People - Brief Anza Biography

Portrait of anza
Juan Bautista de Anza

Summarized from Bowman, J.N. and Robert F. Heizer. Anza and the Northwest Frontier of New Spain. Southwest Museum: Los Angeles, 1967.

Juan Bautista de Anza was born to Don Juan Bautista de Anza, Sr. and Dona Maria Rafaela Bezerra Nieto in 1736, probably at Cuquiarachi, Sonora, Mexico, but possibly at the presidio of Fronteras. His family was part of the "presidial aristocracy" of the northern frontier of New Spain. Both his father and maternal grandfather had served Spain in this region for the greater part of their lives. Little is known of his childhood, although it is traditionally thought that he may have been educated at the College of San Ildefonso in Mexico City, and later at the military academy there. It is well documented, however, that he spent his entire adult life in military service.

Anza joined the militia as a volunteer in late 1751. In 1754, under the tutelage of his future brother-in-law, Captain Gabriel de Vildósola, he began his service in the presidial cavalry as a cadete. Having served two years in this capacity, he became a lieutenant, and in 1760 he became a captain. In 1761, he was married to Dona Maria Perez Serrano in Arizpe.

Anza spent his first 25 years of military service in Sonora. During this time, he was active in defending the frontier of New Spain against various hostile Indian tribes, most notably the Apaches and Seris. In this task, Anza gradually extended the frontier by making many exploratory forays toward the Gila and Colorado Rivers. In addition, he assisted missionaries with the setting up of new missions on Indian lands.

For various reasons, Anza was captivated by the idea of creating an overland connection between the Sonora frontier and the western frontier of New Spain in Baja California. His greatest influence likely came from his father who had proposed an expedition to this western territory in 1737. Fueled by the interest of his father, Anza made an initial proposal in 1756. However, the expedition never came to fruition. Then, in 1769, Anza heard rumors that 'white men' had been seen beyond the Colorado River. Having his interest piqued once again, he made a larger proposal to the current viceroy, Antonio Maria Bucareli y Ursua. The viceroy was quite receptive to Anza's proposal and gave his approval of the expedition in 1773. Official approval from the king did not come until 4 March 1774, by which time the expedition was well under way.

Anza had completed preparations for the expedition within two months of having received approval from the viceroy. On 8 January 1774, he set out from the presidio at Tubac with fathers Garces, Diaz and Eixarch, twenty soldiers, eleven muleteers and servants and an assortment of pack animals, horses and cattle. Anza led the expedition to the junction of the Gila and Colorado Rivers where he established friendly relations with the Yuma Indians. The rest of the expedition covered unknown territory. For this reason, Anza enlisted the service of a Baja California Indian named Sebastian Taraval who accompanied the expedition and guided them through this territory. Taraval and Father Garces, who also had tremendous trail knowledge, guided Anza and the others through the uncharted lands all the way to the mission of San Gabriel, where they arrived on 22 March 1774. After an excursion to Monterey, Anza and the others departed from San Gabriel on 5 May 1774. Having learned from various errors made on the first trip, they shortened their return trip by 79 leagues, arriving at Tubac on 28 May 1774. On this expedition, Anza carefully recorded a variety of information concerning the landscape and its inhabitants. He wisely believed that such knowledge might be useful for any future expeditions made by himself or other Spanish military and religious personnel.

Because of the importance of the expedition and its successful results, the king awarded Anza the rank of lieutenant-colonel of cavalry on 4 October 1774. In fact, the king and viceroy had been so impressed with Anza's service that he was ordered to lead a group of colonists over the same route to Alta California. Such a colony was intended to establish a presidio at the port of San Francisco as a reinforcement of the presidio of San Carlos de Monterey. In 1775, Anza began assembling volunteers in Sinaloa and eventually led them to the presidio at Tubac. On the day of departure (23 October 1775), Anza was leading an expedition of 240 people and a multitude of horses, pack animals and cattle. For the most part, Anza led the colonists, soldiers and others on the same path that he had followed in 1774, and reached Mission San Gabriel on 4 January 1776. Amazingly, Anza led the expedition members through horrible winter weather (rain, snow, freezing temperatures) with no loss of human life.

The expedition was interrupted at San Gabriel while Anza, Father Font and seventeen soldiers traveled south to Mission San Diego to assist the Governor of Alta California (Don Fernando Rivera y Moncada) in punishing the Indians who had recently attacked and burnt that mission, killing one of the fathers. Having returned to San Gabriel, Anza continued to lead the expedition northward, arriving at Monterey on 10 March 1776. The colonists remained there while Anza, Font and a few others explored the area around the bay of San Francisco. Having returned from his exploration of the bay, Anza bid farewell to the colonists and began his return journey on 14 April 1776. (The colonists were delayed at Monterey because of the reservations of Governor Rivera y Moncada. They would later be led to San Francisco by Lieutenant Moraga.) Anza finally ended his lengthy expedition when he arrived at San Miguel de Horcasitas on 1 June 1776.

Because of Anza's exceptional service, the king appointed him governor of New Mexico on 24 August 1777. As governor, Anza made several expeditions and explorations along the northern frontier. In 1779, he led 800 men against the Comanches, defeating them in two battles. In the same year, he scouted a much needed trail from Santa Fe to Arizpe.

In 1786, Anza and Comanche Chief Ecueracapa arranged a peace treaty between the Spaniards, the Comanches, the Utes, and various other tribes and factions. It was the longest lasting peace treaty ever signed with the Comanche nation, and was in effect when the United States westward movement began across Comanche lands.

Anza's term as governor was unfortunately marred by the false claims that he had misinformed his superiors about the situation of the Yumas, which ultimately led to the Yuma revolt in 1781. In fact, Anza had warned his superiors about the Yumas, but the government ignored these warnings. Then, after the revolt, a frontier general named Croix, compensating for his own military inefficiencies, used Anza as a scapegoat for Spanish failure in this area. Anza requested to be released from the governorship of New Mexico on November 18, 1776. He remained at Santa Fe awaiting the arrival of his replacement, Fernando de la Concha, who arrived on August 25, 1787.

In November, Anza left Santa Fe to take up new duties of Captain of the old Fronteras Presidio at San Bernardino. There, he was made commander of all the Sonoran troops, a position that he held for nearly a year. He received his final commission as commander of the presidio of Tucson on October 1, 1788. He knew it was coming, however, and completed his review of the troops by September 27th. Returning to Arizpe, Sonora, he died on December 19, 1788, before having the chance to officially move his family to Tucson. Thus ended the life of one of the greatest trailblazers in the history of Spanish America.

Source: Bowman, J.N. and Robert F. Heizer. Anza and the Northwest Frontier of New Spain. Southwest Museum: Los Angeles, 1967.