Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A Tribute for Mother's Day: Remembering Pío Pico's Moms

Pío de Jesús Pico has a birthday coming up (b. 5-5-1801).  The last governor of Alta California in the 1840s under Mexican rule is not forgotten.  Mother's Day is nearing, too, a good time to remember the women who mattered in his life.

Pico's African, Native American and Spanish heritage has been a source of pride and a point of interest among those who study his place in history.  His male antecedents are detailed in the only (to-date) biography (Pio Pico, the Last Governor of Mexican California, by Carlos Manuel Salomon, Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 2010), but his maternal forbears are not a focus of the biography nor are they mentioned in recent articles.  The adventures of Maria Feliciana Arballo y Gutierrez (Pico's maternal grandmother) were examined in a chapter called "Merry Widow of the Anza Expedition" in the 1963 publication Rose, or Rose Thorn?  Three Women of Spanish California, written by Susanna Bryant Dakin.

From Dakin's book Rose, or Rose Thorn?
Courtesy of the Seaver Center for Western History Research

According to historian Salomon, Pico's paternal great-grandfather, Pío Pico III, was Spanish-born and likely came to Mexico.  His son, Santiago de la Cruz Pico, was a mestizo who married Maria Jacinta Vasida, a mulata.  Mestizo meaning a man born to Spanish and Native American parents; mulata meaning a woman born to black and white parents.  Santiago had five sons, including José María Pico (Pico's father).

José María Pico was listed as "Spaniard" in the 1790 census.  He married to an "espanola" Maria Eustaquia Gutierrez.  Espanola referred to a "white" person, and these identifications may have provided them better privileges in the late colonial California.  (The accuracy of these labels "Spaniard" and "espanola" is arguable).  José María Pico served as a guard, moving from mission to mission "as duty called."  He was most likely posted at Mission San Gabriel where Pío Pico was born, and several years later he and his family relocated to San Diego. 

Historian Dakin wrote that Eustaquia migrated from Sinoloa, Mexico in September, 1775, at age 4, along with an older sister, Maria Tomasa, age 6.  The trip was expected to include the parents of the two sisters:  Feliciana (a mulata, b. 1755) and Juan Jose Gutierrez (a mestizo).  Also, other persons slated for this trip included Santiago de la Cruz Pico with family, including 11-year old José María Pico.

(Their trip is historically noteworthy - led by Juan Bautista de Anza on his second expedition to Alta California.  It would be another six years before a new group of Mexican colonists headed out to eventually establish El Pueblo de la Reina de los Angeles, or the town of the Queen of the Angels.)

The two girls' father died shortly before the departure.  Their mother proceeded as planned - an unusual decision by the newly widowed woman with young kids.  Apparently Feliciana provided moral support to the others during the trek that lasted from the fall of 1775 into the spring of 1776.  The details of Feliciana were included in diary entries of the expedition in disapproving tone by Father Font (translated by Herbert Eugene Bolton):  "It was somewhat discordant, and a very bold widow who came with the expedition sang some verses which were not at all nice, applauded and cheered by all the crowd!"

Dakin wrote that the colonists arrived at the San Gabriel River by spring, and Feliciana and her daughters did not continue the trip to the final destination of the San Francisco Bay.  Feliciana attracted attention upon her arrival in San Gabriel - supposedly striking love at first sight with a young soldier, Juan Francisco Lopez.  They married at Mission San Gabriel.

At 17, Eustaquia married fellow colonist José María Pico (he was seven years older).  She bore ten children, including seven daughters and three sons (one of whom was Pío Pico).  One of her granddaughters was Trinidad Ortega, whom Los Angeles's Spring Street was named.

Early Los Angeles's scant population meant familial ties were common:  Maria Eustaquia's older sister, Maria Tomasa (1769-1798) married Juan Jose Sepulveda (1764-1808), the son of Francisco Xavier Sepulveda.

The "merry widow" Feliciana died at San Diego in the year 1818.

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