Time of the Bells, 1769-1835
CHAPTER TEN: Capt. Duhaut-Cilly
These were the days of religious festivals, of cattle round-ups, of wild games on horseback, of bullfights and cock racing, of Indian laughter, and the excitement of the arrival and departure of ships from strange lands beyond the Pacific. The soldier never got paid, but who cared? He could dance with the commander’s daughter. It was like a long and happy summer — and it couldn’t last. As George Vancouver, the British navigator, had predicted, California and its riches were proving irresistible temptations to foreigners. And as Fr. Junipero Serra had feared, the vast mission holdings also were to prove irresistible temptations to the land seekers.
France, torn for so many years by revolution, feeble governments and European wars, never had been able to win a strong position in the Pacific. But in 1827, a group of French financiers fitted out a trading expedition under the command of Capitaine Auguste Bernard Duhaut-Cilly and sent it around the world and along the Pacific Coast. The expedition was a commercial failure, as much of the cargo had little interest to frontier people. But what he wrote about the Presidio of San Diego and Mission San Luis Rey has preserved a wistful picture of what life was like here so many years ago.
Things changed little in California in the early years of Mexican rule. The 21st and last mission was founded in 1823, at Sonoma, as San Francisco Solano, and it represented the northern-most Spanish-Mexican penetration. It had been planned to counter the Russian advances. More significant to the history of California were the arrivals of an American ship, the Sachem, of Boston, and the English ship, John Begg, both of which visited San Diego and picked up cargoes of hides, horns and tallow from the missions up and down the coast and began a trade that eventually shaped the future of San Diego and all California.
In the period from 1820 to the arrival of Duhaut-Cilly, at least 17 foreign vessels put into San Diego Bay, most of them primarily engaged in the fur trade, and others like the British whaler, Discovery, and the Russian brigantine, Baikal, stopping for repairs or provisions. One American captain, Benjamin Morrell, of the schooner Tartar, later put his experiences at San Diego into words, in “A Narrative of Four Voyages to the South Seas,” and like the old seamen whose recollections of storms of old expand with the years, the San Diego of April 1825, grew mightily in memory:
“The town of San Diego is four miles from the landing at the fort in a north-east direction. Its form is nearly circular and it is surrounded by a wall about 20 feet in height, which forms the backsides of the houses, the latter being erected against it; and fronting inwardly. There are about 250 houses erected in this manner from one to two stories high, built of freestone and neatly finished. There is also a large church, one nunnery, and a very neat little courthouse. This town contains about 1500 inhabitants, principally natives of the coast, and they appear to be a very agreeable, friendly kind of people.”
While here the captain went on a hunting expedition in the back country and he has described how the party was attacked by wild Indians, he himself being shot through the thigh with an arrow. But he did not quail. He wrote that the chief of the attackers demanded the surrender of their weapons.
“We will perish first, I replied. But let us be politic. Demand honourable terms of capitulation, and gain us a moment’s time for reflection. My companion did as I desired, in the savage’s own dialect, and the answer was unconditional submission, or instant death. If we complied our lives would be spared. Should we resist, no quarter would be given. Having heard much of the treachery of this tribe, I resolved to place no confidence in the promises of their chief; but told my companions that we might better perish like men, with arms in our hands, than fall like cowards, by our own weapons, as we should be certain to do if we gave them up; that our first movement must be a desperate one; and that each man must bear in mind that he was contending for life and liberty.”
A desperate battle supposedly ensued. Seventeen Indians were killed and four of Morrell’s party wounded. The enemy was routed by gun and sword. It made good reading back in Boston.
When Duhaut-Cilly reached the California coast in the 370-ton Le Heros, political affairs were in a generally unsettled state, but on his visits to many settlements and missions, he was able to fill 300 pages with detailed and beautiful descriptions of the life and times. At Santa Barbara, at the old mission, he found an enfeebled padre, alone at the time:
“I leaned toward him, and spoke loudly enough to overcome his deafness: ‘I am a Frenchman. I come from Paris, and I can give you quite recent news from Spain.’ Never did a talisman produce a more magical effect than these words, whose virtue I had already proved for drawing to myself the kindness and interest of the good fathers. The Spanish, in general, are extremely attached to their country; they love the ground, the customs, everything, even the errors of their government. I had no sooner pronounced these words than the old man, emerging from his lethargy, loaded me with compliments and such urgent questions that I could not find an instant reply. He recovered part of his past vigor, while speaking of his native land which he was to see no more.”
