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Under the Spanish Flag | love San Fernando Valley

4th Largest Unofficial City in America!

Under the Spanish Flag

The Spanish Era (1775-1821)


List of SFV Spanish Era Sites

Fantastic Collection of Old Photos SFV

Activity – around September 1st each year, join a reenactment of the 9 mile walk the original settlers made from Mission San Gabriel to found the tiny village of El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reyna sobre  los Angeles del Rio Porciúncula (The Town of Our Lady the Queen of Angels on the Little Portion River) in 1781.


Background History

This 45 year era begins and ends with the conquest and subjugation of thousands of native people by the most powerful sea exploring nation on earth at the time, Spain. What started in the Caribbean and Mexico would end in Alta (upper) California.

After conquering the Aztec Empire in 1521 (just 30 years after Columbus landed in the Caribbean), Hernan Cortez began making plans to explore the western coasts north of Mexico. They believed at the time that a water passage connected the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans — a shortcut to the Orient. Cortez intended to find it and claim all the land for Spain. Of course, down in his headquarters in Mexico City he had no idea how immense the North American continent is.

It took Cortez 10 years to put his plan into action. He sent out several ships from Acapulco in 1532, but only one made it to Baja (Lower) California.  Cortez founded the first California colony near La Paz at the tip of Baja. After that failed, no sea exploration took place until 1542 when Juan Cabrillo ventured up the coast looking for a safe harbor in Alta (Upper) California. It took 30 days just to reach San Diego Bay, because the strong California current runs south, against a little ship dependent upon wind. Cabrillo missed Monterey and San Francisco Bays. He went as far as the Russian River in northern California. That was enough to claim all that land and the native people living on it for Spain, the most powerful nation on earth at the time.

All the different Indian tribes living along the coast had no knowledge of this. Those who had spotted the ships were probably amazed by their sudden mysterious appearance and disappearance out on the horizon. They became part of that tribe’s folklore. But there was no notion among them that people who had lived in CA for 8,000 years now belonged to a king 6,000 miles away because an unusual ship sailed by!

In 1565, Spain conquered the Philippines. The very next year they began shipping the riches of their plunder across the Pacific to Mexico in the famed Manila galleons. These treasure ships followed the northern currents, naturally ending up along the California coast. The Spanish wanted a safe port to anchor in so the crews could rest and take on supplies before sailing down to Acapulco. But after one explorer shipwrecked along the coast, that was it. Captains didn’t want to venture too close to shore in fear of being sunk. Their ships were dependent upon the winds. Strong gales could force them into the rocks. So for 200 years, the treasure ships passed by avoiding disaster, and close encounters of any kind. They missed discovering San Francisco Bay, which would have provided the kind of shelter they needed.

The native people lived as they always had, unaware of swirling European politics that would soon destroy them. Spain had ignored Alta California as long as no other European country was interested. Then in the 1750s, Russian fur traders expanded into Alaska. They’d discovered that the Chinese paid a fortune for otter and seal pelts. It wasn’t long before the Russian government encouraged them to venture to the mainland. Soon English, French, and American ships showed up, hoping to horn in on the lucrative fur rush. In 1768, King Carlos III of Spain suddenly got serious about securing this land they had claimed back in 1542. He ordered the establishment of permanent settlements and forts to control the fur trade and thwart any claims by other nations. Foreign ships were forbidden to hunt or land in California.

Spanish California Sites

While England and its American colonies were sparring on the east coast, and France was embroiled in war in Europe, Spain was busy fortifying its Pacific coast frontier to keep them all out. The first Spanish to see the San Fernando Valley were part of a military expedition exploring Spain’s most western, far-flung outpost of California. In 1769, Don Gaspar de Portola, the Military Governor of the Californias, was ordered to organize the first land exploration of California. Accompanying him was Father Junipero Serra, the Franciscan president of the missions in Baja. The first colonies in Alta California were to be established in San Diego and Monterey. It was during this expedition that San Francisco Bay was discovered after being missed by hundreds of passing ships. And numerous friendly tribes had their first encounter with a strange race of people, Europeans. They’d never seen anything like them!

As the expedition bushwhacked its way up the coast, news would have traveled by native runners along the route spying on them. Long before the odd-looking aliens showed up in Cahuenga Pass, their presence was known. As they looked down into the San Fernando Valley, the party of 60 Spanish soldiers, monks, and christianized Baja Indians may have seen the village Kaweengna (place of the mountain, today’s Universal Studios). They followed a trail down into the Valley to the large village of Siutcangna (today’s Encino State Park).

The Portola group was welcomed by the Tongva/Kizh villagers living near these warm springs and marshes. The people must have found the Spanish very curious — and the horses and burros even more so. The Spanish liked the oak trees shading the area and called the village El Valle Santa Catalina de Bononia de los Encinos (The Valley of St. Catherine of Bononia of the Oaks). Once they had rested up a few days, the Portola expedition headed off across the plains of the Valley to the lowest point out — Newhall Pass at the far northwest corner. They made their way to the Santa Clarita River, heading north to find Monterey Bay which had been seen 100 years earlier. This close encounter ended peacefully.

In 1781, the Juan Baptista de Anza expedition brought 44 settlers overland from Mexico. They founded El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles de Porciúncula, meaning, in Spanish, “The Town of Our Lady Queen of the Angels on the Little Portion River.”[2]  These 11 families were the civilian core of an agricultural village on the Rio do Porciúncula (later renamed Los Angeles River). They were 10 miles from Mission San Gabriel San Gabriel Arcángel | California Missions Resource Center, the religious center of the region.

The settlers were promised a yearly supply ship as one lifeline. As it turned out, there would be 13 years when none came! Their second lifeline was the trail to Mexico. Unfortunately for them, the Yuma Indians at the Colorado River closed that down for 40 years after the Spanish attacked their villages. So the people in California essentially lived on an island, cut off from the world. They evolved into a different people with a distinct culture.

After being in Alta California for two decades, Spain began rewarding some of its longest-serving soldiers with grants of free land as they retired from military service. These became the foundation of some sizable family fortunes and prestige in the years to come.