and Rivera inspected his presidials while Fages did the same with the Catalonians.
The soldiers called the camp los Cursos de los Soldados but Father Juan found yet another saint to name it after, Santo Domingo.
They resumed their trek on October 27th. They were only able to travel two leagues as the way became difficult and the sappers had to clear brush and scrub and lay bridges across three steep arroyos. It was most difficult for the transportation of the few remaining invalids.
An abandoned Indian village stood at the bank of one stream and the soldiers hurried to take possession of them.
But, not for long.
Timothy was surprised when the soldiers came rushing out of the buildings, shouting and swatting at themselves. “Las Pulgas! Las Pulgas!”
Carla chuckled and got him to understand they were fleeing fleas.
The soldiers decided they preferred to camp in the open some distance away.
They reached a bay the next day and named it el Llano de los Ansares, or The Plain of the Wild Geese for the thousands of birds swimming on the water and filling the air. It took little effort to bring down hundreds of the large, fat birds, many twirling on spits, grease dripping into flames causing a satisfying, crackling sound and delicious aroma. Father Juan, of course, had a saint to name it after, in this case two of them, San Simon y San Judas. Timothy did not have to be told they were two of the Twelve Apostles.
By now, the soldiers had learned to partake of roots and herbs the women gathered for themselves and them. However, with some of their illnesses so advanced, it helped little and some still found themselves suffering diarrhea.
And, it did not help when heavy rain came again. Portolá, who was ill, decided to rest on the 29th. They continued their journey on the 30th and the sappers had to once again build bridges to get the animals over three more deep arroyos.
(I'll have another excerpt in a couple of weeks.)