Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures
HISTORY OF THE SANTA CLARITA VALLEY BY JERRY REYNOLDS
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7. Spain Reconnoiters

In the generations since their ancestors invaded the land, the Tataviam had become gentle, friendly and trusting. If the earlier expeditionary probes of Cabrillo and Alarcón made any impression on them — and there is no record that they did — then the arrival of a fully mounted troop of His Majesty's Catalonian Volunteers in their midst can only be compared to a spaceship suddenly landing in the middle of Lyons Avenue today. Yet there was no panic among the Tataviam, merely cordial welcome and quiet acceptance.

It was August 8, 1769, when a strange cavalcade appeared atop what is now called Frémont Pass, a quarter-mile east of Beale's Cut in the Newhall Pass. These were not the conquistadores of old, clad in chain mail and glittering breast plates, but soldiers in eighteenth-century array, wearing tri-cornered hats and blue jackets with red trim. Surveying the valley below through a leather-bound, brass telescope was the leader of the party, Don Gaspar de Portolá.

Very little is known about Governor Portolá, and no pictures survive. He was born about 1727 in the Spanish province of Catalonia, of a noble family. After joining the army, he served in Italy and Portugal before arriving in New Spain (Mexico), where he rose to the rank of captain. Portolá caught the eye of Visitador-Generál José de Gálvez, who appointed him governor and entrusted him with the vital mission of securing all of California for the Spanish Empire.

A month before, on July 16, Portolá and Father Junipero Serra had established a mission and presidio at San Diego. Serra remained there to nurse the struggling colony along while the governor headed north with sixty-four men to locate the Bay of Monterey.

Sitting astride his war horse, waiting for scouts to return with reports from the field, Portolá was a stately, middle-aged bachelor, his silver-tinged black hair tied back into a sort of pony tail. He was clean-shaven, a hardship on the march, but a symbol of pride and morale for the troops.

Sharp-eyed residents of the village of Chaguayabit, located where Castaic Creek joins the Santa Clara River, noted a cloud of dust rising along present-day San Fernando Road in Newhall. Out of this pall emerged three riders cloaked with quilted leather deerskin jackets and wearing black sombreros. Their mules were draped with leather, and hanging from their saddles were bullhide shields painted with the red lion and castle of Spain. Jingling on the other side of the pommels were short swords and machetes.

These scouts showed the trail to a dozen scantily clad Indians on foot, who did some clearing along the way with bars, shovels and mattocks. After a few minutes, Governor Portolá came riding into view.

He wore the officer's uniform of the First Battalion of the Second Regiment of Catalonian Volunteers: blue, tri-cornered hat with gilt edging, light blue coat over a white vest, tight riding pants and knee-length black boots. A pair of flintlock pistols were thrust into his crimson waistband while a saber clattered from his pommel.

The longest part of the column was a pack train of one hundred mules followed by spare horses, then the company of mounted soldados de cuero ("leather-jacket soldiers") carrying long lances.

The colorful caravan finally reached Chaguayabit, where they were accorded a huge welcome.


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