[This article was added on 17 October 1998]

The following extract from a 1915 book discusses the background and development of the three official pueblos founded in California while under Spanish domination. Of the three, San José and Los Angeles survived while the third, Villa de Branciforte, near the Mission of Santa Cruz, disappeared.

The extract, Chapter VII in its entirety, is taken from J. M. Guinn, A History of California and an Extended History of Los Angeles and Environs, Vol. I (Los Angeles: Historic Record Company, 1915), 73-78. Sub-captions have been added.



The pueblo plan of colonization so common in Hispano-American countries did not originate with the Spanish-American colonists. It was older even than Spain itself. In early European colonization, the pueblo plan, the common square in the center of the town, the house lots grouped round it, the arable fields and the common pasture lands beyond, appears in the Aryan village, in the ancient German mark and in the old Roman praesidium. The Puritans adopted this form in their first settlements in New England. Around the public square or common where stood the meeting house and the town house, they laid off their home lots and beyond these were the cultivated fields and their common pasture lands. This form of colonization was a combination of communal interests and individual ownership. Primary, no doubt, it was adopted for protection against the hostile aborigines of the country, and secondly for social advantage. It reversed the order of our own western civilization. The town came first, it was the initial point from which the settlement radiated; while with our western pioneers the town was an afterthought, a center point for the convenience of trade.

When it had been decided to send colonists to colonize California the settlements naturally took the pueblo form. The difficulty of obtaining regular supplies for the presidios from Mexico, added to the great expense of shipping such a long distance, was the principal cause that influenced the government to establish pueblos de gente de razon. The presidios received their shipments of grain for breadstuff from San Blas by sailing vessels. The arrival of these was uncertain. Once when the vessels were unusually long in coming, the padres and the soldiers at the presidios and missions were reduced to living on milk, bear meat and what provisions they could obtain from the Indians. When Felipe de Neve was made governor of Alta or Nueva California in 1776 he was instructed by the viceroy to make observations on the agricultural possibilities of the country and the feasibility of founding pueblos where grain could be produced to supply the military establishments.

Pueblo de San José de Guadalupe

On his journey from San Diego to San Francisco in 1777 he carefully examined the country; and as a result of his observations recommended the founding of two pueblos; one on the Rio de Porciuncula in the south, and the other on the Rio de Guadalupe in the north. On the 29th of November, 1777, the Pueblo of San José de Guadalupe was founded. The colonists were nine of the presidio soldiers from San Francisco and Monterey, who had some knowledge of farming and five of Anza's pobladores who had come with his expedition the previous years to found the presidio of San Francisco, making with their families sixty-one persons in all. The pueblo was named for the patron saint of California, San José (St. Joseph), husband of Santa Maria, Queen of the Angels.

The site selected for the town was about a mile and a quarter north of the center of the present city. The first houses were built of palisades and the interstices plastered with mud. These huts were roofed with earth and the floor was the hard beaten ground. Each head of a family was given a suerte or sowing lot of two hundred varas square, a house lot, "ten dollars a month and a soldier's rations." Each, also, received a yoke of oxen, two cows, a mule, two sheep and two goats, together with the necessary implements and seed, all of which were to be repaid in products of the soil delivered at the royal warehouse. The first communal work done by the pobladores (colonists) was to dam the river, and construct a ditch to irrigate their sowing fields. The dam was not a success and the first sowing of grain was lost. The site selected for the houses was low and subject to overflow.

During wet winters the inhabitants were compelled to take a circuitous route of three leagues to attend church service at the mission of Santa Clara. After enduring this state of affairs through seven winters they petitioned the governor for permission to remove the pueblo further south on higher ground. The governor did not have power to grant the request. The petition was referred to the comandante-general of the Intendencia in Mexico in 1785. He seems to have studied over the matter two years and having advised with the asesor-general finally issued a decree, June 21, 1787, to Governor Fages, authorizing the settlers to remove to the "adjacent loma (hill) selected by them as more useful and advantageous without changing or altering, for this reason, the limits and boundaries of the territory or district assigned to said settlement and to the neighboring Mission of Santa Clara, as there is no just cause why the latter should attempt to appropriate to herself that land."

Having frequently suffered from floods, it would naturally be supposed that the inhabitants, permission being granted, moved right away. They did nothing of the kind. Ten years passed and they were still located on the old marshy site, still discussing the advantages of the new site on the other side of the river. Whether the padres of the Mission of Santa Clara opposed the moving does not appear in the records, but from the last clause of the comandante-general's decree in which he says "there is not just cause why the latter (the Mission of Santa Clara) should attempt to appropriate to herself the land," it would seem that the mission padres were endeavoring to secure the new site or at least prevent its occupancy. There was a dispute between the padres and the pobladores over the boundary line between the pueblo and the mission that outlived the century. After having been referred to the titled officials, civil and ecclesiastical, a boundary line was finally established, July 24, 1801, that was satisfactory to both. "According to the best evidence I have discovered," says Hall in his History of San José, "the removal of the pueblo took place in 1797," just twenty years after the founding. In 1798 the juzgado or town hall was built. It was located on Market street near El Dorado street.

