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Portola's March To Monterey

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 14, 2008 2:27 pm    Post subject: Portola's March To Monterey Reply with quote

A gap of a century and a half elapsed before white men again set foot upon the soil of Monterey.

The Russians were sailing out of their white seas, luxuriating in warm waters, hunting otter and seal, and growing rich in their enterprise. Slowly they were making their way into Spanish territory.

Something had to be done to stop that.

"England has been the nation we have had to keep our eye on," said the Spaniards. "And now come these hairy Russians to annoy us."

A conference in Mexico City was called to consider the new menace. Decision was made to occupy Alta California at once. They called Fray Junipero Serra, Franciscan zealot, with nine years' brilliant service among the Indians in the Sierra Gordas, to meet in La Paz with Don Jose Galvez, visitadot-general. These two, then, were entrusted to plan the entire enterprise, Serra to execute it. At last his dream was come true. Thus the Russian bear became the Franciscan's ally.

The dramatic story of the departure of the expeditions from Mexico for San Diego and Monterey— two by land and two by sea (two, lest one be lost), need not be gone into here. Not until we behold Captain Gaspar de Portola, plumed and caparisoned, riding out of the palisade at San Diego, at the head of his column of dragoons, at last on his way to Monterey. With banners flying and cutlasses flashing in the morning sun, the "leather-jackets," muleteers, pack-mules and subsistence cattle clattered out of camp, July 14, 1769. Sixty-seven souls in all.

Mass had been sung early in the morning for the success of the undertaking, as the last important detail of preparation. Fr. Serra, officiating under the green arbor—entamada that served as California's "First Temple," had bestowed his blessings. Fray Junipero, Padre Presidente, was remaining behind. He had work to do—the Mission and the Presidio of San Diego to be founded. All of his fortitude was summoned, as he watched the command march off to Monterey—the Monterey of his dreams—without him; his farewell words to Fray Francisco Palou, left at San Xavier, ringing in his ears—"Farewell, farewell, until Monterey.” Well, next time he'd go.

As the expedition straightened out for its long trek through the wilderness, we note a remarkable group of men in the column.

The outstanding figures were Don Gaspar, riding ahead; Fray Juan Crespi, diarist; his companion, Fray Francisco Gomez, in the cowl, gown and sandals of St. Francis, jogging along beside him; sometimes riding, most often walking, after the spirit of the Man of Assisi; Captain Fernando Rivera y Moncado, a peppery soul and a good soldier, destined to become governor of the new province. Then there rode a proud son of old Spain, grave Jose Francisco Ortega. Though bearing now only the rank of sergeant, character and brains were soon to win him a high place in the new land. His was the task to ride ahead daily with a group of soldiers, select the passage of easiest resistance, cut away trees and chaparral, ride back to camp, and conduct the expedition forward.

Ortega and his men covered every foot of territory three times, not only from San Diego to Monterey and later to San Francisco, but from Mexico to San Diego—and poorly equipped at that.

Another good soldier, but a domineering fellow, Lieutenant Pedro Fages, jogged along, humming as he rode, rejoicing at his good fortune in being so far north of his wife, the imperious Dona Eulalia. Of both we shall hear more. For Fages became governor of the province ere long, and the amenities demanded that he bring his lady to Monterey—already officially designated the capital of both Californias.

Scurvy, grim specter of travel, whether by land or sea, began to lay its hand upon the explorers. After the third week, we visualize them advancing with litters, neophyte Indians from Lower California bearing the sufferers over the new trails.

Some died, relieving the Indians. Sorrowfully, with full Christian ritual, they were laid away—sometimes by a Castilian rosebush, suggesting happier days in Spain. Always a crude cross at their heads. California's first martyrs to western civilization.

They reach a "high sierra," on the maps of Cabrera Bueno (following Viscaino and other cartographers) as the Santa Lucias. They must make a detour around it. "The roughest part of our journey," says Crespi, diarist of the expedition. More than two months had passed. Food was running low. The Spaniards were not hunters, like the English and Americans—for the country abounded in game. Deer, antelope, elk, and bears—grizzly, brown and black—roamed the hills and valleys; and the sea and rivers held an abundance of fish and water-fowl. One cannot but wonder why they should go hungry in a country so rich in game. Custom and slow adaptability. Spain, not even New Spain, fostered hunting. Bullfights probably filled their psychological needs.

The explorers emerged on October 1st, on a wide plain (now Salinas Valley), yellow with tall mustard, through which they had to cut their way. They made camp within a league and a half of the long-sought-for Bay of Monterey. The prize almost in sight.

