A Santa Barbara fortress to keep France and England from knocking on California’s door? Now isn’t that something!

The other day I saw a bumper sticker that said, “My cat knows more about history than you do.” I don’t know what compels someone to slap that phrase on the back of their car, but it amused me. I have recently been focused on California history, filling in some gaps in what I have forgotten, or perhaps never knew in the first place, and the more I learn the more I realize I have more questions. I think the cat and I may be neck and neck.

All California 4th grade students get a smattering of history with a significant emphasis on the Mission period. And I live in San Gabriel, The City With a Mission, fourth in line of the 21 Spanish missions stretching from San Diego to Sonoma. I’ve had an interest  in the missions for most of my life.

But gaps in my knowledge began to pop up this past spring while following an archaeological dig on property adjacent the San Gabriel Mission. Archaeologists and historians unearthed  items representing life among the Gabrieleno Indians and Spanish mission life. Shards of pottery, coins and religious sacramental artifacts will hopefully continue to reveal detail of life in the vicinity of the 1771 structure. If interested, you can read more about that dig here.

There are many lines of inquiry I’d like to follow in an attempt to dismantle myth and learn the historically accurate stories of California’s past. That would  include the history of California’s indigenous peoples.  According to your friend and mine, Wikipedia“California has the largest Native American population and largest number of distinct tribes of any US state.” Research could take some time.

And then there are seemingly endless points of interest along the way towards understanding the historical transitions between the Spanish Mission Period, Mexican California Rancho Days and the years of change when California was admitted as a free state in 1850.

What else interests me?

Well, there was this little event we call the Gold Rush? How about the Transcontinental Railroad? Westward Migration?

My stack of books and resource materials is growing at an alarming rate. There may be more to learn than I have days left, but I’m doing my best to make up for lost time.

How to begin? I enjoy learning within context so it’s field trip time!

We went to Santa Barbara for a Crosby, Stills and Nash concert, but we still made time to visit El Presidio de Santa Barbara.

The presidios were Spanish military installations. This may surprise some of you, and perhaps many Californians don’t know, but Spain grabbed the Pacific Ocean as “MINE.”  Thanks to  Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and his 1542 land-grab for Spain, California became a Spanish territory.

King Carlos III of Spain

Move forward a couple of hundred years and Spain was thinking that establishing Missions might be a good idea to continue to hold onto land. The English, French, and even Russians were showing some interest in California. Spain made a tactical decision to build the presidios, military fortresses, to oversee the mission districts and keep “others” out.

California was prime land even then!

Four presidios, San Diego, Monterey, San Francisco, and Santa Barbara, were each placed approximately a mile from the shoreline–safely distanced from the threat of a cannonball lobbed from a hostile foreign warship.

Only two sections of the original Santa Barbara Presidio quadrangle remain, but the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation is responsible for overseeing restoration and repair. The Preservation group is also responsible for archaeological excavations revealing scores of authentic period artifacts. Dozens of items from recent Presidio excavations are on exhibit.

The archaeological staff has also stabilized El Cuartel, the oldest adobe in the California State Parks system. It is an original 1788 Presidio adobe designed for a military family’s housing. The next phase of the project includes seismic retrofitting.

We toured the Casa de la Guerra adjacent the presidio, built by the fifth Presidio comandante in 1819. Richard Henry Dana included a description of a wedding reception held at the Casa in 1836 for Alfred Robinson and Ana Maria Antonia de la Guerra in his book Two Years Before the Mast.

Do you have a historical era or event you’re curious about ? What’s on your field trip list?

We may not be traveling much in the next couple of months but there are some ranchos not far from home I need to explore. And my pile of bibliographic material isn’t getting any smaller.  Having such a strong interest in a topic and creating a nice “home study” is a good way to focus and  breathe lighter! May I suggest you plan a local field trip! Take someone with you and have fun!

60 thoughts on “A Santa Barbara fortress to keep France and England from knocking on California’s door? Now isn’t that something!

