Time of the Bells, 1769-1835
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Alfred Robinson
It was a beautiful July morning in Boston in 1828, and the ship Brookline slipped quietly down the bay with a light wind from the southwest. Alfred Robinson, a sensitive and adventurous youth, wrote in his notebook that the breeze soon freshened, “and the sight of friends who had accompanied us to the wharf, the buildings, the steeples, and the neighboring hills of Boston, all gradually grew fainter and fainter, ’till like a dream they passed away’.” Ahead of them was a journey of 15,000 miles. Their destination was California. They would arrive at the hour of momentous change.
For three months the Brookline pursued her peaceful way down the coast of North America and South America, and then rounded the Horn and opened up upon the Pacific, the great South Sea. The scene changed quickly, and we learn from Robinson of the terrors of the sea in the days of sail.
“Thick clouds appear in the horizon, whose quick advance and fearful aspect betoken the coming storm! The ship is prepared to meet its fury -sail after sail is taken in, till from a top-gallant studding sail, and running before the wind, she is lying to, reduced to a close-reefed main-topsail, and mizzen staysail. The storm at length comes – cloud after cloud adds new fury to its blasts – the sea rises, and in its way would seem to engulf all before it – one vast surge comes aboard with heavy crash, and sweeps the deck of boats and spars, the bulwarks, and all that meets its course. The climate changes also; and cold, snow and hail are added to the terrors that surround us. At length, however, the storm abates; sail is made, and we are again in apparent security; but soon it returns with redoubled fury; and the ship is again lying like a log upon the oceans. Thus we proceed, gale succeeding gale! One storm only ceasing, to give place to another -our good ship making but little progress, until, at last, enabled to take a northerly course, and the wind proving favorable we rapidly leave these tempestuous latitudes. A few days of prosperous gales bring us to anchor in the pleasant bay of Valparaiso.”
After three days of rest and provisioning, the Brookline again sailed north for California. On the night of Feb. 15, 1829, as she was being towed into the port of Monterey, by long boat, there was a flash of fire from shore and a ball of iron shot across the bow. The anchor was dropped in a hurry, and soon Mexican customs officials came out in small boats, and when they identified the vessel and learned it came for legitimate trade and not for smuggling, everybody was happy. The affair of the ship Franklin, which had escaped under fire while being detained on suspicion of smuggling at San Diego, had made the Mexicans wary of ships slipping along the coast in the darkness. They did find, however, that all ports with the exception of San Diego and Monterey, which were fortified, were closed to foreign ships, and as this threatened the success of their hide trading venture, William Gale, the supercargo, decided to appeal to the governor at San Diego, but failing to gain satisfaction by courier, had the Brookline put to sea for the run down the coast. They arrived, completed somewhat successful arrangements, though as far as Gale was concerned the general’s license to trade was “opening the door just enough to catch my fingers and jamb them,” and made preparations for a long stay. But San Diego, he commented, was “the center of hell for strangers.” They anchored as did all ships of the time, in the deep water north of Ballast Point and within easy reach of the sandy shore of La Playa, which was to become known as “Hide Park.”
“The long boat was hoisted out,” Robinson wrote, “the ship moored, spars were landed, royal yards and masts, and top-gallant yards were sent down, and these and all other surplus rubbish about the decks sent on shore and deposited. Lumber was discharged, and the carpenter commenced building a large house for the storage of hides, which, when finished, served as a place of accommodation for the lighter part of our cargo while under the examination and care of the custom-house officers; for the government as yet had not deemed it important to erect an ‘Aduana’ in this port.”
While all this was in progress, Gale and Robinson visited the Presidio. Horses were sent down to them by Don Manuel Domingues, a brother-in-law of Gale. Robinson writes:
“I was unable myself to comprehend the use and necessity of all the trappings connected with the saddle-gear, which appeared to me cumbrous and useless in the extreme; but my companion, who was an old cruiser in these parts, was well acquainted with their convenience and necessity; so with his experience as a guide, we galloped off on our excursion.”
