Last updated: March 27, 2018
One of the most frequent questions Anza Trail rangers receive is, “How many people died on the expedition?” The formal answer is one, María Ygnacia Manuela Piñuelsa de Féliz. María died in childbirth on Monday, October 23. The newborn, José Antonio Capistrano Féliz, survived briefly dying at San Gabriel.
While it is important to recognize the significance of the expedition’s leaders, the names we aren’t as familiar with -- solider, wife, or child -- are equally important in the legacy of the 1775-1776 colonizing expedition. The Anza Trail tells the story of women and children–not just soldiers and priests–and the roles they played in the settlement of California and the overall success of the Anza expedition. Recruiting families for the expedition was an attempt to guarantee the future success of the Spanish settlements by increasing the overall Spanish presence in Alta California.
In the Bicentennial edition of Antepasados, produced by Los Californianos, Lydia Margarita Weis chose to memorialize María Ygnacia Manuela Piñuelas de Féliz in a poem, “To Manuela.” We selected to pull this tribute out of the archives to end our series during Women’s History Month commemorating the women of the expedition and Manuela.
From Tubac to Mission San Xavier del Bac
We Take this opportunity to quote those entries from Father Font’s Diary which concern her death and burial to illustrate how, in spite of adversity, the expedition moved ever northward.
October 23, Monday
We set out from the Presidio of Tubac (after Mass had been said) at about eleven o’clock in the morning and after three o’clock in the afternoon halted at the spot called La Canoa , having travelled some five leagues on a north-northeastward course. Along the way we have a great deal of wind and dust, ending with clouds and a little rain next day in the morning. All of this country is cool, with mesquite groves and a great deal of grass. At night, the wife of a soldier was overcome with labor pains and she gave birth to a fine boy, but the delivery was so crossways that it was born feet first and the woman died of complications before dawn the next day, and in the afternoon was taken for burial to Mission San Xavier del Bac and was interred on the morning of the 25th by Father Garcés, who had gone on ahead accompanying the body.
October 24, Tuesday.
I said Mass. We set out from La Canoa at two o’clock in the afternoon and at five o’clock halted at what they call La Punta de los Llanos having traveled three leagues upon a north-northeastward course. There is grass enough but no water at the stopping place and on the plains beyond it. To our left hand, we went along past some heights that already belong to the Papaguería, and to the right runs the range that comes a very long way, from before Mission San Ignacio and has several names before it ends a little beyond El Tuquisón, where they call it the Santa Catarina mountains, along whose slopes on the other side runs the San Pedro River until it joins the Gila River. Along the way I began praying the Rosary with the people, for the deceased woman, and ended it by singing the Salve of the Virgen de los Dolores.
October 25, Wednesday
We set out from La Punta de los Llanos at a bit after half past eight in the morning and at one o’clock in the afternoon reached Mission San Xavier del Bac, whose minister is Father Fray Francisco Garcés having traveled six leagues on a north-by-east course. This is a pueblo of good Pimas, or Sobaýpuris, and once was very populous but at present it has been brought very low by the hostile actions of the Apaches and even more so because of its water, which is very harmful because of its being thick and nitrous to the degree that a Jesuit Father proved that a vase of water when distilled left behind two ounces of niter and slag. In the afternoon Father Tomás baptized the boy that was born on the night of the 23rd.
October 26, Thursday
I said Mass, and before the Mass I celebrated three weddings of people belonging to the expedition, out of four that presented themselves to me at Tubac, and during the Mass I veiled the newlyweds.
After the celebration, at half past eight in the morning the expedition resumed their journey. They traveled five leagues that day.
Diary of Pedro Font, O.F.M.
Translation: Brown, Alan K. With Anza to California, 1775-1776. The Arthur H. Clark Company. 2011.
Image: NPS/Bill Singleton
Three days out, but death
Knew this trail.
Maneula bore her child
In “Woman’s Travail.”
Manuela, wife of soldier Feliz
Ended her journey; only begun.
In huddled grief and bitter cold,
Colonists waited orders from Anza;
Waited in canyon of deep despair.
Of Manuela’s dark hair.
Anza’s orders, crisp and sharp
“Carry the Senora by litter
To Mission Xavier del Bac
For Christian burial, Padre.
Four soldiers go with you.
The people will follow and meet.
Vaya con Dios!”
Life, death and the human heart—
Back on the trail…portentous beginning.
There is a roster for the brave,
First, fallen one,
Added ‘neath the cross;
Forever to lie
Vacant eyes staring toward desert sky.
Hers to be solitude forevermore;
Never to know the son she bore.
Her journey ended, hardly begun.
Hers was a race baptized by fire.
Hers was blood of conquistadores.
No matter---This white flower
Would sleep beneath many snows.
The colonists moved on in huddled strength;
A chain of humanity forged in friendship
Out of fierce adversity, would take them through.
Their leader’s confidence gave them faith, anew.
On to San Gabriel!
Manuela’s son became a first pioneer
To Alta California’s far frontier.
The Lord giveth—The Lord taketh away.
Sleep well, Manuela.
Weis, Lydia Margarita. “To Manuela...” Antepasados, 27 June 1977, pp. 12–13.
To learn more about the descendants of early California colonists, visit Los Californianos.The families of the Anza Expedition arrived at their destination to establish the Presidio of San Francisco on June 27, 1776. Every June, descendants of these families gather in San Francisco to honor their ancestors, and the Anza Trail and partner organizations sponsor heritage events to explore the history of Early California. Learn more about the two-day annual event, Pasados del Presidio.