Without exception, this has been a monthly dilemma for this writer over the past several years for each article in Journal Plus magazine. As in the movie industry where deleted scenes are relegated to the cutting room floor, any writer of history has many tales tucked away in the anonymity of notes.
Starting with a tiny bit of remembrance, the need to pull more from the past while maintaining an authenticity borne of research and doing so in a fashion so as to promote readership proved rewarding and challenging. Too little information and the past seems trite or meaningless; too much information buries the reader underneath a mountain of minutia relished only by a few hearty souls who are determined or required by job or studies to plow through information.
Initially conceived as a year or two endeavor in , at the end of the first year, the history hovered around ! Furthermore, taken as a whole, the episodic nature of the reporting created duplication of information and jumping back and forth through time as if history is some sort of atomic particle bouncing around the universe looking for a home.
Hopefully, the following compilation and revision of the multi-year effort provides for better cohesion and adhesion. What is intended is a popular history. The word popular is derived from the Latin popularis meaning of the people. As you read along, there are plentiful opportunities to wonder more about the community. Of course, much more could be added but this is simply the Introductory History of San Luis Obispo Throughout, there are resources for individuals to explore.
Enjoy your travel through history and do not hesitate to let me know if you have a question or two! I hope you like the story. As such, there is never a definitive history, but only one that captures — hopefully, accurately — some of the past.
Certainly, eons ago as the earth formed and groaned into great land and sea divides, this area remained recessed under water and in an unimaginable space of time, rose from the beneath the sea into the shape of land we now call home.
Using the local peaks — the Nine Sisters — as its focus, an informative book, Mountains of Fire, by Sharon Lewis Dickerson provides a concise but considerable amount of information locked away in our ancient geology. Chumash ceremonial dress Who was eventually here — or when they came — will imagine the native populations and the unknown amount of time they spent roaming a more pristine world. Their life, hopes, and dreams can only be vaguely discerned from existing evidence. However, for us, the Chumash are our geographical ancestors.
As with all humans, they, too, had the dreams and nightmares of life. Certainly for us, the most important community building, the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, was primarily the work of their hands. Nameless at the time, San Luis Obispo then was a place possibly seen from a distance, anonymously tucked away in the scenery viewed from the sea. There were some mariners — worthy of their own story — who braved reaching shore most likely looking for rest or treasure and not sightseeing.
Unamuno, Cermeno, Vizcaino, and Cabrillo conjure up tales of sea adventures while the reality for the early mariners was one of adventure punctuated by the agonizing toll of scurvy. For us, however, the best and most pertinent records begin relatively recently in Back to top First Explorations It is best here to note the eighteenth-century trailblazers were referencing reports from the explorations of Sebastian Vizcaino Originally designed to find a port for the Manila galleons sailing past the coast, his voyage provided guidance for the mariners years later!
In an age obsessed with instant communication, it is difficult to imagine the circuitous route of information and decision-making in the Iberian Empire. Thus, once the decision was made to mount an expedition into the vast unexplored region of the north from New Spain, the speed for implementation was most unusual. The results for us as a small part of a much larger undertaking provide a backdrop for the enterprising decades that followed the explorers.
It began in Spain, was transferred to New Spain as part of the agenda of an extraordinary visitor-general, dictated to governmental servants, and implemented in courageous, sometime fatal, encounters in a strange land.
Fortunately, the first expedition from the shores of San Diego a Vizcaino name to the south shore of San Francisco Bay unknown at the time was chronicled by several men but most notably by Franciscan Fra Juan Crespi. A meticulous note-taker and observer, he applied a name to just about everything in a journey of continuous new sights. As history buffs know, history not only has no beginning; it abhors a straight line.
Suffice to note here, the decision was made to explore. For this decision, Californians are indebted to its practically unknown political founder, Joseph de Galvez. Visitor-General of New Spain: The Life and Times of Junipero Serra is an exceptionally well researched biography.
The Monterey Expedition was a grueling adventure by land and sea. Fra Junipero Serra While Portola and the remaining relatively healthy men went north on an unsuccessful six-month land expedition, Serra remained with the sick and dying and established his first Alta California mission.
His first mission founding was in Baja California. While the name did not survive in its original location, many names of areas, geographical markers, streams, etc. Some designations survive from names given by the military men. Back to top Mission Era Fast forward to the summer of By then, four missions had been established: The famous bear hunt another story skipped! As hunting was not particularly successful, the local natives provided sustenance in trade for what must have been fascinating trinkets.
Fortunately, notice was received of supply ships having arrived at San Diego. Fages — accompanied by Fra Serra — headed south. He left an enduring legacy for us all. In , there was a name. A short digression here, as names used for mission settlements were not a haphazard or personal preference.
