Anza Trail Blog

Connections between Alamos, Sonora, Juan Bautista de Anza, and the Settling of California

by Joan Powell, Alamos History Association

Tagged as:   Anza Society , Mexico , history

Alamos, Sonora, Mexico

Note: This article is adapted from a presentation at the Anza Society Conference in Alamos, Sonora, MEX, in March 2016.

By the time Juan Bautista de Anza prepared for his 1775 expedition to found San Francisco, Alamos was the major center of mining in southern Sonora, the area from which many of the Anza Expedition families would come.

Silver was discovered in 1683 at Promontorios, near what is today the municipio of Alamos, Sonora, Mexico. By the mid-18th century, Real de los Alamos, as it was then called, was known as one of the most productive mining centers of New Spain. In 1776, nearly two thirds of the silver produced in Sonora and northern Sinaloa came from the Alamos region. The Alamos area had a population of 7,000 and the largest commercial market in northwest New Spain. A branch of the Royal Treasury (caja real) opened in Alamos in June 1770.

Alamos's connection to Juan Bautista de Anza begins with Anza's father, who came to Nueva España before 1718. Historian Don Garate says Anza's father probably began mining in Alamos before going to Aguaje to start his own mine. Anza's father is also documented in Alamos in 1738 escorting Bishop Elizacoecha on an inspection of the missions north of town.

In the correspondence between Anza and Viceroy Bucareli leading up to the expedition, Alamos is a primary place for Anza to receive funds, supplies and report accounting of his expenses. Some examples of this correspondence are below:

5 Dec 1774, Anza (in Mexico City) to Bucareli: Anza asks for a person who will be in charge of assembling the supplies for the expedition. This person should keep an account and present it to the intendant or to the royal official of Los Alamos. Attached to this letter is a list (created by Anza and Don Jose Echeveste) of the provisions needed for the expedition. It includes a cost of the rations needed for each family for the journey from Alamos to Tubac. And it says that some of the articles needed are now at Los Alamos.

7 Jan 1775, Anza (in Mexico City) to Bucareli: Anza has received the letter from Bucareli giving him the authority to choose the person who will procure the supplies, and he will report “with total clarity the account and value of that which I receive, to report it to” the Royal Intendant Official at Alamos. The letter also talks about arrangements with the officials of Alamos, and the “transfer of 12 or 12,500 pesos that have been calculated for the gathering of provisions and riding gear for men, women and children, with other supplies that are destined to go in quantity.”

1 May 1775, Anza (in Villa de Fuerte) to Bucareli: Anza has made preparations to take mules with the baggage of the recruits and surplus goods of the expedition to Alamos, where the Governor of Sonora will deliver to Anza a new mule herd. Note that Anza is in Villa de Fuerte on May 1, 1775. El Fuerte is a little over 100 kilometers south of Alamos, depending on your route.

On June 22, 1775, Anza reports to Bucareli that he arrived in Horcasitas at the end of May. To get to Horcasitas, Anza has passed through Alamos, and presumably has taken care of accounting with the royal treasury there. Anza lost a number of saddle horses because of the extreme heat and dryness between Alamos and Horcasitas (Garate, Antepasados, vol VIII).

After the expedition, on February 19, 1777, Bucareli writes to Anza that he is “arranging with the Exchequer to deliver the 664 pesos, 5 1/2 reales to Your Honor, the amount of the bill presented with urgency on the sixteenth of this month relative to the costs incurred for the Yuma chief, Salvador Palma, and his companions. Your Honor should proceed to receive them with 400 more that will also be released to pay to Your Honor for the successive costs of the return trip of the said Indians... When you have paid for the trip Your Honor will present a punctual invoice, together with notice of this order, to the officials of Alamos so they can balance it and other disbursements, placing in their control the remainder of the fund or asking for reimbursement for that which must be reconciled with the Royal Exchequer and whatever amunt they request with this objective must pass to their accounts.”


