Spanish explorers came to California in 1772. They came with missionaries who wanted to teach the Indians about Christianity. They also were hoping to find gold to take back to Spain. By 1830, there were 21 missions along the coast of California. People traveled between the missions by sailing ship and on trails.
The Spanish explorers brought horses to California. It was very hard to travel inland in California. The trails were footpaths that only the Indians knew about. In many places the grass was so high it would hide a man on a horse. There were large lakes and rivers to cross, and there were fierce animals like grizzly bears and mountain lions. The Indians sometimes attacked explorers and took their horses.
Father Garcés was the first Spanish explorer to cross the mountains. In 1776 he met some California Indians near Bakersfield . He came north as far as the White River, near where Ducor is today. There he baptized a dying Indian boy. More missionaries and soldiers came, but they did not build a mission like they did on the coast.
In 1806, some soldiers and missionaries set up a camp in the oak forest that today is Mooney Grove Park. They met Yokuts Indians in their village called Telamne, where Visalia is today. They explored the Tule, Kaweah, and Kings Rivers. They tried to set up a mission in this area, but could not do it because it was too far from the missions on the coast. Plus, the Mexican revolution started in 1810, so Spain could not support the missions.
After Mexico won the revolution they owned most of what is now California. They called it Alta California.
It was 20 years later that a new group of people – explorers from the United States – came to the lands of Tulare. These people came to trap animals for valuable fur. They crossed the highest mountains in the United States to get here.
One of the first of these men was Jedediah Smith. He camped on the Kings River in 1827 and trapped hundreds of beavers. The Mexican government, which owned “Alta California” then, did not want him here. Indians attacked and took their supplies.
Another famous explorer to come to the San Joaquin Valley was Kit Carson. He traveled all over the west, trapping and trading. His two daughters lived in Tulare County with their families.
In 1844 John Fremont, an explorer and an army captain, led a group of soldiers into California. In 1846, Mexico and the United States declared war against each other. The United States won this war in 1848 and took Alta California from Mexico.
When gold was discovered in the Sierra mountains in 1849, many settlers came to California. They came across deserts, high mountains, and in ships on the ocean. Some of these settlers came to the San Joaquin Valley and into Tulare County. Visalia was one of the first cities in the San Joaquin Valley, established in 1852.
In 1850, an eight-year-old boy named Thomas Jefferson Mayfield came with his family into the San Joaquin Valley. Here’s what he saw:
“Suddenly my daddy pointed over the tops of the bare hills ahead of us and exclaimed, ‘Look there!’ And there in the distance, until lost in the haze, was our valley. A shining thread of light marked the San Joaquin River’ …
Then someone noticed, still farther to the east, … a high range of snow covered peaks, their bases lost in the purple haze.”
(from Adopted by Indians: a True Story by Thomas Jefferson Mayfield, 1929.)