Junípero Serra, Father-Presidente of the California missions, died in 1784 and was succeeded by Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuen. Soon after taking office, Father Lasuen noticed a tremendous gap — and many unconverted heathens — between San Gabriel and San Buenaventura. One of his first acts was to dispatch an expedition to look for a suitable site for a new church.
Scarcely a year later, in 1785, Father Vincente de Santa Maria made his way up the Rio Santa Clara, stopping at a place called Triunfo, near Piru, then at Chaguayabit, from whence he struggled over the steep mountain pass down into what Father Crespí had named Santa Catalina de Bolonia de los Encinos, or St. Catherine of Bologna of the Live Oaks, in the valley to the south.
Actually Chaguayabit or Triunfo would have been closer to the midpoint between San Gabriel and the sea. But Father Lasuen decided on Los Encinos. The new mission was named for St. Ferdinand, a king of Spain from 1217 to 1252.
The mission site was found to be occupied by Don Francisco Reyes, a man of considerable political clout, inasmuch as he was then the alcalde, or mayor, of the pueblo of Los Angeles. The padres proved that the land was in fact owned by San Gabriel. They ousted Don Francisco and moved into his small ranch house. On September 8, 1797, Father Lasuen formally dedicated the Mission San Fernando Rey de España. The fathers lived in the old Reyes adobe until they could occupy the church complex.
The mission's holdings included the Santa Clara River basin from Piru Creek to "La Soledad," a rather vague boundary to the east. The area was called Rancho San Francisco, and by the year 1800, longhorn cattle were grazing on the tall grass, pushing out the native deer and antelope. The gentle Tataviam were removed from their ancestral homeland to be civilized and taught useful trades such as brick making, household service, and cow punching.
Twenty-four years after it was established, Mission San Fernando claimed 12,800 head of cattle, 7,800 sheep, 780 horses and 144 mules — an impressive list. It did a busy trade in hides and tallow and was famous for its leather work. There were 32,000 grapevines, 1,600 fruit trees, olives, dates and field crops. A good portion of this bounty was brought down from the Santa Clara, where a small sub-mission had been built.
It should be noted that the California missions were not a series of hospitality houses, set up a day's journey apart for the convenience of travelers. The locations of the twenty-one outposts were carefully picked because of their fertile soil, availability of water and large native populations. While one could cover the distance from San Gabriel to San Fernando in a day on horseback or ox-cart, two to three days were needed to reach San Buenaventura.
The mission plan was to gather up the Indians, teach them European culture, skills and religion, then when the natives were able to be self-sufficient — in other words, able to cope in a "modern" world — the land would be restored to them.
But politics radically altered this plan, and it will never be known how successful it might have been.