There was much excitement at Santa Barbara when news came of the arrival of the new Mexican governor, Don José Maria Echeandia, who was to make his headquarters at San Diego. Duhaut-Cilly says:
“He was simply a colonel of artillery; but as he had the title and authority of commandant general, civil and military chief of the two Californias, he was given that of General in the country; and in addressing him, that of Your Lordship. He enjoyed the most extensive power, and he frequently made ill use of it. The frame of mind in which he found the Californians was well adapted to give him ideas of despotism which he had not, perhaps, brought from Mexico. Again, every one reared in Spanish habits and forms, loved the powers of the time, and to justify their regards, they willingly granted to them exaggerated qualifications; like the sculptor in the fable, they adored the work of their hands.”
The Heros raised Point Loma on the 18th of April, and Duhaut-Cilly pronounced the harbor as, “certainly the finest in all California, and much preferable for the safety of vessels, to the immense harbor at San Francisco, whose great extent leaves it too much exposed to winds and waves.”
The Heros worked into the channel, passed the heavy kelp beds which always were noted by all explorers and seamen, and anchored beyond Ballast Point.
“A rasant fort of 12 guns is built upon the point where this tongue of land joins Loma. On our approach, the Mexican flag was raised and enforced by a shot: at once we hoisted our own, paying the same respect. Every time we saw displayed the Mexican colors, they produced upon us a feeling of joy, and for a moment made our hearts beat. Some of us who had served under the empire took them always, at first glance, for those which had guided our steps to victory: the Mexican flag differs from the tricolor only in the part which is green instead of blue; the other parts are the same and similarly arranged.”
A closer look took the edge off some of his enthusiasm.
“Of all the places we had visited since our coming to California, excepting San Pedro, which is entirely deserted, the presidio at San Diego was the saddest. It is built upon the slope of a barren hill, and has no regular form: it is a collection of houses whose appearance is made still more gloomy by the dark color of the bricks, roughly made, of which they are built.
“It was however, at one time, the seat of government; a very mild climate, more favorable than Monterey to the disordered health of the commandant general, had perhaps induced him to prefer this place; some little charitable persons claimed the society of a lady at San Diego embellished, in his eyes, a spot so little attractive from its local features.”
From Duhaut-Cilly we have a picture of changes on Presidio Hill. He said that on the sandy plain below the hill were scattered 30 to 40 houses of poor appearance, and some badly cultivated gardens. The settlers had begun to move down the hill, from the presidio around 1824. From a distance he could see the white mission far up the valley, and arranged to visit Frs. Vicente Oliva and Fernando Martin. Duhaut-Cilly seemingly was a fastidious man for those rough days, and he had little concept of frontier life. The padres at San Diego lived too close to the soil for him.
“The good fathers were about to dine, and they invited me to sit down with them. All they offered me was not presented in a manner to excite one’s appetite; and as Fray Vicente vainly urged me to eat, Fray Fernando exclaimed: ‘It is singular; it must be that the air at the mission is not kind to strangers: I never see one of them do honor to our table.’ And while saying these words, he was arranging a salad of’cold mutton, with onions, pimento and oil from the mission, the odor of which was nauseating; and having no knife, he tore this meat with his fingers and even with his teeth, mixing the whole by handfuls in a nicked plate, where were still seen some remnants of the supper of the evening before. Disgust alone could successfully resist a desire to laugh, which can be easily imagined; while my traveling companion, a young Californian, devoured, in a manner to please, everything placed before him. ‘There is appetite for you,’ said Fray Fernando.”
Before leaving San Diego, on his first visit, he went hunting on Point Loma and was astonished at the abundance of small game and quail. He was told of organized hunts in which as many as 200 to 300 Indians, armed with curved throwing sticks, would form a line of battle, from the steep mountain bluff to the shore, and advancing abreast, drive rabbits and hares before them, forcing them into gullies or against walls or into impenetrable thickets, until they were terrorized.
“Some seek vainly to climb the wall on the right; others hurl themselves into the bay; there are some, and these are the only ones, to have any chance of safety, which attempt to run through the adverse front; it is a general massacre, a veritable Saint Bartholomew, in which many always perish before the remainder can pierce through the line of the Indians.”