Vicente Feliz, one of the soldier escorts, and his family were from Alamos. Vicente Feliz married Manuela Lopes Pinuelas in Alamos, 13 July 1760. They and 7 children came on the Anza expedition in 1775. Children baptized in Alamos include: Joseph Francisco Feliz Penualas ( 20 Oct 1761); Maria Loreta Extefana Felix Lopez (4 Nov 1764); Maria Antonia del Pilar Felis Penuelas (26 Jun 1768); Maria Marsela Feliz Lopez (11 Nov 1770); and Joseph Pablo Felix Penuela (3 Jan 1773).

Although one or two other sources say that one or more additional people on the expedition were from Alamos, I have not yet found sources to document their ties to Alamos.


In a broader context, Alamos residents played a significant role in the settling of California.

At least two other soldiers from Alamos were in presidios in California by 1777. They were not members of the Anza expedition in 1775-1776, and must have come to California via another route.

Anastacio Feliz, from Alamos, was a soldier at the San Diego Garrison on Dec 21, 1777. In Aug 1781 he married 14-year old Maria Gertrudes Valenzuela (baptised in Alamos in May 1767), who had recently arrived with her uncle Vicente Quijada and his family (on the 1781 Rivera Expedition to found Los Angeles). In 1790 they are in Santa Barbara, where they had four children.

Manual Ramon Bernal is at the San Diego Garrison in December 1777, and in January 1780. In May 1782 and in 1790 he gives his origin as Alamos, and is single.


In the Rivera Expedition of 1781, Alamos played a larger role than the Anza Expedition as far as the population growth of California. The Rivera Expedition assembled in Alamos, and while the group was gathering and assembling, 12 of the soldiers were married here, most marrying girls and young women from Alamos. The first marriage occurred on 28 February 1780, the others married between mid-October 1780 and the end of January 1781.

Additionally, six of the soldier families that accompanied the expedition were from Alamos. There were two settler families from Alamos, although one (Antonio Mesa and his family) did not stay in California; the other, the Luis Quintero family (whose wife was from Alamos) left Los Angeles to be with the group that settled Santa Barbara.

1790 Census of California

In the 1790 Census of California, at least 30 of the adults had been born in Alamos, second only to Villa Sinaloa and Loreto. These families had about 59 children, giving a total of 89 or more people of Alamos descent in California at that time.


Bancroft, Hubert Howe. History of the North Mexican States and Texas, vol. 1, 1531 – 1800. (vol. XV of The works of Hubert Howe Bancroft). San Francisco, 1884.
Bolton Hebert Eugene, Anza's California Expeditions, vol 5, Correspondence. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1930.
Early California Population Project (database of baptism, marriage, and burial registers produced by the Franciscans of Spanish and Mexican California). Huntington Library, 2006. .
Eldredge, Zoeth Skinner. Beginnings of San Francisco from the Expedition of Anza, 1774, to the City Charter of April 15, 1850, vol 1. San Francisco, 1912. Various digitized images of parish registers from Purisima Concepcion, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.
Garate, Donald T. Juan Bautista de Anza; Basque Explorer in the New World, 1693-1740. Reno, University of Nevada Press, 2003.
Garate, Donald T. Captain Juan Bautista de Anza – Correspondence – on Various Subjects 1775. In Antepasados, volume VIII. San Leandro, Calif., Los Californianos, 1995.
Garate, Donald T. Anza's Return From Alta California (Anza Correspondence 1776 – 1778). In Antepasados, volume IX. San Leandro, Calif., Los Californianos, 1998.
Mason, Bill. “The Garrisons of San Diego Presidio: 1770-1794”, Journal of San Diego History, vol. 24 #4, Fall 1978.
Mason, William Marvin. The Census of 1790; a Demographic History of Colonial California. Menlo Park, Calif., Ballena Press, 1998.
Stoffle, Richard W., et. al. Analyzing the 18th Century Lifeways of Anza Expedition Members in Northwestern Sinaloa and Southwestern Sonora Mexico. Univ. of Arizona. School of Anthropology, Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology. 2011.
West, Robert C. Sonora; Its Geographical Diversity. Austin, Univ. of Texas Press. 1993.


Alamos Conference
The author, second from right, presenting during the Anza Society Conference in Alamos, Sonora, March 2016.

Alamos, Sonora, Mexico
Alamos in southern Sonora was a center of mining and finance in the years leading up to the Anza Expedition of 1775-76.

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