Following Felipe

 (This is the 4th post of the CALIFORNIO series.  You can read the 1st post HERE, the second post HERE, and the third post HERE.)

You don’t ever expect to find a relative’s name in a history book.

At least I didn’t.

But there was the name, in black & white text on the page in front of me:  “Felipe Santiago Garcia.” I stared at it, and gave myself a thousand reasons to doubt it.  Then, I looked closer and confirmed the facts.  The dates matched:  Felipe was born in 1748 in Sinaloa, Mexico, and married in 1773 to Maria Petra Alcantara Lugo.  Both husband and wife arrived in San Diego, in 1774.  They had a son named Carlos Maria who went on to have a son named Hilarion.  All three names were on the Garcia list I was searching for, and there they all were in the history book in front of me.

The three volumes of Spanish-Mexican Families of Early California: 1769 – 1850 ( by Marie Northrop) are considered the Bible when it comes to historical research on the beginnings of California. The books are out of print (except for Volume 3) and if you are persistent enough to look for them, and lucky enough to find them, two volumes will easily set you back $500.

My cousin Eileen was smart enough to track down the first two volumes in 1997 for a little over $40 to give to her father (my uncle) as a Christmas gift.  Now,  sixteen years later, with my uncle’s passing, my aunt had handed me both volumes along with my uncle’s files of genealogical research.  Having found Felipe’s name on the internet, I had called her and asked if Uncle Danny had ever written down any information about the family.

The file my aunt shared with me was brimming over with notes, scribblings in my uncle’s handwriting, and yes, there was Felipe on a roughly sketched out family tree, along with Carlos, Hilarion, and Rosa.  But the Marie Northrop books she also loaned me gave a legitimacy to those names.  The Garcias were true Californios, and historians had acknowledged that.

Felipe had been a soldado de cuera – a special type of Spanish soldier in California named after the “cuera” or the thick “leather vest” they wore for protection in combat from arrows, or spears.

Soldaldo de Curea2

These soldiers were sent to Alta California as early as 1769 to escort the Franciscans as they set up their missions, and the soldiers built the presidios.  In 1774, Father Serra and the Crown decided that no longer would soldados de cuera travel to the unsettled region as single men.  Families were to be sent with them, to help settle the land, and to ease the loneliness of the soldiers in Spain’s new territory.

The first land expedition that brought both soldiers and their families to California was led by Captain Rivera in 1774.  Felipe and his new wife were among the 51 people on that expedition. Petra was pregnant at the time, and on November 10th she went into labor while the expedition was on its way to Monterey.  A son, Juan Joseph, was born outside Oso Flaco and was baptized immediately when they reached the San Luis Obispo Mission because the baby wasn’t expected to live.  He lived, however, and his birth was recorded as the first European child to be born in California.  Petra and Felipe went on to have eighteen more children – Rosa Garcia’s grandfather (our family connection), was their second son, Carlos.

The soldados de cuera were moved from mission to mission.  Felipe, along with his family, went from the Presidio of Monterey to Mission San Antonio de Padua, San Gabriel Mission, Pueblo Los Angeles, and the Santa Barbara Presidio, until his retirement took him back to Monterey.  Most of the early soldados were given land as gratitude for their service to Spain, and I wonder if Felipe received land, and if so, what happened to it?  Was this the beginning of our family’s connection to owning land?

Seven of Petra and Felipe’s sons became soldiers; the eighth son resisted and was smuggled out of the country on a ship that was bound for Chile.  He chose exile from his family rather than hanging for refusing mandatory military service.  His brother, Inocente, (who would write about the experience in Garcia Hechos and Other Garcia Papers) helped his brother escape and the family never saw him again.

I’m hooked. And I want to know more.

In July, I ask my husband if he’d like to take a road trip up to Monterey to follow in some of the footsteps of Felipe and Petra.  Maybe see a mission or two where he was stationed, and some of those nineteen children were born.

“I’d like to visit their graves,” I tell him, knowing that both Felipe and Petra had died in Monterey.

“Let’s go!” he tells me, sensing an adventure and a much-needed summer vacation.

And so, we headed up north to San Luis Obispo, picking up our friend Marie who took us to our first stop,  Mission San Luis Obispo, the place were Felipe’s first son was baptized.


(There was a wedding going on and the Mariachi’s  helped to set the mood.)

Next, we travelled by car to another mission where Felipe was once stationed, driving across land that would have taken him a day’s ride to reach the mission.  We arrive there in less than an hour and a half.

San Antonio Mission in the distance

Mission San Antonio de Padua is one I’ve never heard of before.  An hour outside of Paso Robles, and set away from any major cities, it’s in a rural setting much like Felipe and Petra would have travelled through to get there.  It’s easy to imagine a column of women, soldiers, friars, and a few small children, all on the back of horses or mules, traveling in the San Antonio valley’s oppressive heat.  When we were at the mission, the temperature reading in our car at one time read 118 degrees.

Mission San Antonio

We’re expecting to see no one at the mission – it’s hidden away under the careful watch of the Santa Lucia mountains, surrounded by thousands of oak trees, and in the middle of military land – Fort Hunter Liggett.  But when our car pulls up we see hundreds of other cars parked around the mission, and it turns out we have arrived on Founder’s Day. It’s July 14th, exactly 242 years after Father Serra erected a cross and named the mission, San Antonio de Padua.

San Antonio Chapel

If ever I felt like Felipe was walking at my side, it was on that day as I moved across the mission grounds, poking my head into every nook and cranny I could find.  There was the church where Petra and Felipe had gone to Mass, the barracks where the soldiers were housed, and even the baptismal font where three of Petra and Felipe’s children had been baptized.

Baptismal Font

I could feel the Garcia family surrounding me.