  1. Great to get the potted history Debra. The photos are wonderful too. The reference to the grab for the Pacific made me think of Keats’ famous ‘On first looking into Chapman’s Homer’. I’ve got out of the habit of starting the day with a poem, so thanks for this!

    • I’m glad I set your mind to poetry! I am glad I could share the bit of history with you. I know you completely understand how research starts with just a question and before you know it you’re off an running! It’s so funny to be my age and “all of a sudden” find myself caught up in wanting to piece together the history of my home state. I never previously cared for the detail, but once I began asking questions I was fascinated. Thank you kindly for responding! :-)

    • I was completely surprised myself, Tilly, to learn that California was home to so many Native American people groups. I think it may in part be due to the fact the state is so large, but also, presumably it was also one of the last territory’s to be settled. I agree with you that blogging is such a great way to be introduced to history and topics. We are learning from each other, which is a delight. Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

  2. Glad your local history serves as your motivating tool. Enjoy diving into the materials and more visits. Meanwhile, as a person on the other side of the country, I enjoy being a recipient of your learning. Thanks for the pics too!

    • I’m so glad you are interested in my mini-history lesson, Frank. Have you ever been to California? Maybe I’ll entice you here someday.Santa Barbara would be a good place to start! We are more than the shallow glitz and glitter, I promise! There is some great history–some of it I’m discovering for the first time myself! :-) I’m always glad you stop by!

  3. Hi Debra,
    With all of your California history interest it seems most fitting that a trip to Red Bluff would be in order to visit the (William B) Ide Adobe area. I believe he was the first California president back in the day? (I hope that’s right) I guess I better check it out myself!!!
    Always love your blogs, Deb. Thanks for the learning opportunity.
    Have a great Thursday!
    Love, Kathy

  4. I find history fascinating as well, Debra, I think that’s why I enjoy browsing through antique stores and picking up vintage treasures. Is there a tie-in to your family’s historical back ground here as well? That would sure be interesting to read about. We have an indigenous culture here as well, it’s shameful how history portrays our atrocious treatment of them. I read a book about the gold rush.. it was years ago so I can’t recall the name of the book. But I do love reading historical fiction. I’ve just read The Outlander by Gil Adamson. I was delighted to discover half way through that it was set in Field, British Columbia and was through the eyes of a woman. Reading these books always make me feel as though I’m totally immersed in history and have lived vicariously in those times! xxx Smidge

    • Historical fiction is an excellent way to add to our understanding of historical contexts, Smidge. For years I did read several authors well-known for their writing about the western United States and early history. In fact, you bring to mind a few I haven’t thought about in a long time and would enjoy reading again. Thank you for taking the field trip to Santa Barbara with me! You’d find many nice little antique shops there. I like to browse those shops, too. And then I have to resist bringing more treasures home! :-)

  5. Debra, I am learning so much about California just by reading your blog. I hope you will keep sharing what you learn as you explore.

    I am currently in full Natchez Trace mode, an area with a similar background, as it turns out. :)

    • I’m glad you’re enjoying my mini-history lessons, Andra. I am being most sincere when I speak of being somewhat absorbed in the history of California. It started with just a few questions which lead to more reading and then I realized there was a lot more depth to the origins of the state than I’d previously known. I’m glad you’re a willing listener! Natchez Trace is so amazing! I would love to make another visit to the south before too long. There are so many places I have never been (that’s quite an understatement) but the south is really in my DNA and I am thinking I’d love to return. We’ll have to keep track an see if you come this way or I go yours…who will be first! :-)

  6. Interesting… very interesting. I would love to visit all four. I know I’m ambitious…. or adventurous. :D
    Shamefully though, I haven’t been to one. I almost did in San Francisco. The one in Santa Barbara should be easy for.

    I’m curious about Cabrillo. Hehe. I liked how he landed in San Diego, Santa Monica, Ventura, and then Santa Barbara. I also want to “cover his tracks”. :D

    • We have a saying in our household..”Life is long.” Of course, that’s the way we all hope! :-) But you can eventually see all the places that you want to highlight. You are curious–and that’s such a wonderful life perspective. I know so many people who have time and resources to visit all the places you’ve mentioned, and don’t care at all! I’d like to visit the other presidios, too. Santa Barbara was my first. I’m so glade you’ve enjoyed the sights I’ve shared, as I have yours! It’s so nice to meet someone as curious about these different historical sights as I am! :-) Thank you!

