Californians and the Military
Capitán Fernando Xavier de Rivera y Moncada
Military Governor of Alta California, 1773-1777
by Michael R. Hardwick
Doña Rivera Maria Teresa Dávalos y Patrón (center) Capitán Fernando Xavier de Rivera y Moncada (center) and a Soldado de Cuera con su Escopeta (right) (The Drawings of Ignacio Tirsch: A Jesuit Missionary in Baja California. Narrative by Doyce B. Bunis, Jr. Translation by Elsbeth Schulz-Bischof, Dawson's Book Shop, Los Angeles, 1972.)

1742: Fernando de Rivera began military service when he is but 17. Rivera came from Compostela. His father, Don Cristobal de Rivera y Mendoza, held office in Compostela, first as public and royal notary and then as alcalde ordinario, or municipal magistrate. When Fernando was about 9, his father died. This changed the family financial status. The estate was divided among eleven children. The family need for money probably influenced his military enlistment at an early age. (1)

Common Soldier: Beginning in 1742 at age 18, Rivera served for six years under Teniente Pedro de la Riva in the escuadra del Sur, the southern detachment of the Presidio Loreto. He was assigned as a soldier-escort at Todos Santos on an off-and -on basis. At Todos Santos he came to know Joseph Harris, an Englishman and fellow soldier, and his young son, Ignacio. Rivera's friendship with the son continued for nearly 40 years. (2)

Dark horse: In early 1751, Rivera had no other rating than soldier. His fellow soldiers, who had rubbed shoulders with him for years, must have been astonished by his elevation to captaincy of Loreto...there is no indication that this nomination had been made public before the vicregal appointment reached California.

Captaincy: With the help of the Jesuits, viceroy, the Conde de Revillagigedo made the following appointment:

"The command and administration of the presidial company require firmness, courage, prudence and other endowments for their best fulfillment conducted in the interests of both majesties. The father visitor, the rectors, and all the missionaries agree in proposing to me that Don Fernando de Rivera y Moncada be appointed to the vacancy. He is qualified in all the desired ways, principally for Christian conduct, temperance, knowledge of the land and of the habits of the Indians. He has traveled every part, from the south to the latest conquest in the north, attending to his duties as sergeant. He took part in the subjugation of the Uchiti nation which had rebelled and in that expedition confirmed and added to the many proofs of his good conduct.

As your reverence wishes, and in consideration of his merits, I agree to name him as captain, believing that this will best serve their majesties and the advancement of Christianity in these Islands of California." (3)

Ocio-Jesuit conflict: Manuel de Ocio was a self-made entrepreneur and rival to the missionaries for the peninsula's useful land. As captain at Loreto, Rivera's de facto role was to implement Jesuit plans to expand their mission system, as well as to maintain the status quo at older establishments. With the captaincy, however, Rivera also acquired the traditional auxiliary roles of governor and judge over the civilian population. Rivera's double role was suspect in the eyes of Rivera was hand picked by the Jesuits.

Between 1750 and the Jesuit expulsion in 1768, California affairs were dominated by the actions and rivalry of Ocio and Rivera. (4)

Installation as Captain of Loreto: In July 1751, a few months before his 27th birthday, Rivera was installed as captain of the presidio of Loreto. During the ceremony Rivera was presented with a baston, or staff with a silver handle, as a symbol of his authority. In March 1753, Rivera received royal confirmation of his appointment. (5)

The following accouterments were ordered by him for his new position (6):
A well-made musket with good quality sheath
A pair of flared-barrel pistols
A dress rapier, not too broad, with handguard and other usual parts inlaid with silver
A cutlass decorated in silver
A riding coat of crimson velvet well provided with eyelets
A pleated coat in the military style
Two and a half yards of blue velvet
Four widths of Brittany linen
Six dozen heavy silver buttons

Character: More than a dozen documents survive that Rivera wrote during his first two or three years as captain. He is a man with a reasonably good education. His penmanship was firm and distinguished. His ideas were expressed economically and with conviction in a terse and businesslike style. He seems to addressed himself to matters at hand with economy and directness. (7)

He was not the equal, in ability and force, of such men as Fages and Neve, but he was popular and left among the old California soldiers a better reputation probably than any of his contemporaries. He was killed by Indians at Yuma July 17, 1781. Alvarado, (Hist. Cal. MS ii. 106-7) says that his memory was long honored by anniversary funeral masses at San Diego, and that Gov. Echeandia in 1825 proposed a monument in his honor. (8)

1750-1767: In 1750, at the death of Captain Bernardo Rodriguez Lorenzo, Rivera was named his successor as captain of the presidio of Loreto. He took an active part in Ferdinand Consag's famous expeditions of 1751 and 1753. He also accompanied Wenceslaus Linck's lengthy expedition of 1765 and supplied escort for Linc's 1766 exploration of the San Felipe area. During the Jesuit expulsion of 1767 acting under orders of Portola, he helped assemble the Jesuits for their journey to Europe and took an active part in the transfer of Jesuit properties to the Franciscans. (9)

