Ask anyone to describe San Diego and they'll likely conjure images of bright, sunny skies, an ideal climate, miles of pristine beaches, captivating scenery, world-class attractions and resorts.
For the most part those images are accurate but for some reason, San Diego also has more than its share of darkness and unatural death. We're home to one of the Most Haunted Houses in America (the Whaley House) and we've witnessed some of the most publicized murders and suicides in the country. It all began more than 200 years ago...
San Diego’s Early “Dark" Days
April 11, 1769 the Spanish ship San Antonio sails into San Diego Bay, after a 54 day journey, and anchors just inside Ballast Point. The San Carlos arrives two weeks later, adverse winds having prolonged her trip to 110 days. Some of the crew had died and most are sick with scurvy. A canvas hospital was set up on the beach.
A month later, an advance land party of military men, natives and Franciscan brothers, including Father Juan Crespi, reache the shores of San Diego Bay, where they find 21 sailors and some military men have died, the rest ill with scurvy. A new camp is established on Presidio Hill near the present site of Old Town. There is a large Indian village nearby in present-day Mission Valley.
On July 16, 1769 Mission San Diego de Alcala is officially founded on Presidio Hill, the first of a chain of twenty-one missions to be established along the California coast. Six years later (1775) native Indians surround Mission San Diego de Alcala, set fire to its fragile wooden structures and attack a small contingent of stunned Spaniards. Father Luis Jayme and two other Spaniards are slain and the survivors withdraw to the presidio six miles west.
Following its discovery, San Diego endures tremendous turmoil as it vacillates between rulers. Originally a Spanish territory, San Diego (and all of California) swear allegiance to Mexico in 1822 after they win their independence from Spain. Following the Mexican-American War in 1846, the first American flag is raised in Old Town. When California joins the Union as the nation’s 31st state, San Diego is designated as one of its 27 original counties.
During this time and in the decades to following San Diego experiences more bloodshed and death.
- Disease and epidemics which devastate the native population: 1832-33 malaria outbreak, 1837-39 and 1862 smallpox outbreaks.
- Natural disasters including: 1858 a 75mph Category 1 hurricane (the biggest on record), 1861 floods from heavy rains; state-wide storms, 1862 a 6.0 magnitude earthquake, and severe droughts in 1863-65 and 1877.
- Military battles and skirmishes including: 1846 the Battle of San Pasqual between the “Army of the West” and the Mexican-California Army, 1851 Antonio Garra leads major Indian revolts which earns him an execution by firing squad, 1853 the first known vigilantism occurs after indigent tailor John Warren is found bludgeoned to death by the jawbone of an ox, 1875 Pancho Lopez and six ruthless bandits instigate a gunfight at a store in Campo.