Inland Exploration


Captain Juan Bautista de Anza II (Fronteras, New Spain, 1736 – Arizpe, New Spain, 1788) began promoting the need for a land route from Northern Mexico to Alta California in 1772. That year, he asked Viceroy Antonio Maria de Bucareli y Ursua for permission to lead an expedition, adding to his own petition the one his father had also previously made in 1738 as guarantee. Anza’s father, Juan Bautista de Anza I (Hernani, Gipuzkoa, 1693 – New Spain, 1740), died before he was ever able to realize his plan when a couple of years after his petition, he was ambushed and killed by Apache archers. Son Juan, on the other hand, was granted permission by Bucareli and the King of Spain to guide the two expeditions that transformed the history of California. During the first expedition in 1774, Anza traced the route from Sonora to California. He guided the first group of settlers from Sonora to Monterey in a second expedition from 1775-1776, through harsh winter months and several other ordeals. Once in the Bay area, Anza chose the sites for the San Francisco Presidio and Mission Dolores, and by doing so, laid the foundation of the City of San Francisco. Anza was therefore able to accomplish his father’s unrealized plan. According to David J. McLaughlin, member of the American Historical Society, “The trail was an Anza family project.”

The Need for an Overland Route Between Northern Mexico and California

“Nuevo Mapa Geographico de la America Septentrional”, 1768. Author: Jose Antonio de Alzate y Ramirez.

Spanish officials had good reasons to support Anza’s initiave. The colonization of Alta California was, in fact, instrumental to secure Spain’s claim of the territory: the Russian and British presence on the northern part of the North American West Coast was becoming a real threat, and the San Francisco harbor had been recently discovered. Additionally, the permanence of the five existing missions from Monterey to San Diego (San Diego de Alcala, San Carlos Borromeo, San Antonio de Padua, San Gabriel Arcangel and San Luis Obispo de Tolosa) depended largely on provisions shipped from New Spain. More often than not, however, the ships struggled against north winds and counter-currents, forcing them to make the 700-mile journey over many long months. The vessels that shipped from San Blas were too small to carry entire families, so the San Diego and Monterey settlements were only inhabited by unmarried settlers. Anza’s plan was to connect Sonora and California by land, so that families could start settling the area, and all kinds of crops and fruits could be sent from Sonora.

Viceroy Bucareli couldn’t have found a better leader for that enterprise. Anza, who was then Captain of the presidio of Tubac (Sonora, today’s Arizona), knew every trail, pueblo, watering place and pasture of northern New Spain like the palm of his hand because he had been born there. He was also familiar with enemy fighting tactics. He was the ideal candidate to guide the expedition through the unknown and sometimes dangerous northwestern territories.

Map of the San Ignacio de Tubac presidio, 1766- 1767. Author: Jose de Urrutia


McLAUGHLIN, David J. (2011). Soldiers, scoundrels, poets and priests, Pentacle Press, Phoenix, Arizona.

GARIKANO, Asun (2013). Kaliforniakoak (1533-1848), Pamiela, Iruñea.

Juan de Oñate Salazar

Juan de Oñate’s signature

The explorer and colonizer Juan de Oñate was the son of Cristobal de Oñate (Gasteiz (Araba) or Oñati (Gipuzkoa), 1504 – Panuco, Zacatecas, Mexico, 1567), and Catalina de Salazar. He was the founder and first governor of the former province of Santa Fe de Nuevo Mexico (New Mexico). He took part in the first exploring expeditions of the southwestern parts of present-day United States and founded several sites there. He reached as far as Kansas, the Grand Canyon, and the Gulf of California with these expeditions. De Oñate established a stretch of El Camino Real, called El camino Real de tierra adentro (the Royal Road to the Interior) that extended from the Chihuahua mines to the northern part of New Mexico. To this day, the section of the Camino that links Chihuahua with El Paso is called La ruta de Oñate/Oñate’s Route. He also traced the Deadman’s Journey route, a waterless trail of almost 80 miles. While he is admired by some for his accomplishments as a pathfinder and colonizer, others think of him as a despicable character for the cruelty he showed toward the indigenous people of Acoma (New Mexico) after their uprising against the Spaniards.

The Expeditions of Juan de Oñate

Juan de Oñate’s Inscription on El Morro National Monument of New Mexico

In 1605, when Oñate was returning to Rio Grande from his Gulf of California journey, he passed the rock El Morro. There, he chiseled this account of his journey into the rock: “Pasó por aquí el Adelantado Juan de Oñate del descubrimiento de la mar del Sur a 16 dias de abril año 1605.” (Passed by here the Adelantado Don Juan de Oñate, from the discovery of the Sea of the South on the 16th of April, 1605). Many travelers after him followed suit, including Durango’s (New Vizcaya) Bishop Martin de Elizacoechea from Azpilkueta, Nafarroa. But Oñate’s inscription was the first chiseled in Spanish, his is predated only by American Indian petroglyphs.


SIMMONS, Marc (1991). The Last Conquistador: Juan de Oñate and the Settling of the Far Southwest, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.

______ (1999). In Etulain, Richard, and Echeverria, Jeronima, eds., Portraits of Basques in the New World. University of Nevada Press, Reno, Nevada.