And I wondered what would happen when I finally got to Monterey?

(NEXT WEEK:  The final post in the CALIFORNIO series: Lost & Found in Monterey)


28 thoughts on “Following Felipe

  1. this is a wonderful saga, Darlene, I’m hooked too and want to know more!! I don’t think in all the years I’ve known you, that I’ve heard mention of a Spanish side of the family– Italian, yes, Spanish, no. The pictures are great too. I do have to admit though that throughout my reading, in the back of my head, I kept hearing, “Good God, 18 kids!!” –beyond my comprehension – I was often overwhelmed by just two!! That poor woman must have spent probably half her life pregnant – LOL!! Do you suppose they had servants?


    • Actually, Petra had 20 children. One of the research items I found is Garcia Hechos and Other Garcia Papers which was written by Inocente Garcia – Felipe’s son. It’s a firsthand account of his life and he wrote, “I had 19 brothers and sisters – we were 9 boys and 11 girls.” So if I wrote 18, I was off by two kids! And yes, she must have been pregnant all.the.time, poor woman. They didn’t have servants because soldiers barely got paid, and if they were paid anything, it wasn’t very much. But after they retired they could receive land and that’s what they lived off so it was important to have a lot of children. Spain was eager to populate California so you will see that most of those couples had as many children as they could. Petra must have been exhausted.


  2. We visited Mission San Antonio de Padua on a sweltering summer’s day midweek. There was one car as we pulled in, we never saw other people. It gave a stark impression and I kept thinking of the faith and commitment settlers must have had to establish life in that setting. My respect and gratitude to your ancestors.


    • I was expecting that mission to be absolutely deserted, but instead, it was filled with people. It was such an odd feeling because I hadn’t expected to go there on the day we went. We were going to stop on our way back from Monterey, but for some reason we made the decision that morning. What are the chances that we would have gone there on the same date the mission had been founded? That visit really got my imagination going. Well, read the last post next week 🙂


    • All 4th graders in California are taught about the Missions, but in doing this family research I have learned so much more than anything I learned in school. I love to do research for writing so I’ve really been enjoying this. So glad you’re following the series. The last post is next week…


      • When our daughter was in 4th grade her teacher said, “You cannot do just the church, you must do the whole edifice and IF your model has a roof, you must be able to remove it to show what people were doing inside. We contemplated moving to Utah when our son was entering 4th grade.


  3. Pingback: Lost & Found in Monterey | Darlene Craviotto

    • Actually, I never thought of this as a mini-series until Alesia brought it up. I guess I’m so focused on these stories as a novel that I have creative blinders on. Thanks for pointing it out though, and yes, it would definitely lend itself to the mini-series format. But first, the novel…


  4. Pingback: Searching for the Garcias | Darlene Craviotto

  5. Hello, I to am a direct decedent of Felipe Santiago Garcia and Petra Josefa Alacantera de Lugo (Garcia), are my 4th great grandparents.
    Their 14th child, Jose Antonio Inocencio Garcia, born and baptized in California at the Mission San Gabriel Archangel in 1791, 2as my 3rd great-grandfather.
    His daughter, Barbara Delores Garcia married Don Jose Mariano Bonilla, 1804-1878, the first Lawyer in California, the first elected Judge in San Luis Obispo.
    One of their daughters, Gadalupe Bonilla, born at the San Luis Obispo Mission in 1841, is my great-grandmother. She passed away in 1913 in Los Angeles.
    One of her sons, Carlos F Gonzalez, 1876-1953, was my grandfather.
    Carlos Ramon Gonzalez, 1916-2002 was my father.
    I am David Arthur Gonzalez, born in Los Angeles in 1950, am a direct decedent of the original Californios.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Yes we are, and during my research I’ve found that my daughter and her husband are 5th cousins Lugo and Cota. Let me.know what’s up, dave

        Liked by 1 person

      • Great to hear from you again, Dave. That’s so interesting that your daughter and her husband are related through the Lugo and Cota lineages. Sounds like you’ve done a lot of genealogical research about our ancestors. Fascinating, isn’t it? I managed to get sidetracked when I discovered that Felipe and his wife, Maria Petra, were the first of Sinaloa families to travel all the way from Sonora to Monterey, Alta California in 1774. What a difficult journey that must have been! I wanted to read more about those “mule trains” that brought those sturdy folks 1200 miles across some very challenging lands. Unfortunately, most of those people did not keep journals because they didn’t know how to read or write. I changed directions and started to search for novels that might give me some insight to that courageous journey my 5th Great Grandparents took in 1774, but I could not find a single novel with that historic backdrop. So, after doing extensive research over the last three years, I decided to write my own novel. It’s called “Californio,” and although it’s fictional, I decided to use Felipe’s real name because I love the sound of it. The book will come out this spring – I’ll let everyone know here on my blog when it’s available.


      • Great, please let me know when your book comes out….you know, Fliepe and Petra had the first “white” child born in New Spain ‘ s California territory.. And Petra’s brother, Francisco Salvador Lugo was among the Spanish Soldier Escortes who founded the Pueblo de Los Angeles in 1781. Josefa Petra Alacantera de Lugo’s mother was Crestina Espinosa and her Father was Martin Melcor, born 1690, Sinaola, New Spain.I’m still searching for a drawing, sketch or photograph of Judge Jose Mariano Bonilla, 1807-1878. He married Jose Antonio Inocencio Garcia’ s daughter, Delores, in 1837.

        Sent via the Samsung GALAXY S®4 Active™, an AT&T 4G LTE smartphone

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, there’s an article claiming that about their first child. I invented a plot for my novel that is different, but I wanted to use Felipe’s name and his wife, who I call “Petra” as a way to get into the story and experience. So it’s not based on factual information about our great grandparents.


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