Duhaut-Cilly visited Mexican ports, and found agitation everywhere in the immense republic, and remarked that,
“It was not very difficult to see that in violently casting out of Mexico the wealthy Spaniards, or in having their heads fall, they had no other aim than to seize their fortunes. Modern consuls and tribunes banish beggars only from their tables and houses. The wealthy — cross the seas or die.”
The Heros returned to San Diego on June 10, and Duhaut-Cilly decided to visit the Mission San Luis Rey “in view of making some trade with the president of that mission.” San Luis Rey was at its height, or just passed it, with almost 3000 Indian neophytes, 1500 horses, 28,000 sheep, 22,000 cattle and all increasing by the thousands — far ahead of any other mission in California. Its lands extended 35 miles from north to south and 45 miles from east to west -a vast domain of more than 1500 square miles. It was a happy mission. At the presidio he joined up with a number of other persons who were making ready to go there for a double festival in honor of the consecration and of the patronal day of Padre Peyri.
Duhaut-Cilly’s narrative reads as follows:
“To avoid the heat and to take advantage of a beautiful moonlight, we set out on the way, at 10:00 in the evening, at the moment when that luminary, in her third quarter, was rising behind the hills in the east. At the end of an hour, the road disappeared winding between two mountain chains. The moonlight was still cut off by the heights we had on our right, and darkness reigned in the depths of the valley. The trip was far from being as quiet as the one I had made lately, in quite similar circumstances when I went by night to the presidio of Mazatlán.
“The hope of the pleasure my companions of the road were promising themselves to enjoy at the feasts of San Luis had incited in them a liveliness which they fed still more by some glasses of brandy, every time they stopped to light a cigarita. The songs of the land were followed by quite scandalous little stories which each one related in turn; and if these anecdotes kept up the hilarity of the audience, the reputation of one’s neighbor suffered cruel attacks from them. An unbounded carelessness was soon set up in the midst of this company; it was the moment for confidences; it was also that for jests which each one uttered without reserve.”
The winter must have been a rainy one for though it was June they found the San Dieguito River rushing into the sea making, he said, a wild, rough bar, but the Californians “entered boldly and unhestitatingly into this torrent, and under pain of remaining alone I followed them.” They barely made it, the current carrying them far below their starting point, almost sweeping them out to sea before the horses were able to vault to safety on the opposite side of the sandy valley.
“Once more we turned inland, and after one and a half hour of travel, we descried before us, from the top of a slight eminence, the superb buildings of Mission San Luis Rey, whose brilliant whiteness was sent to us by the first light of day. At the distance we were from it, and by the uncertain light of dawn, this edifice, of a very beautiful pattern, supported upon many pillars, had the look of a palace; the architectural defects not being grasped at this distance, the eye seized only upon the elegant mass of this fine building. The verdant valley in which this mission is placed, already enlivened by great herds which could as yet be seen only as white and red spots, stretched to the north as far as the eye could reach, where the landscape was bounded by a group of high mountains whose outlines and summits were but softly made out through the light morning mists. Unconsciously I stopped my horse to examine alone, for a few minutes, the beauty of this sight; while my friends, the Californians, slight observers by nature, descended the hill; and I rejoined them at the end of a quarter of an hour, only at the moment I entered the mission.”
Fr. Peyri welcomed them to the mission, served them chocolate and ordered beds prepared so they could rest until the dinner hour. Duhaut-Cilly wrote that the vast buildings of San Luis Rey were hardly sufficient to lodge the number of men and women who had gathered for the festivals.
“This construction forms an immense square of 500 feet on each side. The main front is a long peristyle borne upon 32 square pillars supporting their full semi-circular arches. The building is, indeed, merely a ground floor; but its height, of fine proportion, gives it as much charm as dignity. It is covered with a flat tiled roof, around which, outside as well as within the square, is a terrace with a fine balustrade, which feigns still more height. Within is found a vast court, clean and well-leveled, around which pillars and arches, like those of the peristyle, make a long cloister, by which communication is had with all of the dependencies of the mission.
“To the right of the exterior facade is found the church with its bell tower surrounded by two rows of balconies. The front of this building is simple and without pillars, but the interior is rich and well decorated; a faucet gives a flow of water in the sacristy.
“The dwellings of the main facade are occupied by the padre and by strangers visiting the mission. Those of the court are used by the young girls who, till their marriage, do not live with the other Indians; there, also, are the storehouses for food, utensils, the workshops where are made the woolen and cotton stuffs for the Indians’ clothes, and, lastly, the infirmary with its private chapel; for everything has been contrived for the convenience of the sick who could go to the church through the cloisters without failing to be under shelter; but this is a refinement. There is nothing more elegant than the pretty dome crowning this little temple, in which Fray Antonio has been pleased to make all his talent for decoration shine.