The way, he wrote, was barren of interest until they came suddenly to an almost perpendicular descent of some 30 or 40 feet into a deep and broad ravine, where formerly the river had flowed, but its bed was new filled with bushes and shrubs.
“Previous to this we passed a small shanty in an unfinished state, which had been erected some time before as a Custom-House, but owing to its incapacity and situation had been abandoned. We saw also the commencement of a new Presidio, that, on account of the difficulty of procuring water, had also never been completed. These two monuments of the imprudence and want of foresight of the Governor, served as very good evidence to me of the want of sagacity and energy of the government.
“A short ride further brought us to the house of our friend Don Manuel. We rode into the ‘patio’ or court-yard, where a servant took the horses. At the threshold of his door we were met by Don Manuel, who embraced us cordially and presented us to the family, his mother, wife, and sister. This was to be our home during the ship’s detention, and though its coarse mud walls and damp ground floor did not altogether coincide with the idea I had previously formed of it, yet if their walls were cold and their floors damp, their hearts were warm, and the abundance of their luxurious entertainment more than compensated for any disappointment.”
Robinson found Gov. Echeandía not at all the person described by the trapper, Pattie, but his real troubles were still ahead of him.
“After dinner we called upon the General Don José María de Echeandía , a tall, gaunt personage, who received us with true Spanish dignity and politeness. His house was located in the center of a large square of buildings occupied by his officers, and so elevated as to overlook them all, and command a view of the sea. On the right hand was a small Gothic chapel, with its cemetery, and immediately in front, close to the principal entrance, was the guard-room, where the soldiers were amusing themselves; some seated on the ground playing cards and smoking, while others were dancing to the music of the guitar; the whole was surrounded by a high wall, originally intended as a defense against the Indians. At the gate stood a sentinel, with slouched hat and blanket thrown over one shoulder, his old Spanish musket resting on the other; his pantaloons were buttoned and ornamented at the knee, below which, his legs were protected by leggins of dressed deer-skin, secured with spangled garters.
“On the lawn beneath the hill on which the Presidio is built stood about 30 houses of rude appearance, mostly occupied by retired veterans, not so well constructed in respect either to beauty or stability as the houses at Monterey, with the exception of that belonging to our ‘Administrador,’ Don Juan Bandini, whose mansion, then in an unfinished state, bade fair, when completed, to surpass any other in the country.”
He found the climate milder than any other port on the coast, rabbit and quail plentiful, and the plains and ponds crowded with ducks and geese. The ship was made ready for business, and the goods and products of New England shops and factories put on display.
“Visitors were numerous, both male and female, who came on board to purchase. Amongst others, the reverend Padre Antonio Peyri, of the Mission of St. Luis Rey, had expressed a wish to visit his many friends on shipboard, for besides our own, there were two other vessels then in port; the English brig Vulture . . . and the Mexican brig Maria Ester, from Acapulco. The good old priest was accordingly invited, and the last day of his visit was to be passed with us; other friends came also, and dinner was prepared for the occasion. As the old gentleman was held in universal respect upon the coast, not only as founder of the Mission over which he presided, but also as a man of great mental energy and capacity; high in favor with the government for these qualities, and being dearly loved by the people for the extreme benevolence of his disposition, we prepared to receive him with ‘all honors.’ Accordingly, as the reverend padre descended the gangway, we thundered forth a salute, and proceeded to show him the different parts of the vessel. Particularly did we call his attention to our traderoom, which had been fitted up with shelves and counters, resembling in appearance a country variety store. The amount of his purchases testified how vastly he had been pleased.
“On the following morning he departed, and when the boat had reached a short distance from the ship, the men laid upon their oars whilst our guns sounded a parting salute. As the smoke cleared off, I beheld the old man standing in the boat, and gazing towards us with apparent delight, and I thought I could perceive by the glistening of his eye, that future patronage would be the result of this reception.”