Agustin de Vildosola

(Areatza, Bizkaia, 1700 – 1754, Pitic, New Spain)

“Bulevar A. de Vildosola” Boulevard, in Hermosilla, Mexico

Agustin De Vildosola, son of Joseph de Vildosola and Francisca de Aldecoa, founded the presidio of San Pedro de la Conquista del Pitic, today’s Hermosillo, Mexico, in 1741. He was the Governor of Sonora and Sinaloa between 1741 and 1748.

Juan Bautista de Anza’s Exploration Expedition of 1774

Juan Bautista de Anza’s Signature- National Park Service (, Public Domain,

Juan Bautista de Anza’s exploring expedition is best known for establishing the route from Sonora to Alta California. The party set out on January 8, 1774 from the San Ignacio de Tubac presidio (in today’s southern Arizona) for a final destination of the San Carlos presidio in Monterey.

 Anza’s plans were delayed while he was arranging the planned journey to Monterey when Apache Natives stole 130 horses from the Tubac presidio. On the bright side, during the additional time that Anza spent gathering more horses for the expedition, a surprise visit occurred from a newly-arrived visitor from Alta California, Sebastian Tarabal. Tarabal, a deserter from Mission San Gabriel, had recently traversed the desert to the Colorado River. Tarabal’s journey led Anza to appoint him his expedition guide.

Anza and Tarabal left Tubac that winter morning in January, accompanied by 20 volunteer soldiers; a Mexican soldier familiar with Californian trails; a Pima interpreter; a native carpenter from Tubac’s presidio; five muleteers; and two of Anza’s servants. Two Franciscan friars also joined the group: Aragonese Francisco Garces, who had participated in previous Colorado River explorations, and Juan Diaz. The party was completed by 140 horses and 65 cows. Anza outfitted the expedition with many tools he thought necessary to help the group be better prepared to encounter previously uncharted territories (“otros utiles necesarios para terrenos ignorados”), as Anza wrote in his dairy. After all, it was the first time Europeans would cross those lands.

Thanks to Anza’s and Garces’ detailed diary entries we know about the expedition’s daily events.

San Ignacio de Tubac Presidio, c. 1774. Author: Bill Ahrendt. Courtesy of the National Park Service.

Soon after they left Tubac for their trek across the Sonora Desert toward the Colorado River, they found evidence of Apache attacks. Anza said that the Apache were “La infernal peste de los Apaches” (the Apache are a hellish plague). Rather than suffering attacks, the natives received the explorers in the friendliest manner. When Anza’s group reached the shores of the Gila River a month into their journey, more than 200 natives joined them:

 “all of them overjoyed at our coming, which they celebrated with cheers and smiles, at the same time throwing up fistfuls of earth into the air and with other demonstrations expressing the greatest guilelessness and friendship.”

At the Gila River, the Quechan (Yuma) Nation welcomed the explorers just as warmly. They were met by Chief Olleyquotequiebe, who would be known by the Spanish as Salvador Palma. He dismounted his horse and asked Anza for an embrace. He then begged Anza’s men to allow the natives to approach the men more closely, as many of the Yuma had never met people like them before. Anza offered special gifts to Chief Palma: a shiny ribbon and a necklace of coins with an engraving of the Spanish King.

The friendly relations between Anza and Palma were key to the success of both the 1774 expedition and the 1775-1776 colonizing expedition. Anza showed great respect toward the natives, as his diary noted, “Their temperament is the best to be found among Indians, for they are very festive, affectionate, and generous.” His descriptions of their culture were free of judgement or scorn:

“The men go entirely naked, without the least sign of shame for their manhood, and to go partly covered they consider womanish, as they themselves have told us. They have good heads of hair, which they do up in many and diverse ways, with very fine mud, upon which they scatter a powder of such bright luster that it looks like silver. In order not to disturb this coiffure they sleep sitting up.”

Sadly, the poor behavior of the Spanish parties that followed Anza’s expedition ruined the relations that the Commander had so dearly built and preserved with the Yuma.

As proof of Anza’s confidence in the Yuma, the Commander left a few cows and exhausted pack animals with some soldiers at the pueblo until his return.

The Natives helped the Spaniards by guiding them through the Colorado River past Santa Olaya Lake, up to the edge of the Colorado Desert big dunes. After that, Native American Tarabal and Father Garces, who had explored the area three years before, were left in charge of guiding the expedition forward. They took the wrong route, though, and rode aimlessly for fifteen days until their horses ran out of energy. They then decided to ride back to Santa Olaya. Dust storms had covered up possible trails back, making their return difficult. Eventually, they made it to the lake where they rested for a few days, “The soldiers, who had a fiddler among them, held nightly dances with the Indian girls, there on the rim of the desert, defying its menace with their jollity.”

Per Anza’s direction, they resumed their march southwest down the Colorado River in search of the trail along the southern edge of the desert. From the northern side of the Cocopa Mountains, where they found watering places and pastures, they continued northwest. They encountered Native nations all along their journey, all of them friendly, and some very timid and fearful. The natives of the Colorado River called their mountain neighbors jahueche or caguenche. “In spirit they appear to be more cowardly than the Yumas,” wrote Anza. “They possess no horses, and they are so afraid of the Yumas that they are terrified even when they hear a horse whinny.” On their way up what is now the Colorado Canyon, they found famished natives living in rocks and caves, “as if in rabbit warrens.” Anza’s message throughout his journey for the Natives was to live in peace with each other and to avoid war between nations.