Jesuit campaigns: Rivera accompanied Ferdinand Consag on his epoch-making expeditions and served with Wenceslaus Linck, the last great Jesuit explorer of the Baja peninsula. Rivera also helped to establish the last three and northern-most mission enters: Santa Gertrudis in 1752, San Borja in 1762, and Santa Maria in 1767. (10)

1769: Fernando de Rivera appointed to command the party that would scout out a land route to San Diego. Rivera's troop was made up of 25 of his own soldiers from the presidio Loreto. His troop was supported by over 40 neophytes recruited from northerly missions of Santa Maria and San Borja. Rivera established a northern base at Velicata...the site that the captain and Padre Linck had discovered three years before. In late March 1769, Rivera's group headed northwest to break trail, establish camp sites, herd livestock, and generally prepare the way for Portola's party, which was to follow in 3 weeks. Food was short, and the neophytes were expected to forage for most of what they needed. Many neophytes died along the way...more deserted. (11)

Rivera left Santa Ana in September . on his way northward he visited each mission a accumulated livestock and the needed supplies. Rivera accumulated some 140 head of horses, 46 mules, and 200 head of cattle. Supplies included 54 aparejos (pack saddles), 28 leather bags, 1 case of bottles, 28 arrobas of figs, 1 bale and 4 arrobas of sugar, 340 arrobas tasajo (dried meat)...flour, pinole, wheat, raisins, biscuits, lard, jugs and bottles of wine...Galvez sent implements and seeds. Rivera reached Velicata before December 20. This was to be his base camp. (12)

Rivera and 25 soldados de cuera or cuirassiers from the presidio of Loreto, priest Juan Crespi, the masters mate, Jose Carizares, three mulateers, and a band of Christianized natives left Velicata in March. This land division was termed the first division. They traveled for some 51 days and covered 121 leagues to San Diego. (13)

Rivera set out from Velicata on March 24, 1769. Indians were equipped with pick, shovel, ax, and crowbar, to open roads through the mountains and across gullies. Father Juan Crespi was principal historian of the expedition. Rivera's men were declared to be 'the best horsemen in the world, and among those soldiers who best earn their bread from the august monarch whom they serve'... For the first eight days the trail was that followed by the Jesuit Father Linck, three years before. Thereafter, a distance of three hundred miles, the route was now explored by white men for the first time...On the 15th of May [1769], the day after Rivera and Crespi reached San Diego, Portola and Serra set out from Velicata. (14)

After arriving in San Diego, Rivera a day after his arrival selected a new site for a permanent settlement. The site was at the foot of a hill on which are still to be seen the old presidio. A camp was pitched and fortified, a corral was built for the animals, and a few rude huts were built. On May the 17th the sick were transported to the new camp with their tents. For 6 weeks all were occupied attending to the wants of the sick and in unloading the San Antonio. (15)

July 1769: Before the new arrivals at San Diego had recovered from their saddle sores and scurvy, Rivera became a member of a military party that set forth northward, July 14, 1769, to discover the port of Monterey. Missing the seaport, the expedition traveled beyond it to the San Francisco area, and finally returned to San Diego on January 24, 1770. Here, supplies being scarce, Rivera was sent south with 40 men to get supplies from the Baja missions. (16)

1770: Early in 1770 it became clear that certain ambiguities in Galvez instructions to Rivera y Moncada and to Lt. Pedro Fages (commander of the Catalan Volunteers that had replaced the proposed militia) would require Fages to remain as commander at Monterey; the Captain would obviously have to reside somewhere else, and was left with no official reason for taking part or credit in the new foundation. Rivera the sole American among officers of the expedition, was the only one to be passed over in the resulting promotions. He had always been popular with his men, but he was now forced to leave many of them under the command of Fages, who worked them unmercifully and openly despised and mistrusted them. (17)

February 12, 1770: Rivera was sent with forty men to Lower California so that he could obtain supplies from the missions there. During his absence the San Antonio put into port; San Diego was saved; and some of the pioneers proceeded northward to found Monterey. (18)

March 2, 1770: Rivera wrote the Viceroy from Lower California. He requested permission to retire on grounds of pains and bad health brought on by his advancing years, the frigid northern climates to which he had been recently exposed, and the toil of 28 years service. A year later he referred to himself as being still sick and as thin as a string. As it happened, however, a short period of retirement to his native district on the mainland of New Spain landed him in debt, and the government, being informed of the fact and in need of and officer to succeed Fages in the distant Monterey establishments, offered to reinstate Rivera in the service if he would take the job. (19)

1771: After Rivera left for lower California in February of 1770, it took him several months to gather and bring the needed supplies, cattle, and soldiers for the Upper California enterprise. After this he made at least one more such expedition from Lower California to the "new establishments" for on July 18, 1771, five days after Fages landed in San Diego from Monterey, 60 mules, 20 soldiers, and 5 cowboys arrived there, brought up from Lower California by Captain Rivera on Fages' orders. (20)

Shortly afterwards Rivera returned to the mainland and bought a small farm near Guadalajara, where he intended to spend the rest of his life with his family. His wife, Dona Maria Teresa Davalos y Patron had four children; daughter Isabel, who died very young, and three sons; Juan Bautista, Jose Nicolas Maria, and Luis Gonzaga Franciso Javier Maria. Juan Bautista, the oldest boy, became parish priest of the church in the town of La Magdalena, near Guadalajara.