Every mission name is understandably religious but also overwhelmingly Franciscan. Junipero Serra would return to the fifth mission six times before his death in , but the day after its founding, the Mission was the responsibility of Padre Joseph Cavaller , five natives from Baja and two soldiers who bid farewell to Serra. Our community began with minimal supplies, great hopes and fervent prayers.
What is considered the Mission Period in California history has been revisited often inaccurately in numerous publications. Suffice to note here, while much has been remembered about the missions, for locals, the one named after a 13th century French saint reminds us of our civic roots and obligations.
Thus, over the next 50 years, the spiritual center grew as neophytes newly baptized required food, clothing, education and the stuff of life as well as religious instruction and practice.
In what was an increasingly complex mixture of the sacred and secular, the Mission era parallels the Spanish governance or lack thereof of the Alta region of New Spain.
Records indicate births, baptisms, confirmations, marriages and deaths. Required to maintain production statistics, from wheat to garbanzo beans, sheep to horses, the Franciscan reports capture a growing enterprise where progress was measured more by the former set of records than the latter.
Only for the serious student of mission history, his four volume Missions and Missionaries of California plus individual histories of each in California provides ample information. Back to top Mexican Era Juan Bautista Alvarado Much of what is called local history was then dictated by others long distant from our valley. Politics and political power always change and Spain relinquished control of California among other vast pieces of real estate to new governance in Mexico in San Luis Obispo along with the rest of the fringe of the now Mexican empire began a quarter century of transformation…often chaotic, greatly unjust.
A sign of growing prominence, the mission settlement was declared a pueblo by the twenty-five-year-old Mexican Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado His decree was not confirmed by the central government in Mexico City. Some 30 years later, this will become a critical factor in our civic heritage. In an agonizingly short period, the mission system was dismantled, natives mostly disbursed, and the land transferred to private ownership. Under the Spanish flag, the land was held by the padres in trust until the native population could form and supervise their own pueblos.
There were few land grants while under Iberian control. Under Mexican rule, all land belonged to the civil authorities who dispersed it with amazing speed. Given the small population, relatively few owned most everything.
As the land around the county missions was divided, the non-native population increased as did commerce. The evolving Dana Adobe and rancho in Nipomo provides a glimpse into this bucolic past. Within our modern city, a few adobes help visualize a community dedicated to agriculture and trade. Easterners also brought a different economic outlook, experiences in governance and — especially — the ownership of land.
Mission history does not abruptly stop but continues in relative isolation from the rest of the settled world. Occasionally, a ship would drop anchor in Avila with goods and news from other places.
However, the change of governments from Spain to Mexico brought a systemic transformation as the missions came to now provide for increasing non-natives and increased demands for the mission lands. Locally, the names Wilson, Dana, Price, and Branch are a few personages that recall this era. A distant relative of the local Dana family, his to journey from the east coast was published in and revised some 30 years later. In summary, in a mere fifty years, much had transpired in what would become the Golden State.
When the Spanish explorers first traveled through this area in the summer and fall of , they had already experienced a grueling, deadly journey by land and sea to explore and settle the vast territory of Alta California.
Within three years of its beginning in San Diego, five missions were established the last here in with presidios in San Diego and Monterey. The most exciting event in these earliest years locally was the visits by Juan Bautista de Anza in and This remarkable mile expedition is a National Historic Trail and we see local directional signs remembering the groundbreaking adventure. The beginning of the end of rancho history began in when Commodore John D.
Few, including the distant settlement of San Luis Obispo, had any idea of the impact the simple ceremony it was an act of war would bring to the eventual state, to the central coast. The lure of gold unleashed a massive flood of mostly men to inundate and often drown the sparsely populated western edge of the nation.
Centered in San Francisco, the small seaside community of about residents swelled to over 25, in just two years. Soon the port of the Bay City was lined with abandoned vessels as the captains and entire crews left for the gold fields. Relatively isolated from the world of a few gold strikes and many more busts, the central coast benefitted from a new economy but also was plagued by violence during the decade of the s unparalleled in all local history.
With little — if any — assistance from the military, local residents formed a Vigilance Committee to stem the tide of violence and lawlessness. Somehow, there needed to be a semblance of order. Gold Rush Flyer What was considered a military district before statehood — California was never a territory as were other sections of the expanding American empire — originally found mostly some residents and vast rancho properties owned by a few families in the county.
The gold rush not only added wealth and disappointment, it produced an overlay of human activity mostly unregulated by any authority. It was a time of anxiety as well as riches as Californians waited and waited to be welcomed into the national fold.