“In addition to the immense main building I have just described, there are two others much smaller, one of which is given up to the mayordomos; the other to the mission guard composed of a sergeant and 11 soldiers. This latter building has a flat roof and a dungeon with barbicans and loopholes.
“Two well-planted gardens furnish abundance of vegetables and fruits of all kinds. The large, comfortable stairway by which one descends into the one to the southeast, reminded me of those of the orangery at Versailles: not that their material was as valuable, or the architecture as splendid; but there was some relation in the arrangement, number, and dimensions of the steps. At the bottom of the stairs are two fine lavers in stucco; one of them is a pond where the Indian women bathe every morning; the other is used every Saturday for washing’ clothes. Some of this water is afterward distributed into the garden, where many channels maintain a permanent moisture and coolness. The second garden, situated in a higher place, can be watered only by artificial aid: a chain-pump, worked by two men, is used twice a day to accomplish this object. These gardens produce the best olives and the best wine in all California.”
The ruins of the bathing and washing areas have been uncovered at the mission and may be seen just off the road on the river side.
“The dependencies of the mission are not limited to the various buildings composing it. Fray Antonio has had established, within a radius of 10 leagues, four ranchos, each one made up on an Indian village, a house for the mayordomo directing it, storehouses suitable for the harvests, and a very fine chapel. Every Sunday these administrators come to the mission to give account to the padre of the week’s work and the condition of the rancho. Fray Antonio knew how to arouse among them a rivalry from which he reaped a great advantage for the general well-being of the mission. It is principally upon the lands of these ranchos that the great herds belonging to San Luis Rey are distributed.”
On the evening of the 12th, volleys were fired to announce the festival of the following day. It began with a High Mass sung by Indian musicians, and immediately afterward came the bullfights.
“This exercise offered nothing very remarkable; it took place in the inner court. Each rider proceeded to tease the bull, which rushed, with lowered head, now upon one, now upon another; but such is the agility of men and horses that they are almost never overtaken, though the bull’s horn appears to touch them every instant.
“I was given a place at first with some persons on the terrace of the padre’s house, overlooking the whole arena; but soon I, as also my companions in curiosity, were pursued by the Indian girls relegated to this spot from fear of accident. They were more than 200 in number, aged from 8 to 17; their dress was alike, composed of a red flannel petticoat and a white shirt. Their black hair, cut off to a length equal to half their height, floated over their shoulders. They came in a crowd to beg of us copper rings or pieces of money; and we amused ourselves at first by tossing them some reals (coins), that we might see them throw themselves one upon another and tumble in the most laughable manner; but gradually they grew bolder and so familiar that they ended by rushing upon us, and prepared to rummage in our pockets. Their bursts of laughter and their scoldings, which drowned the bull’s bellowing, recalled to me the critical situation I found myself in one day on the island of Java, attacked, unarmed, by a troop of monkeys.
“We felt then that the moment was come to effect an honorable retreat; and to accomplish it we used strategy: we took all the small change remaining to us, and hurled it as far as we could; the swarm of girls left us instantly to run after the booty, and we profited by this short truce to escape. We went down to the padre’s room, and sought protection behind a barricade built in front of his door.”
Once back in the courtyard, they witnessed the continuation of a bullfight somewhat different from those in Spain, as death was not asked of the bull and, anyway, the fighting was being done by the young bloods — or the “people of reason” who were to become, in short time, the Dons of the great Ranchos. Duhaut-Cilly continues:
“The bull was not killed as in Spain. After it had been provoked, tired, teased for a half-hour, a small gate giving onto the plain was opened; no sooner had the animal seen this way of escape, than it made for it with all speed; the horsemen flew like arrows in its pursuit; the swiftest, upon reaching it, seized it by the tail; and, at the same instant, giving spurs to his horse, he overthrew the bull, sending it rolling in the dust; only after this humiliating outrage was it permitted to regain the pasturage in freedom. This exercise, demanding as much agility as firmness from the rider, is what is called in the country colear el toro.”
