San Luis Obispo may be unique in having a major residential street named with a Spanish word derived from “bocio” meaning “goiter.”
Both Buchon Street in San Luis Obispo and Point Buchon north of Port San Luis were named in honor of this Chumash chieftain with his highly visible goiter. Father Pedro Font, the Franciscan who accompanied the Juan Bautista de Anza expedition through our region during the spring of 1776, tells us about the importance of Chief Buchon:
“On March 1, 1776, Friday, I celebrated holy Mass. We set out from La Laguna Graciosa at 8 in the morning and, at 5:30 in the afternoon, we halted at the Rancheria del Buchon so called because, when the first expedition of (Juan Gaspar del Portola) came along an Indian chief named Buchon (lived there). (He) was famed as valiant in the whole (Santa Barbara) Channel region on account of the damage he had done by his wars there. “(Buchon’s) chief wife still lived (in the village). Another concubine of his became a Christian and was then married to one of the soldiers whom the native pagans recognized and to whom they paid as tribute a portion of their wild seeds; but the chief himself was already dead.”
Most of the place names along the California coast from Santa Monica (Spanish) through Malibu (Chumash-Native American) to Ventura (a contraction of San Buenaventura, the Spanish name for the Franciscan theologian, St. Bonaventure), Santa Barbara, Lompoc (Chumash-Native American), Santa Maria (Spanish), Nipomo (Native American), Arroyo Grande (Spanish), Pismo Beach (Native American), San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles, San Miguel, Salinas, Monterey, etc., are Hispanic or Indian names that were first written down by Franciscan missionaries.
The imprint of Indian and Spanish culture is something that we take very much for granted in California.
Spain’s mark on the California lifestyle is obvious. Aside from Arizona, New Mexico and parts of Texas, no other region of the United States reflects so great a Hispanic heritage.
When I was a boy growing up in the Long Beach area, I never quite got accustomed to the way the retired Iowa farmers, many of them leading citizens of the beachside city, pronounced street names like Junipero and Ximeno avenues.
My mother knew Spanish but suffered from congenital hearing loss. When we first came to Long Beach, she thought that the “IO-way” transplants were saying “June apparel” and “eczema.”
And we all laughed when an Easterner tried to say La Jolla or La Cañada.
One summer, I worked at Barker Brothers store in Los Angeles. The 10-story building was the largest home furnishings store in the U.S. and was noted for its elegant style. The entrance was designed in a Moroccan motif.
A pipe organ on the mezzanine floor provided music for the store. The store was located along Seventh Street between Flower and Figueroa.
Part of my job was to take the trash bins up the freight elevator and wheel them to an alley near Figueroa Street. Despite the humble nature of my assignment, I was instructed to answer any inquiries from potential customers with proper English and where appropriate, Spanish pronunciation.
One day, a trucker with New York and New Jersey plates drove up to the loading dock. The driver stuck his neck out the window and in an Irish brogue inquired “Tell me, my boy, which is the way to Fi-goraa Street?”
Dan Krieger is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly and president of the California Mission Studies Association.