Without further issues, the expedition reached Mission San Gabriel on March 22, after a 268-mile trip from Tubac. Four Franciscan Friars of the mission welcomed the group in jubilation, tolling the bells and singing the Te Deum: They could hardly believe that a connecting route between there and Sonora could be possible.

From Mission San Gabriel, Anza left for Monterey with a small group of soldiers to explore this route farther in preparation for his upcoming colonizing expedition.

On their return trip, the expedition was joined by six soldiers from Monterey who were supposed to learn the route to the Colorado River. When they reached the site, Anza and his men found out that the once-friendly Yuma natives had tried to steal the cattle that the expedition had left, and they reported some violence by the Natives toward the Monterey soldiers. Anza thought these issues were trivial compared to the bigger scheme of the expeditions. Anza finally returned to Mexico, where he related details of his expedition to Viceroy Antonio Maria de Bucareli y Ursua.

Despite the differences that arose between Father Garces and Anza, Garces ended his journal on April 26 with words of praise for the Commander: “The expedition has been made without molesting or vexing the Indians,” and it attributed the success of the endeavor to “the good conduct which the commander has shown, bearing with the Indians, disciplining the soldiers gently, and respecting and sustaining the fathers.”

The inland route between Sonora and Alta California was established. The Viceroy rewarded Anza’s contributions by promoting him to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Anza was then asked to organize the next expedition, intended to colonize and fortify the San Francisco area.

Online Resources About Anza


BOLTON, Herbert Eugene (1930). Anza’s California Expeditions, University of California Press, Berkeley, California.

_____________ (1921). The Spanish borderlands: a chronicle of Old Florida and the Southwest, Yale University Press, New Haven.

FONT, Pedro (1913).The Anza expedition of 1775-1776, Frederick J. Teggart edit., Publications of the Academy of Pacific Coast History, 3. lib., 1. zenb., University of California, Berkeley, California.

GARATE, Donald T. (edit.) (1995). Captain Juan Bautista de Anza: Correspondence on various subjects, 1775 [Antepasados, VIII]. Los Californianos, San Leandro, California.

_____________ (1998). Anza´s Return from Alta California: Anza Correspondence 1776-1778 [Antepasados, IX]. Los Californianos, San Leandro, California.

_____________ (2003). Juan Bautista de Anza. Basque Explorer in the New World, 1693-1740, University of Nevada Press, Reno.

GARIKANO, Asun (2013). Kaliforniakoak (1533-1848), Pamiela, Iruñea.

GUERRERO, Vladimir (2006). The Anza trail and the settling of California, Heyday, Berkeley, California.

Antonio Maria de Bucareli y Ursua

Antonio Maria de Bucareli y Ursua was the Viceroy of New Spain from 1771 to 1779. As his second surname indicates, his mother’s side was Basque. His grandfather was Pedro de Ursua y Arizmendi. The exploring and colonizing expeditions of 1774 and 1775-1776, respectively, were led by Juan Bautista de Anza II under the command of Bucareli. Concerned with advances into the north of the continent, Bucareli sent two expeditions to explore the North Pacific Coast: Juan Perez’s expedition in 1774, and Biscayan Bruno de Heceta’s expedition in 1775. Basque Peruvian Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra was the captain of one of Bruno de Heceta’s ships. Today’s Bucareli Sound, an Alaskan bay, was named by him.


GARIKANO, Asun (2013). Kaliforniakoak (1533-1848), Pamiela, Iruñea.

The Last Will and Testament of Fray Pedro de Arriquibar

Pedro Antonio Arriquibar (Zeanuri, Bizkaia, 1745 – Tucson, Arizona, 1820)

Zeanuri, Bizkaia, first half of the 20th century. Author: Felipe Manterola.

Pedro Antonio Arriquibar was still a deacon in his homeland when he sailed from Bilbo to the Colegio of San Fernando in Mexico. He was 24 years old. He served the Baja California missions first, until 1772. In 1774, he entered Colegio de Santa Cruz de Queretaro, the institution responsible for the Sonora and Arizona missions. A year later, the friar moved to Tumacacori, Arizona, in the Pimeria region, where he spent the next 45 years of his life.

Arriquibar was granted dispensation from his vow of poverty in 1796, when he began performing chaplain duties in Tucson’s presidio. His Last Will and Testament shows that in this position, he accumulated considerable wealth.. The Biscayan priest’s Last Will is one of the oldest surviving documents of this type that remains today.

De Arriquibar’s Will began with: “I, Fray Pedro de Arrquibar […], a native of Viscaya in Spain, of the Kingdom of Castile….” He then asked to be buried in the church, at the altar stairs, while a beautiful requiem Mass was sung. He requested further chaplain’s honors with a procession around the town square with his body so that the locals would pray for his soul. The chaplain named “his beloved godson” Teodoro Ramirez lawful heir to all the goods and wealth amassed during his years of chaplaincy, except 200 pesos destined to Jerusalem and the redemption of captives in Jerusalem.