The fiesta and its colorful sports events went on into the night, the laughter of the Indians mingling with the excited shouts of the young Californians. It was now time for cock racing, a sport less dangerous and to the Frenchman more interesting than bullfighting:
“Toward evening the jinetes (horsemen), having changed their horses began in front of the mission, the carrera del gallo. A cock is buried up to the neck in the ground; the riders place themselves 200 paces from it; and darting like an arrow, one hand on the saddle-bow, they lean over and carry it off by the head, as they pass. Their speed is so great that each one of them frequently races more than once before succeeding. But this is not all; if one of them seize the cock, all the rest rush upon him, to tear it from him; he tries to escape them by running away or turning this way or that; they intercept his course, press upon him; the horses mix together, crowd each other, rear upon their hind legs; the cock is torn in pieces, and some of the riders infallibly thrown down, becoming the butt for the laughter and jeers of their comrades and the fair spectators of this strife.
“These races ended with the game of the four corners, on horseback. The players were armed with long willow poles, with which they lashed each other unmercifully every time they met; and, to finish the game, the branches had to be broken up to the stump, which did not happen without some good whacks upon the head or face. The California girls seemed to take as much interest in these various races as thehautes dames of the fifteenth century were agitated in the brilliant tournaments, where their knights broke lances in their honor.”
The Indians had their own games, too, and entered into them with an abandon and eagerness matching that of the “people of reason.”
“While the gente de razón amused themselves thus variously, the Indians, on their part, betook themselves to their favorite games: the one seeming to please them the most consists in rolling an osier ring, three inches in diameter, and casting upon this ring, while rolling, two sticks four feet long, in order to stop it in its course. If one of the two sticks, or both together, go through the ring, or if the ring rests upon the two sticks, or upon only one of them, a certain number of points is counted, according to the amount of hazard. When a pair have played their game, two opponents begin again, and so alternately, until the match is finished.
“Other Indians, like the Bas Bretons, gathered into two large bands; each, provided with a stick in the shape of a bat, tried to push to a goal a wooden ball, while those of the opposing band strove to drag it in a contrary direction. This game appeared to attract both sexes alike. It happened, indeed, that the married women having challenged the single women, the latter lost the game. They came, crying, to complain to the padre, that the women, making an ill use of their strength, had taken unfair means to stop their arms as they were going to strike the ball. Fray Antonio, with a gravity worthy of the judgment of Solomon, made them give an exact account of the affair.
“During the explanation, the good missionary, his eyes half-closed, solemnly seated under the arched cloister, laid the index finger of his right hand upon his eyebrow, while the medius made a sort of square, passing under his nose: an attitude lending him an air of deep meditation. When the Indian girl had ended pleading her cause, he raised his head and declared the game void; but he could not help laughing in his sleeve, and he said to me in a low voice: ‘Las pobrecitas! Es menester de hacer algo para ellas.’ (Poor young creatures! Something must be done for them.) ‘It is by such means, and others like them, that I have succeeded in gaining the trust of these Indians.’ ”
It was a night to remember and Duhaut-Cilly was deeply moved by the scenes he had witnessed and the evident love that Indians held for Fr. Peyri and the understanding and gentleness with which he administered to their needs and their weaknesses:
“Truly, his mission was that, of all California, where these poor people were the best treated. Not only were they well fed and clothed; but still more, he gave them some money on feast days. Every Saturday he distributed soap among the women. On this occasion, all passed before him, and while two men took out of enormous baskets and gave to each one her share, the padre spoke to each in turn. He knew them all: he praised one, mildly reproached another; to this one a joke befitting the occasion, to that a fatherly reproof: all went away satisfied or touched.
“When night was come, I went with Fray Antonio to see the Indian dances, which appeared to me as interesting as they were strange. They were lighted by torches whose effect was to seem, by contrast, to spread a sad veil over the starry vault of the sky. A dozen men, having no other clothing than a cincture, the head adorned with tall feather plumes, danced with admirable rhythm. This pantomime always represented some scene, and was performed chiefly by striking the feet in time, and making, with eyes and arms, gestures of love, anger, fright, etc. The dancers held the head erect, the body arched, and the knees a little bent. Sweat, rolling down the entire body, reflected, as in a burnished mirror, the fire of the torches; and when it annoyed them, they scraped it off with a flat piece of wood which they held in their hand.
