History has no beginning. Those interested in the past simply must pick a time or place or person and designate a “beginning.” So with the history of San Luis Obispo…the “beginning” is simply an arbitrary point in time. As such, there is never a definitive history, but only one that captures – hopefully, accurately – some of the past. The path to today begins in a dim past but we’ll be concentrating on the last 250 years.
Certainly, eons ago as the earth formed and groaned into great land and sea divides, this area remained recessed under water and in an unimaginable space of time, rose from the beneath the sea into the shape of land we now call home. Using the local peaks – the Nine Sisters – as its focus, an informative book, Mountains of Fire, by Sharon Lewis Dickerson provides a concise but considerable amount of information locked away in our ancient geology.
Who was eventually here – or when they came – will imagine the native populations and the unknown amount of time they spent roaming a more pristine world. Their life, hopes, and dreams can only be vaguely discerned from existing evidence. The evolution of America’s native population is primarily an archeological history supplemented by varied oral histories. However, for us, the Chumash are our geographical ancestors. As with all humans, they, too, had the dreams and nightmares of life. Certainly for us, the most important community building, the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, was primarily the work of their hands.
For most of our documented civic history, however, the records begin with ships’ logs as vessels – the colorful Manila galleons – sailed primarily south along the coast carrying treasures from the East to the ports in New Spain (Mexico). Nameless at the time, San Luis Obispo then was a place possibly seen from a distance, anonymously tucked away in the scenery viewed from the sea. There were some mariners – worthy of their own story – who braved reaching shore most likely looking for rest or treasure and not sightseeing. Unamuno, Cermeno, Vizcaino, and Cabrillo conjure up tales of sea adventures while the reality for the early mariners was one of adventure punctuated by the agonizing toll of scurvy. For us, however, the best and most pertinent records begin relatively recently in 1769. What was named “San Luis Obispo” wasn’t in this locale but nearer Santa Barbara.