Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

8. The Feast

The chief diarist of the Portolá expedition of 1769 was Father Juan Crespí, a robust, intelligent Franciscan, about forty years old. Somehow he managed to keep his paper dry, his ink wet and his quill pens sharpened amidst sweat, greasy leather, fog, rain and dust, recording a faithful log of the journey from San Diego to Monterey. When the epic trek was over, he turned his journal over to Father Presidente Junípero Serra, who had it published.

Recently Father Crespí's original hand-written account was discovered in dusty archives in Madrid. It is clear that the document was heavily edited before it was first published. Now, for the first time, it is possible to read the unexpurgated narrative of the first European to visit the Santa Clara River Valley:

"It has a great deal of very good, grass-covered, flat soil, two large springs of water, each giving rise to a stream ... running in among some trees. And so this place has two creeks and a river, a great deal of trees; cottonwoods, willows, sycamores and live-oaks; and pine trees which are to be seen in the mountains on the north side, and a great amount of lush plants of all sorts, with grape vines and rose patches. I named it for the lady St. Clare (Santa Clara), both that behind us and that which is still to come, trusting that in time it will become a very large mission, with a vast number of heathen folk, the finest that we have encountered so far.

"Going three leagues, we came to the meeting of these creeks and set up camp close to a very sizable village of very good, well-behaved, tractable heathens, who on our reaching here were camped within a large pen with only one passage for an entrance. Among the soldiers, this place, Santa Clara, is known as the Paraje del Corrál (Pen Camp), and we must have encountered at least five hundred souls here, what with men, women and children.

"The village was close to where we had found them encamped, with a great many very large, round houses well-roofed with grass. We saw some underground ones also, with vaulted dirt roofs on them, so that only the vault is to be seen, rising out of the ground like an oven; these houses have chimney holes on top, a sort of doorway through which they go in and out by means of ladders. Inside these are quite large, making a sort of portico where, it seems, they build their fires and must go inside them during very cold seasons."

Father Crespí traded tobacco for beads and mentioned that the natives had cane pipes ready for smoking. This was considered good for headaches.

Of the beads he wrote:

"They are made of white shells, with some of the beads red like coral, but are so exceedingly small and fine that there is no telling how they were able to pierce them and string them. The women of this place all wear two very fine, good-sized deer skins, some of them in front and others in back, well closed at the sides and making good skirts reaching to their ankles."

After feasting on "delicious, well-flavored sage," pinole gruel, "large, well-flavored pine nuts and a sort of boiled almond" and other fine cuisine for two days, it was time for the Spaniards to move on in their quest for Monterey.

"August 12 [1769]: At three o'clock in the afternoon of the lady St. Clare's day we set out from the river and the two springs here at the spot named for the same Santa Clara, taking west-southwest course following this hollow down the course of this river."

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