“The orchestra, arranged like a semi-circular amphitheatre, was composed of women, children and old men, behind whom one or two rows of amateurs could at least taste of this spectacle. The harmony of the songs governing the time was at once plaintive and wild: it seemed rather to act upon the nerves than upon the mind, like the varied notes from an Aeolian harp during a hurricane. From time to time the actors rested, and at the moment the song stopped, every one breathed at the same time into the air with a loud noise, either as a mark of applause or, as I was assured, to drive away the Evil Spirit; for, though all are Christians, they still keep many of their old beliefs, which the padres, from policy, pretend not to know.
“The next day, after the ceremonies and the procession of the consecration, the games began again in the same manner as the day before; but this time the bullfights were disturbed by an accident. One of the Indian girls, sporting upon the mission terrace, fell over the railing onto the pavement of the court, from a height of 20 feet, and broke her head.”
The time to leave was at hand. An interlude was over. Duhaut-Cilly returned to San Diego and learned that a seaman from his own ship had volunteered to join in a bullfight staged inside the presidio, but being nearsighted and failing to keep a respectful distance from the bull while it was being unleashed, he had been charged, thrown and knocked unconscious. He recovered, all right, but Duhaut-Cilly’s report of the affair and the subsequent bullfight gives us an idea of the size of the presidio and the interior arrangements:
“This scene, begun in a tragic manner, was later enlivened by an odd incident. The church at the presidio, forming one of the sides of the interior court, is built upon the very steep slope of the hill, in such a way that one end of the roof rests upon the ground, while the other is raised nearly 40 feet above the soil. The bull, more ready for flight than combat, frightened by the cries of the spectators, and threatened by the noose, finding no outlet for escape, was driven into a corner near the spot where the roof of the church seems to join the mountain. There was no other retreat for it, and a spring of two feet in height put it upon the flattened roof of the chapel whence, continuing to go on, it might be predicted that it would have an abrupt introduction into the sanctuary, through the tiles where it thrust through now one leg, now the other. At last it reached, stumbling along in this fashion, the highest part of the roof, before recognizing the imminence of a danger which it then seemed to comprehend with a new terror. It tried, however, to turn about, in order to retrace its steps; but in this movement it slipped and fell into the court, with a heap of débris and in the middle of a cloud of dust. Can one conceive of the boisterous delight among the descendants of the Spanish roused by the cruel death of this poor animal?”
The Heros went back up the coast but was to visit San Diego a number of times. Duhaut-Cilly was to have the opportunity of adding a great deal more to the story of California and of the events at the little Presidio of San Diego.
Life flowed on with the passiveness of a quiet stream. There were still occasional troubles with unruly Indians but in a half century only two real actions had been fought with the foreigners they were supposed to keep away, and nobody really had been hurt. Soldiers had become messengers and stewards. Duhaut-Cilly wrote that military life among the California soldiers in no wise resembled that of a European soldier:
“They never drill; they are merely considered as mounting guard in the presidios and missions; their most frequent and regular duty is to serve as customs guards. Those entrusted with this care know how to take advantage of their position by favoring smuggling.
“These troops, although divided into artillery, cavalry and infantry, are alike mounted. Each soldier must have several horses which feed upon the government lands. These regiments have, correctly speaking, no uniform… These men occupy in society quite another rank than our European soldiers, and in this respect much more resemble the Turkish janissaries than any other body of troops. They have been seen to aspire to the hand of their commandant’s daughter, and gain it. They are present at all the festivals given by their officers, return them courtesy for courtesy, and are their equal everywhere. They would receive a very large salary if they were paid what is owed them; but that has never happened to them, no more under the Spanish Government than under the Mexican, and there are some who are owed more than 20 years of their wages. They receive only their rations with tolerable regularity, and they are furnished clothing, from time to time, from the woolens, linens and shoes which are supplied by foreign ships for the amount of their customs duties.”
As for the settlers of California, he found the men large and well formed, thick black beards disclosing their Spanish origin, “but they do not reap all the advantage from their figure; the custom of being always on horseback causes them to acquire an awkward shape. They are so little accustomed to make use of their legs that, in walking, they carry the entire weight of their body from one side to the other, as if they were lame.”
The Californian, he wrote, was lazy, and the only work to which he would submit himself was taking care of the herds. He generally dined alone, served by his wife, sons and daughters. He was rarely seen without a cigar in his mouth. The young Californian could not shave, for the first time, without his father’s consent, which often was not given before his 22nd birthday, the usual time for marriage. As for the women, he found them large and strong. “Some are seen with pretty faces, and which would pass for beautiful if they were less careless of their complexion, their hands and feet; they are usually sedate and modest.”