“Plano de las Provincias de Ostimuri, Sinaloa, Sonora y demás circunvecinas y parte de California, 1772”. Author: Jose Antonio de Alzate y Ramirez. Link to the map:

Here is an inventory of Arriquibar’s goods: “…First the house of a parlor and two rooms a storeroom, enclosure in rear of the back yard, a table and chairs, a statue of Our Lady of Sorrows, a Roman cassock, a rosary from Jerusalem, four Roman breviaries, and a book of sermons of parchment. Eleven Latin books bound in yellow pasteboard, four Latin books bound in pasteboard, six large sermon books on parchment, by various authors, thirty books bound in parchment and two without bindings, eight ordos in Latin, a package of manuscripts sermons, a wool mattress much worn, two Pima sheets much worn, and one pillow, one black blanket and cot with horsehair rope lacing, a palmleaf hat bound with cotton duck, some drawers, a shirt, some breeches of cotton duck, and some hose, a large handkerchief and some shoes, a mantel of blue wool cloth a large snuff-box, a snuff canister and some glasses, a razor case, two razors and a hone, an inkwell and two small bottles, four pottery wine jars, a saddle with saddleskirts, horn bags, sweat leathers, and spurs, a metal knife and fork and spoon, a tin can, a candlestick and snuffers, seven saddle horses and one mare, five mules, fifteen mares and their stallion, about forty head of cattle, five hundred ninety pesos, three reales…”

As a missionary, Arriquibar was known to be an idle friar, but as chaplain, he was one of the wealthiest members of the Tucson presidio.

Sketch of the Tucson presidio. Unknown artist. Construction work of the presidio began in 1775. The first correspondence sent from this place was dated November of 1776 and was signed by Juan Bautista de Anza. By unknown –…/rio_nuevo/arch/tp/presidio.phpCenter for Desert Archaeology, Public Domain,


GARIKANO, Asun (2013). Kaliforniakoak (1533-1848), Pamiela, Iruñea.

OMAETXEBARRIA, Ignacio (2001). Franciscanos misioneros vascos. Biografias y semblanzas, Arantzazu E. F., Arantzazuko Santutegia, Oñati.

STONER, Victor R.; DOBYNS, Henry F. (1959). «Fray Pedro Antonio de Arriquibar, Chaplain of the Royal Fort at Tucson» in Arizona and the West, Journal of the Southwest, 1. lib., 1. zenb., 71-79.

Jose de Urrutia

(Zalla, Bizkaia, 1739 – Madrid, 1803)

Jose de Urrutia was commissioned as cartographer to Marquis de Rubí’s inspection journey of the presidios of the northern frontier from 1766 to 1768. At the end of the investigation, Rubí concluded it was necessary to build another six presidios to help protect trading, traveling, and existing settlements in this territory. Urrutia was appointed Lieutenant for his services. Over the years, he gained a reputation as an engineer in Mexico and Europe. When Francisco de Goya painted his portrait, Urrutia was Captain General and Military Engineer of the Spanish Army.


“Mapa, que comprende la Frontera, de los Dominios del Rey, en la America Septentrional, 1769” by Jose de Urrutia, here:

Juan Jose de Echeveste y Arrieta

Juan Jose de Echeveste y Arrieta, from Donostia (Gipuzkoa) was appointed the financial administrator of Juan Bautista de Anza’s colonizing expedition by Viceroy Antonio Maria de Bucareli y Ursua. Prior to Anza’s expedition the Spanish Crown admired the administrative skills he had demonstrated in the tobacco monopoly, and employed him as the purchasing agent for the two Californias. By Bucareli’s orders, Echeveste drew up the Reglamento Provisional (Provisional Code) in 1773, also known as Reglamento de Echeveste (Echeveste Code). It was California’s first code, and it proved to be instrumental in the colonization of the territory. The code, for instance, established the way missionaries should treat indigenous people: “[they] should behave toward them as fathers who love and educate their children,” in regards of the Native Americans they were using for labor.

Echeveste was also an active member of the Basque community of New Spain. He served as the director of the Confraternity of Aranzazu and the College of the Vizcayans, and, like Viceroy Bucareli, was a member of the association Real Sociedad Bascongada de Amigos del País.

Financial Administrator of Juan Bautista de Anza’s 1775 Colonizing Expedition

Echeveste drafted detailed lists of provisions that would keep the members of the expedition well-furnished with food and clothing throughout the long journey from Sonora to San Francisco. The food list included cows (one per day), cornmeal for making tortillas, beans, chocolate, white sugar, and three barrels of liquor “for necessities.” Cooking utensils included 8 pans, 10 copper pots, 12 large chocolate pots, and other items.

The clothing list detailed garments for every man, woman and child from head to toe; yards of fabric needed for girl’s blouses and underskirts; number of ribbons; and the pairs of shoes that would be needed. The list also indicated they would need 120 bed covers. An interesting fact about the clothing list: hats were ordered only for the boys because apparently the girls’ hair was enough protection — hats were therefore not needed.

Provisions for military equipment included a flag with the royal coat of arms; 11 tents (10 for families and 1 for friars); 20 rifles, ammunition, swords and spears; 22 leather jackets, and more. To wrap up the list, among the tools, there were four axes from Bizkaia with steel blades.

