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History of San Luis Obispo 2History of San Luis Obispo 2 Joseph A. Carotenuti City Historian/Archivist San Luis Obispo originated in the Spanish minds on the Iberian Peninsula as well as New Spain (Mexico). Only it wasn’t a place or a goal but part of an ambitious expedition to the vast, unexplored north of the Americas’ empire. If you had used the name San Luis Obispo, everyone would think you were referring to the 13th century French saint…not a place in the unexplored world. History not only has no beginning, it abhors a straight line. A man-made concept, going “straight” to point B from point A is unknown to students of history. Thus, vast amounts of information are intertwined along the way and are slighted in studying “San Luis Obispo” as the saint and place shifts from the realm of the spiritual to that of the secular. Suffice to note here, the decision was made to explore…and settle…some of the unknown land that belonged to the Crown. The pioneer expedition – popularly, but inaccurately, called the Sacred Expedition - was led by Gaspar de Portola while the “spiritual conquest” was the realm of a few Franciscan friars led by the legendary Padre Junipero Serra. In a grueling adventure by land and sea worthy of its own tale, by July 1769 on the shores of San Diego, California’s first pioneers buried the many dead, scrounged the countryside for food, and made plans to move further north. Their orders were to establish themselves on the shores of Monterey. Serra stayed behind with the sick and dying and Portola left on a six-month land expedition. Traveling along the coast north of today’s Santa Barbara, on August 21, Padre Juan Crespi, the chaplain and chronicler for the party, wrote of the location: “We gave it the name San Luis Obispo (Saint Louis Bishop) so that in time it shall become a good-sized shoreline mission. He was correct except the future mission wasn’t on the shoreline. While the name did not survive in its original location, many names of areas, geographical markers, streams, etc. from this exhausting trek are still found on modern maps. Traveling through the western portion of our county, the caravan suffered greatly as it sought the “bay” of Monterey (which they did not recognize as their records were over 150 years old…and inaccurate) but managed to reach the south arm of San Francisco Bay (which was unknown). Fast forward to the summer of 1772. By then, four missions had been established: San Diego, Monterey, San Antonio and San Gabriel. Food was always a major issue and Pedro Fages, now leading the pioneers, remembered the bears at “la llano de los osos” (Bear Plain) along the coast from the previous expeditions. The famous bear hunt (another story skipped!) found a small group of soldiers attempting to kill the mean beasts for food. Fortunately, notice was received of supply ships having arrived at San Diego. Fages - accompanied by Fra Serra - headed south. This was Serra’s first land trip through the area. Quickly performing his religious duties locally, he left an enduring legacy for us all. Next time: What happened on September 2, 1772? Questions? Contact: jacarotenuti@gmail.com