Times Past

Pozo origin story starts with Mission San Miguel administrator

The town of Pozo in the 1870s. The Pozo Saloon is on the right.
The town of Pozo in the 1870s. The Pozo Saloon is on the right.

“Free barbeque, Speaking, Two Grand Balls, and a Large Crowd Celebrate the Day . . .  All roads pointed to that little hamlet, and the patriotic Californio wore the heart of true hospitality upon his sleeve in welcoming his friends to join in the festivities, attending the celebration of the 85th anniversary of Mexican independence.”

That report in The Tribune on September 18, 1895, could have been written about the tiny community of Pozo following a rock or country concert at the Pozo Saloon today.

In fact, Pozo hasn’t changed much since 1895, although the population is considerably smaller nowadays. Pozo is a fairly quiet place until there is a celebration.

What is especially interesting about the 1895 event is the occasion of the celebration: Mexican Independence Day, marking Father Miguel Hidalgo’s pronouncement of the Mexican War of Independence – known as the “Grito de Dolores” (“Cry of Dolores”) — in the small town of Dolores, near Guanajuato, Mexico, on September 16, 1810. 

The event speaks to Pozo’s very Mexican origins. 

The story begins with the removal of an administrator at Mission San Miguel Arcángel in 1841 on the recommendation of William Hartnell, Mexican Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado’s “visitador general” (“inspector general”) to the recently secularized California missions.

Hartnell, a German-educated Englishman, arrived in Alta California in 1822. While setting up a hide and tallow business in Monterey, he supported himself as a tutor to prominent Californio families. His students included future Gov. Juan Bautista Alvarado and General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo.

As governor, Alvarado turned to his former teacher for the sensitive task of reporting and auditing the transition of the missions from Franciscan governance to civilian control. 

Hartnell determined that matters were not well at Mission San Miguel, where Ynocente García became administrator on March 30, 1837. 

García was from New Mexico and tried to manage the mission without success.  

He said “there was no market” for the large grain harvests and “there was more food than the Indians could eat.” García claimed the “Indians were addicted to theft, and could not be controlled.”  

García related how a party led by Kentucky mountain man Isaac Graham forced open the doors of the “monjeria,” or, monastery for unmarried young women. After that, García abolished the institution, “leaving each family to care for their women.” 

Father Juan Moreno, the last regular Franciscan at San Miguel, complained that García was “not obeying the visitador’s (Hartnell’s) instructions and flogging the Indians excessively.”

On July 31, 1839, San Miguel neophytes intercepted Hartnell at Rancho Paso de Robles. They demanded the removal of García from his post as administrator.  

They said that García was seizing the best lands and mission property. They claimed he had taken the Rancho Asuncíon (now Atascadero), with its beautiful house and garden, and the granaries and fields of wheat and barley at Paso de Robles. 

García wasn’t removed by Alvarado until 1841. He left San Miguel to settle in the Pozo Valley, in what came to be known as the García Mountains of southeastern San Luis Obispo County.

García’s recollections were dictated to Thomas Savage in 1878, when García was nearly 87 years old; they were utilized by Hubert Howe Bancroft in his “History of California.”

Mexican Independence Day celebrations in Pozo during the 1890s were presided over by Ynocente’s sons, John and Vidal García.

San Luis Obispo Mission Docents tour

There are some seats on the bus for our San Luis Obispo Mission Docents tour of historic San Juan Bautista and Sacramento, April 12-14. We’ll consider aspects of California’s rich past from Native Americans to missions to the complexity of our everlasting water problem: It’s a land of little rain until it rains!

For more information, call Silver Bay Tours at 772-3409.