Rivera and his family remained together until the latter part of 1773 when Don Fernando was appointed military governor of upper California. Serra had become dissatisfied with Fages as the military governor, finding him and obstacle to the progress of the missions and to the moral conduct of the soldiers. Serra pressed Bucareli to replace Fages with Sergeant Jose Francisco Ortega. The viceroy agreed to remove Fages, but objected to Ortega because of his low rank and named Rivera y Moncada to that position instead. (21)

1773: After a conference between Viceroy Bucareli and Father Serra, Rivera was appointed military governor of California to replace Fages with whom Serra found much fault. Late in 1773 Rivera left for his new post, traveling via Guadalajara, Tepic, and Sinaloa, to recruit some fifty or so settlers in route. Sailing across the Gulf of California from the mouth of the Yaqui, he arrived in Loreto in March, 1774. Thence he rode horseback the entire distance from Loreto to Monterey, more than 1200 miles by the then-extant trails, where he arrived on March 23, 1774. From that date until he was relieved on February 3, 1777, Rivera occupied an "impossible" position with multiple unsolvable problems - too few soldiers, bad morale, rebellious Indians, inadequate supplies, not enough animals for transportation, no pay, ill-defined authority and responsibility and many stubborn missionaries, who had no authority and ill-defined responsibility. During this period, planned extension of the mission system was slowed by lack of soldiers and supplies. (22)

In reality, neither Serra nor Rivera was to blame for the tragedies which befell California during Rivera's governorship; instead these were the work of higher officials, beginning with the king of Spain and the viceroy in Mexico, who sent insufficient military protection and financial assistance. To guard a vast region, Rivera had fewer than 60 soldiers, poorly armed and provisioned and often unpaid. Rivera, himself was deprived of his salary during the last seven years of his life. When he was sent to Monterey in 1773, Rivera's brother Ambrosio generously shouldered the maintenance of the entire family, sending Isabel to the Colegio de San Diego in Guadalajara, and the oldest boy, Juan Bautista, to the diocesan seminary in the same city, and probably educating the other two boys also, at least privately. Don Ambrosio was never repaid, for neither Rivera nor any of his relatives received any part of his salary, which on paper amounted to 3,000 pesos a year. (23)

1774: On November 23, 1774, six months after reaching Upper California, Rivera set out from Monterey with Father Francisco Palou with soldiers to explore the area and select appropriate sites for presidio, town, and two missions. They returned to Monterey, December 13, 1774. Although their expedition was successful, nearly 2 years elapsed before either the presidio or the mission of San Francisco could be established.

Rivera was convinced that he could not spare enough soldiers for founding and holding the new post. The same was true of San Buenaventura to be established near the Santa Barbara Channel. With some difficulty Serra and Rivera compromised by founding San Juan Capistrano, between San Diego to the south and San Gabriel to the north. (24)

November 5, 1775: An Indian uprising at San Diego Mission resulted in the death of Father Luis Jaime, and two other workers. This happened while Lieutenant Ortega and a group of soldiers of the San Diego presidio were away helping found the mission of San Juan Capistrano. When news of the disaster reached Rivera, he had just written to viceroy Bucareli, telling him that all was peaceful in Upper California.

Hitherto Rivera had always tried to study only one problem at a time and at great leisure. In the present circumstances he was faced with complex tasks too great to cope with: to find the culprits of the San Diego attack, to pacify the natives of the area, and to effect the establishment of the presidio and missions of San Francisco. By his conduct he alienated Anza, the one man who could have helped him in all three tasks. Both military leaders wrote numerous reports to the viceroy, each blaming the other; and both received severe rebukes for delaying the founding of San Francisco. To understand Rivera's strange treatment of Anza, it must be remembered that Rivera was physically ill at the time, angry and deeply offended because Anza had belittled his merits. Above all Rivera was much disturbed because Father Vincent Fuster had declared him excommunicated on the ground that he had violated ecclesiastical asylum by removing the chief culprit of the San Diego disaster, Carlos, from the mission warehouse serving temporarily as a church (25)

November 1775: Serra and Rivera quarreled over the policy to be followed after the Indian uprising at San Diego on November 5, 1775. Serra felt that mildness in punishing potential neophytes was simple common sense; only through mildness could missionaries hope to get at the Indians and transform them into a Christian and therefore presumably more peaceful folk. Governor Rivera's military instinct and sense of responsibility for the security of the land, on the other hand, urged him to cow the savages with reprisals so frightful they would not soon forget them. He was overruled. (26)

