Californians and the Military
Juan Bautista de Anza Bezerra Nieto
By Michael R. Hardwick

As Captain of the Spanish Royal Presidio at Tubac, Sonora (now southern Arizona), Juan Bautista de Anza conceived and implemented the first overland colonizing expedition from Sonora, Mexico into Alta, or Upper California in 1776.

By the 1770s the Spanish had been in the New World for over 200 years. New Spain included the present-day western United States, Florida, Baja, and Alta California. On the eve of the American Revolution, the Spanish sought to control the Pacific Coast of today's United States against British and Russian incursions.

An expedition led by Gaspar de Portolá from Baja California created the Province of Alta California in 1769. By 1773 five missions and 2 presidios with some 70 settlers occupied Alta California. Supply for the small colony came only annually on small packet boats from San Blas Mexico.

In 1774 Anza proved that it was possible to supply Alta California from Sonora by following a route into California crossing the Colorado River at Yuma. In 1775, the Viceroy of New Spain authorized Anza to command an expedition to occupy and settle the port of San Francisco.

On October 23, 1775 Anza with 240 people set out to colonize California. Traveling through Arizona and across the Colorado River with the help of Salvador Palma, chief of the Yuman (Quechan) Indians, Anza headed into the deserts of southeastern California. Passing through what is now Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the Anza expedition reached Mission San Gabriel Arcángel January 4, 1776.

Following Indian trails along the coast of California, the Anza party visited Missions San Luis Obispo and San Antonio de Padúa.

On April 14, 1776, Anza left California for Mexico City. In 1777 he received an appointment as governor of New Mexico. Anza left Lt. José Joaquín Moraga in California to bring settlers to San Francisco to found the presidio and mission there .

In 1990, Congress acknowledged the significance of the Anza expeditions by establishing the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail. The National Park Service (NPS) administers the Anza Trail as a public/private partnership with federal state and local agencies.

Juan Bautista de Anza Bezerra Nieto (July 1736 - December 19, 1788) was a Novo-Spanish explorer working for the Spanish Empire.

He was born in Fronteras, Sonora near Arizpe Sonora into a military family on the northern frontier of New Spain. In 1752 he enlisted in the army at the Presidio of Fronteras. He advanced rapidly and was a captain by 1760. He married in 1761. His wife was the daughter of another Spanish mine owner, Perez de Serrano. They had no children. His military duties mainly consisted of forays against hostile Native Americans such as the Apache during the course of which he explored much of what is now Arizona.

In 1772 he proposed to the Viceroy of New Spain an expedition to Alta California. This was approved by the King of Spain and in January, 1774 with 3 padres, 20 soldiers, 11 servants, 35 mules, 65 cattle, and 140 horses he set forth from Tubac near present day Tucson, Arizona. The expedition crossed the Colorado River at its confluence with the Gila River in the domain of the Yuma tribe with which he established good relations. He reached Mission San Gabriel Arcangel near the California coast on March 22, 1774 and returned to Tubac by late May, 1774. This expedition was closely watched by Viceroy and King and on October 2, 1774 he was promoted to the rank of lieutnant-colonel and ordered to lead a group of colonists to Alta California. The Spanish were desirous of reinforcing their presence in upper California, partly as a buffer against Russian advances from the north and partly in order to possibly establish a harbor that would give shelter to Spanish ships. The expedition got under way in October, 1775 and arrived at Mission San Gabriel January, 1776 the colonists having suffered greatly from the winter weather en route.

He continued on to Monterey, California with the colonists; then fulfilling his mission from the Viceroy he continued on with a small party exploring north and located the sites for the Presidio of San Francisco and Mission San Francisco de Asis in present day San Francisco, California on March 28, 1776. He did not establish a settlement; that was established later by others. (There is a myth that Anza was the founder of San Francisco.) While returning to Monterey, he located the original sites for Mission Santa Clara de Asis and the town of San José de Guadalupe, but again did not establish either settlement.

On his return from this successful expedition he journeyed to Mexico City with the chief of the Yuma tribe who requested the establishment of a mission. Shortly thereafter, on August 24, 1777, Anza was appointed Governor of the Province of New Mexico.

He led a punitive expedition against the Comanche who had been repeatedly raiding Taos in 1779. With his Ute and Apache allies and about 800 soldiers he went north through the San Luis Valley, entering the plains at what is now Manitou Springs, Colorado. He surprised a small force of Comanche near present day Colorado Springs. Chasing them south down Fountain Creek, he crossed the Arkansas River near present day Pueblo, Colorado. He found the main body of Comanche, returning from a raid on New Mexico, on Greenhorn Creek and inflicted a decisive defeat, killing Cuerno Verde, the chief (for whom Greenhorn Creek is named) and many other leaders of the Comanche. Severely weakened, the Commanche ceased their raids and moved to the southeast into what is now Oklahoma and Texas.

In late 1779 he and his party found a route from Santa Fe to Sonora. Anza's various local military expeditions against hostile tribes were successful, but the Yuma tribe which he had establish peace with rebelled and he fell out of favor with the military commander of the northern frontier, the frontier-general. He stayed on as governor of New Mexico until 1787 when he returned to Sonora. He was appointed commander of the Presidio of Tubac in 1788 but probably died before he could take office. He died and was buried in Arizpe, Sonora and was survived by his wife.

De Anza was buried in the Church of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción de Arispe. In 1963 he was disinterred and reburied in a marble mausoleum with the participation of delegations from the University of California and San Francisco. The Juan De Anza House in San Juan Bautista, California is currently a National Historic Landmark. De Anza was also named for several street, schools, and organizations in California, including De Anza Boulevards in San Mateo, California and Cupertino, California respectively, De Anza College in Cupertino, and the De Anza Hotel in San Jose.

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Updated 8 February 2016