In 1773, Juan Bautista de Anza, captain of the Tubac Presidio in Sonora (now southern Arizona) was commissioned by the Viceroy of New Spain, to find an overland route from Sonora to California. This land route would be a more reliable means for supplying the Spanish outposts in California than the current method of resupply by ship. An overland trail would also help the Viceroy fulfill the king’s order to begin colonizing Alta California in answer to recent explorations along the west coast of North America by Russia and England.
In January 1774, Anza’s group, which included a small group of soldiers, servants and a priest departed Tubac for California. For many weeks the party journeyed across unexplored deserts and mountain ranges. Along the way, the expedition encountered a number of Native American groups, forming an important alliance with the Yuma tribe along the Colorado River.
When Anza returned home to Sonora, he learned that the Viceroy was very pleased with his accomplishment. In fact, the Viceroy asked him to organize and lead a new California expedition as soon as it was practical. This second expedition would include a much larger and diverse group of people, including women and children, and settlers as well as soldiers.
In March 1775, Anza assumed the responsibility of recruiting families and organizing supplies for this first colonizing expedition to Alta California. He spent many months preparing the newly recruited families for the difficult journey. Then, on October 23, 1775, the group left Tubac. For nearly five months they traveled by horseback, mule, and on foot; arriving at the Presidio of Monterey on March 10, 1776.
The trip had often been difficult and the colonists had endured lack of water and food, life threatening weather conditions, debilitated and dying animals, and roads that often seemed impassable due to rain, mud, sand or snow. At least twice the expedition was hampered by desertion of servants or military personnel. Nonetheless, only one woman died (due to childbirth complications) and four babies had been born. Without the help of Native American tribes they met along the way, the expedition may not have been so successful.
In June 1776, the colonists, led by Anza's second in command, Lieutenant José Joaquin Moraga, were given permission to continue their journey to San Francisco Bay and build there the presidio and mission for which the colonists had left their homeland.