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Our Ortega Stories
Arrival in California
Don Jose Francisco de Ortega

The King's Quest

Suddenly the Spanish were roused from sleep by the news that Russia was planning to invade California. While the Crown was placidly aware that Russia was trapping wildlife in the white land of Alaska, there had been no suggestion that she expected to push further south. But the unexpected had happened. With a spurt of energy equal to their fears, the Crown on April 9, 1768, ordered the viceroy of Mexico to send an expledition into the Pacific to stop the Russians if they attempted a landing on Spanish territory. King Carlos III ordered his minister to give the Manila galleons their needed harbor and to secure the important coast of California against all foreign ships of any kind.

Captain Don Gaspar de Portola, civil and military governor of a presidio, or garrison, at Loreto north of La Paz, offered to command the expedition. A newcomer to the Lower California peninsula, he was disciplined, able, an extremely popular man with his troops and a gallant and brave soldier. He appointed Captain Don Fernando de Rivera y Moncada, his commandante at Loreto, as commissary and in charge of the first division going north. With his soldier-cowboys, some of the finest horsemen in Mexico, he started for San Diego on March 24, 1769.

Portoloa, sitting his mount like a knight of Spain, followed on May 15, taking with him soldiers, Junipero Serra, president of the California missions, and other padres to help found missions, civilized Indians, and Sergent Don Jose Francisco de Ortega, a dedicated and honorable man who could be trusted to check Rivera's trail and watch for savage Indians. Marching or resting, Portola and his people were aware of the importance of their journey. They would succeed; Spain would once again be the magnificent nation, for now a great monarch, Carlos III, was king. Undaunted by dangers or obstacles that lay ahead the Spanish rode, confident of success, like conquistadores making the pilgrimage for their king.

On July 1, 1769, Portola saw the bay of San Diego with the ships San Carlos and San Antonio anchored in the harbor. Leaving soldiers to protect the settlement, and Serra and other padres to nurse the ill, Portola started for Monterey early in July, taking with him Ortega to find a trail, Padre Juan Crespi, Fages, some Catalan soldiers, Rivera and his cowboy-soldiers, and a train of one hundred pack mules. Portola estimated that in five of the villages along the trail, there must have been six thousand Indians. As much as possible, he followed the seacoast. But as he advanced there were deep canyons inhabited by ferocious bear packs. The animals were difficult to hunt and very ferocious. At the Santa Lucia mountains, Ortega and his scouts searched tirelessly for many days to find a passageway. Illness and steep mountain slopes slowed the journey to less than three miles a day. On the twenty-sixth of September, the party climbed a hill and saw in the distance a body of water which they believed to be the bay of Monterey. Rivera and some men were sent to explore the coast line. They returned with shattering news that Monterey was not there; he had found no large bay as Vizacaino described. In disbelief, Portola sent Ortega ahead to examine the land and to make trail. Ortega was gone four days. He returned with heartening news that some miles away there were two small islands, a point of land, and a bay, which tallied with the description of the point of San Francisco as noted by Cabrera Bueno, chief pilot of the Manila galleons, in his work of 1732 on the history of the northwest Pacific coast from Cape Mendocino south.

Portola and his party traveled for days over a miserable road and a level canyon until they reached a great arm of a sea. The following day they skirted the shore of the body of water, halting at a pleasent place dotted with live oaks and bordered by lagoons and swamps. Ortega was ordered to explore, and took eight soldiers with him. He returned after four days, saying that they followed the bay all the time they were gone and had not found Monterey. Portola decided that Monterey was to the south. He made plans to return to San Diego for supplies and come north again for the harbor sighted long years ago by Vizcaino.

Twice, going south, he had crosses erected on the beach where they could be seen by the captain of the San Antonio, should the ship come north with supplies for Monterey before Portola returned. He left messages buried at the foot of one cross; on the other he scribbled his whereabouts. Then he continued his march south.

For several months Portola supervised the building of presidio structures and homes for the people who would live in San Diego. The San Antonio arrived from San Bals with supplies and provisions for Monterey. In April, 1770, Portola started for Monterey by land while Junipero Serra, president of the missions, shipped for Monterey on the San Antonio. This time Portola had a trail to follow. He and his men traveled rapidly.

It was the dons that came with Portola and remained after their brave leader had returned to Mexico, who built their new land. They were the ones who defended the presidios, missions, pueblos, and ranchos against the savages and The Quest other enemies; they planted crops, explored the interior, hunted wild beasts when provisions were low; they protected the Manila galleons and all other Spanish ships that came to California. And they helped to govern California, hindered by Spanish officials and their unjust laws from Mexico and Spain. For seventy-five years the dons were in control of California. They came to the undeveloped land with little more than their hopes for something better than Mexico offered them. Starting with a few acres and animals, in time they became land and cattle barons, measuring their ranchos by the square miles, their herds by the hundreds of thousands, and retiring as royal princes.