Echeveste also made sure to bring gifts for the Native Americans they would encounter along their journey; six boxes of glass beads (the list indicated that if possible, no black beads, and many red ones), along with tobacco. The most special of all presents was for Olleyquotequiebe, the Captain of the Yuma, also known as Salvador Palma, who gave a warm welcome to Anza on his first expedition. It was an elegant military uniform with a hat like the dragoons. He included two notebooks: one for military records and the other was intended to be a diary. We know about the expedition’s daily events due to the diary entries of Anza and the Chaplain Pedro Font.


CHAPMAN, Charles E. (1916). The founding of Spanish California, the northwestward expansion of New Spain, 1687-1783, Macmillan Co., New York.

DOUGLASS, William A.; BILBAO, Jon (1986). Amerikanuak. Los Vascos en el Nuevo Mundo, Servicio Editorial Universidad del País Vasco.

GARIKANO, Asun (2013). Kaliforniakoak (1533-1848), Pamiela, Iruñea.

STREET, Richard Steven (2004). Beasts of the field: a narrative history of California farmworkers, 1769-1913, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California.

Martin de Elizacoechea

(Azpilkueta, Nafarroa, 1679 – Michoacan, New Spain, 1756)

Martin De Elizacoechea was born in 1679 in Azpilkueta, in the Navarese municipality of Baztan. He was educated at the University of Alcala and taught there before traveling to the Americas in 1716. Once in New Spain, he filled positions of great responsibility for the viceroyalty: bishop of Durango in Nueva Vizcaya, from 1736 to 1745, and also of Michoacan from 1745 to 1756.

Because Elizacoechea traveled long distances to learn about his diocese, he earned the reputation as a traveling bishop. As Durango’s bishop, he visited his diocese in its entirety. Martin traversed over 2,000 leagues during one period, beginning with Lent in 1737 and finishing in March of 1738. His traveling companions were amazed at his ability to cover over 20 leagues a day.

By Euskaldunaa – Own Work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

As Michoacan’s bishop, he got to know almost all missions of his diocese and gave orders to open elementary schools in all his parishes. He donated funds for the construction of the Church of Santa Rosa school and the San Pedro seminary.

Although he considered himself a man from the Americas, he never cut ties with his family. They exchanged letters and he included them in his Last Will and Testament. The remodeling of the San Andres Church in Azpilkueta was possible due to the money Elizacoechea sent to his hometown.

Bernardo de Urrea

(Culiacan, New Spain, 1710 – Altar, Arizpe, New Spain, 1777)

 In the Mission 2000 database, Bernardo de Urrea is classified as “Basque Criollo.” He was the captain of Altar’s presidio and the founder of the town of Altar. He was the Governor of Sonora and Sinaloa.

When silver was found in the state of Arizona, De Urrea was the owner of Rancho Arizona, which some researchers say the state was named after.

Felipe de Goicoechea

Felipe Antonio de Goicoechea was born in Cosala, Sinaloa, Mexico in 1747. He served as comandante of the presidio of Santa Barbara for 18 years. He once described himself as an exile in the ‘vast lands’ of Alta California, a sentiment likely shared by many soldiers and friars who had served in the territory. De Goicoechea was Governor of California from 1805 until his death in Loreto in 1814. Hubert Howe Bancroft considered De Goicechea to be one of the most able comandantes of presidio of the time.


LAMADRID Jiménez, Lázaro (1963). El alavés Fray Fermín Francisco de Lasuén. O.F.M. (1736-1803). Fundador de Misiones en California, vol. I. and II., Arabako Foru Aldundia.

Jose Antonio de Alzate

Jose Antonio de Alzate (Ozumba, Mexico, 1737 – Mexico City, Mexico, 1799) was a brilliant mind of his time. He engaged in many fields of knowledge, such as cartography, agriculture, archeology, botany, zoology, astronomy, mechanics, physics, history, urban planning and mineralogy. De Alzate’s family was quite cultural: his father Juan Felipe de Alzate Garro (born in Irun, Gipuzkoa, in 1701), was a member of the association Real Sociedad Bascongada de los Amigos del País; De Alzate’s mother, Josefa Ramirez Perez, also born in Ozumba, was the niece of the poet Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. De Alzate graduated in Arts and Theology from the Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico and published over 30 treatises throughout his life. Some paper titles exhibit his curiosity for the natural world, such as Observaciones meteorológicas (weather observations); Observación del paso de Venus por el disco del Sol (observation of the passage of Venus by the disc of the Sun); Modelo y descripción de los hornos de Almadén (model and description of the furnaces of Almadén); and Memoria sobre la naturaleza y cultivo de la grana cochinilla (memory of the nature and farming of the cochineal insect). He also delved into the silk-production and mining industries, as well as topics that, to modern eyes, may seem odd, including Memoria del uso que hacen los indios de los pipiltzintzintlis (memory of the use of the pipiltzintzintlis by the Indians), where he was able to prove that the narcotic effects of the psychedelic plant pipiltzintzintl were due to natural causes and not demonic forces.

“Alzatea verticillate.” Illustration contributed by the Library of the Missouri Botanical Garden, U.S.A.