      • I actually didn’t think I’d be that curious. I think the fact that there are sound names in California helped explode my interest – Figeroa, Cabrillo, Juniper, etc. I found out about the Gold Rush from researching about Chinatown, and now plans to visit the mining museum.

        Great post. You learn something everyday…. In the blogosphere.

    • I’m not surprised you don’t know some of what I’ve shared about California, Charlie. I’ve lived here my whole life and I’m just now learning many things myself. Field trips are great fun no matter where we live. It’s unreasonable to think we could know all the history that surrounds us. How could we ever catch up? So it’s just fun to dip in and do what we can to see the sights and fill in the gaps that call to us! :-)

    • I taught Kindergarten and First Grade, Missy, but never made it to fourth grade! I always thought I’d have been an enthusiastic teacher at that level. Or maybe I’d have overwhelmed the children with too much information. :-) Teaching is a wonderful way to learn more a topic, and even in posting photos of the Santa Barbara Presidio I had to look up some added information and I learned more, too. Blogging can be a little bit like teaching, I suppose! :-) Thank you for stopping by and sharing. It’s nice to hear from you.

  7. Oh joy! Another Debra post on Californian history. :-) I do so enjoy your glimpses into California’s past, whether it be Spanish missions and presidios or water wars and robber barons. Always so well-researched and beautifully illustrated and a real treat.

    • Thank you for your kind thoughts, Perpetua. I am so glad you enjoyed another little glimpse of California. I have enjoyed the opportunity to take my curiosity “on the road” and then have a platform with which to share what interests me. I appreciate your interest, as it is sometimes hard for me to decide what is too much or maybe not interesting to others. But isn’t that also the challenge for all of us in posting what we do! It’s always so nice to receive a kind comment, so I do thank you! :-)

      • But here is the thing … you want to learn more. Which is how I am too. I LOVE history and makes me a much more rounded human being I believe. :) I watched Justice Scalia on Pierce Morgan last night pushing his new book about constitution. LOVED it and learning about how the original text was written.

    • I like your definition of Ph.D! Piled higher and deeper! That’s a good one. I think that is precisely my goal at the moment. I am glad I can share some of my enthusiasm with the blogging community of willing supporters. My own family is starting to get that “deer in the headlights” look when I open my mouth. Apparently I am turning into quite the “history professor” and in wanting to share my interest, I’m lecturing! Ha! I edit better in keeping my posts from being too long. I’m thankful for the outlet! Ha!

    • I used to enjoy taking my children to the Missions and some of the same sites we are visiting now, but I didn’t necessarily see history with the greatest overview. I’m connecting more “dots” right now. And it’s funny that we’d also travel great distances to visit a historical site in another state and not pay as much attention to local history. That’s a good thing to think about with your young family, Kristy. Perhaps you’re a lot more tuned in than I was, but I’ll also bet there are many little adventures under your feet you haven’t previously thought about. It’s fun to dig a little deeper–with our vast amounts of spare time! Ha! :-)

  8. love learning about California history through you. So many interesting bits – eg
    “California has the largest Native American population and largest number of distinct tribes of any US state”

    • I didn’t now that about the Native American population either, Rosie. But I looked at a map attached to the Wikipedia article and I was so surprised. I was impressed, once again, about what I don’t know! More to read and study! :-)

  9. WoW! Love the pictures they’re beautiful! I am with you on the stack of books and materials I need to read, but I don’t know if I’ll ever get through them either! :) Maybe I’ll come to California for a vacation to visit all your pretty places and to just read! :) xox

    • I like the idea of taking a vacation and just reading! It’s kind of a fantasy of mine. My mother-in-law was a wonderful reader, learner, and former teacher. She loved history and I’ve thought many times how I wish she were here and we could talk. But when she finally retired from teaching she vowed she’d read as much as she wanted to, and she did. She’d read all night long, often prioritizing her personal “study time” letting other things just go! I hope I can do the same thing one day. Maybe that’s why I let those stacks of books accumulate. I’m so glad you stopped by…and Santa Barbara would be a fabulous introduction to California! Do come! :-)

  10. Oh, this is a wonderful post, Debra: brilliant to become absorbed in the layers of history. I just loved your photographic tour, and cannot wait to hear more of all the projects you have ahead of you. Just fab.

