1776 was exciting here, too

phild2008@sbcglobal.netJuly 5, 2012 

I didn’t light any firecrackers on the Fourth of July. But I did try to think briefly about that bunch of revolutionaries who met in 1776 in Philadelphia.

They called themselves the Continental Congress. On July 4, 1776, they approved a Declaration of Independence from Great Britain.

It said, “We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore,” or words to that effect. Of course, they’d already been exchanging gunfire with the British for more than a year.

But whenever I think about what was happening in 1776 on the East Coast, I also think about what was happening that same year here on the West Coast. It was significant and it happened in San Luis Obispo County among other places.

But first, let’s think about the previous year, 1775. The only people who then lived in what is now California were Indians, except for 72 Spaniards — specifically 61 soldiers and 11 missionaries.

So it was a big deal when what is now San Luis Obispo County was visited on March 1, 1776, by more than 250 people from Mexico with herds of livestock. They had left from Tubac, New Mexico, on Oct. 23, 1775 with almost 700 horses and mules, 350 cattle and some donkeys.

Their leader was Lt. Col. Juan Bautista de Anza. Their destination was San Francisco, although it didn’t exist yet. They were supposed to create it. Many of them were to be its first residents.

The expedition included four Army officers, 18 veteran soldiers, 20 recruits, 29 soldiers’ wives, one friar, four volunteer families, 20 mule drivers, a fluctuating number of vaqueros, three servants, three Indian interpreters and 128 children, the majority of whom were 12 or younger.

Three of those children were born on the march. All three survived, although one of their mothers died in childbirth. But that mother was the only person who died on the whole trip. Some trekkers were sickened by the unusually cold temperatures and snow that winter on the desert but all recovered.

On March 1, 1776, the expedition reached Price Canyon near what is now Pismo Beach and camped overnight. Next they camped for two days at Mission San Luis Obispo. They then camped for a night in the Asuncion district of what is now Atascadero before trekking north into Monterey County.

And they did all that without a GPS. What they did have, however, were skilled leaders and hope for a better future. But even more important, they cooperated and helped each other. The survival of that motherless baby proved that.

Reach Phil Dirkx at phild2008@sbcglobal.net or 238-2372.

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