27 May 2010

Carbon Canyon and Rancho Santa Ana del Chino: Mission San Gabriel

After thousands of years with little or no contact with outsiders, the aboriginal people of California were undoubtedly stunned to witness the arrival of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailing along the coast in 1542.  Aside from occasional sailings and landings, there was no significant land exploration of California until the Portolá Expedition traveled from San Diego to Monterey and back in 1769-70. 

During that trip, the expedition (despite a 1930s plaque in Brea Canyon that is in error) moved through today's Orange County, camped at or near modern Hillcrest Park in Fullerton and then ascended the Puente Hills through la abra, or an opening in the hills, coming down into a large valley the party named San Miguel.  After building a bridge (la puente) to cross San Jose Creek, the expedition came to the San Gabriel River and believed that either the puente site at the creek or the river would be ideal locales for a mission. 

Two years later, the priests Angel Somera and Pedro Cambón chose the river area for the Mission San Gabriel.  After three years, the mission was relocated to its current site, undoubtedly because the mission, being so close to the river, proved to be too vulnerable to flooding.

In time, the Mission San Gabriel extended its domain as far east as San Bernardino, where a mission outpost was established.  In between, many ranchos were created by the mission, utilizing aboriginal peoples from outlying rancherias as labor and seeking their conversion into Christianized farmers.  One such rancho was Rancho Santa Ana del Chino and the local rancheria was the Pasinog-na discussed in last night's entry.

Unfortunately, there does not appear to be much specific information available about the Mission San Gabriel's use of Rancho Santa Ana del Chino, which existed for six decades.  Obviously, Indian labor from Pasinog-na was used for the raising of cattle and growing crops.  The Chino Hills were certainly ideal for grazing the former, while the well-watered lands adjoining Chino Creek were suitable for the latter.  Whether the mission fathers erected any structures, such as a granary, mill, or housing, does not seem to be known.

What is known is that the secularization of the California missions by the Mexican government, decreed by legislation of Congress in the 1830s, left the ranchos of Mission San Gabriel available for private acquisition (despite the asserted intent of founding the missions for the purposes of Christianizing and civilizing the aborigines so that they could use these ranch lands as citizens of Spain and then Mexico.) 

Confusingly, there are several ranchos associated with the name "Santa Ana" including that of the "Cañon de Santa Ana" [Santa Ana Canyon] owned by Bernardo Yorba in the Yorba Linda/Anaheim Hills area; the "Santiago de Santa Ana" [St. James and St. Anne] further south in the Santa Ana/Tustin area; and the "Santa Ana del Chino."

What has confused people over the years is the definition of chino, especially the masculine el that is embodied in the ranch name.  In Spanish, there is the adjective chino meaning curly or kinky, as in hair, but there would be no masculine article associated with it: mi pelo es chino [my hair is curly.] 

On the other hand, chino can also refer to a Chinese person with the masculine article associated with it: allí es el Chino [there is the Chinese man.] 

With the phrase Santa Ana del Chino, however, there is the question of whether the term refers directly to St. Anne, the attributed mother of Mary, the Virgin mother of Christ.  Some persons, for example, believe the phrase means "St. Anne of the fair hair."  Or does it pertain to the property known as "Santa Ana" to which a man with curly or kinky hair was somehow associated.   Or to which a Chinese man was somehow linked.

There will probably never be an answer to that, because the name appears in early records without any explanation as to how it was derived.  Next post:  more on the life of Antonio Maria Lugo.

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