The area of a pueblo was four square leagues (Spanish) or about twenty-seven square miles. This was sometimes granted in a square and sometime in a rectangular form. The pueblo lands were divided into classes: Solares, house lots; suertes (chance), sowing fields, so named because they were distributed by lot; propios, municipal lands or lands the rent of which went to defray municipal expenses; ejidas, vacant suburbs or commons; dehesas, pasture where the large herds of the pueblo grazed; realenges, royal lands also used for raising revenues; these were unappropriated lands.

Pueblo de la Reyna de Los Angeles

From various causes the founding of the second pueblo had been delayed. In the latter part of 1779, active preparations were begun for carrying out the plan of founding a presidio and three missions on the Santa Barbara Channel and a pueblo on the Rio Porciuncula to be named "Reyna de Los Angeles." The comandante-general of the Four Interior Provinces of the West (which embraced the Californias, Sonora, New Mexico and Viscaya), Don Teodoro de Croix, or "El Cavallero de Croix," "The Knight of the Cross," as he usually styled himself, gave instructions to Don Fernando de Rivera y Moncada to recruit soldiers and settlers for the proposed presidio and pueblo in Nueva California. He, Rivera, crossed the gulf and began recruiting in Sonora and Sinaloa. His instructions were to secure twenty-four settlers who were heads of families. They must be robust and well behaved, so that they might set a good example to the natives. Their families must accompany them and unmarried female relatives must be encouraged to go, with the view to marrying them to bachelor soldiers.

According to the regulations drafted by Governor Felipe de Neve, June 1, 1779, for the government of the province of California and approved by the king, in a royal order of the 24th of October, 1781, settlers in California from the older provinces were each to be granted a house lot and a tract of land for cultivation. Each poblador in addition was to receive $116.50 a year for the first two years, "the rations to be understood as comprehended in this amount, and in lieu of rations for the next three years they will receive $60 yearly."

Section 3 of Title 14 of the Reglamento provided that "To each poblador and to the community of the pueblo there shall be given under condition of repayment in horses and mules fit to be given and received, and in the payment of the other large and small cattle at the just prices, which are to fixed by tariff, and of the tools and implements at cost, as it is ordained, two mares, two cows, and one calf, two sheep and two goats, all breeding animals, and one yoke of oxen or steers, one plow point, one hoe, one spade, one axe, one sickle, one wood knife, one musket and one leather shield, two horses and one cargo mule. To the community there shall likewise be given the males corresponding to the total number of cattle of different kinds distributed amongst all the inhabitants, one forge and anvil, six crowbars, six iron spades or shovels and the necessary tools for carpenter and cast work." For the government's assistance to the pobladores in starting their colony the settlers were required to sell to the presidios the surplus products of their lands and herds at fair prices, which were to be fixed by the government.

The terms offered to the settlers were certainly liberal, and by their own hardy pioneers, who in the closing years of the last century were making their way over the Allegheny mountains into Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, they would have been considered munificent; but to the indolent and energyless mixed breeds of Sonora and Sinaloa they were no inducement. After spending nearly nine months in recruiting, Rivera was able to obtain only fourteen pobladores, but little over half the number required, and two of these deserted before reaching California. The soldiers that Rivera had recruited for California, forty-two in number, with their families, were ordered to proceed overland from Alamos, in Sonora, by way of Tucson and the Colorado river to San Gabriel Mission. These were commanded by Rivera in person.

Leaving Alamos in April, 1781, they arrived in the latter part of June at the junction of the Gila and Colorado rivers. After a short delay to rest, the main company was sent on to San Gabriel Mission. Rivera, with ten or twelve soldiers, remained to recruit his live stock before crossing the desert. Two missions had been established on the California side of the Colorado the previous year. Before the arrival of Rivera the Indians had been behaving badly. Rivera's large herd of cattle and horses destroyed the mesquite trees and intruded upon the Indians' melon patches. This, with their previous quarrel with the padres, provoked the savages to an uprising. They, on July 17, attacked the two missions, massacred the padres and the Spanish settlers attached to the missions and killed Rivera and his soldiers, forty-six persons in all. The Indians burned the mission buildings. These were never rebuilt nor was there any attempt made to convert the Yumas. The hostility of the Yumas practically closed the Colorado route to California for many years.