As a result of Rivera's efforts to recapture an Indian miscreant, who had sought ecclesiastical asylum in the church at San Diego de Alcala ? (this may have been at the San Diego Presidio), Rivera was excommunicated, on somewhat shaky grounds, by Father Vicente Fuster, O.F.M. (27)

1775: The governorship of the Californias was granted to Filepe de Neve. Viceroy Bucareli formally notified Neve of this on December 20, 1775.. Neve had been in Loreto, the capital of the Californias, for nearly ten months by this time. Letters announcing Neve's appointment were sent to Father Vicente Mora, O.P., president of the Dominicans, to Father Junipero Serra, O.F.M., president of the Franciscans in Upper California, and to Captain Fernando de Rivera y Moncada who had been sub-governor under Felipe Barri (Neve's predecessor as governor). Barri had not maintained good relations with the Dominicans who had taken over the Jesuit missions in Lower California. The relationship between Governor Neve and Rivera was spelled out in the instructions prepared by Viceroy Bucareli and sent to Neve along with his letter of appointment. Rivera was to be subordinate to Neve only to the extent that he was required to send Neve full reports; in every real sense, he was to be directly under the viceroy's command as much as was Neve himself. (28)

December 1775: On December 16, Rivera set out from Monterey for San Diego. En route he met Anza who returned to San Diego with him. Rivera insisted on punishing with exemplary severity the Indians who had attacked the mission. (29)

January 1776: It appears as if Rivera was at the Presidio of San Diego for the period January 11 through October 11, 1776 (about 10 months). The refuge incident occurred in February 1776. Engelhardt (1929: 72-73) also makes it clear that this building was located at the Presidio's permanent home, and not at the other site. Quoting Lasuen in this matter, he noted the following claim about the structure (P.74): "I have always averred and repeat it now, that this is the church of the presidio..." (30)

May 1776: Rivera's somewhat irrational behavior in his conferences and correspondence with Anza (late April and early May, 1776) can be better understood when it is realized that he was not only profoundly upset by his possibly unjust excommunication, but also that he was suffering from fever, dizziness, and a pain in his thigh. This physical condition probably was the result of an earlier, poorly-set leg fracture by which, incidentally, his bones were identified in late 1781 after his death at the hands of the Yumas. Despite Rivera's opposition, on rather good military grounds, the San Francisco colony was established in late summer and fall of 1776 with Lieutenant Jose Joaquin Moraga in active command. (31)

September 1776: San Francisco was finally founded in the fall of 1776- the presidio on September 17 and the mission on October 9. Jose Joaquin Moraga was the actual founder, Serra, Rivera, and Anza were absent. On November 20, 1776, Rivera set out from Monterey for his third and last expedition to San Francisco. He approved the sites chosen for the presidio and mission, and then with Moraga, he explored the entire area around San Francisco, choosing the site for the second mission. He directed the founding of Santa Clara on January 12, 1777. No doubt he would have remained even longer if messengers had not arrived to inform him that hostile Indians had attacked the mission of San Luis Obispo. Fearful of another San Diego tragedy, he hastened to San Luis Obispo. There he found that the Indians had burned the mission church and 2 other buildings. Meanwhile Moraga had reported to Rivera that the presidio and mission of San Francisco had also suffered Indian attacks. In light of these events, is it any wonder that Rivera should have felt his policy of prudent expansion justified! (32)

February 1777: Rivera turned over the governorship of California to Neve. On March 3, 1777, Rivera set off for the south, escorted by six soldiers who were to accompany him as far as San Diego. Neve was the fourth Spanish administrator to hold office at Monterey. Portola (1769-1770); Fages (1770-1774); Rivera (1774-1776). The capital of California had been in Loreto and it was there in the old peninsula that the true governor of the Californias resided. Neve was the first man with the full title of Governor of the Californias to be directly charged with the administration of the new northern area. (33)

December 1779: At Gov. Neve's request, Rivera left presidio Loreto with orders from Croix to recruit 24 settlers and 59 soldiers for founding of Los Angeles. He proceeded to Guaymas and then to Arispe, Sonora where he conferred with Croix on his orders. (34)

Croix sent long and detailed instructions to Rivera as to how he was to go about the task of recruitment. Rivera was authorized to offer prospective colonists daily rations valued at two reales, and a monthly salary of 10 pesos - these to be a free gift, and to continue for three years. Military recruits who enjoyed a better income and were on a different footing, would, however, be expected to repay in full whatever was expended on them. This would be done by "prudent discounts" of their pay. Instructions made it clear that rations would be paid in money wherever the colonists had a chance to buy provisions on their own. During the passage through the deserts where money would be of no use to them, however, rations would be supplied in kind. (35)

February 1780: Rivera marched to Horcasitas from Arispe and signed on 25 recruits for California (3 Sgts; 2 Cpls; 20 Soldados). He was ordered to recruit from the provinces of Ostimuri, Sinaloa, and to go beyond the Provincias Internas, as far as Guadalajara if he had to. (36)