Alzate’s scientific approach of these topics was educational. He always felt the responsibility to capture his society’s cultural level, and, to that end, published multiple journals: Diario Literario de México (1768), which would later become Asuntos varios sobre Ciencias y Artes; Observaciones sobre la Física, Historia Natural y artes útiles (1787); and Gazetas de Literatura (1790). The journals were financed in great measure thanks to the funds he was bequeathed from his parents. Soon after his father passed in 1781, he had depleted 28,000 of the 31,000 pesos he had inherited. The funds received after his mother’s passing in 1788 were invested in choosing a better printing press for the gazette Gacetas de Literatura. He felt himself a member of his community and paid service to it. He used to say that The Divine Providence wanted him to be born there, to be a member of his society, and that he was therefore compelled to do anything in his power for the benefit of his people. In his own words:

Vivo desprendido enteramente de lo que es vanagloria: escribo por ser útil…” (I detach myself from vainglory: I write just to be of help….)

Alzate was a member of the French Academy of Sciences of Paris and of the Botanical Gardens of Madrid. When he was still alive, the Botanical Expedition to the Viceroyalty of Peru (1778-1788) named a flowering Neotropical tree after him: Alzatea verticillata. Almost a hundred years after the Basque intellectual’s  death, the scientific association Socieda Cientifica Antonio Alzate was created in Mexico in 1884 in honor of Alzate. (The same association changed its name to Academia Nacional de Ciencias Antonio Alzate in 1930.) In 1879, his home town of Ozumba was renamed Ozumba de Alzate.


ALZATE, José Antonio (1985). Memorias y Ensayos, Mexico, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico, Biblioteca del Estudiante Universitario 103.

ENGSTRAND, I. H.W. (1981). Spanish scientists in the New World. The eighteenth-century expeditions,   University of Washington Press, Seattle.

_______ (1984). “The unopened gift: Spain’s gifts to sci­ence during the Age of Enlightenment.”Terra, 22(6): 12-17.

GARCÍA SÁNCHEZ, Yaiza (2011). Memoria del Nuevo Mundo: imágenes para grabar de la expedición botánica de Sessé y Mociño (doktorego-tesia), Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Madrid.

GARIKANO, Asun (2013). Kaliforniakoak (1533-1848), Pamiela, Iruñea.

_______ (2013). “Bi lore euskaldun” in Erlea, Pamiela, Iruñea.

McVAUGH, Rogers: Botanical Results of the Sessé and Mocino Expedition (1787-1803) VII. A Guide to Relevant Scientific Names of Plants (Pittsburgh, 2000).

MORENO, Roberto: “La Familia y los bienes de José Antonio de Alzate” in La R.S.B.A.P. y Méjico, 2. lib., 1995, 647-674.

PUIG-SAMPER, M.A.: “Illustrators of the New World. The Image in the Spanish Scientific Expeditions of the Enlightenment”, Culture & History Digital Journal 1(2), 2012, m102. doi:

SALADINO GARCÍA, Alberto: El sabio José Antonio Alzate y Ramírez de Santillana, Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México, Mexico, 2001.

Juan Antonio de Vizarron y Eguiarreta

Juan Antonio de Vizarron y Eguiarreta. Author: Jose de Ibarra.

Juan Antonio de Vizarron y Eguiarreta was Mexico’s Archbishop and Viceroy of New Spain (1734-1740). He was born in the Spanish town of Puerto de Santa Maria, Cadiz, to a family that had made its fortune in trade with the Americas. His father, Pablo Vizarron, was from Ituren, Nafarroa, from the Perosantzenea farmhouse; his mother, Ana Eguiarreta, was born in Puerto de Santa Maria, but was of Basque origins. There is still a Bizarronea house in the Aurtitz neighborhood of Ituren, which sixteenth and seventeenth-century records show under the name “Bizarron,” and it could be related to the Bizarron family name.

Juan Antonio de Vizarron was the Canon and Archdeacon of the cathedral of Sevilla before traveling to the Americas. He sent six silver candlesticks to the cathedral of Sevilla that matched his six-foot-tall stature. The tall candlesticks are currently displayed on the cathedral’s main altar, called Bizarrones in honor of the donor. Later, the Spanish Royal Academy included the term bizarrón as a name for “big candlestick.” There also is a town called Bizarron in the state of Queretaro in Mexico, founded by the Archbishop himself.

The neighborhood of Aurtitz in Ituren. Jean Michel Etchecolonea [CC BY-SA 3.0 (

Northern Pacific Expeditions

Spanish claims to the Pacific West Coast date to the Papal Bull of 1493 and the Treaty of Tordesillas. But the colonization of the area only came in the last quarter of the 18th century, then the first settlers established in Alta California. By then, Russian and British fur-traders and settlers were beginning to populate the region. In 1773, the Spanish Kingdom sent a number of expeditions to counter their threat and reinforce its claims in the Northwest. Basques played an important role in these journeys as explorers and cartographers of the entire West Coast, including present-day Alaska, even naming the sites. Bruno de Heceta y Dudagoitia was the leader of the 1775 expedition. Juan Manuel de Ayala y Aguirre, captain of one the expedition’s ships, was the first European to enter and explore the San Francisco Bay. The Basque Peruvian Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra was captain of one of the other ships, who traveled as far as present-day Sitka (Alaska, 59° N). The expedition that followed in 1779 was led by Ignacio de Arteaga, who again had Bodega y Quadra as captain one of his ships. Francisco de Eliza made two journeys: one in 1791 and the other in 1793. Above all of them, Bodega y Quadra deserves a special mention for his naval achievements, but for many other reasons, too.