    • Thank you so much for coming with me on my photographic field trip, Kate. I have enjoyed sharing my enthusiasm. Once I began to realize some of the major gaps in my knowledge, but self-education project took flight! It’s so nice to have a platform for sharing as it does spur me on a bit! :-)

  11. Yesterday was a fiesta nacional in Spain, it marks the day (as you probably know) that Cristobal Colon first set foot in the Americas in 1492. It sometimes astonishes me to think that Spain has gone from that position of complete power (& corruption obviously) to the situation it is in now, having one of the weakest economies in Europe and being bailed out by the EU! The history of Spain is a fascinating one that I wish to know more about, the little I do know from reading a few books just makes me want to know more but I get the feeling that I would never be able to fully understand it all. Being a foreigner living in Sapin I feel that the more history I know the more I will understand its people which is so important to becoming integrated and not just existing in someone elses country… It’s a strange thing. Oh and I read a brilliant fictional book about the times you are researching, that I can’t remember the name of, I am going to dig it now & get back to you hopefully….

    • I agree with you, Natalie, that a wonderful way to know people and understand the current culture of a country is to study the history! I have even found that to be true in just reading more about one state–California. We do have our own culture, separate from other regions, and learning more about the fact that we were under Spanish/Mexican control just 150 years ago, would be reason to see that we are still in our “adolescence” and we act like it! :-)

      I really do encourage you to continue to immerse in reading and knowing the history of Spain. It’s a big world, and I try to follow what is happening beyond my own borders, but isn’t it amazing how much is changing on a daily basis. World economies are all in flux, and allies and allegiances seem to change so frequently, too.

      I think the main thing is to remain interested and curious. I ask a lot of questions! And in a day with such immediate internet information, I can get answers rather easily! And reading blogs from others living around the world has completely changed the way I listen to world news events. I’m aware of what’s happening in places I never previously thought much about! Thanks so much for sharing, Natalie. I enjoyed your thoughts and will gladly take any book suggestions! :-) Have a great weekend.

    • Thank you so much for stopping by to get a little glimpse of early California history. I’ve enjoyed sharing. I see you are from Arkansas? That’s a lovely part of the country, too. My family roots are in Mississippi and I’ve spent some time in Arkansas. Our country has lovely history in each of the fifty states! I wish i had more time and a little more travel flexibility! Don’t we all!

  12. You make it fun to read about your home state’s history. My family on my Dad’s side are originally from Spain, so of course my eyes perked up when reading of King Carlo’s influence in California. Enjoyed the photo gallery! :)

    • Spain is a fascinating country with amazing history, of course! Everything connects, doesn’t it? I can’t study California history without a little understanding of King Carlos. I will never run out of reading material, will I? Thanks, Marie. I’m glad you enjoyed the photos, Marie. :-)

  13. Once you get into local history you are digging a great big hole for yourself… You’ll never see the light of day again ;-) Discovering local history for yourself is fantastic fun and you may well find something that the professional historians have overlooked – you will certainly find out lots of things that your family and friends don’t know. Even if I limit my research to local transport I still find out lots of stuff that others don’t know! More power to your elbow Debra :-)

    Good Hunting, Martin.