February 5, 1780: Leaving Horcasitas he marched to the rich mining town of Los Alamos. Here merchants came forward to sell horses, mules, cattle, and other supplies. Here Rivera commissioned Alferez Manuel Garcia Ruiz to distribute supplies and rations to the new soldiers of the Crown. Marching out of Los Alamos, Rivera went to Villa del Fuerte where he signed on more recruits. (37)

May 29, 1780: Rivera arrived La Villa de Sinaloa. Here he signed on the first poblador for Los Angeles, May 30, 1780. Then he went on to Culican where more people were signed on. By August 1, Rivera had 45 soldiers and 7 settlers. The final stop was Rosario where he had just about completed the number of colonists needed for Alta Calif. (38)

November 1780: Rivera turned back to Los Alamos. At Los Alamos Rivera organized the expedition to go north. He got his 59 soldiers, but was only able to sign up 14 settlers. Orders from Croix specified that the Captain would separate the party into two divisions at Alamos and then proceed as follows.

Zuniga was to take 17 soldiers and (46?) settlers from Alamos west past Navajoa down to the mouth of the Mayo River to the Bay of Santa Barbara. Here they would board launches to cross the Sea of Cortez to Loreto. Zuniga's party proceeded up the coast to la Bahia de San Luis de Gonzaga, then to mission Sta. Maria, up to mission Velicata, then on to San Diego. It took Zuniga some 6 months travel before he arrived in San Diego. Seven of his soldier recruits were given up to the San Diego Presidio to replace 7 more who were to be assigned to the new Santa Barbara Presidio. Zuniga got to San Gabriel in August with his party. Rivera's party arrived there earlier in July under Lt. Gonzales and Alferez Arguello.

Rivera took 42 soldados de cuera (30 of them with families) and left Los Alamos in April. He stopped at Pitic and Horcasitas...then he followed Anza's trail to Tubac. From there he went to the mission San Xavier del Bac. (here he wrote dispatches to Croix, dated April 18 and 20)...then he went on to Tuscon and to the Gila River (last dispatch to Croix dated April 29)...following the Gila on to the Colorado. (39)

In late 1780 and early 1781, Rivera now on the mainland and in compliance with his orders, had recruited many soldiers and settlers needed for the new settlements in Alta California. The settlers were sent by sea to Loreto- one group went north by sea under command of Alferez Ramon Lasso del la Vega, to Bahia San Luis Gonzaga; the second group followed overland under command of Lt. Jose Zuniga. From the San Luis Bay both groups rode overland through San Diego; all arrived safely at mission San Gabriel by August 18, 1781. Meanwhile, Captain Rivera on the mainland, accompanied by 42 soldiers and 961 horses and mules, rode north toward the Colorado crossing. At Tuscon he acquired and additional temporary military guard, commanded by Lt. Andres Arias Caballero. At the Yuma crossing, Rivera was met by some soldiers from California, commanded by Sgt. Juan Jose Robles. The Tuscon contingent was sent back. Most of the others in the party were sent on to San Gabriel under command of Lt. Diego Gonzalez and Alferez Cayetano Limon and Jose Dario Arguello. This group consisting of 35 soldiers, 30 families, and some members of the Sonoran escort, arrived at San Gabriel on July 14, 1781. Rivera with his small remaining troop and nearly 1000 horses and mules, went into camp on the Arizona side of the crossing. (40)

May 1781: In late May of 1781 Rivera advanced across the desert with a vast herd of horses, donkeys, and mules, nearly a thousand head. Over a fourth of them were too weak to ford the swollen Colorado. He decided to send on to the coast the Santa Barbara recruits and their families who had come with him, together with that part of the herd he had managed to drive across the river. He would stay on the far bank with the rest of the animals till they had recuperated. Ungraciously, he did not try to placate his unwilling hosts with gifts. Two of his officers, Lieutenant Arias Caballero and Sub-lieutenant Jose Dario Arguello, had a thieving Indian whipped after giving his accomplice a beating themselves. The starving animals ate the mesquite on which the Indians depended to eke out their harvests. The Yumas decided they had had enough. (41)

1781: Late in June Rivera arrived from Sonora with his company of about forty recruits and their families bound for Los Angeles and the Santa Barbara channel. From the Colorado he sent back most of his Sonoran escort, and after a short delay for rest, dispatched the main company to San Garbriel under escort of Alferez Limon and 9 men. Having seen the company started on its way, Rivera recrossed the Colorado and with 11 or 12 men, including Sgt Robles and 5 or 6 men sent to meet him from the California presidios, encamped near the eastern bank opposite Concepcion, where he proposed to remain for some weeks to restore his horses and cattle to a proper condition for the trip to San Gabriel. Rivera's coming contributed nothing to the pacification of the natives, but had rather the contrary effect, for his large herd of live-stock destroyed the mesquite plants, and he was by no means liberal in the distribution of gifts. On Tuesday, July 17th, the storm burst. Early in the morning the lower village of San Pedro y San Pablo was attacked..... Prov. Rec., MS., ii 76-8 says that the savages attacked the two villages and Rivera's camp simultaneously and by 8 o'clock had completed their work at the former; that they found Rivera's men scattered and at first entered the encampment as friends, attacking before the soldiers could be gathered, and killing the last man at night after fighting all day. (42)