Nagihuin [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]

Bodega was appointed Commandant of the Naval Department of San Blas de Nayarit (Mexico) in 1789, and remained there until 1794. During his years of service, the San Blas Port experienced an unprecedented level of activity. The expeditions organized by Bodega covered the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the Prince William Sound, and Cook Inlet. His expeditions also confirmed the falsity of the transcontinental channels of Lorenzo Perez Maldonado and Juan de Fuca, and explored the mouth of the Columbia River and the entire West coast from San Francisco to 56° N. Bodega also played an important part in the “Expedition of the Limits” of 1792.

The Foundation of the City of San Francisco (1776)

Anyone who opens a history book about the City of San Francisco’s foundation will come across several Basque names: Before we delve deeper into individual life stories of the preeminent Basques who helped found the city, we will briefly mention them here:

Antonio Maria de Bucareli y Ursua
TheViceroy of New Spain who played a key role in the preservation of Alta California settlements and Pacific Northwest expeditions.

• Juan Manuel de Ayala y Aguirre
Captain of the first European ship to sail the Golden Gate Strait and the first to explore the entire San Francisco Bay.

• Bruno de Heceta y Dudagoitia
The leader of the party that helped Ayala y Aguirre in his exploring expedition.

Juan Bautista de Anza
The most important of all the Basques, who is the true founder of the City of San Francisco. He guided the first group of settlers to San Francisco from Sonora to Monterey. On March 28, 1776, Anza chose the location for the future city of San Francisco and marked it by erecting a cross «en el cantil blanco de la boca del puerto», which means “on the white cliff at the opening of the harbor,” the present-day Fort Point. In 1794, Jose Joaquin de Arrillaga, the sixth Governor of California, ordered the San Francisco’s first fort to be built on that exact location.

A plaque at Fort Point today remembers some of those (Basque) men and honors their contribution to the foundation of the City of San Francisco.

Castillo de San Joaquin. California Historical Landmark 82.

The inscription on the plaque reads:

“The first ship to enter San Francisco Bay, the San Carlos (Capt. Ayala) dropped anchor *** off this point August 5, 1775. Lieut.-Colonel Don Juan Bautista de Anza planted the cross on Cantil Blanco (White Cliff) *** March 28, 1776. The first *** fortification, Castillo de San Joaquin, was completed December 8, 1794 by Jose Joaquin de Arrillaga, sixth Governor of California….”

 Location: Southeast side of Fort Wall, Fort Point, San Francisco. (Under the Golden Gate Bridge. In 1853, the Castillo de San Joaquin was torn down to build Fort Point.)

First Steps: Viceroy Bucareli y Ursua Joins the Enterprise

In the last quarter of the 18th century, Russia, England and Spain were vying for control of the Pacific Coast. The colonization of San Francisco was key to prevailing over other explorations and settlements. This strategic site would be critical to Spain’s conquest, so Bucareli y Ursua ordered two expeditions to be formed: A maritime expedition to explore the San Francisco harbor, led by Juan Bautista de Ayala y Aguirre; and an inland expedition, commissioned to Juan Bautista de Anza to guide the first group of San Francisco settlers from Sonora to Alta California. If everything went as planned, Bucareli y Usursa’s two expeditions would meet in San Francisco.

Juan Manuel de Ayala y Aguirre: Captain of the First European Ship to Cross the Golden Gate Strait

On the night of August 4, 1775, the San Carlos packet boat, commanded by Juan Manuel Ayala y Aguirre, reached the harbor of San Francisco through what is now known as the Golden Gate Strait. It is a moment in time worth remembering, since it was the first time any European crossed the well-known Golden Gate. For 44 days after the crossing, Ayala’s men examined San Francisco and Suisun bays in great detail. They named several geographic sites, with names that evolved over time. For instance, the island that Ayala’s party christened as “Nuestra Señora de los Angeles” has become today’s Angel Island, and the name for “Isla de los Alcatraces,” present-day Alcatraz, was originally assigned to a different island. Today’s Mission Bay, in downtown San Francisco, was initially named La ensenada de los llorones (“Cove of the Weepers”)by Juan Bautista Aguirre, Second Pilot of the San Carlos, after finding three Native Americans weeping or making weeping sounds on the site.

Governor Rivera sent a third expedition to San Francisco. This new campaign was under the command of Bruno de Heceta y Dudagoitia and was tasked with preparing for Anza’s colonizing expedition. Captain Ayala waited for them in the bay area, but neither they nor Anza’s settlers arrived, so he decided to return to Monterey. Before setting out, Ayala sent a small group of men to the cross at the top of Point Lobos that had been erected the year before by Father Palou.

Among the members of the group was Vicente de Santa Maria the Navarrese chaplain of the San Carlos, who left two letters at the base of the cross. One letter described the successful entrance of the San Carlos into the Bay. The other letter indicated that they were departing for Monterey, but the letter recommended that the expedition expected to arrive by land start a fire on Angel Island to alert Ayala’s men of their location so that they could meet, in case they were still in the vicinity. The San Carlos left San Francisco Bay on September 18, just three days before Biscayan Bruno de Heceta y Dudagoitia’s group reached it.