The pobladores who had been recruited for the founding of the new pueblo, with their families and a military escort, all under the command of Lieut. José Zuniga, crossed the gulf from Guaymas to Loreto, in Lower California, and by the 16th of May were ready for their long journey northward. In the meantime two of the recruits had deserted and one was left behind at Loreto. On the 18th of August the eleven who had remained faithful to their contract, with their families, arrived at San Gabriel. On account of smallpox among some of the children the company was placed in quarantine about a league from the mission.

On the 26th of August, 1781, from San Gabriel, Governor de Neve issued his instructions for the founding of Los Angeles, which gave some additional rules in regard to the distribution of lots not found in the royal reglamento previously mentioned.

On the 4th of September, 1781, the colonists, with a military escort headed by Governor Felipe de Neve, took up their line of march from the Mission of San Gabriel to the site selected for their pueblo on the Rio de Porciuncula. There, with religious ceremonies, The Pueblo de Nuestra Señora La Reina de Los Angeles was formally founded. A mass was said by a priest from the Mission San Gabriel, assisted by the choristers and musicians of that mission. There were salvos of musketry and a procession with a cross, candlestick, etc. At the head of the procession the soldiers bore the standard of Spain and the women followed bearing a banner with the image of our Lady the Queen of the Angels. The procession made a circuit of the plaza, the priest blessing it and the building lots. At the close of the services Governor de Neve made an address full of good advice to the colonists. Then the governor, his military escort and the priests returned to San Gabriel and the colonists were left to work out their destiny.

Few of the great cities of the land have had such humble founders as Los Angeles. Of the eleven pobladores who built their huts of poles and tule thatch around the plaza vieja one hundred and twenty-five years ago, not one could read or write. Not one could boast of an unmixed ancestry. They were mongrels in race, Caucasian, Indian and Negro mixed. Poor in purse, poor in blood, poor in all the sterner qualities of character that our own hardy pioneers of the west possessed, they left no impress on the city they founded; and the conquering race that possesses the land that they colonized has forgotten them. No street or landmark in the city bears the name of any one of them. No monument or tablet marks the spot where they planted the germ of their settlement. Nor Forefathers' day preserves the memory of their services and sacrifices. Their names, race and the number of persons in each family have been preserved in the archives of California. They are as follows:

  1. José de Lara, a Spaniard (or reputed to be one, although it is doubtful whether he was of pure blood) had an Indian wife and three children.
  2. José Antonio Navarro, a Mestizo, forty-two years old; wife a mulatress; three children.
  3. Basilio Rosas, a negro, thirty-eight years old; had a mulatto wife and two children.
  4. Antonio Mesa, a negro, thirty-eight years old; had a mulatto wife and two children.
  5. Antonio Felix Villavicencio, a Spaniard, thirty years old; had an Indian wife and one child.
  6. José Vanegas, an Indian, twenty-eight years old; had an Indian wife and one child.
  7. Alejandro Rosas, an Indian, nineteen years old, and had an Indian wife. (In the records, "wife, Coyote-Indian.").
  8. Pablo Rodriguez, an Indian, twenty-five years old; had an Indian wife and one child.
  9. Manuel Camero, a mulatto, thirty years old; had a mulatto wife.
  10. Luis Quintero, a negro, fifty-five years old, and had a mulatto wife and five children.
  11. José Morena, a mulatto, twenty-two years old, and had a mulatto wife.

Antonio Miranda, the twelfth person described in the padron (list) as a Chino, fifty years old and having one child, was left at Loreto when the expedition marched northward. It would have been impossible for him to have rejoined the colonists before the founding. Presumably his child remained with him, consequently there were but forty-four instead of "forty-six persons in all." Col. J. J. Warner, in his "Historical Sketch of Los Angeles," originated the fiction that one of the founders (Miranda, the Chino,) was born in China. Chino, while it does mean a Chinaman, is also applied in Spanish-American countries to persons or animals having curly hair. Miranda was probably of mixed Spanish and Negro blood, and curly haired. There is no record to show that Miranda ever came to Alta California.

When José de Galvez was fitting out the expedition for occupying San Diego and Monterey, he issued a proclamation naming St. Joseph as the patron saint of his California colonization scheme. Bearing this fact in mind, no doubt, Governor de Neve, when he founded San José, named St. Joseph its patron saint. Having named one of the two pueblos for San José it naturally followed that the other should be named for Santa Maria, the Queen of the Angels, wife of San José.