According to Mark Santiago, the last stand took place south of what is now Prison Hill. There were a series of finger ridges along the river. The only existing hill to the immediate south of Prison Hill is the old reservoir (beneath which the Pilot Knob Hotel sat). The hills in between are graded away and by Mark's estimation the Rivera last stand would be about where the treatment plant sits. In a John Russell Bartlett painting from his personal narrative, the series of hills are visible on the near side of the river. The far left is reservoir hill, the closer two are supposed to be the last stand hills. (43)

Alferez Limon after escorting the California colony to San Gabriel started back to Sonora by the old route with his 9 men. Drawing near the Colorado he was informed by the natives that there had been a massacre; but doubting the report, he left 2 men in charge of his animals and went forward to reconnoiter. The blackened ruins at Concepcion and the dead bodies lying in the plaza told all. His own party was attacked on the 21st of August and driven back by the Yumas, one of whom wore the uniform of the dead Rivera. Limon and his son were wounded, the two men left behind had been killed, and the survivors hastened back to San Gabriel with news of the disaster. (44)

Postscript: New California gradually came to be called Alta California. While serving there, Fernando de Rivera y Moncada took on higher office with higher levels of responsibility, but reached emotional depths in concurrent disagreements and rejections. Twice he served as governor of the new region, but he was never able to please Serra and his followers. In an acrimonious conflict over the precedence of authority, military vs. religious, Rivera was excommunicated by a Franciscan missionary--a bitter blow for the sincerely devout captain.

Rivera was 57 when he was slain. He had been a California soldier for 40 years. His widow was left destitute; she was never able to collect any part of Rivera's last five years of pay, held up as it was by disputes with missionaries and higher civil authorities. (45)

Doña Teresa, the governor's widow, could not even collect a single peso of the insurance (Montepío) theoretically received by the survivors of deceased soldiers in the Spanish dominions. She and 3 of her children, Isabel, José Nicolas, and Luis Gonzaga, all died paupers, dependent on the charity of Fernando's brother, Ambrosio. From 1774, one year after his appointment as governor, until his death in 1781, Rivera made repeated efforts to collect the salary due him. For more the 15 years thereafter his relatives tried in vain to obtain at least some part of his salary, though officials in Mexico City admitted that 11,877 pesos, 7 reales, and 5 7/8 granos were due Don Fernando at his death. (46)

Rivera exhibited a number of merits in addition to those which have appeared in this account. His generosity to the underpaid soldiers finds few parallels in Spanish colonial history. In his diary we find long lists of loans ranging from 3 to 44 pesos each. Most of them were never repaid, as the treasurer in Mexico City who studied the accounts recorded. This generosity becomes all the more remarkable when it is recalled that Rivera received no part of his salary and, therefore, had to make loans out of the sums of money sent to him by his brother Ambrosio.

Rivera showed the most scrupulous honesty in administering the presidio accounts. He was the only one of the pioneer governors of Upper California to handle all the mission mail free of charge. He insisted on regular attendance at religious services, exempting only the sentinel on actual duty. His diary reveals that during his first year at Monterey, he regularly attended Mass not only in the presidio chapel but also every solemn and Sunday Mass in the nearby mission church. After requesting in vain a chaplain for the presidio of Monterey, he still attended Mass in the presidio chapel. He, however, refused to attend the celebrations at Carmel in protest at the failure to provide the garrison and the nearby Indian families with a chaplain--in his opinion a grave and unjustifiable dereliction of duty.

Rivera made every effort to improve the material conditions of the presidio of Monterey. He did not even have a mason to construct needed buildings or repair old ones. He pleaded for more animals - more cows for milk and meat, more horses and mules to haul supplies from the ships to the warehouse, to distribute them among the missions, and to patrol the vast territory. Tragically or comically, the soldiers spent much of their time hunting for bears to replenish the meat supply or exchanging trinkets with the natives for fish corn, or other foods. Rivera pleaded over and over again for medicines. He repeatedly tried to secure better weapons. He worked out a signal system so that he could distinguish Spanish ships from hostile intruders. (47)

Several references mention that Rivera was 70 at his death. This seems inconsistent when dates are reconciled with when he became Captain in charge of Loreto (27th birthday in 1751). Yet official correspondence mentions the age of 70:

Croix to Galvez: The qualities of Captain Don Fernando de Rivera are constant. No one could have been better fitted for the discharge of commissions that I entrusted to him by proposal of his governor, D. Felipe Neve. The fatigues of Rivera, made at the age of seventy with its own difficulties, justly merit that I recommend them to your Excellency so that the king may deign to dispense to him who is interested the graces and honors that may be his royal pleasure, as well as the retirement which he solicits and which he will pray for as soon as he concludes his command and renders the accounts of those interested, which have come into his possession. (48)


1725 – Born in or near Compostella, Mexico and baptized with the name, Fernando Javier. (49).

1742 – Began military career at Loreto, Lower California at the age of 17.