The Three Choices

A young man could only choose between three professions and thus serve his king. He could become a priest, lawyer, or soldier. Don Jose Francisco de Ortega preferred the active life of a fighting man.

PrivateAs a private, he had been stationed at the Military Post of Loreto, which was also the capital of the Peninsula of Lower California. Ortega was frequently sent across the Gulf of California to the frontiers of Mexico on business for the Crown and King Carlos III, and often to fight Indians of Sonora.

Proudly he wore his uniform of blue cloth with lapels of scarlet, using honorably his shining sword, his musket and lance, all from his Majesty's factories in Spain. And although he had served his king loyally and obediently for fourteen years as a cavalryman, his rank was only that of sergeant.

When Portoloa came as governor of Loreto, he immediately was placed in charge of the Royal warehouse accounts, and later chosen to command the land expeditions of Monterey. The requirements were strict for those joining the expedition: the men must be strong, in the best of health, with neither scars nor blemishes, experienced in Indian warfare, fearless, and expert horsemen.

On March 24, 1769, the expedition started for San Diego, under the cloudless sky. Now and then there was a threatened skirmish, but musket shots scattered the troublesome natives. Without mishap, the party reached San Diego on July 1, 1769. From San Diego the way would be more difficult. Ortega had studied a chart of the California coast line that had been made by Cabrera Bueno, one of the first navigators to the Pacific, showing many points of land, rivers, and canyons. If he could not pass around cliffs, he would cross over them, and if canyons or rivers were too wide, bridges must be erected before he could go forward. But he would follow the seashore and Indian trails as much as possible, and in that way he could travel faster.

One day after marching early in the day for about two hours, Ortega and the party halted at a river that was about twenty-four feet wide and very deep, Portola named the stream, Santa Ana.

Ortega searching for a suitable place to cross the stream, felt the earth buckle and rock beneath his feet; the earth began to shake with great violence, men, animals, trees weaving and dancing like toys in the hand of a gigantic devil. The soldiers who time and again had fought savages courageously, sometimes fighting them hand to hand, began shouting their supplications to their favorite saints, asking protection and begging to be forgiven their various sins. Just as quickly, the rocking ceased; the earth was firm again under Ortega's feet.

There was excited discussion among the soldiers about the length of the earthquake, and each had a different opinion. To end the aargument that was becoming quarrelsome, in a firm voice, Portola said, "It lasted about the length of an Ave Maria."

Each day, after making camp, Ortega and four to ten scouts would go ahead to find a route for the following day's march. Once he and his group neared an Indian village, intending to pass through the settlement. Ortega, through his interpreter, advised the Chief that he and his soldiers were going through the village, and the savages answered with a volley of arrows. The leather jackets worn by Otega and his scouts protected them. He ordered his men to fire their muskets. Some of the savages were wounded or killed. The others hurried away. Ortega and his men passed through the village in safety.

Across the hills, going toward the northwest, he beat a trail to the sea, for to reach Monterey he should keep within sight of the ocean. At Santa Barbara Channel there were many Indians and many villages. Ortega saw Point Concepcion ahead along the curving shore, indicating that he was on course and that the chart of the early navigator was once again exactly right.

For three long days the trail led over enormous sand dunes, but exhausted they reached seemingly endless marshes and lagoons. The march led over soaring high hills into gullies that became deeper and wider. Ortega and his scouts marked a trail.

Suddenly a bear pack appeared further up the canyon. There is nothing that a Spaniard enjoys more than hunting wild game. Coming down the canyon were fourteen or more of the largest grizzlies Ortega had ever seen. The hunt ended. The hunters had two bears. Two mules had been seriously injured. The canyon was named by the dons Los Osos, The Bears.

Ortega pushed forward, making trail over higher and higher hills, wider and swifter rivers, crossing six rushing torrents in four hours. Down the sides of canyons and up other hills, slipping and sliding the company rode. They reached a mountain, the sides covered with pines - a green wall that blocked his way. He and his scouts searched for hours without finding an opening. Yet somewhere there had to be a way. Beyond the barricade of trees were higher mountains, and Monterey, with a wide, enclosed harbor. The navigator Vizcaino and Cabrera Bueno, chief pilot of the Manila galleons, had reported that Monterey lay north beyond the Santa Lucia Range, and here at the wall of pines was the beginning of those mountains.