Crespi relates that "The commander, the engineer [Costanso] and myself, with five soldiers, went to survey the shore. We ascended a little hill [Mulligan Hill, Engelhardt concludes] and from the summit we beheld a roadstead, or open bay, and we conjectured that it was the one Cabrera Bueno put between Point Ano Nueva and Point Pinos de Monterey. For we saw this point covered with tall pines and it must be that the Port of Monterey is near it."

Portola moved his camp across the Salinas, marched south-southeast, and camped near one of the lagoons on grounds now occupied by Hotel Del Monte. Later the cavalcade moved over the hill to Carmel River, to extend the search for Monterey Bay, unrecognized at close view. Besides, here was fresh water.

For six trying days the explorers strained their eyes and their equanimity, trying to discover the bay. And there lay the bay before them. "They couldn't see the forest for the trees."

Says Bancroft, "believing, yet doubting, they look out over the bay and harbor of Monterey, then pass on, wondering, “Where is Monterey?"

It must be taken partly in explanation of what appears to have been crass stupidity that the latitudes failed to tally, owing to faulty instruments; also that the explorers were on the ground in summer, when the rivers and "criks" in California, as everybody knows, sink underground; and that Viscaino had made his observations in December and January, amid heavy rains and storms, when the rivers run full. And his maps, which guided Cabrera Bueno, now in Portola's hands, showed "a ravine watered by a rivulet, flowing into a sheltered cove south of Point Pinos." (Viscaino's Landing Place.)

"But where is the rivulet?" they ask each other. Perhaps too tight a belt and too deep a weariness had slowed down their imaginations. But not their courage, however, as events of the next day or two proved.

"Who knows but the sands have filled up the bay, since Viscaino was here," says one; then another. But that would be a poor alibi to offer the king. On that point all were agreed. Their task was to find the port.

So on October 4th—St, Francis Day—Portola called a council solemnly to decide what should be done—to push on, and find Monterey Bay further north, or to return and confess failure.

More scurvy, less food, clothing torn to tatters by underbrush, the horses and pack-mules worn out, and a long way from home. And no news of the supply-boat San Jose. That was the crowning blow. No news of her since she sailed from San Bias with provisions, clothing, medicines, seeds and cattle for the Missions and Presidios to be founded. It was years before the truth grew upon them that the San Jose was lost, with all on board. "Hope practised is hope increased."

Fathers Crespi and Gomez intoned the Mass in honor of the feast day of the radiant "Troubadour of the Lord," whose habit they wore. All attended, even the sick. They were set down by the Indians under the shade of the emamada, near the altar, on their litters of fragrant pines.

"Let every man speak his mind," said Portola, a fair-minded, brave, understanding leader. "Speak up, men, so that whatever is done is the wish of all."

A frank discussion ensued, in which none of the difficulties were depreciated, none exaggerated. The decision was unanimous. "Push on! Monterey Bay, if not obliterated by sand or earth convulsion, must be farther north. Who can tell?"

Crespi's note is interesting, sounding the spirit of the command: "All the officers unanimously voted that the journey be continued as the only expedient that remained, in the hope, with the favor of God, of reaching Monterey and finding in it the packet-boat San Jose, which would relieve all necessities. And that if God should permit that all perish, we shall have complied with our duty to God and to men, while working together till death, or success of the enterprise entrusted to us."

"Greater love than this no man hath," So three days after the die had been cast, the march north was taken up.

Don Gaspar lifted his sword, glinting in the early sun, and the cavalcade fell into motion. They crossed the bar at the mouth of Carmel River, followed the hollows and hills, and reached their former camp near the lagoon in Monterey. They reconnoitered near Point Pinos. Still no recognition of the bay. The latitudes failed to agree, the rivulet at the landing place was not to be seen. Bone dry, and filled with dead leaves.

Each day's march was a repetition of its predecessor —disappointment, hope, death, hope. Anxious scouting hourly. Now from the shore, now from the hilltop, "Not yet. Farther on!"

They reached a mass of "lofty hills," says Crespi, "that impede our progress. Sergeant Ortega took some men with him to cut a road down the declivity. When we reached the summit," he goes on, "we beheld a grand bay formed by a point of land which runs far out into the ocean, and appears to be an island. And to the west-northwest, six or seven white fatallones — rocky islets— are seen. And following the shore of the bay, some white cliffs are distinguishable."
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