1752 – At the age of 27 Rivera named Captain of the Loreto presidio after 10 years dedicated service on the frontier (50).

1767 - Serving with the Jesuit explorers, Rivera established several missions in northern Baja from 1752-1767. In November of 1767 Rivera worked closely with Portola to effect the expulsion of Jesuit missionaries without stirring natives into rebellion.

1769 – Receiving high praise of Galvez and Portola for his handling of Jesuit expulsion, Rivera was chosen to lead the first overland party for the founding of Upper California. Captain Rivera, comandante of the company of Loreto led 25 leather jackets and 40 Indians to San Diego over nearly 300 miles of unexplored northern Baja territory. Rivera’s men were declared to be ‘the best horsemen in the world’ having attained that honor ironically in service of Jesuit explorers.

1771 – Rivera accompanied the expedition to discover the port of Monterey in May of 1769. By 1771 Captain Rivera had made at least 3 expeditions to lower California to gather supplies, soldiers, and cattle for the Upper California. Rivera returned to the mainland and purchased a small farm near Guadalajara where he intended to retire with his family.

1773 – Don Fernando appointed military governor of Upper California. Rivera left for his new post in Monterey traveling via Guadalajara where he recruited 51 settlers for California.

1774 - Captain Rivera with Fray Francisco Palou explored the San Francisco area to select sites for a presidio, town, and two missions. Although the expedition was successful, nearly 2 years elapsed before any settlements were established. Rivera could not spare soldiers for founding the new posts. The same was true for mission San Buenaventura that was to be established near the Santa Barbara Channel. Rivera had only 60 soldiers available for service in Alta California. With some difficulty Fray Junipero Serra and Captain Rivera compromised by founding San Juan Capistrano between San Diego to the south and San Gabriel to the north.

1776 – Fray Luis Jaime was killed in an Indian uprising at San Diego. Serra and Rivera quarreled over Indian treatment following the uprising. Rivera was overruled in his desire for vengeful reprisals. Rivera traveled south and enlisted the aid of Juan Bautista de Anza who had arrived to found San Francisco to quell the uprising in San Diego. Rivera experienced health problems at the time, which resulted from a poorly set fracture. (This same fracture helped identify his bones after his death at Yuma). Rivera was also much disturbed that Fray Vincente Fuster excommunicated him on grounds that he had violated ecclesiastical asylum by removing the chief culprit of the San Diego uprising from the mission warehouse serving temporarily as a church. Rivera’s conduct alienated Juan Bautista de Anza. Rivera was deeply offended because Anza belittled his merits. Both military leaders wrote numerous reports to the viceroy, each blaming the other; and both receiving severe rebukes for delaying the founding of San Francisco.

1777–1779 – Captain Rivera turned over the governorship of California to Felipe de Neve who assumed command of both Upper and Lower California with headquarters at Monterey. At Neve’s request, Teodoro de Croix, Captain General of the Interior Provinces ordered Rivera, to recruit soldiers and settlers for the founding of Los Angeles.

1780 – By late 1780, Rivera had recruited many soldiers and settlers needed for the new settlements in Alta California. The settlers were sent by sea to Loreto in Lower California and then to San Gabriel where they arrived safely on August 18, 1781.

1781 – In May of 1781 Rivera advanced across the desert with a vast herd of animals, nearly 1000 head. Over ¼ of them were too weak to ford the Colorado. He sent on to the coast the Santa Barbara recruits and their families together with part of the herd that could cross the river. Rivera himself camped near the eastern bank of the river opposite Conception with a small contingent of soldiers and the animals left behind. On Tuesday July 17th Rivera and his men were all killed by the Yumans in a surprise attack.

Postcript - Captain Fernando Javier Rivera y Moncada was 56 at the time of his death. He had been a California soldier for 40 years. Rivera showed the most scrupulous honesty in administering presidio accounts. His penmanship was firm and distinguished. His ideas were expressed economically and with conviction in a terse and businesslike style. While governor of California, Rivera made every effort to improve the material conditions of the presidio of Monterey. He pleaded for more animals – more cows for milk and meat, more horses and mules to haul supplies from ships to the warehouse, to distribute them among the missions, and to patrol the vast territory. Rivera tried to secure better weapons and worked out a signal system in order to distinguish Spanish ships from hostile intruders. He insisted on regular attendance at religious services and attended regularly himself at the Monterey presidio chapel. He often made loans to his underpaid soldiers, most of which were never repaid. He made the first land grant in Upper California. Rivera himself did not receive his salary, and money often came from his brother in Mexico. He was popular with his men and left among the old California soldiers a better reputation probably than any of his contemporaries. After his death, governor Alvarado said that his memory was long honored by anniversary masses at San Diego and that Governor Echeandia in 1825 proposed a monument in his honor.


(1) pp 335 Crosby, Harry W. Antigua California, Mission and Colony on the Peninsular Frontier, 1697-1768, Univ. Of New Mexico Press, 1994.

