Monday, April 2, 2012

The California Presidios


As indicated in previous posts, growing up in Southern California made me aware of its Spanish influence. I knew of the missions but had never heard of “presidios.” The first time I became aware of them was during my Basic Combat Training at Fort Ord, California. [See my earlier posts about military life.] The Special Services Office gave guided tours for we poor recruits – the only way we were permitted to leaved the base before graduation. On a tour to the famous Cannery Row, the guide briefly said something about “The Presidio,” a large, nearby, park-like area.

Then, I was assigned to the Presidio of San Francisco. I then learned that presidio meant a fort of some kind. If there was a museum there, I don't remember it so I don't think I ever delved into the history of the place. I just assumed it came from the Spanish era.

My research into the era for Father Serra's Legacy has taught me what they were and the important role they played in California history.

The above map shows the first presidio established in California located alongside the bay in San Diego. There is very little left of this place that never really reached a stage of building to truly defending against an attack from the sea. It started as a place where sick and dying Spanish soldiers were housed and from where the dead were taken to the nearby cemetary. Over the years, even though it had a reasonable number of soldados de cuera, the name for the soldiers who served in the area literally meaning soldiers of leather jackets, it was never fully manned.

Now that you're curious, these soldiers were lancers and the jackets they wore were of very thick layers of leather that could keep an arrow from inflicting wounds.

As of 1790, a census of the San Diego shows on lieutenant, commanding, one cadet, one sergeant, 5 corporals, and 88 common soldiers with their wives and children. Not exactly a whole lot after being in existence for 21 years!

 
The next presidio to be founded was at Monte Rey [the correct Spanish name of the place] supposed to be the capitol of Upper California. The capitol of both upper and lower California was in Loreto, Baja California that didn't have a presidio!

 
The above picture doesn't seem to be that accurate. It is supposedly from Captain Vancouver's diaries or journal and the location is wrong. First of all, the Monte Rey peninsula is forested with massive, tall pines. Second, the presidio was close to the bay as its purpose was to defend against a naval attack. The items in the picture DO seem to reflect what he would have seen.

Again, in spite of its supposed importance, the garrison never reached the size necessary to defend it. In fact, French pirates came and simply ignored the helpless soldiers, setting off to raid the nearby pueblo or village.

The next to be established was probably the most important in military terms, the Presidio of San Francisco defending the entrance to the huge bay.

 
Again, having lived there, this so-called “historical depiction” seems to be somewhat lacking in accuracy. The fort itself was much closer to the water with long cannon aimed out to sea. The soldiers are not wearing the proper uniforms and it insinuates the Miwok Indians were being herded around like slaves. Again, another example of “politically correct” propaganda about how badly the poor aborigines were treated.

And finally, the fourth presidio, the one at Santa B├írbara. A little bit of reading lets one discover that the fort was actually built well before the mission – very much to Father Serra's disappointment.



Of all the presidios, this was probably the best built and manned. It was not meant to protect a big harbor as there really wasn't one. But, because of winds and currents, it was a regular land fall for Manila Galleons after their arduous voyages across the Pacific. Any ship landing there was well-received and crews were delighted with what the missions friars had to offer. Because of soil and climate, a wide variety of fruits and vegetables were cultivated. Bananas. Figs. Dates. And all of the regular fruits; apples, apricots, peaches, oranges, lemons, limes, etcetera. And fresh vegetables. When Vancouver landed there during one of his voyages, the friar from Mission San Buenaventura brought up a small flock of sheep for provisioning the two ships under his command.



Like all of the presidios – and missions – this fell into disrepair when Mexico gained its independence from Spain and took over California. The above picture was taken in 1880, well after the arrival of Americans and California's inclusion in the United States.
I'm posting it so you can see an example of a building made of adobe with the tile roof.

I hope you enjoy this and my other posts as much as I've enjoyed gathering the information. Until next time – and I have no idea what it will be about!