A County Named For the Reeds of a Vanished Lake
Tulare County, officially named such in 1852, owes its origin to Don Pedro Fages, comandante of California and, later, the second Spanish military governor of Las Californias.
Fages, who accompanied Gaspar de Portola on his first and second expeditions to California in 1768 and 1770, was an exacting and short-tempered commander.
Headquartered in Monterey, the capital of Alta California, Fages explored on foot San Francisco Bay, Suisun Bay, San Pablo Bay and the San Joaquin River, among other places.
Tall and broad, he was nicknamed “El Oso” – The Bear – after a hunting trip for bear meat in San Luis Obispo.
Born in Catalonia, Spain and in charge of Catalonian soldiers, his treatment of the local soldiers from Loreto, then the capital of Alta and Baja California, led nine of them and a muleteer to desert.
“Perverse and obstinate,” was how Fages described the frontier fighters.
While searching for deserters in 1772, Fages came across a large lake surrounded by marshes and reeds. He called it Los Tules. In Spanish, tular is a place where tules grow, according to 1500 California Places Names, Their Origin and Meaning.
Hence, the county’s name.
Father Junipero Serra and Fages were often at odds. Fages was of the opinion that he ruled in all matters concerning Alta California. Serra insisted he and the church had control of the fledgling missions and their activities.
Fages and the “Father Presidente” clashed over the assignment of soldiers, the distribution of mules, the handling of Indians and the administration of the missions.
“(Fages) considers himself as absolute and that the missionaries cannot speak to him on the slightest matter concerning missions,” Richard Pourade in his History of San Diego quotes the priests as saying of the comandante.
“He stated that he is in charge of all, that the missionaries have nothing more to do than obey, say Mass, administer the sacraments (and) that all the rest devolves on him as commander.”
Serra and Fages’ power feud became so acute, Serra sailed for Mexico City in late 1772 to take his case to the new viceroy, Antonio Maria Bucareli y Ursua.
Of the 32 complaints Serra raised in his Representacion against Fages, the viceroy agreed with 30, including removal of Fages as military commander.
More importantly, the priests were given control over the education of baptized Indians and the handling of those who weren’t baptized, unless they committed a crime of blood.
After being named a lieutenant colonel, Fages was appointed governor of California in 1782. Serra died in 1784. By the time, Fages became governor, the capital of both the Californias had been moved to Monterey.
He retired in 1791 and died five years later in Mexico.
Filed under: California History
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