On the 1st of August, 1769, Portolá's expedition, on its journey northward in search of Monterey Bay, had halted in the San Gabriel valley near where the Mission Vieja was afterwards located, to reconnoiter the country and "above all," as Father Crespi observes, "for the purpose of celebrating the jubilee of Our Lady of the Angels of Porciuncula." Next day, August 2, after traveling about three leagues (nine miles), Father Crespi, in his diary, says: "We came to a wide canada having a great many cottonwood and alder trees. Through it ran a beautiful river toward the north-northeast and curving around the point of a cliff it takes a different direction to the south. Toward the north-northeast we saw another river bed which must have been a great overflow, but we found it dry. This arm unites with the river and its great floods during the rainy season are clearly demonstrated by the many uprooted trees scattered along the banks." (This dry river is the Arroyo Seco.) "We stopped not very far from the river, to which we gave the name of Porciuncula." Porciuncula is the name of a hamlet in Italy near which was located the little church of Our Lady of the Angels, in which St. Francis of Assisi was praying when the jubilee was granted him. Father Crespi, speaking of the plain through which the river flows, says: "This is the best locality of all those we have yet seen for a mission, besides having all the resources required for a large town." Padre Crespi was evidently somewhat of a prophet.

The fact that this locality had for a number of years borne the name of "Our Lady of the Angels of Porciuncula" may have influenced Governor de Neve to locate his pueblo here. The full name of the town, El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora La Reyna de Los Angeles, was seldom used. It was too long for everyday use. In the earlier years of the town's history it seems to have had a variety of names. It appears in the records as El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de Los Angeles, as El Pueblo de La Reyna de Los Angeles and as El Pueblo de Santa Maria de Los Angeles. Sometimes it was abbreviated to Santa Maria, but it was most commonly spoken of as El Pueblo, the town. At what time the name of Rio Porciuncula was changed to Rio Los Angeles is uncertain. The change no doubt was gradual.

The site selected for the pueblo of Los Angeles was picturesque and romantic. From where Alameda street now is to the eastern bank of the river the land was covered with a dense growth of willows, cottonwoods and alders; while here and there, rising above the swampy copse, towered a giant aliso (sycamore). Wild grapevines festooned the branches of the trees and wild roses bloomed in profusion. Behind the narrow shelf of mesa land where the pueblo was located rose the brown hills, and in the distance towered the lofty Sierra Madre mountains.

Villa de Branciforte

The last pueblo founded in California under Spanish domination was Villa de Branciforte, located on the opposite side of the river from the Mission of Santa Cruz. It was named after the Viceroy Branciforte. It was designed as a coast defense and a place to colonize discharged soldiers. The scheme was discussed for a considerable time before anything was done. Governor Borica recommended "that an adobe house be built for each settler so that the prevalent state of things in San José and Los Angeles, where the settlers still live in tule huts, being unable to build better dwellings without neglecting their fields, may be prevented, the houses to cost not over two hundred dollars."[*]

The first detachment of the colonists arrived May 12, 1797, on the Concepcion in a destitute condition. Lieutenant Moraga was sent to superintend the construction of houses for the colonists. He was instructed to build temporary huts for himself and the guard, then to build some larger buildings to accommodate fifteen or twenty families each. These were to be temporary. Only nine families came and they were of a vagabond class that had a constitutional antipathy to work. The settlers received the same amount of supplies and allowance of money as the colonists of San José and Los Angeles. Although the colonists were called Spaniards and assumed to be of a superior race to the first settlers of the other pueblos, they made less progress and were more unruly than the mixed and mongrel inhabitants of the older pueblos.

The Pueblos in 1800

Although at the close of the century three decades had passed since the first settlement was made in California, the colonists had made but little progress. Three pueblos of gente de razon had been founded and a few ranchos granted to ex-soldiers. Exclusive of the soldiers, the white population in the year 1800 did not exceed six hundred. The people lived in the most primitive manner. There was no commerce and no manufacturing except a little at the missions. Their houses were adobe huts roofed with tule thatch. The floor was beaten earth and the scant furniture home-made. There was a scarcity of cloth for clothing. Padre Salazar related that when he was at San Gabriel Mission in 1795 a man who had a thousand horses and cattle in proportion came there to beg cloth for a shirt, for none could be had at the pueblo of Los Angeles nor at the presidio of Santa Barbara.

Hermanagildo Sal, the comandante of San Francisco, writing to a friend in 1799, says, "I send you, by the wife of the pensioner José Barbo, one piece of cotton goods and an ounce of sewing silk. There are no combs and I have no hope of receiving any for three years." Think of waiting three years for a comb!

Eighteen missions had been founded at the close of the century. Except for a few of the older missions, the buildings were temporary structures. The neophytes for the most part were living in wigwams constructed like those they had occupied in their wild state.

[*] Bancroft's History of California, Vol. I.