The arrival of more and more American ships, and the continual encroachment of American trappers, were straws in the wind. The routes mapped out by Jedediah Smith and James Ohio Pattie were becoming well known. David Jackson with a party of nine hired men and a Negro slave left Santa Fe in late August of 1831 to purchase mules in California, and going by way of Tucson and the Gila River, reached San Diego in November. After buying mules throughout the southern territory they left in February on the return journey. One of the hired men stayed behind. He was J. J. Warner. The route by which they passed through San Diego County led across San José Valley, which later was to bear his name.
In Washington, the capital of the expanding United States, the idea of possessing California, or at least part of it, was beginning to take form. During the Administration of President Jackson there were some discussions with Mexico, and the secretary of state wrote to the chargé d’affaires in Mexico that “the port of San Francisco would be a most desirable place of resort for our numerous vessels engaged in the whaling business in the Pacific” and he was instructed to sound out the possibilities of acquiring at least the upper part of California as far south as Monterey. The British were to hear about the suggestion and in later years got busy influencing Mexico against it. In San Diego, the fiestas and the gambling continued to fill the days, as usual, as they always had, until one day, on Nov. 12, 1833, there was a shower of meteors. The people looked up from their tables and their games and then rushed to the presidio chapel and the mission. Perhaps it wasn’t too late after all. Nothing more happened, at least not just then. The military, almost destitute, had more personal problems to try them. Alférez Salazar reported he would be unable to go to Monterey, as assigned, as he lacked a shirt and jacket, and his poor cloak did not cover the frightful condition of his trousers.
Education had become a matter of public concern, and Echeandía , in a report in 1829, said education had been “paralyzed” until he took action in 1826-27 and had schools established, the one at San Diego having 18 students. Juan Bandini urged that the supreme government send teachers for a small college of grammar and philosophy. Though the white population of California was about 5000, Californians had little knowledge of the rest of the world, and even the United States generally was referred to as “Boston” and American ships as “Boston ships.”
Robinson gives us some detail of one of the romances of early California. This was the elopement of Capt. Henry D. Fitch and Doña Josefa, daughter of Joaquin Carrillo, of San Diego. Capt. Fitch was a young American sailor whose name has been connected with several ships sailing under different flags up and down the California and Mexican coasts. He first arrived at San Diego in 1826, and by the following year he had given her a written promise of marriage. As he was not a Catholic, and marriages between Catholics and Protestants were not receiving official and necessary sanction, he was baptized on April 14, 1829, by the Dominican Padre Méndez of the presidio chapel, who promised to conduct the marriage ceremony. Some secrecy had to be maintained. At the last moment, with her family and guests assembled in the Carrillo home, the bride’s uncle, Domingo Carrillo, backed out, and the friar’s courage failed him. Even Dofia Josefa’s tears failed to move him. But she had courage, if the padre didn’t. That night, without her parents’ knowledge, her cousin No Pico, took her on his horse and carried her down to a boat which took her out to the Vulture, the vessel which Robinson mentioned was in port upon his arrival, and put her aboard and in the arms of Capt. Fitch. By morning the Vulture was far down the coast. They were married in Valparaiso on July 3.
The town was shocked, the parents grieved, the officials frustrated. A year and a half later Fitch returned to San Diego as captain of the Leonor, with his wife and infant son aboard. He refused to appear before Padre Sanchez, of San Gabriel Mission, vicar and ecclesiastical judge of the territory, merely sending his marriage certificate, and sailing up the coast to Monterey. There, his arrest was ordered by Echeandía . He was confined and his bride put away for safekeeping in a “respectable” home. In time, both were allowed to go to San Gabriel, where they were confined again, though separately, and were subjected to repeated interrogations before an ecclesiastical court. Many witnesses were examined both at San Gabriel and San Diego. The court argued that the marriage was null and void because they had not obtained a dispensation from the bishop at Valparaiso, and anyway, the marriage license certificate was torn and blotted, included no statement of the city or church where the ceremony was performed, and had not been properly legalized.
