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Anza, Juan Bautista de

The Anza-Borrego Desert State Park was named for the Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza  and the Borrego Cimarron big horn sheep.

In 1769, Fray Francisco Garces, a Franciscan of Mission San Xaxier del Bac (on one of his many explorations of Alta California), traveled from Sonora (now Arizona) through the Imperial Valley (now California). From a place near Yuha Well, he spotted a gap in the San Jacinto Mountains leading north.

Garces reported his observation to Don Juan Bautista de Anza, captain of the presidio at Tubac, Sonora, who was determined to find a land route to supply the missions and ports of San Diego and Monte Rey, and to facilitate colonization of California. This was Anza's first indication from a reliable source that there might be a land route from Tubac to California... and the inspiration to request permission from Spain to fund exploration.

Anza's first expedition of 34 persons left Tubac on January 8th, 1774.  Fortunately, they were joined before departure from Tubec by Sebastian Tarabal, a Native Baja Californian. Tarabel had just arrived from Mission San Gabriel in California, having traveled through the San Jacinto Mountains, across the Borrego and Imperial desert valleys, to Tubac. The information supplied Anza by Sebastian Tarabal gave him the information he needed to cross the San Jacinto mountain range. The expedition did, indeed, travel through the Borrego Valley, through Coyote Canyon, over San Carlos Pass, and arrived at San Gabriel on March 22. 1774.

The second expedition led by Anza originated at Culiacan, Mexico, with colonists drawn from the state of Sinaloa. 240 rugged individuals (men, women and children) left Tubec on October 23, 1775. Fr. Pedro Font was chosen to be the diarist and observer, and was fortunate to be able to report one of the important occurrences in California's pioneer history.. a child was born on Christmas Eve,  December 24, 1775, to Maria Gertrudis Rivas, wife of one of Anza's soldiers, Ignacio Linares, at a place called Upper Willows in what is now the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.   On Christmas Day, Fr. Font baptized the child, naming him Salvador Ignacio.  Leaving Lower Willows on December 26, the expedition traveled on though what Anza had named the Royal Pass of San Carlos and dropped down into the San Jacinto Valley, arriving at Mission San Gabriel de Arcangel on January 4, 1776.

The following is from an article I found in the December, 1964, Desert Magazine.

Borrego's Christmas Angel by Karl von Voightlander

It was the day before Christmas in the year 1775.  A trail-weary mother pointed to a strange apparition on the mountain to the northwest and screamed, "Madre de Dios!  Look Father, an angel!  An angel points.   Surely it's a good omen.  Perhaps it points to water."

The emigrants chattered and gesticulated toward the etched figure, but Father Pedro Font smiled grimly.  He knew, as did Captain Juan Bautista De Anza, leader of the expedition, that water would be found ahead if the exhausted emigrants had the strength to reach it.  While the haggard colonists peered hopefully into the pale, bond-chilling December dawn of the Anza-Borrego Desert, the padre hoped that this woman's superstition might provide that strength.

This migration, the first to travel an inland route from Mexico to California, was the culmination of dreams and work of both clergy and military.   Franciscan Fathers hoped for a land route to reach their missions on the lush green coast of California and Captain De Anza, after a reconnaissance to map camp sites and water holes, believed it feasible.

The emigrant party set out from Sinaloa.  As they progressed northward from village to village, the exciting news rippled ahead.  At last the band numbered 240 person, 140 pack mules, 25 mules for personal possessions, 500 horses and 350 beeves for food.  Under the command of De Anza were 38 soldiers, many with families that included children.

Behind Father Font and De Anza, the caravan of men and beasts stretched along the trail.  What thoughts must have crossed the minds of these ragged people as the covered the  1000-mile trail, listening to Father Font drone his daily Alabado!  Soldiers rode back and forth along the dusty line prodding straggles while Lt. Moraga, with a sharp eye open for marauding Indians, commanded the rear guard with muskets primed and ready.

In the beginning the trip was pleasant.  There were lush grasses along river banks for grazing and sometimes a gift of watermelon from friendly savages.  But after the great Colorado was crossed their trail became known as Camino Del Diablo for good reason.  Saddle and pack animals died from lack of water, leaving colonists to stagger afoot through the deep desert sands.  One woman, Senora Gertrude Lenares, now obviously pregnant, had to bear her burden as best she could.

If lucky, they drank from pools of stagnant water deposited by flash floods.  Yuma Indians were friendly; others they avoided.  Sometimes, when firewood was plentiful and frijoles scented the evening air, the colonists sang and danced and talked of the homes they hoped to establish in California.  After particularly wearying days, De Anza ordered up the rum.  Then, despite the stern visaged Father Font, gay fandangos swirled under the glittering sky and romances budded between soldiers and senoritas.

But always the child carried by Senora Lenares grew larger.   That they may not make their destination in time worried De Anza.

In December the travelers reached Superstition Mountain.   Their last, and cruelest, trial lay ahead.  Mirages wavering in the heat, plagued them.  Forage was scarce and food supplies dwindled, but uppermost in each mind was a fear that desperately needed water might not be found.

Father Font and Captain De Anza urged the straggling line forward, sometimes with excessive pressure.  But De Anza could be tender too, as was proven by his consideration for Senora Lenares who must very shortly give birth to her child.  At last the pitiful band reached the valley in the cupped bowl of the San Ysidro, Santa Rosa and Vallecito mountains.  Ahead to the west frowned the twin peaks of Toro Mountain, snow crowned and still to be conquered.  Thirsty, hungry and bone tired, the emigrants wrapped themselves in rags and huddled together for the night.   It was the next morning's dawn when the superstitious woman's good omen gave them hope enough to move forward again.  Through ocotillo, catsclaw and greasewood they pressed until dusk, when a great shout resounded from the vanguard.  "A miracle, a miracle in the desert.!"

Water burbled down the canyon now known as Coyote Canyon.   It tinkled over rocks, soaked marshy cienegas and riffled tender sprigs of water cress before it disappeared again into desert sand.  Some of the expedition credited it to the good omen, but most of them fell to their knees and thanked God.

That night, on Christmas eve of 1775, Senora Lenares was delivered of one of the first white children to be born in California.  A day later the emigrants resumed their journey to the Pacific.

The desolate valley cupped in mountains in now a lively community.  Tourists from all over the country enjoy the peace and tranquil beauty of Borrego Springs.  And the strange scar on the mountain still exists.  To some it resembles an angel.  Others today believe it more closely resembles a golfer about to address a ball, for the figure points toward one of the most beautiful golf courses in San Diego county, the De Anza Desert Country Club, where winter sun that once sparkled on De Anza's silver-lipped helmet now benignly toasts a golden blonde.

Further Information on Anza

Anza Trail History from the National Park Service

Juan Bautista de Anza Blazed the Anza Trail from DesertUSA

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Website and photos,( unless otherwise noted) by Kat Gibson, POB 147, Borrego Springs, California 92004
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