He must find a course along the steep sides, a suitable trail, and reach the crest of the giants. Somewhere high above, in the heart of the range, was the beginning of the Carmelo and the Salinas rivers; he must locate the Carmelo and follow it; when he reached the mouth of the river he would be about four miles from Monterey. He had been born in the mountains; they had never defeated him, and they never would. One day the fog lifted from his place on the mountains, Ortega looked along the coast line searching for a point of land and a wide, curving bay. To the north, a great distance away, was a wooded point, a bay, and some islands.

On November 5, the party arrived at a bay. It appeared to be an arm of the Pacific, and here the entire company halted in a pleasant place of oak trees and lagoons. Ortega was ordered to take eight men and make a reconnaissance of the shore in hopes that Monterey would be found. He explored the extensive bay, but the land did not compare in any way with Vizcaino's description of Monterey. Rather, it resembled navigator Cabrera Bueno's chart of San Francisco point.

Portola and the dons started south and watched for the ship San Antonio, which would perhaps be awaiting them at Monterey. On November 28 they halted near a body of water, and a point of land near by, seen by Portola shortly before he had sent Rivera to locate Monterey. Here they waited, but the ship failed to appear. Ortega helped plant a cross on the beach, another at the river, leaving a scrawled message from Portola at the foot of one, another scratched on the second cross, telling any captain of any ship that might arrive the course taken southward by Portola and his dons. On December 10, the dons began their return journey to San Diego.

Upon returning to San Diego, they learned that shortly after they had departed for Monterey, Indians had attached the post. Portola ordered immediate completion of the construction of the military post and temporary mission. Shortly after their return, Portola ordered Captain Rivera to Lower California to bring cattle for the presidio. Ortega was made acting commandante at San Diego, a much overdue promotion, and left with ten soldiers as Portola, Fages, and some Catalan soldiers, padres, servants, and muleteers once again left to find Monterey. Of the ten, four were sick, two assigned to care for horses and mules; that left four men for guarding the San Diego Presidio.

In July, 1770, a courier brought word to the presidio that Portola had at last discovered that white beach where the dons had planted two crosses was Monterey. He had met with the San Antonio there, and the land had been taken by Portola in the name of his Majesty the King of Spain. Fages had been left at Monterey as military commander.

In September, Ortega was ordered to Lower California to bring needed supplies. There was one aspect of this journey anticipated with pleasure, he would see his family that he had not seen for more than a year. He reached Loreto, the military post and capital of Upper and Lower California. Once again he looked into the bright eyes of his wife, Dona Maria Antonio Carrillo, a woman of great beauty and charm who belonged to a distinguished Spanish-Castilian family. She had been born at Loreto, where Ortega had married her. She and their five boys and two girls were accustomed to a life of comparative ease and pleasure. With reluctance and heavy heart, Ortega said his good-by to his wife, and returned to San Diego. Within a year a Spanish galleon anchored at with supplies for San Diego before sailing on to Monterey. Soon the ship returned and the captain explained that because of rough weather he had been unable to reach the northern port.

Ortega and Rivera were ordered to Loreto to recruit soldier-settlers for San Diego. He learned that Fages had been dismissed. Captain Fernando de Rivera y Moncada, commandante at the San Diego presidio was the new military commander for Monterey. That he was promoted to lieutenant, a long overdue advancement. Even better news came later. Ortega was to succeed Rivera as commandante at San Diego. Another reason for rejoicing was that his family was going with him to San Diego, as well as the families of other San Diego soldiers. Their wives would be the first white women to reach California. Living the pioneer life in San Diego would seem curious after civilized Loreto. Living in rude, sparsely furnished quarters of the timber stockade. They would have only one or two servants each; the food would be simple, and clothing would have to last an entire year. The supply ship from San Blas came only once in each twelve months, sometimes less often.

When they finally reached San Diego safely after such a hard journey, the simple homes within the primitive stockade seemed like paradise. In February, 1775, Ortega's wife gave birth to a son. It was his sixth son and they named him Jose Francisco. This son was the first white child to be born in San Diego, and all of California.

The next year Ortega was ordered to found a mission at San Juan Capistrano some seventy-five miles from San Diego and half the distance to San Gabriel Mission. They had been building at the new site little more than a week when a messenger arrived with news of an Indian uprising. The San Diego Mission had been destroyed. Padre Luis Jaume and two others killed. The presidio, however was unharmed and all the people safe. Ortega hurried for his horse. His son and nephew had been staying at the mission. At the presidio of San Diego he shouted for Corporal Verdugo, his trustworthy soldier-his own relative. Questions were answered, his son and nephew were safe. One of the padres had taken them to the guard's barracks at the mission; now they were at the Ortega's house. Had the placement of the mission been visible from the presidio, the disaster might have been avoided, but the padres had selected a location three miles away and out of sight.