At last the vicar rendered his decision on Dec. 28. He ruled that the charges had not been substantiated, the marriage was not null but valid; that both parties should be set at liberty; that on the following Sunday they should receive the Sacraments that ought to have preceded the marriage, and must present themselves in church with lighted candles in their hands to hear High Mass for three dias festivos, and recite together for 30 days one third of the rosary of the Holy Virgin.
Furthermore, the vicar decided “considering the great scandal which Don Enrique has caused in this province, I condemn him to give as penance and reparation a bell of at least 50 pounds in weight for the church at Los Angeles, which barely has a borrowed one.”
The crisis over, all in San Diego breathed easier. Now they could get on with such relatively unimportant things as fiestas and revolutions. The Brookline went up and down the coast, discharging at San Diego the hides and tallow collected from port to port, and then time was taken out to participate in the blessing of the house of Señor Juan Bandini. Gen. Echeandía , his officers, and many friends and their families were present, the ceremony commencing at noon when the chaplain proceeded through the different apartments sprinkling holy water upon the walls.
The following is Robinson’s description of the music and dances which followed:
“This concluded, we sat down to an excellent dinner, consisting of all the luxuries the place afforded, provided in Don Juan’s best style. As soon as the cloth was removed, the guitar and violin were put in requisition, and a dance began. It lasted, however, but a little while, for it was necessary for them to spare their exertions for the evening fandango. So poco a poco, all gradually retired to their homes.
“At an early hour the different passages leading to the houses were enlivened with men, women, and children, hurrying to the dance; for on such occasions it was customary for everybody to attend without waiting for the formality of an invitation. A crowd of leperos was collected about the door when we arrived, now and then giving its shouts of approbation to the performances within, and it was with some difficulty we forced our entrance. Two persons were upon the floor dancing ‘el jarabe.’ They kept time to the music, by drumming with their feet, on the heel and toe system, with such precision, that the sound struck harmoniously upon the ear, and the admirable execution would not have done injustice to a pair of drumsticks in the hands of an able professor. The attitude of the female dancer was erect, with her head a little inclined to the right shoulder, as she modestly cast her eyes to the floor, whilst her hands gracefully held the skirts of her dress, suspending it above the ankle so as to expose to the company the execution of her feet. Her partner, who might have been one of the interlopers at the door, was under full speed of locomotion, and rattled away with his feet with wonderful dexterity. His arms were thrown carelessly behind his back, and secured, as they crossed, the points of his sarape, that still held its place upon his shoulder. Neither had he doffed his ‘sombrero’, but just as he stood when gazing from the crowd, he had placed himself upon the floor.
“The conclusion of this performance gave us an opportunity to edge our way along towards the extremity of the room, where a door communicated with an inner apartment. Here we placed ourselves, to witness in a more favorable position the amusements of the evening. The room was about 50 feet in length, and 20 wide, modestly furnished, and its sides crowded with smiling faces. Upon the floor were accommodated the children and Indian girls, who, close under the vigilance of their parents and mistresses, took part in the scene. The musicians again commencing a lively tune, one of the managers approached the nearest female, and, clapping his hands in accompaniment to the music, succeeded in bringing her into the center of the room. Here she remained awhile, gently tapping with her feet upon the floor, and then giving two or three whirls, skipped away to her seat. Another was clapped out, and another, till the manager has passed the compliment throughout the room. This is called a son, and there is a custom among the men, when a dancer proves particularly attractive to any one, to place his hat upon her head, while she stands thus in the middle of the room, which she retains until redeemed by its owner, with some trifling present. During the performance of the dances, three or four male voices occasionally take part in the music, and towards the end of the evening, from repeated applications of aguardiente, they become quite boisterous and discordant.
