Canyon Beat:

Man plans and God laughs

June 2019

By Scott Breeden


Since the May 19 Silverado Children’s Center benefit chili cook-off was canceled due to an act of God (rain), Friends of the Library wound up “eating their losses” e.g., their donation to the library’s chili team. Fran Williams dubbed free chili at the library phase 1 of the canyon library 90-year anniversary celebration.

Chili or no chili, the Children’s Center has planned (did someone just laugh?) one summer camp program for younger kids, plus another two-week special for ages 5-14.  Call (714) 649-2214 for details.

Not rained out was the park district’s May 18 Silverado concert featuring the Trabuco Hills High School jazz band, opening for Conspiracy Radio. 

Current History
Old joke: Two little kids are comparing family history. First kid: “My ancestors came to America on the Mayflower.”  Second kid: “My ancestors were here to greet them.”

Next month we mark the 250th anniversary of the first European visitors to Orange County. Gaspar de Portolá, traveling from San Diego to Monterey with about 70 soldiers, Baja California Indians and mules, camped near a native village (probably Alume) in the Rancho Santa Margarita area, below Kalawpa (Saddleback Mountain).

Juan Crespí, a Franciscan friar traveling with Portolá, wrote: “Instantly the Indians from a village in the valley came to visit us. They came without arms, and with a friendliness unequaled; they made us presents of their poor seeds, and we made return with ribbons and gew gaws.”

Portolá did not enter Santiago Canyon, but headed northwest on July 26, 1769, camping at Tomato Springs in Irvine. (This is memorialized by a historical marker near Portola Springs Elementary School.) On July 27, the expedition camped near Grijalva Park in Orange, naming the stream there Santiago Creek. Reaching the Santa Ana River the following day, engineer Miguel Costansó wrote: “We pitched our camp on the left bank of the river. To the right there is a populous Indian village ... their captain or cacique asked us by signs to remain there and live with them. [He said] that they would provide antelopes, hares, or seeds for our subsistence, that the lands which we saw were theirs, and that they would share them with us.”

As Governor of California, Portolá’s mission was missions: settlements to discourage Russian and English encroachment into Spanish territory. Soldiers would support Franciscan friars in charge of converting the local Indians to Christianity.

The mission menu would not offer religion a la carte, however. Neophytes (newly baptized Indians) were expected to live and work at the missions, requiring conversion of not only their faith, but also of their dress, language, and attitudes toward sex and manual labor (considered an undignified male activity by some of the men).

In fact, California’s 21 missions would be absolutely dependent on Indian labor for their survival. That required much training in how to farm the surrounding land, take care of livestock, make bricks from adobe, make soap and candles from tallow.

Did the Indians have a choice? Spanish law forbade slavery. But neophytes who left the missions were branded “fugitives” and often hunted down and punished. Those who successfully escaped faced other obstacles: at one point, Mission San Juan Capistrano had 14,000 cattle and 16,000 sheep, which affected hunting-gathering resources like deer, small game, and traditional food plants.

As time went on, Indians began dying at the missions faster than new converts could be recruited. The original plan had been to operate the missions for 10 years, then turn the land over to now-civilized Indians. But, man     plans …

In 1834, the new Mexican government shut down the missions and distributed their land to war veterans and others, among them John (“call me Juan”) Forster, the California governor’s brother-in-law. By one estimate, an Indian population of 300,000 in 1769 was now closer to 150,000.

Is this something to celebrate?
Harley “Wick” Lobo is a former tour guide at Mission San Juan Capistrano, where the Indians are called Juaneño or Acjachemen (a-HOSH-a-men). On Indian opinion concerning the Spanish, he said in 2017 that it depends on who you talk to. “[Some] say the Spaniards were perhaps the worst thing that happened to the Acjachemen [but] others say it was the best thing, because they brought the church.”

Some of Lobo’s ancestors helped build Mission San Juan Capistrano.

Instead of “celebrate,” maybe we should “commemorate.” We did not celebrate the deaths of over a million troops on Memorial Day, but we commemorated them. So this July, we could commemorate the 250-year anniversary of Portolá’s visit. While we’re at it, though, we could also commemorate the approximately 2,000-year anniversary of the people who were here to greet him.

For more information, see map of Portolá’s OC journey: ci.laguna-hills.ca.us/DocumentCenter/View/72/Portola-Campsite-Map-PDF; Harley Lobo and other videos:  ocpl.org/acjachemen.Type your paragraph here.