Ortega sent a messenger to Captain Rivera, military commander at Monterey. During the first week of January, 1776, Captain Rivera arrived. With him was Captain Don Juan Bautista de Anza, a soldier greatly respected by Ortega. Anza had been sent by the viceroy from a Mexican presidio with soldiers and families to settle at a military post in San Francisco. Captain Rivera had been later transfered to another post, and Captain Don Felipe de Neve came overland to serve as governor of both Upper and Lower California. De Neve, a Spaniard from Seville, had been the major of a cavalry regiment and the administrator of colleges in Mexico. Arriving in February as though stepping from His Majesty's palace at Madrid. Upon seeing the deplorable state of San Diego's soldiers, he wrote the viceroy and orders Mexico to ship without delay armaments, powder, balls, clothing, equipment, and munitions. De Neve wanted the equipment to be distributed without charge to the soldiers. He also ordered horses and mules be sent overland at once. The new governor was a man of humanitarian instincts. He wanted settlers from Mexico to come to the new provence in great numbers and to plant crops, raise herds, that California should have pueblos-villages. Ortega was particularly interested in having California settled and land distributed to newcomers and to soldiers like himself. De Neve remained in San Diego until spring when the ordered supplies had reached them before leaving for Monterey.

Almost immediately Ortega received word that De Neve had founded a Spanish pueblo at the southern extremity of San Francisco Bay, roughly seventy-five miles east of Monterey. The pueblo of San Jose de Guadalupe was founded in November, 1777. The first one to be established in California.

Ortega was ordered by De Neve to search along the rivers of the south for land where a second pueblo might be founded. He decided that the land on the Porciuncula River, nine or ten miles from the mission, would be a good place for a village with ample pasture land and plenty of water. Two years later he received word from De Neve, accepting the plans for the second city in California that would be located along the Porciuncula River. The settlers would be provided with two each of farm animals and whatever else they required to begin life in the new pueblo and paid a salary equivalent to that of soldiers. In return, each man would be required to have a musket and a sword and keep a horse always near, in case he should be called upon to defend the land against Indians. Already, De Neve said, settlers were traveling from Mexico, coming by way of the Colorado trail. The leader of the group was Ortega's old commanding office, Rivera. Limon, a Lieutenant from the group brought shocking news that Rivera and the other soldiers had been massacred by Colorado Indians.

CaptainOrtega had been ordered to build a presidio at Santa Barbara in 1782, and command it. He had waited long years for this action. Now a presidio was to be founded; and Ortega would have the honor of building and commanding it for His Majesty. In his absence from San Diego, his eldest son's Ignacio and Jose Maria would care for his family as part of their duties of being soldiers at San Diego.

On April 21, the soldiers enclosed a square and within the improvised stockade, a large wooden cross was raised. The land was taken in the name of the Crown. The presidio eighty feet square, would be enclosed by stout wall of stones and adobe bricks. Ortega thought often of asking for retirement, and Santa Barbara was an ideal location to live. He had been thirty years in the far outpost of California, and almost constantly in the saddle.

In 1786, he petitioned for retirement; with retirement would come the land. In making his request he spoke of his years of service, noting his many accomplishments for the Crown. His request was refused. Instead, he was ordered to Monterey to command the presidio. Later, recalled to Loreto and sent south on the peninsula to serve his Crown. At last the day came when Ortega was retired on half pay as lieutenant and attached to the Santa Barbara presidio. Doubtless on that day in 1795, the world was beautiful to the old don, for now he could return to the country of his choice and have his rancho. Once again he hurried from the barren southland to Santa Barbara. Along the endless shore, past the inlet of the Barrones, the giant cactus, he raced for the last time - going home.

Now Ortega had his rancho, a beautiful stretch of fertile country of eighteen square miles, beginning at the Pacific and ending on the east of the mountains. His estate was several miles from Gaviota Pass, where his struggle to find a road to Monterey had begun. He named his estate Rancho Nuestra Senora del Refugio. Three years later, early on a February morning, Ortega rode his magnifcant horse from his rancho and started with an escort for Santa Barbara presidio. Feeling ill, he stopped at one of the Indian villages of Dos Pueblos, where the inhabitants were his friends. There, surrounded by his Indians, he died. He was buried the following day.


The Story
The story of Don Jose Francisco de Ortega and his military career that included the exploration and settlement of "Baja" California.

The Kinships
The ten generations that link Jose Francisco de Ortega to our family in California today.

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