Tag-Archive for » colonization «

Dirt (Part 3)

The policy imposed by the Missions was that the Indians should work, tend the fields and care for the animals. This was a concept that they didn’t like or understand. (Locally, the Indians never had permanent settlements in the valley and their gods Eagle, Hummingbird and Coyote lived in the mountains—Eagle on Mt. Diablo and Hummingbird on Mt. Umunhum.) The Missions also separated the unmarried Indian men and women at night, another concept they didn’t like.

In the dry summers of the early 1800s, Mission Santa Clara’s Franciscan fathers needed water for the fields, so they sent a detachment of Indians down to the confluence of Los Gatos and Guadalupe creeks—where the San Jose Arena stands today—to dig a canal, or water ditch. The “acequia,” was three “varas” wide by one and one-half deep, or nine feet by four and one-half feet. The ditch ran on the northeast side of what is today’s Alameda, making five distinct turns on its course to the Mission Santa Clara fields. It was a navigable body of water, deep enough for small boats to travel upon. In order to keep the Indians working, soldier guards were posted near them.

In the early days, there were artesian wells to irrigate the fields. All types of crops were introduced by the Mission fathers: apricots, peaches, mission figs, olives, wheat and vegetables. In 1821, Mexico declared its independence from Spain and the Missions were secularized—that is, the Mission lands were taken and given to the local ranchos. The original intent was to give the land to the Indians, but they didn’t want it. There was one exception in this area. Land was given to “Roberto,” who built an adobe on what is now Lincoln Avenue. But he kept the grant for only two years and then he sold it.

Gold was discovered in California in 1848 and the world stormed here. Among the early seekers were Frenchman Louis Pellier and Swiss immigrant Giochino Yocco. As partners, these two men sought their fortune in the northern mines near Redding, but they were unsuccessful. Gold mining was cold, hard work and only one in every five miners made expenses. Giving up, Pellier and Yocco traveled to San Francisco where they were surprised to find that apples were selling for a dollar apiece. Pellier had experience as a farmer in France, so they came to San Jose together, acquired property west of Market Street and south of St. John Street, and started City Gardens Nursery where they planted apricot, pear and peach cuttings.

Louis’s younger brother, Pierre, joined him, but soon became lonesome for his fiancée back in France. Louis sent him back to get married and return with prune, pear and grape cuttings. This was the start of the great fruit industry that thrived in the modest climate and rich soil. The dominant orchard tree was the French prune, or “Petite Prun d’Angen.” It could be harvested, dipped in a lye solution, and dried in the sun. Vineyards ringed the foothills to the east, south and west. The fruit industry boomed and canneries prospered. And the sun shone!

Dirt (Part 2)

The Spaniards—a mixture of Spanish, Basque and Indians—were the first Europeans to settle here in the Santa Clara Valley. Captain Juan de Anza, a Basque, led what I believe is the greatest migration in local history. He left the garrison town of Tabac, in what is now southern Arizona, in the dead of winter 1775-76, with 241 men, women and children. They were to arrive in California with 242; one woman died during childbirth and two were born on the harrowing, three month, overland journey. Because water was so scarce in the Sonoran and Mojave deserts that the party had to cross, de Anza split the party into two divisions so that the limited waterholes would have a chance to recharge.

Why were the Spaniards in California? The answer is twofold. In 1496, Pope Alexander IV divided the world into two parts because of conflict between Spain and Portugal who were trying to get to the riches of China and the Orient. With dominion over the Philippines, Spanish galleons sailed from Manila loaded with silks, spices and treasures by the Great Circle Route, eventually coming down the west coast on the Humboldt Current to Acapulco. The goods were then transported across Mexico and shipped onward to Spain.

It was a dangerous journey. The sailors often suffered from scurvy, and pirates, like Sir Francis Drake, tried to intercept the galleons off the west coast. The Spanish administration proposed that the Manila galleons put in at California ports to restock with fresh vegetables, but usually the captains preferred to continue, being so close to their destination. Another threat was the Russians who came down from Alaska and established Fort Ross in northern California.

In order to reduce the threats, the Spanish colonized lower and central California. Catholic priests were sent to convert the local Indians, attempting to educate them to become Mexican citizens and eventually take ownership over the lands. Unfortunately, the task proved too difficult as the Indians had no concept of land “ownership” and didn’t want it.

Before the Spanish came, the Indians were living quite well on acorn mush, acorns being plentiful in the Llano de Robles, plain of the oaks. There were fish in the streams—salmon, trout and steelhead—and lots of small and large frogs and birds. The streams ran year round and the weather was mild, so the Indians didn’t need to build permanent shelters, like their counterparts in the northwest and southwest.

In order to put their plan for the Indians in place, the mission system was introduced by the Spanish, bringing the concepts of permanent settlement and agriculture to the Native Americans. Next week, I’ll tell how the dirt under our feet became the foundation of this new agricultural economy.