“The waltz was now introduced, and 10 or a dozen couples whirled gaily around the room, and heightened the charms of the dance by the introduction of numerous and interesting figures. Between the dances, refreshments were handed to the ladies, whilst in an adjoining apartment, a table was prepared for the males, who partook without ceremony. The most interesting of all their dances is the contra danza, and this, also, may be considered the most graceful. Its figures are intricate, and in connection with the waltz, form a charming combination. These fandangos usually hold out till daylight, and at intervals the people at the door are permitted to introduce their jarabes and jotas.”
In time Robinson moved in with the Estudillo family, which he said, “consisted of the old lady Dominguez, Don José Antonio Estudillo, his wife, Doña Victoria, with two children, and three servants, and it was nearly time for the religious festival of “la Noche Buena.”
Don José Antonio called for the customary exhibition of the “pastores.” There were rehearsals night and day and at last Christmas arrived. Robinson gives us the first written description of a Christmas scene in the Presidio of Old San Diego:
“At an early hour illuminations commenced, fireworks were set off, and all was rejoicing. The church bells rang merrily, and long before the time of Mass the pathways leading to the Presidio were enlivened by crowds hurrying to devotion. I accompanied Don José Antonio, who procured for me a stand where I could see distinctly everything that took place. The Mass commenced, Padre Vicente de Oliva officiated, and at the conclusion of the mysterious ‘sacrificio’ he produced a small image representing the infant Saviour, which he held in his hands for all who chose to approach and kiss. After this, the tinkling of the guitar was heard without, the body of the church was cleared, and immediately commenced the harmonious sounds of a choir of voices. The characters entered in procession, adorned with appropriate costume, and bearing banners. There were six females representing shepherdesses, three men and a boy. One of the men personated Lucifer, one a hermit, and the other Bartolo, a lazy vagabond, whilst the boy represented the archangel Gabriel. The story of their performance is partially drawn from the Bible, and commences with the angel’s appearance to the shepherds, his account of the birth of our Saviour, and exhortation to them to repair to the scene of the manger. Lucifer appears among them, and endeavors to prevent the prosecution of their journey. His influence and temptations are about to succeed, when Gabriel again appears and frustrates their effect. A dialogue is then carried on of considerable length relative to the attributes of the Deity, which ends in the submission of Satan. The whole is interspersed with songs and incidents that seem better adapted to the stage than the church. For several days this theatrical representation is exhibited at the principal houses, and the performers at the conclusion of the play are entertained with refreshments.”
San Diego was a tranquil land, but dissatisfaction and dissension had been getting out of hand in the north. In 1828 a revolt of sorts had taken place in Monterey, some ungrateful soldiers marching out of the presidio and declaring, as it were, a strike, not for more pay but just for any kind of pay. Lt. Romualdo Pacheco had persuaded them to return, and imprisoned some of their leaders. Later in the same year, two soldiers disclosed a plot to rise against the governor and seize Monterey Presidio. Their leader was a convict-rancher named Joaquín Solís, who in view of his service in the war of independence, had been given a comparatively light sentence of banishment to California for some crime or other. But it wasn’t until late in 1829, on the night of Nov. 12-13, that a real revolt took place. The soldiers at Monterey seized the presidio without opposition, many joining up, others however, preferring neutrality to battle. The insurgents proceeded to the homes of the officers, captured them and locked them up. As their leader was only a corporal, the command was offered to Solís, the ex-convict who nominated himself as commandant-general of California. He got the support of Monterey and most of the north.
Solís evidently had more ambitious plans than merely seeking a redress of grievances, and he drew up a proclamation against Echeandía which was read, by the way, in the presence of the American hide merchants, Hartnell and McCullough, to put California in the hands of a temporary governor. Solís then went to San Francisco, where he was received with a military salute, and picking up additional troops, marched with about 100 to Santa Barbara to face the enemy, the forces of Gen. Echeandía .