    • Thank you, Martin. I am having a wonderful time with my recent discoveries. I am not able to drive anywhere at the moment but that I don’t notice a sign or landmark that begs a visit. Soon I fear my work will suffer! :-) I am hoping I don’t become an irritant to those around me with the enthusiasm that continues to build, but it is true, many have told me they didn’t previously know a few tidbits I’ve shared. Thank you for sharing an interest in history and encouraging me on! :-)

    • Oh yes! I could have seen your new kitchen, Hansi! You live in a wonderful part of our state! It’s beautiful up that way. We sure do love it whenever we can break away even for half a day…isn’t that sweep of coastline up the 101 a treasure? I like to think about that when people get too critical of California. They should just once see that and Southern California takes on a whole different light!

  14. I just spent the last week with our daughter and her growing family in MN. As with most times I’m there, as soon as I opened the cabinet to get out a cup for my tea, there, in a prominent position, was an earthenware mug for me to use, put there purposefully by Katy, a reminder of the day we spent at San Gabriel. I remember the mission well, Debra, and feeling the layers of history settled upon it. You brought it all back with your photos and words. Oh, do, please do continue your studies of California. It is so rich in history and you bring it alive for me and I know your other readers.

    Interestingly enough, I never thought that California would be of interest to the Russians before. Of course, it would, and how different our story would be.

    I’m always interested in history and the stories that helped define a “place”. Being a midwesterner, I am always fascinated by the Great Prairies of our land the pioneer spirit that settled them, but, also interested in the people that were here first. Hmm. I feel a little field trip coming on, thanks to you, Debra.

  15. Dear Debra, another blogger whom I follow–Inger–is writing a series of Sunday posts about the California missions. Her second post on them was yesterday. Here’s the URL for her first post: http://desertcanyonliving.blogspot.com/2012/10/california-missions-chapter-one.html

    She hasn’t mentioned the presidios, but I’m so pleased that I follow both your blogs and so I’m learning more about California all the time. I’m sure that if I did as you suggest I’d learn much more about Missouri history. I do want to go to a Civil War re-enactment sometimes between now and 2015. On the St. Mary’s playground where I played baseball in grade school, archeologists have discovered cannon balls from a battle that took place there between the Union soldiers and the Quantrell raiders. It’s all so interesting. Peace.

  16. I always enjoy your history study posts. it is a woinderful thing to delve into the history of your won home. so often we are looking at romans, or greeks, or tutsi or tahitians and there right under our feet and in front of our eyes is real history that is just as fascinating.. c

    • I’m so glad you stopped by for a little peek of California history, Celi. It is really true for me that I have put more energy into aspects of world history than my own state, but I’m making up for lost time. :-) Thank you for the interest!

    • Thank you, Dee! I will make a trip by Inger’s blog and I’m sure I’ll really enjoy it! Father Serra is a big name in our city. I travel Junipero Serra Drive all the time! :-) Hope you’re doing well and enjoying your guests! :-)

  17. Thank you so much, Meg. I’m having fun with my homework assignments! I was telling someone over the weekend that we are so fortunate to be living in a time when the Internet makes it possible to research travel, fill in descriptions and just point us to the best resources all without leaving home! I’m finding close-to-home destinations I didn’t even know existed. So there will be more. I appreciate the interest! :-)

  18. Fascinating Debra, and like many others I totally love your history field trips! They bring to life an area and a part of history I know so little of.
    as for my own field trips, why not, there is plenty on my doorstep, literally!!

  19. Many Indian tribes in CA were decimated by diseases brought in by Europeans.
    There was a great lake in the Great Valley that took three days to sail across.
    The wild west was mostly located in Kansas and Missouri. The mid-west is located on the eastern side of the country.
    Russia owned Alaska and the west coast all the way into northern CA.
    Some cities such as S.F. have numerous tunnels underneath, dating back to the gold rush days.
    Some of the biggest earthquakes in the U.S. have not been on the west coast.
    Diamonds are found in which state?
    Gold has been found in several states.

    In high school I disliked history. Since then I’ve developed an appreciation of people, places, and things.

  20. I love Santa Barbara, and I’ve now got the mission there on my list. Thankyouverymuch Debra. The California Missions really are living history. A few years ago I took a tour of the Mission San Juan Capistrano. Absolutely fascinating, and so beautiful. The town too. Worth a trip from anywhere!

I always enjoy hearing from you!

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