On the morning of May 10, 2018 Phil Valdez, Jr. passed away after a hard fought battle with cancer. A founding member of the Anza Society, Phil contributed significantly to a better understanding of Anza and the historical context of his life. Phil’s enthusiasm for sharing this knowledge was second to none. This is best exemplified in depth and breadth by his published articles on this site. Many members of the Anza Society remember him fondly, and some have contributed their memories. We hope these memories will inspire you and other citizen historians to continue the study of Anza and Anza’s times with the foundation of knowledge shared by the passionate, committed scholar and friend, Phil Valdez, Jr.
Naomi Torres, Superintendent, Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail
Since I never had occasion to meet Phil’s family, and since I know those of us who shared his interest in Anza were a second family to him, I would like to share with you some my thoughts on his passing. I think, those of us who knew him would agree that there aren’t many people in this world so absolutely devoted to a subject, or having the intensity which Phil had, to pursue anything and anyone who could enhance his already vast knowledge of everything Anza. His constant and never ending pursuit of the subject was motivated by the desire to help establish recognition and a fair place for Anza in American History, and then spread the word to the four corners of the nation. This explains both his total dedication to the acquisition of that knowledge and the generosity with which he so willingly shared it with all of us.
It is an understatement to say that I have lost a good friend and we have all lost a true apostle of Juan Bautista de Anza. May he rest in peace!
A “giant” in the world of California colonial history, Phil Valdez, Jr., passed away in Ukiah, California, in May 2018 after a valiant fight with a long-term illness.
Phil Valdez was knowledgeable on most aspects of colonial California but focused his study and research on the life and times of Juan Bautista de Anza and the first overland colonizing expedition trail to California.
Valdez’s research on the Anza Expedition of 1775–76 has increased the public’s understanding of California’s Spanish colonial history. He holds a master’s and doctorate in Business Administration. He was a Marine veteran and worked for many years in the hotel business.
Valdez served as a historian advisor to the National Park Service. Thought to be a descendant of Juan Bautista de Anza’s courier, Juan Bautista Valdez, he was inspired by his personal connection and a deep respect for Juan Bautista de Anza. He has logged hundreds of hours and thousands of miles retracing the 1775–76 Anza Expedition, identifying historic campsite locations and increasing the public’s knowledge of the expedition to California. While concurrently serving as president of the Anza Society, Inc., a volunteer organization, Valdez organized conferences for citizen-historians to share research and invite others to learn about our country’s Spanish colonial heritage. His 2013 conference in Monterey, California, highlighted the Anza Trail in Fort Ord National Monument. His 2014 conference in the Mexican state of Sonora brought dozens of U.S.-based Anza enthusiasts together with Mexican historians and several state and local community officials.
Building on his relationship with Mexican Government officials from the state of Sonora, Valdez served as a symbolic representative of the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail on several trips to Sonora in 2013 and 2014. During these visits, he developed strong relations with the Mayor of Arizpe, Sonora, and several government representatives from the state of Sonora, Mexico. He spent countless hours sharing his extensive knowledge of the Anza Expedition and more importantly catalyzing an interest in presenting the Anza Expedition story in Sonora, Mexico. As a result of his efforts, the Mexican agency Turismo Sonora developed La Ruta Turística de Anza, a counterpart to the Anza Trail in the U.S. Also, the town of Arizpe, Sonora, installed an interpretive wayside presenting Juan Bautista de Anza’s burial site.
Phil Valdez, Jr. received the U.S. Department of Interior Citizen’s Award for Exceptional Service at the National Park Service Pacific West Regional Office in San Francisco on July 15, 2015. The Citizen’s Award for Exceptional Service is given by the U.S. Department of the Interior in recognition of outstanding performance by a private citizen, organizational partner or volunteer. Valdez’s award recognizes his 12- plus years of service to the Anza Trail, including time spent as a goodwill ambassador for the trail in northern Mexico. The citation of Valdez’s award follows:
“For outstanding contributions to the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, Phil Valdez, Jr., is granted the Citizen’s Award for Exceptional Service of the Department of the Interior.”
Long discussions, phone calls, comparative research and friendship with Phil will be sorely missed with those left behind, but for sure, Phil Valdez, Jr. is having great discussions with Juan Bautista de Anza, Father Pedro Font and Don Garate.
With love from his Californio cousins, Greg Bernal-Mendoza Smestad, Ph.D., Martha Vallejo McGettigan and Edward Grijalva
Phil was a founding member and past president of the Anza Society International. He was a proud descendant “de los Californios”, the Spanish Colonial founders and settlers of early California. Phil was a descendant of the Courier on Captain Juan Bautista de Anza’s journey from Sonora into Alta California, which helped establish the settlement of San Francisco. Through the Anza Society, Phil, like myself, found we had a voice, an acknowledgement of our own identity and anthropology as “Espanoles-Mexicanos-Americanos. This voice could be expressed through the Anza Society and its foundation work that honored our ancestry. Like many here, a history that happened to be our own unique American story, as with many heroes and heroines as well as some villains of the Spanish Colonial settlement periods. The Anza Society was founded due to the worthiness of the lives of both Anza senior and junior, held for further research, study, promotion and positive advocacy. Phil and I spoke about what an honor it was to be among people, like you present her, having the quality of spirit and character who sought truth, scholarship and understanding of what has been contributed to our region and country all because of Spain.
S. Pauline Anaya, Psy.D.
Phil at Yuha Wells Marker
Phil Valdez at a DAR Campsite Marker in Morgan Hill
I first me Phil on a horse/mule pack trip in Anza-Borego Springs Stat Park. My college friend Bill Colvin, had been our packer when I worked for the Forest Service in California and had two riding and two pack horses on his ranch in Chico. Phil had arranged to ride into Coyote Canyon with the park ranger, on his two mules, on the same day. Imagine our surprise learning about each others interest in Anza. I had no ties to Anza, except for a general interest, but Phil’s 8th generation grandfather had ridden with Anza to California on his first trip in 1774, and then rode 1200 mile in 24 days back to Mexico City with the news. Bolton called him an extraordinary courier, and I think Phil always tried to emulate his ancestor.
Phil thought nothing about getting in his car in northern California and meeting me in Colorado. We drove and hiked the Anza trail, in his expedition against the Comanche in 1779 – at least twice, taking about a week each time. We thought we found a musket ball once and he drove all the way out to meet a state archaeologist in Colorado City, only to learn we had likely just found a round piece of slag from the iron mills in Pueblo.
With Vladimir, the three of us drove, hiked and camped on the Camino Diablo along the Arizona/Sonora boundary. The last thing we shared was colon cancer, and a wicked chemo drug. Phil was brave right up to the end. He said he had lived a good life and we will sorely miss him.