At San Diego, Echeandía had heard of the revolt on Nov. 25, and after getting a vote of confidence from his officers at the presidio, issued a warning to Solís and followers to lay down their arms, or they would be considered traitors and accomplices of the Spanish invaders then at Veracruz. But war it was. As Robinson described the scene at the Presidio of San Diego, “old rusty guns were repaired, hacked swords were sharpened, crude lances made, and all the force that could be mustered was soon on its way to meet the enemy.” Echeandía and his army left San Diego on Dec. 1, and reached Santa Barbara on the 15th. A revolt at the presidio there was put down, and it was made ready for a defense.
What really happened at Santa Barbara we don’t know in full. Echeandía gave his own version of what happened in January of 1830 in a report to the Mexican minister of war:
“On the 13th the rebels came in sight of the diuisioncita of government troops, and from that time by their movements and frivolous correspondence endeavored to gain a victory; but knowing the uselessness of their resources and the danger of being cut off on their retreat, they fled precipitately at dusk on the 15th in different directions, spiking their cannon, and losing 26 men who have accepted the indulto.”
Solís’ version of the events at Santa Barbara went this way:
“Having taken a position between the presidio and mission, I found it impossible to enter either one or the other, the first because it was fortified, the second because of the walls pierced with loop-holes for musket-fire, and of all the people within, so that I knew we were going to lose, and this was the motive for not exposing the troops by entering.”
He added that as a force of 150 men had been assembled to execute a surprise attack on him, and seeing himself without means of defense for want of munitions, “I determined to spike the cannon, and retire with my army to fortify myself at Monterey – lo que uerifiqué al momento.”
Dr. Stephen Anderson, who was on hand to render medical assistance, in a letter wrote that “You would have laughed had you been there … the two parties were within sight of each other for nearly two days, and exchanged shots, but at such a distance that there was no chance of my assistance being needed.” The only casualty of record was a horse.
Still in Northern California, James 0. Pattie, the American fur trapper, became aroused by the insurgents’ intention of compelling all Americans and Englishmen to swear allegiance to the government or leave California. He wrote in his diary that he dispatched a runner with two good horses to warn Echeandía of the approach of Solís, and also that the news of the outcome of the battle was received with great rejoicing in Monterey, where praise was heaped on Solís for being able to execute a judicious retreat.
“The name and fame of Gen. Solís was exalted to the skies. All the florid comparisons, usual upon such occasion, were put in requisition, and all the changes were sung upon his various characteristics, wit, honor and courage. The point was carried so far as to bring him within some degrees of relationship to a supernatural being. Then the unbounded skill he displayed in marshaling his force, and his extreme care to prevent the useless waste of his men’s lives were expatiated upon, and placed in the strongest light. The climax of his excellence was his having retreated without the loss of a man.”
Pattie now claims that an American named John Roger Cooper, a former sea captain who had settled down as a merchant, broke out a barrel of rum and while the admirers of Gen. Solís rendered themselves hors de combat, rallied all foreigners, including Scots, Irish, English, Dutch and Americans, amounting to 39 men and, convincing the rest of the inhabitants that Solís was not a hero but an enemy, made ready for a battle of their own. When Solís’ retreating army arrived, most of his men, seeing presidio cannons turned in their direction, surrendered. Solís and six mounted officers fled. They were pursued, a short fight took place and one man was killed, according to Pattie’s narration, and Solís offered his sword in surrender. The rebels were placed in irons and locked up. Pattie informed Gen. Echeandía of the victory, accomplished under the American flag, and that the enemy was his to dispose of as he saw fit. Such records as are available do not bear out all of Pattie’s details of the events at Monterey, but its recapture was effected with the help of foreign residents.
