Feliciana, the young widow who befriends Fernanda in Yakimali’s Gift, was a real person who joined Juan Bautista de Anza’s expedition from Mexico to California. In Feliciana’s world of eighteenth century Mexico, women of all classes were expected to be modest, unassertive, and devoted to God and home. Women did have a certain amount of freedom to choose their husbands since parents and the Catholic church wanted the marriages to last. (They lost some of that freedom when, in 1778, a proclamation from Spain required parental consent for marriages of people under the age of twenty-five.)
Even though women could choose their husbands, there was a strict class structure in place, and mixed marriages were frowned upon. Children of mixed-race couples had specific labels. The most common were mestizo (Spanish and Indian), mulatto (Spanish and African), coyote (mestizo and Indian), and castizo (Spanish and mestizo). People claimed the name of “Spaniard” when they could get away with it, even if they didn’t have pure Spanish blood.
It’s believed that Feliciana came from “pure” Spanish ancestry, thus, her parents disapproved of her marriage to José Gutierrez, a mestizo. They had two daughters, Tomása and Estaquia. Possibly to escape the strict Mexican society, Feliciana and José, who was a soldier under Anza’s command, decided to join the expedition. However, José died before the journey began. Still, Feliciana, with her two young daughters, chose to go on the journey.
With her spirit, bravery, and strong will, she embraced the opportunity to build a life for herself and her children in California. Much to the dismay of Father Pedro Font, a priest on the expedition and who was against Feliciana joining the expedition, she helped buoy the spirits of her traveling companions when, for example, she sang at a fandango, or dance, the colonists enjoyed on the expedition.
In his diary, Font wrote:
“At night, with the joy at the arrival of all the people, they held a fandango here. 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.”
Besides her two daughters, Tomása and Estaquia, from her first marriage to Jose Gutierrez, Feliciana had seven more children with her second husband, Juan Francisco López. Many of her descendants, showing the same courage and conviction as Feliciana, became important figures in California history.
In 1841, the Spanish government granted Feliciana’s daughter, Maria Ignacia López Carrillo, more than 8000 acres in what is now Santa Rosa in northern California. Her husband had died at the age of forty-three, and Ignacia was one of only a few unmarried women to receive such a grant. She obviously inherited Feliciana’s spirit since she managed the rancho herself, not something a woman of that period typically did.
Benicia, the California capital in 1853-1854, was named after Feliciana’s granddaughter, Francisca Benicia Carrillo de Vallejo. Francisca Benicia was the wife of General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, a prominent Mexican military and political leader in California in the years after Mexico won its independence from Spain (1821), and during the Mexican-American war (1846-1848).
Two grandsons (sons of Feliciana’s infant on the Anza expedition, Estaquia) were very involved in the politics of their time. Andrés Pico was the Commander-in-Chief of the Mexican military during the Mexican-American War. He and American Lieutenant-Colonel John C. Fremont signed the Treaty of Cahuenga, which ended the war. Andrés’ brother, Pío Pico, was the last Mexican governor of California before it became part of the United States in 1850.
Feliciana’s great-grandson Romualdo Pacheco became the State of California’s first and only Hispanic governor in 1875. Higher education was an important issue for him, and he promoted the establishment of the University of California. Pacheco also served many years in the California State Senate, and when elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, he became the first Hispanic chairman of a standing Congressional committee.
Feliciana left quite a legacy. How proud she probably would have been of her descendants’ accomplishments. And, learning of their lives, how happy she would have been with the decision she made on that September day in 1775: to risk leaving all she knew and make the long trek to California.