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History of San Luis Obispo 4History of San Luis Obispo 4 Joseph A. Carotenuti City Historian/Archivist Let’s summarize some early history of this community. When the Spanish explorers first traveled through this area in the summer and fall of 1769, they had already experienced a grueling, deadly journey by land and sea to explore and settle the vast territory of Alta California. Within three years of its beginning in San Diego, five missions were established (the last here in 1772) with presidios in San Diego and Monterey. Possibly the most exciting event in these earliest years was the visits by Juan Bautista de Anza in 1774 and 1776. Intent on settling the newly identified Bay of San Francisco, he led a remarkable caravan of pioneers resulting in the establishment of the sixth mission (1776) and today’s metropolis. Many families are also familiar names in local history. Mission history continued in relative isolation from the rest of the settled world. Occasionally, a ship would drop anchor in Avila with goods and news of the outside world. However, the change of government from Spain to Mexico (1820) brought a great transformation as the missions came to now provide for many non-natives and increased demands for the mission lands. Most of California’s land grants – the ranchos – are from this era. There is much romantic lore about the “rancho” period with the hacienda, lavish parties and the great “dons” of California history. Locally, the names Wilson, Dana, Price, and Branch are a few names that recall this era. The rancho history lasted a mere 25 years. In 1846, when Commodore Sloat raised the Union flag above the customhouse in Monterey, the distant settlement of San Luis Obispo had no idea of the impact the ceremony would bring to the eventual state, the central coast…and the Nation. Shortly thereafter, a discovery in early 1848 along the banks of the American River produced changes of catastrophic proportions. The lure of gold unleashed a massive flood of mostly men to inundate and often drown the indigenous population. Centered in San Francisco, the small community of about 1000 residents swelled to over 25,000 in just two years. For the central coast, the “cow counties” helped supply the burgeoning population with food. What was considered a military district – California was never a territory as were other sections of the expanding American empire – originally found mostly non-native residents and vast rancho properties owned by a few families in the county. The gold rush not only added wealth and disappointment, it produced an overlay of human activity mostly unregulated by any authority. Among the State’s original 27 counties, the mission settlement became the county seat of justice. It was not a difficult choice as there were few settlements from which to choose. The 1850 Federal Census counted a mere 336 souls in the County. There undoubtedly were more but no census taker was going to risk his life riding through the sparsely populated countryside looking for residents. In California, the decade of the 1850s is one of the most brutal sagas in the Nation’s history. With little – if any – assistance from the military, local residents formed a Vigilance Committee to stem the tide the violence and lawlessness. Somehow, there needed to be a semblance of order. Next time: San Luis Obispo contends with governance. Questions? Contact: jacarotenuti@gmail.com