The Spanish Exploration of the San Francisco Peninsula


The Portola Expedition Reaches San Pedro Valley 1769

The first Europeans to visit San Pedro Valley, and to see San Francisco Bay, came north along the Pacific Ocean coast from San Diego in the fall of 1769. The party, under the command of Gaspar de Portola, noted a village of 200 people at Whitehouse Creek near Point Ano Nuevo (Palau 1926:2:206; Portola
1909:37), smaller villages at Pescadero (Palou 1926:2:207) and San Gregorio (Palou 1926:2:208), and an abandoned village at Purisima Creek (Palou:2:209). They camped at Pilarcitos Creek, just 16 kilometers south of San Pedro Valley, on the 28th and 29th of October. According to Father Crespi, the expedition chaplain:

The people of· the village on the point (Pillar Point-ed.) came to visit us and gave us some tamales made of black seeds which have not a bad taste .... (Crespi in Pa19u 1926:2:212).

The party crossed the steep hills to the San Pedro Valley on October 31st.
Miguel Costanso described the climb over Montara Mountain and the arrival in San Pedro Valley.

The high hills which forbade us a way along the seashore, though easily climbed (at any point) on the way up, had a very hard abrupt descent on the opposite side. The pioneers set out (very early in the morning to fix it, and with them the Sergeant of the Presidio to speed the work) and we afterward followed along with the pack-train (and the rest of the people) at eleven o'clock
in the forenoon ....

We went down to the harbor and set up camp a short way from the shore, (in a very lush little valley) and close to a stream of running water which sank into the ground, turning into a marsh of considerable extent (covered with cane-grass) and reaching near to the sea. The country was plentiful in grass, and all surrounded by very large high hills making a deep hollow open only toward the bay on the north west. We had gone one league (Costanso in Stanger and Brown 1969:96).

The leader of the expedition, Portola wrote that they were met on Montara Mountain by local- Indian people.

We travelled two hours of very bad road up over a very high mountain. We stopped upon the height; here 25 heathens came up; and the sergeant with eight soldiers was despatched to explore, as some farallones, and a point of land, and a bight had been seen (Portola in Stanger and Brown 1969:95).

Father Crespi described the landscape and noted a village of friendly people who occupied the valley.
The valley has a great deal of reed grass and many blackberries and roses; there are a few trees in the beds of the arroyos, and some moderate-sized willows, but on the hills there was not a single tree to be seen except some on a mountain range which encircles this bay (the outer coast from Point San Pedro to Point Reyes-ed. ).

Not far from the camp we found a village of very friendly heathen, who, as soon as we arrived, came to visit us with their present of tamales made of black seeds (Palou 1926:2:214).

The 25 Indians that met the party on the summit probably lived at this village in San Pedro Valley. The native people called their town Purristac. The books of baptisms, marriages, and deaths of Mission Dolores contain detailed information about individuals from Pruristac.

The Rivera-Palou Exploration of 1774

The Rivera-Palou party moved north to the area of Lake Merced on December 4. They sent a small party north to explore the mouth of San Francisco Bay. Father Palou commented about the ocean shore area that would one day be part of the city of San Francisco.

.... we did not see in the stretch from the camp to the mouth of the estuary a single heathen or any tracks of them (Palou 1926:3:284) .

On December 5, the party began the return journey to Monterey. They travelled " .... by the beach and road followed by the expedition of the year 1769" (Palou 1926: 3: 284). The following comments were made by Father Palou upon arriving in San Pedro Valley:

At eleven we carne to a large lake between high hills, which are in the plain ending in a small bay on the beach, about a league (4.2 kilometers-ed.) distant from Point Angel de la Guarda. If the beach permits it and there is no precipice in the way, we will save a good stretch of road and avoid some bad spots. The
lake compelled us to make a detour of about half a league, and it was necessary for us to draw close to the beach and cross over the sand which surround the lake. We made-a detour around the lake and stopped about one in the afternoon in a canyon of the valley near an arroyo of runing water, one of the two in the valley from which the lake is formed. It is well covered with tule, and on its banks there are some willows and blackberry brambles. The beds of both arroyos are the same; and on the slopes of the hills I saw here and there a live oak.

If the place had timber it would be suitable for a mission, on account of its proximity to the mouth of the port, for it does not lack land, water, or pasture for cattle (Palou 1926:3:286).

No Indian village was noted in San Pedro Valley. The people of Pruristac may have moved eastward in November or December to gather acorns in the San Andreas Valley. It is conceivable that they were the people who camped with Palou's party two days earlier.