The San Francisco harbor began gaining popularity after Juan Manuel de Ayala y Aguirre’s expedition. In Ayala’s words, “the harbor of San Francisco is one of the best that I have seen in these seas, from Cape Horn northward.” As he told Viceroy Bucareli y Ursua by letter: It’s true this is a good port, not only because of the sweet harmony of its sights, but also because of the abundant availability of fresh water, wood and pasturage. Its climate it’s cold but healthy and “it is free from such troublesome daily fogs as there are at Monterey.”

Inspirited by the Captain’s words, Bucareli sent a message to Julian de Arriaga, Minister of the Indies: “We now know that San Francisco is a famous port, healthy, with fertile land along its coasts, and capable of everything one might want to make of it.”

Bruno de Heceta y Dudagoitia

As mentioned before, Bruno de Heceta was sent on a journey from Monterey to San Francisco with orders to help Juan Manuel de Ayala with his exploration assignment and to prepare the site for Anza’s settlers. He was sent by land with a group of men that included the Franciscans Francisco Palou and Miguel de la Campa Cos, nine soldiers, three seamen and a carpenter. They even packed a small canoe on one of their mules.

On September 22, they reached the beach on the southern side of Point Lobos and found the two letters left by Father Santa Maria at the feet of the cross. They made a fire by Angel Island, as one of the letters requested, but didn’t get any response. They set camp next to a lake, which they named “Nuestra Señora de la Merced.” The name has survived until today and it is known now as Lake Merced.

The following day, De Heceta’s party continued looking for Ayala’s men but seeing no sign of them, they assumed the Captain was on his way to Monterey. Heceta decided to follow suit. When he arrived in Monterey on October 1, they found the San Carlos anchored at the port, and were able to learn about Ayala’s San Francisco explorations from the Captain and two of his pilots.

The Founding of the City

Anza’s colonizing expedition set out from the San Ignacio de Tubac presidio (present-day southern Arizona) on October 21, 1775 with orders by Bucareli y Ursua to establish the first Spanish settlement in San Francisco. The expedition set foot in Monterey on March 10, 1776, leaving a treacherous journey behind. The Commander left the settlers there and parted to San Francisco with a small group of men: Lieutenant Moraga, Father Font, and eleven soldiers.

They arrived in San Francisco on March 27, and after an extensive search for wood and water, Anza continued on to select the best locations for the presidio and the mission. The mission was named Dolores after the feast day of Our Lady of Sorrows. Today, Mission Dolores is the oldest building in San Francisco that is still standing. On March 28, 1776, Anza planted a cross on La Punta del Cantil Blanco (White Cliff), today’s Fort Point, visible from the harbor entrance. Anza’s location eventually would become the City of San Francisco. At the base of the cross, under some rocks, Anza left a note, as was customary for communication, with information about their arrival and inspection of the port. Anza wrote about this moment on his diary:

The oldest picture of the Presidio of San Francisco. Allegedly by George von Langsdorff in 1806. Courtesy of the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, California.

“I went to the narrowest opening made by the mouth of the port, where nobody had been before. There I set up a cross, and at its foot I buried under the ground a notice of what I have seen, in order that it may serve as a guide to any vessels that may enter, as well as a report of what I am going on to explore in order to establish the fort belonging to this harbor.”

Anza and Font diaries both give account of the stunning sights from atop of el Cantil Blanco. In Font’s diary entry of March 28, these prophetic words can be read:  

“Indeed, although in my travels I saw very good sites and beautiful country, I saw none which pleased me so much as this. And I think that if it could be well settled like Europe there would not be anything more beautiful in all the world, for it has the best advantages for founding in it a most beautiful city.”

Anza, on the other hand, described the peaceful relations between the Spaniards and the Native Americans of the area:

“In the district which I have examined today and from which I returned at five o’clock in the afternoon, I have also encountered numerous and docile heathen, who have accompanied me with great pleasure but without going a step outside of their respective territories, because of the enmity which is common among them.”

It is unfortunate that after all his strenuous efforts, Anza was not able to accomplish his ultimate goal of establishing a colony in San Francisco. Instead, Alta California’s Governor, Fernando Rivera y Moncada, surely jealous of Anza, decided to have the settlers establish in Monterey. Anza was deeply disturbed by the orders but he was in no position to disobey the Governor.

Only a few months later, the mission the Governor had halted was finally completed by Lieutenant Moraga, and his party of a few settlers reached San Francisco on June 27. They camped by the lake christened by Anza as “Nuestra Señora de los Dolores.” Days later on July 4th, 1776, the Independence of the United States of America was declared.

Online Resources

Spanish and English versions of the diaries of Juan Bautista de Anza and Pedro Font:


BOLTON, Herbert Eugene (1930). Anza´s California Expeditions, University of California Press, Berkeley, California.

CHAPMAN, Charles E. (1921). A History of California: the Spanish period, Macmillan Co., New York.

FONT, Pedro (1913). The Anza expedition of 1775-1776, Frederick J. Teggart edit., Publications of the Academy of Pacific Coast History, Vol. 3, number 1, University of California, Berkeley, California.

GARATE, Donald T. (2003). Juan Bautista de Anza. Basque Explorer in the New World, 1693-1740, University of Nevada Press, Reno.

GARIKANO, Asun (2013). Kaliforniakoak (1533-1848), Pamiela, Iruñea.

GUERRERO, Vladimir (2006). The Anza trail and the settling of California, Heyday, Berkeley, California.