The beginnings of Davao as a distinct geopolitical entity started during the last fifty years of Spanish rule in the country. While Spanish sovereignty had been established along the northeastern coasts of Mindanao down to Bislig as early as 1620, it was not until the conquest of Davao Gulf area in 1848 that Spanish sway in these parts became de facto, and Davao’s history began to be recorded.
In that year, Don Jose Cruz de Oyanguren, a native of Vergara, Guipuzcoa, Spain, having received a special grant from Don Narciso Claveria, Governor- General of the Archipelago, “to conquer and subdue the entire gulf district, expel or pacify the Moros there, and establish the Christian religion….” arrived in Davao as head of a colonizing expedition comprising 70 men and women. They found an ally in Datu Daupan, chief of the Samal Mandayas, who saw in Oyanguren’s colonizing venture a chance to get even with Datu Bago, Muslim chief of Davao Gulf, who had treated the Mandayas as vassals. Oyanguren’s initial attack against Datu Bago’s fortified settlement at the mouth of Davao River proved futile. His ships could not maneuver in the narrow channel of the Davao River bend (where Bolton Bridge is now located) and was forced to retreat. He erected at Piapi a palisade for his defense and constructed a causeway across nipa swamps to the dry section of the meadows (now at Claveria Street junction), inorder to bring his canons within range to Datu Bago’s settlement. In the three months that he devoted to constructing the causeway, Oyanguren had also to fend off Datu Bago’s harassing attacks against the workers.
Finally, late in June help came from Zamboanga. Don Manuel Quesada, Navy Commanding General, arrived with a company of infantry and joined in the attack against Datu Bago’s settlement. The out-gunned defenders, despite their tenacious resistance, finally fled in the cover of night to different Muslim communities in the hope of carrying on the fight some other day.Oyanguren was reported to have peaceful possession of the Davao Gulf territory at the end of 1849, despite lack of support from the government in Manila and his principals in the venture. He campaigned hard among the different tribes –the Mandayas, Manobos, etc. urging them to live in settlements or reducciones in order to reach them for trade and commerce, but to no avail. The Moros** continued to threaten those who collaborated with the Españoles. Little headway was made in economic development of the gulf region.