Nov 3, 2012 10:10 PM by Hope Hanselman, KSBY News

History Along El Camino Real: Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

You won't find many history books in Guy Crabb's classroom.

"We are so lucky to have a mission right here in our town and the kids are starting to know that," Crabb, teacher at Teach School, said.

That's because when these fourth graders turn the page to California history, they're looking just a few blocks downtown. It's where history is alive, where history was made by accident, where 240 years ago Father Junipero Serra stood with a plan.

He founded the mission on September 1, 1772. Although, he was in San Luis Obispo for only 23 hours.

Many of the sights around the San Luis Obispo mission are now familiar, including the bear statues in the plaza.
But, you might be surprised to learn the bears are the reason the mission was built.

"Now, that sounds odd," Dan Krieger, museum curator, said. "We always think of the Franciscans as coming to save souls but, in this case, the bears of the Los Osos Valley were the major food reserve for California."

The year 1772 was a drought year. The Chumash Indians were living in cold and infertile land. So, this mission's first order of business was to feed people.

"The bear meat from the bears shot in the Los Osos Valley saved the whole mission system of California at that time," Krieger said.

But the following year didn't prove to be much easier, when Father Jose Cavaller recruited the Chumash natives to build the compound on the barren land.

"He left them with a bag of flower, some sugar, some chocolate and nothings else. And when he came back there was a mission," Krieger said.

Though that building would be the oldest in town, now very little of it remains intact.

But for an accidental mission, San Luis Obispo de Tolosa has survived thanks to the strength of its community.

Now, on any given Sunday, 5,000 people gather to worship in the church.

"It's simply the heart of the city. Mission plaza is where people gather but, people have been gathering right in front of the mission since the beginning," Crabb says in front of his class.

It's all part of the lesson that chapters of history are written, but tradition gives them life.

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