Anza and the Fan

After Pedro Fages came through the East Bay in 1770 and 1772, no one from New Spain appears to have visited the land on which Oakland sits until Juan Bautista de Anza led an exploring expedition here in the spring of 1776. Scholars seem to be quite sure of where the group went, but when I examine the record I find more and more room for interpretation and inference.

I’m not going to pretend I’ve examined the manuscripts or know 18th-century Spanish. I’ve accessed translations of those manuscripts and, well, here’s some of the questionable things and wiggle room I see in the record.

  • Apparently no one in the group, neither Anza nor the group’s diarist, Father Pedro Font, had been with Fages in the earlier visits, so they had only a slim written record to compare against the countryside they saw. We can’t rely on their interpretation, especially as it appears they took a different route than Fages.
  • We can’t rely on their directions. The East Bay from Berkeley south is persistently slanted 33 degrees west of north (thanks to the Hayward fault and the plate boundary of which it’s part) making it hard to eyeball true directions; magnetic north was apparently 12 degrees east of true north at the time (thanks, NOAA); and Font complained about the poor quality of his compass, so the explorers’ impressions are suspect. The men were not experienced sailors either, people I might trust, but army soldiers. Moreover, I wonder about the transcriptions. There seem to be too many instances of “northwest” (noroeste) and not enough of “northeast” (noreste) to fit the written route on modern maps. And the scholars, whom I trust on this topic, point out that very discrepancy between different copies of these documents, all of which were made by hand.
  • We can’t rely on their distances. No one had odometers. Font did his best, prefacing his notes with a discussion of the length of the Spanish league (approximately 2.6 miles, apparently), but even so the men were on horseback whereas Fages had been on foot. On the day they came through Oakland, Anza wrote down that they went “about ten leagues” while Font put it at “some fourteen leagues.” The day’s ride was long, from Hayward to Pinole, and the group was in a hurry, with their goal still ahead of them. (And just as Fages had complained in 1772, the Anza party was beset with mosquitoes all that day.)

Long story short, I think that whereas Fages mostly skirted the Fan as he sought (and failed to find) an easy level route through Oakland, Anza rode pretty straight through it.

Anza’s group set out from their camp on San Lorenzo Creek, in present-day Hayward, that morning at 7 and rode along the foot of the hills, with a jog upstream to get across the deep arroyo of San Leandro Creek, and then on to the edge of the Fan, the hill of Pleistocene gravel occupied by Evergreen Cemetery, in the lower right corner of this digital elevation model.

Where Fages turned left to stay on the flats, Anza headed the horses straight, toward a promising gap in the hills,

and into the Allendale flat. Almost fifty years later, Luís Maria Peralta’s family would put the first hacienda on their huge East Bay land grant there, just across Peralta Creek. “About two leagues” after crossing San Leandro Creek into Oakland territory, Font wrote that they “crossed a small arroyo without water and almost without trees,” which I think was Peralta Creek. “Then a little further on we ascended a hill which is on a straight line with the mainland and the plain which runs toward a very thick grove of oaks and live oaks on the banks of the estuary,” where he sketched the view toward the Golden Gate. That is this drawing, showing the Alameda peninsula flanked by San Leandro Bay on the left and the Estuary on the right:

In my interpretation, he would have been sitting on the ridge where Patten University sits today but higher up, maybe where Lincoln Avenue starts today. It also could have been down on Carrington hill; both ridges line up with the Alameda peninsula, which was a large encinal (live-oak grove) at the time.

“Then, descending the hill, we crossed another arroyo almost without trees and with some little pools of water which did not run. This appears to be the arroyo which Father Crespi called the Arroyo del Bosque and which empties into the extremity of one arm of the estuary.” He refers to Sausal Creek as described by the Fages party in 1772.

“We continued the journey over hills and plains, crossing two more arroyos with little water, deep beds, and a heavy growth of trees, the second one having more than the other, and both of them flowing into a bay which the arm of the estuary forms on this side.” These I interpret as Indian Gulch and Pleasant Valley Creeks, which clearly both drain into Lake Merritt, which was then a narrow inlet with wide mudflats. I don’t think the group went near the Lake but instead were higher up the valleys — they were on horseback, after all.

“Afterward we entered a plain in which we crossed two small arroyos without water.” Finally they had left the hills of the Fan and were back on the East Bay plain. That would make these two streams Temescal and Strawberry Creeks. “From this plain we clearly descried the mouth of the port, and when the point of the red cliff on the inside was in line with the outer point of the mouth, I observed the direction in which they ran, and saw that it was to the west with some declination to the south.” That matches the view of the Golden Gate as seen from Berkeley.

Oakland remained something of a distant place until the San Francisco and San Jose missions had captured or driven off the native people and established their own purposes on the territory: food and fodder cultivation in the Richmond area and cattle range in the flats from Fremont to East Oakland.

