- With Anza to California, 1775-1776: The Journal of Pedro Font, OFM ed. by Alan K. Brown
In September 1775, eager to serve His Majesty's goal of further settling and securing the far northern province of Alta California, Juan Bautista de Anza left Horcasitas (near present-day Hermosillo in Sonora) for Monterey, California. In his company were 240 persons and hundreds of horses, mules, and cattle. Their goal was to secure an overland route from the interior of Sonora, bring settlers, and affirm the crown's claim to this outpost of empire at a time when England and Russia appeared to challenge it. Anza's efforts must also be understood in the context of the Bourbon reforms, the efforts of Charles III (r. 1759-1788) to reassert royal control over the Church and the creoles in the New World and to enhance communication and military defense. Anza became a governor of New Mexico (1778-1788), defeated the Comanche chief [End Page 418] Cuerno Verde in 1779, and, rather remarkably, established peace with the Comanches. California history, though, celebrates the dynamic, loyal, and energetic Anza for his efforts to open the overland route between Sonora and Alta California. (The Yumans closed the route in July 1781 with a deadly attack on Captain Rivera y Moncada and his men near the Colorado River.)
We know of Anza's journey through his own journal but also through one of those who accompanied him in 1775, fray Pedro Font. The two men were opposites: Font was a dour, judgmental Catalonian priest loyal to the church, who showed little reticence in criticizing others (including Anza) or commenting on his diarrhea. Anza, in contrast, was born in Sonora, the son of an army captain and silver mine owner, and was a proud servant of the crown and the civil authorities. Font's diary is often cranky and very concerned with latitudes and longitudes.
Alan K. Brown's newly translated and carefully annotated edition of Font's diary excellently combines its several versions. There are the "latter texts," the ones in which Font made corrections and additions, and the recently discovered (in the Franciscan Historical Archive in Rome) "field text," or original draft. "The goal of the present edition," writes Brown, "is to provide a unified translation of Father Pedro Font's various versions" (p. 71). Brown achieves this by putting Font's later additions in smaller type at the end of the corresponding entry. The reader can choose which comments—Font's original impression of persons or places or the later, more retrospective one—carry the most weight. Some readers will appreciate this sort of comprehensiveness while others will read the text to appreciate the otherwise disagreeable Padre Font's accomplished efforts at cartography and cosmology. Numerous copies of Font's maps and sketches accompany the text. All those people and all those animals made for an eventful journey through inhospitable territory, and those interested in exploration will find the details that Font recorded compelling.
Throughout the realm there was much rivalry between those who served the crown and those who served the cross, the two sides of the Spanish imperial coin. Moreover, numerous persons conflated their service to one or the other of these high causes with personal aggrandizement. Priests typically did not approve of the soldiers' deportment, especially when alcohol was involved. Angered that Anza had given the men aguardiente, "so that there was a sizeable degree of drunkenness and shouting among the crowd last night," Font would proclaim, "Since drunkenness is always an evil, the drinker and the one who aids the drunkenness of others both sin." The comment he directs at Anza, "What caution and patience is required toward these gentlemen with absolute power!" is typical (p. 131).
Unacknowledged in the lengthy introduction is the obvious issue of the nature of the Spanish mission. Was it conquest or civilization? Font's statement that "there is no religion among these Indians, they live in...