Early History

by Ruth Alter, Archaeologist

The La Jollan Culture

The La Jollan culture was present in San Diego from about B.P. 3000 to about A.D. 1. The best recognized La Jollan sites are found concentrated on beaches and along estuaries. Shellfish and other marine resources were an important part of these people's diet for at least part of the year. They also ground seeds and hunted small game animals. Their tools appear to have been more expediently fashioned than those of the preceding San Dieguito culture. Only a few La Jollan sites are present in Mission Trials Regional Park.

The San Dieguito People

The San Dieguito people were present in San Diego from about B.P. 8000 to about B.P. 3000. Their culture is named for the location where they were first identified by archaeologists - along the San Dieguito River. They are thought to have been big game hunters associated with the North American Paleoindian tradition, and many of their sites are found in coastal areas, on knolls overlooking rivers, which would have provided vantage points for spotting game. Other sites are found in areas rich with stone tool making resources. San Dieguito artifacts often include beautifully crafted knives, spear points, and scraping tools. Only a trace of San Dieguito presence is found in Mission Trails Regional Park.

The Spanish Period

In 1769, a small band of Catholic missionaries and their soldier escorts from Mexico reached what is now San Diego. Led by Father Junipero Serra, a Franciscan priest, their job was to establish the first of a series of missions in Alta California intended to bring Christianity to the native people. Serra selected the first mission site on a hill above the San Diego River, overlooking the Kumeyaay village of Cosoy. The soldiers shared the fortified compound, known as the Royal Presidio, with the padres for about five years.

But in 1774, deciding it was in the Church's best interest to part company with the soldiers, Serra moved the mission to a new site roughly six miles upriver, near the Kumeyaay village of Nipaguay. The soldiers remained behind at the presidio. The new mission was named Mission San Diego de Alcala. Over the years, the secular population living behind the Presidio's protective stockade grew. About 1820, with ties to Mexico about to be cut by a revolution initiated by a government far away in Mexico City, the citizens of San Diego slowly left the now crowded Presidio, moved down the hill, and founded the pueblo of San Diego.

Mission Dam
Spain granted the Church vast areas of land for the Mission's use. This tract included 58,875 acres and extended from the pueblo land boundary of San Diego inland to the El Cajon Valley, and from National City to Clairemont. The padres considered the lands lying between Poway and the Mission " a large and mountainous jungle, of no use for anything," with one notable exception - the Mission needed a dependable water source, and an opportunity to secure one lay six miles to the east, in what is now Mission Trails Regional Park. Soon after arriving in San Diego, Serra sent scouting parties up the San Diego River to look for suitable dam and basin sites. Mission Gorge was identified as an ideal location, but ample resources, including labor, weren't available at the time. It wasn't until about 1809 that work could begin. Using Indian labor supplied by the Mission population and presumably the villages along the river, including Senyaweche, dam construction was undertaken. While all of the California missions had some sort of water delivery system, the dam and flume constructed for the Mission San Diego de Alcala was by far the most ambitious. Built across the head of Mission Gorge, the 244-foot long, 13-foot thick, 13-foot wide dam was constructed of stone and cement on exposed bedrock, creating a permanent reservoir behind it. Water was released through gates and spillways into a 6-mile long gravity fed tile lined flume, down the gorge and into Mission Valley, ending in a settling basin near the Mission. Construction was completed by 1815 and the padres had the water they needed.

In his Emigrant notes written about 1867, Judge Benjamin Hayes tells of inspecting the water system some years earlier: "Immediately on the right bank (going downstream), a few feet above the channel commences the aqueduct by which water was drawn from this grand reservoir. It consists of a single tile about six inches at the bottom, resting upon small stones; on each side, a brick 18 inches square inclined outward, so as to make a surface of two feet of water some 12 inches deep; the bricks lined on the inside with cement, and propped on the outside by small rocks solidly cemented. The aqueduct commenced at the dam and ran three full miles through a gorge the most difficult that can be conceived - keeping on the hillsides of the right bank of the river. Sometimes it crossed gulches from 10 to 15 feet wide. In such places a stone foundation was built up high enough to keep the level. The canal in general was simply of cobblestones and a narrow tile laid in cement at the bottom. In the gulches, the rock foundation has with time fallen down or been washed away. Such has been the strength of the cement, this brick holds together across the gulch as firmly as if cast from pipe, and now and then portions of it hang to the rocky wall at the height often to 20 feet above the bed of the river..."

After the secularization of the missions in 1833, the dam and flume were not maintained. Flume tiles were viewed as choice roofing materials and were carried off to be used in the homes of pioneers. Later floods, particularly the flood of 1916, washed away most of the flume.

The Mexican Period

When Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1822, the citizens of San Diego had mixed feelings. Many in the pueblo had strong spiritual and ancestral ties to Spain and they were unsure of what independence would mean for the small outpost. The region at the time was barely populated - only 5,000 non-Indians resided in all of Alta California - and most of their economic existence depended on the hide and otter fur trade they conducted with American ships. But others saw the possibilities that came with independence. Under Spanish rule, the people of the pueblo shared common lands for grazing and raising crops, while the richest land was held by the Church. All this now changed with a series of decrees that divided up the former Spanish lands and ultimately wrested the mission lands from the padres, creating enormous tracts of privately owned property.

The Mexican period, while brief, was a time of fabled living for some. It was the era of the "Californios," who grazed cattle on their vast ranchos and who spent their days pleasantly engaged in all manner of sport, including cock fighting, horse racing, bull fighting, and bear hunting. Widely known for their generous hospitality, their welcome extended to foreigners, principally Americans, who married into their families and soon began building stores and other businesses in the pueblos. But for those missionized Indians, the process of secularization was devastating. Most drifted away until in 1842 only 500 remained at the Mission San Diego de Alcala; two years later the number had dropped to 100. The Mission was unable to support them and was also unable to pay the salary of its final majordomo, Santiago Arguello, who had been trusted with overseeing its remaining resources.

By 1845, the Mexican territory was facing the threat of American invasion. The Mexican president issued a proclamation directing the officers of the state to prepare to defend themselves. He vested them with extraordinary powers in order to use all means necessary. Under this order, the last Mexican governor of Alta California, Pio Pico, sold most of the missions to raise the money needed to finance the defense of Mexican holdings.

How the Mission San Diego de Alcala Lands were Sold
Governor Pico "sold" the San Diego Mission, its cattle, and its lands, including what is now Mission Trails Regional Park, to San Diegan Santiago Arguello. His justification was that "Don Santiago Arguello has rendered the Government important services at all times, and has also given aid when asked, for the preservation of the legitimate Government and the security of the Department, without having received any indemnification." The deed for the transaction was drawn in Los Angeles in June, 1846. It specified that Arguello was to pay the debts of the mission, support the priests, and maintain religious services, but this did not occur.

About Santiago Arguello
Santiago Arguello was born in Monterey, Mexico in 1791. He served in various political and military offices in San Diego and was the Commandante of the San Diego Royal Presidio from 1830 to 1835. He and his wife, Pilar Ortega, formerly of Santa Barbara, had 22 children. Arguello never lived on the former mission lands; he made his home at Rancho Tijuana. His ownership of the ex-mission lands, however, was honored. In September, 1876, long after his death, Arguello's heirs were issued an American government patent declaring them the owners of the tract.

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