I want to note that Fages and Anza did not come as conquerors. Their assignment, at the dawn of Alta California, was to establish friendly relations with the natives. They exchanged gifts with every group they met: glass beads, generally; and a surprising number of native groups gave them duck decoys in addition to food. The situation did not last. The priests could not even perceive the fine-tuned ecosystem in which the Ohlone were the keystone species, only naked children of nature who must be trained in their own god’s image.

7 Responses to “Anza and the Fan”

  1. Ann Wilkins Says:

    Always good to read your blog. Very interesting

  2. Carl Butz Says:

    As always, lots of great information; so, thanks Andrew!

  3. Amelia Sue Marshall Says:

    Totally love your analysis, Andrew!

    Isn’t it puzzling that these Spanish colonizers found no water in the arroyos of Peralta Creek and others? We live on Peralta Creek, and there is water running all year, even in drought years, even with climate change. Of course, there was tampering with the natural ground water flow when the Mormon Temple was built and flood control works were installed around the Wilshire Heights landslide area.

    The Yankee settlers who logged the old growth San Antonio redwoods reported that they could float logs down a creek – likely Palo Seco to Sausal – but that was most likely only on rare days in very wet years. But if we take the diaries literally, the must have been a lack of surface water in the major creeks at times.

    Recently when the SF Water District excavated in the area of the Sunol Water Temple, they invested heavily in archeological work with consultation of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe. At least one burial had glass beads that may have come from the De Anza expedition.

  4. Andrew Alden Says:

    I’ve wondered a lot about this myself. First, we know that every rainy season is unique. Anza and Font reported no rain during the expedition; at least, they weren’t impeded by it. The state of the Delta was not flooded, as we’d expect in early April. Second, we know the climate was cooler, as 1776 was still in the Little Ice Age — Anza reported snow and ice in the Imperial Valley! Third, the watershed was mostly grasslands with no impervious surfaces and an undisturbed groundwater regime, and today is different in every respect.

    I think it was a dry winter, like we’re having right now.

  5. Arleen Feng Says:

    Human development is the main source of summer water in Oakland’s creeks today: percolation from leaking sewers and mains, overwatering of landscape or washing of pavements, illicit drains from old residential or even commercial properties–the list goes on. Stormwater managers used to call this “urban drool” but now prefer terms that involve more hopeful ideas like “water reuse”. When I managed the countywide stormwater program’s annual creek monitoring, a big logistical issue was determining what creeks would have sampleable water (not always flowing) at least 4 weeks after last measurable rain. We always saved Oakland and Berkeley for last since with our cooler temperatures many creeks flow year-round.

  6. Arleen Feng Says:

    It’s been clarified (forget who’s done that online, maybe you, Andrew? or Dennis Evanovsky?) that the loggers didn’t “float” logs down Sausal Creek, they dragged them down the creek bed. I once took a long-time habitat manager from CA Fish & Wildlife up the Palo Seco trail and he said that would account for the U-shaped cross-section, also seen on many North Coast streams.

    [It was this comment by Dennis. — Andrew]

  7. Andrew Aldrich Says:

    In these Covid times, I have been hiking more locally from my central Dimond home. Usually I head uphill, to get “cardio” and burn the calories from the comfort food I’ve been eating more of; but occasionally (and encouraged by your blog) I have been wandering more on the south side of 580. I have on a number of occasions headed down to Peralta Hacienda and then east on Davis, zigzagging through the Jungle Hill, Brookdale Park, and Maxwell Park neighborhoods – connecting in my internal map areas known from earlier times in my life and places newly discovered.

    Part of the area that you are calling The Fan (though not all of it) is what I have come to think of (in geographical, not geological terms) as the East Oakland Plateau. The borders of this area are MacArthur Blvd on the north, Foothill Blvd on the south, Lake Merritt on the west, and Seminary Ave on the east. There is an intuitive sense that’s hard to describe of the feeling of being in this area – below the Oakland Hills and above the flatlands, and separate from either.

    There are ups and downs, of course – we’re not talking about a flat tableland – up from Lake Merritt to Cleveland Heights, down to Park Blvd, up Ivy Hill, down to 14th Ave, up to Highland Terrace and Reservoir Hills, down to Sausal Creek, up to Peralta Hacienda, down to the creek, up to Allendale and Brookdale Park, down to High St, and up to Maxwell Park where you finally look out over a lowland that extends all the way to Knowland Park. But what makes it all seem like one feature is the feeling that when you are up on top, wandering through block after block that rolls gently up and down, you are at roughly the same elevation – so there is the feeling that you are on one elevated bed that has been carved up by north-south running creeks.

    The first place I lived in California, in 1974, was on the Plateau, on Ivy Hill; and a few years later I lived on the east side of the Plateau in Maxwell Park, in a house that looked out over the lowlands to the east and south. Walking up into San Antonio Park from Foothill, you get the feeling that you are coming up on the Plateau; and you stay up on it as you walk east (rolling up and down) on any of the East 20’s. It now enhances my experience to know that I am treading on ancient alluvium.

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