Duhaut-Cilly’s French gallantry deserted him when he came to describing the attire of California women. He described it simply as ludicrous.
“Their costume is a bizarre mixture of foreign and California fashions; it is, particularly, when they borrow something from the Mexican women that they become extravagant; for these Mexicans (those at least who were in California) are so laughably dressed that one should have a large portion of gravity to preserve any seriousness in the presence of their toilet.”
He wrote that somehow the women had become convinced that pasteboard “melons” in which Parisian women carried their goods were the latest styles in hats, and had taken to wearing them and adding ribbons and feathers, to win the appellation from the men of Monterey as “melon heads.”
The basic costume was composed of a petticoat, the upper part white, the rest red, and it hung from the hips on which it formed “a much puffed-out pad;” a white shirt of the same form as the man’s; a rebozo, or muffler, of blue and white cotton, white stockings and black shoes. “In general, they have very beautiful hair which they allow to fall behind in a thick braid, as do the men.” Evidently the queues had not all been cut when Mexico won its independence from Spain.
The men wore short trousers of wool or velvet, dark in color, ornamented at the knees with gold or silver lace. Below the trousers were large white drawers descending half way down the leg and covering part of white socks which always were worn loose. “The Californian who had on stockings well drawn up would excite a burst of sarcastic remarks.” The outside waistcoat generally was of the same material as the trousers, had no collar, and was trimmed with piping and red ornaments. The coat, though it had metal buttons, was not made to be closed over the chest.
Around the waist they wore a red sash called a faja. Their shoes were buckskin fastened by lacing on the outside of the boot and heavily embroidered, the heel having an edging of fringed leather serving to bear the weight of huge spurs. When riding they wrapped their legs in gamuzas, or chaps of chamois leather and “the manner of rolling it about the calf of the leg is the touchstone of good Californian style. Woe to him whose bota would permit the shape of the leg to be made out. The young men the best dressed must appear to be supported upon two thick sausages, and as if to add to the illusion, the bota is made tight in the middle of the calf by a cord braided of gold and silk, the work of their ladylove.” Hats were of felt, flat in shape and with wide brims. For protection from the cold they wore a cloak “which is nothing else than a piece of stuff with a hole for allowing the head to pass through, used in all Spanish colonies of America, and which is called, now poncho, now manga.”
Though the costume had little appeal to Duhaut-Cilly he did acknowledge that it permitted perfect freedom to all movements of the body.
The chief fault among the men was gambling.
“Gambling occupies first place; they ruin themselves at it, and lose the inclination for work in this fatal occupation of nearly all their time. The most skillful player is he who cheats the most … If gambling ruins them, drunkenness degrades them still more; these two vices, here as with us, usually go hand in hand. They devote themselves to it, unbridled, unrestrained; thus, at their feasts, one sees almost nothing but brandy for all refreshment; and to arrange for a dance, which they call a fandango, though they were not acquainted with that dance, it needs but some gallons of this beverage and a few candies.”
Most of the desirable land was still held by the missions, though some had been granted to individuals, for homes and ranchos, but was held without real title. The Californians, stirred by revolution and cries of Mexico for the Mexicans, were getting restless. Duhaut-Cilly knew the system could not last. The very wealth and prosperity of the missions were destined to bring their downfall.
On its final visit to the port of San Diego, the Heros anchored in its accustomed position, and then was ordered to go up farther, without any explanation being given. Three American ships were drawn up in echelons the whole length of the channel, with the three-master Franklin anchored five miles down the channel, the schooner-brig Clio in an intermediate position, and the brig Andes, the nearest to the Heros . The Franklin was a virtual captive of the Mexican government. In the jail at the presidio was an American trapper, or Mountain Man, named James Ohio Pattie, and six companions.
Return to Books.
THE TIME OF THE BELLS
Ch. 1 The Ring of Faith
Ch. 2 The Fight to Live
Ch. 3 The Test by Fire
Ch. 4 Death on a River
Ch. 5 Opening the Land
Ch. 6 Fr. Serra’s Death
Ch. 7 George Vancouver
Ch. 8 The Boston Ships
Ch. 9 The Golden Age
Ch. 10 Capt. Duhaut-Cilly
Ch. 11 The Mountain Men
Ch. 12 The Hide Droghers
Ch. 13 Alfred Robinson
Ch. 14 Richard Henry Dana
Ch. 15 The Toll of Time