(2) pp 338 Crosby

(3) pp 331 Crosby

(4) pp 333 Crosby

(5) pp 333 Crosby

(6) pp 339 Crosby

(7) pp 339-340 Crosby

(8) pp 363-64, Bancroft, History of California Vol XVIII

(9) pp 211, Jose Velasquez, Saga of a Borderland Soldier, Ronald Ives, Tuscon, 1984.

(10) pp 683, Ernest J. Burrus, Rivera Y Moncada and Military Commander of Both Californias, in the Light of His Diary and Other Contemporary Documents.

(11) pp 391 Crosby

(12) pp 121, Bancroft

(13) pp 133, Bancroft

(14) pp 684, Burrus.

(15) pp 134, Bancroft.

(16) pp 211, Ives.

(17) pp 326-27, Alan K. Brown, Rivera at San Francisco, California Historical Society Quarterly, December 1962.

(18) pp 685, Burrus.

(19) pp 326-27, Brown.

(20) pp 685, Burrus.

(21) pp 686, Burrus.

(22) pp 212, Ives.

(23) pp 687-8, Burrus.

(24) pp 688, Burrus.

(25) (see Geiger, Serra II, 88-98). pp 689, Burrus.

(26) pp 46-47, Felipe de Neve, First Governor of California, Edwin A. Beilharz, 1971.

(27) pp 212, Ives.

(28) pp14, Beilharz.

(29) pp689, Burrus

(30) Jack Williams from internet post 12/28/95

(31) pp 212, Ives.

(32) pp 690, Burrus.

(33) pp19, Beilharz.

(34) Rivera y Moncada Rl Presidio de Loreto, Jim Martinez

(35) pp105-106, Beilharz.

(36) Rivera y Moncada Rl Presidio de Loreto, Jim Martinez

(37) Rivera y Moncada Rl Presidio de Loreto, Jim Martinez

(38) Rivera y Moncada Rl Presidio de Loreto, Jim Martinez

(39) Rivera y Moncada Rl Presidio de Loreto, Jim Martinez

(40) pp 212, Ives.

(41) pp123, Beilharz.

(42) pp. 363-4, Bancroft.

(43) From a post on the internet from Rick Collins 12/26/95 (

(44) pp364-5, Bancroft.

(45) pp 392, Crosby

(46) pp 688, Burrus.

(47) pp 692, Burrus.

(48) pp 238, Croix's Report of 1781, Province of California.

(49) Burrus, Ernest J. SJ, Diario del Capitan Commandante Fernando de Rivera y Moncada, Madrid, 1967.

(50) Burrus, Ernest J. SJ, Rivera y Moncada, Explorer and Military Commander of Both Californias, in the Light of His Diary and Other Contemporary Documents, HAHR, November, 683-692.

The Author

Michael Hardwick graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1972 with High Honors. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology with graduate work in Public Administration from University of Redlands.

While in college, Mike did some of the original archaeology on the Presidio in Santa Barbara. In the 1970s he established the archive at La Purísima Mission State Historic Park and was a State Park Ranger Intermittent there for five years. Mike served on the Board of Directors of the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation for 17 years. During that time he acted as Treasurer of the Trust, chaired the Archive Library, Descendants and Genealogy Committees, and was a member of the Reconstruction Committee.

As a living history enthusiast, Mike was a Civil War reenactor for six years and was a member of the Santa Barbara Civil War Council. He was instrumental in founding Los Soldados del Real Presidio de Santa Barbara in 1990 and is currently an active Soldado in that group. He established a Web site for Los Soldados and has written several papers on Spanish Colonial Military History.

Michael currently does a living history impression of Phelipe de Neve, first governor of the Californias, 1777-1782. Appointed the Soldados National Spokesperson for the Gálvez project, Mike orchestrated an impressive ceremony in October of 2003, which paid tribute to Bernardo de Gálvez as part of a Hispanic-American Heros Series sponsored by Somos Primos, Society of Hispanic Historical and Ancestral Research.

Mike’s interests are varied. He served on the La Purísima Mission Advisory Committee. He is on the Santa Barbara Mission Museum Board. He belongs to CMSA (California Mission Studies Association) and has published an extensive bibliography on Presidios and Soldiers of Northern New Spain on their WEB site.

Mike is currently working on the beginnings of horticulture in California and is actively researching that topic. He has recently published, Changes in Landscape, The Beginnings of Horticulture in the California Missions, which is available through the bookstore at the Old Mission, Santa Barbara, 2201 Laguna Street, Santa Barbara, CA. 93105. He is participating with others in a heritage plant project at Mission Santa Barbara and hopes to enlarge and republish his book.

Mike is a Vietnam Era Veteran. He spent six years in the Navy and was with the Commander of Seventh Fleet on the Flagship, USS Oklahoma City during the years 1968 – 1969. He retired from the County of Santa Barbara as a Senior Systems Analyst in 2002. He was a County employee for 26 years. As a data processing professional, Mike taught for a number of years in the SBCC Adult Education Program. He holds a California Community Colleges teaching Credential.

He may be reached at



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