Investigations were conducted, and when it was found difficult to make a case against many of the soldiers who had merely wanted action on getting their pay, Echeandía seized on a charge the men had talked about raising the Spanish flag once again over California. In the end, 15 prisoners were loaded onto the American bark Volunteer to be delivered to San Blas, where they were kept in chains for months but some made their way back to California. The soldiers from San Diego marched back home, the presidio sprang back to life, and for a time things went on as usual. But not for long. The Mexican government also had had enough of Gen. Echeandía and a successor, Manuel Victoria, arrived at San Diego overland from Loreto in December of 1830. He found that Echeandía , instead of being present to turn over the government, had slipped away to Monterey where he issued a proclamation, without any legal authority whatsoever, that amounted to a virtual confiscation of the property of the California missions. The decree of secularization was issued by Echeandía on Jan. 6, 1831, just three weeks before Victoria was able to arrive in Monterey and assume formal command. Upon learning of the decree while at Santa Barbara on his way north, Victoria was able to prevent its publication in the south, and took immediate steps to prevent its being put into effect in the north, and reported it to Mexico. This aroused the animosity of a group of young Californians, who long had coveted the mission lands and who, perhaps rightly, felt that the mission system was holding back the growth and development of California. Echeandía made it clear he would lead any revolt.
Victoria moved fast, and often illegally, to establish his authority and banish his enemies. Abel Stearns, American-born but a naturalized citizen of Mexico and a resident of California since 1829, was ordered to leave the country. He sailed from Monterey but either got off at San Diego or near the frontier in Baja California. José Antonio Carrillo was taken into custody on a charge of fraud and eventually sent to San Diego and banished to San Vicente in Baja California. José Maria Padrés was sent to San Blas.
They didn’t stay away very long. Pio Pico in his own history said that in November his brother-in-law, José J. Ortega, rushed down from Monterey to warn him that Victoria planned to come south and hang both Pico and Juan Bandini. Pico was a senior vocal of the diputación, or assembly, and Bandini was a diputado suplente, or alternate, to Congress. Pico summoned José Carrillo, also a brother-in-law, to return to the province, and a secret meeting was held at Pico’s ranch at Jamul. In the dead of night Pico and Carrillo slipped into Old Town and met with Bandini. Whether Victoria really had any intention of hanging anybody or whether it was a manufactured excuse for revolt, is not known. But an insurrection was decided upon, and the next two weeks were spent in seeking out sympathizers, both in San Diego and Los Angeles. Those joining the plot in Los Angeles were fearful of meeting Victoria and his soldiers in a frontal attack and suggested they wait until Victoria had passed Los Angeles, and then he could be attacked from the rear while massed Diegueño Indians were thrown against him from the front.
On Nov. 29, 1831, Pico, Bandini and Carrillo issued a pronunciamiento of their grievances, and that night, with a party of 12 or 14 plotters, seized the presidio and garrison of San Diego. Among them were Ignacio, Juan and José López; Stearns, Juan Maria Marrón, Andrés and Antonio Ibarra; Dámaso and Gervasio Alipás, Juan Osuna and Silverio Rios. The 30 soldiers at the presidio offered no resistance. Pico said that he was given the task of taking Capt. Argüello into custody. Pico went to Arguello’s house, found him playing cards with his wife and Lt. Ignacio del Valle, begged their pardon for the intrusion, drew his pistols, and requested that the two officers accompany him to the presidio guardhouse.
Bandini said he had been made responsible for the arrest of Capt. Portilla. But from all evidence Capt. Portilla was, if not a willing and secret participant, at least a willing captive. In the aftermath, Capts. Portilla and Argilello, and Lts. José Maria Ramirez, del Valle and Juan José Rocha, signed an addition to the pronunciamiento in which they charged Victoria with abridging the federal constitution. The acts of all these officers were acts of treason, and they subjected themselves to execution, by the firing squad or by hanging.
A Frenchman in San Diego at the time, Juan de la Cruz Montblanc, in a written report later in Mexico stated that Echeandía had remained in the background while the garrison was seized, and then stepped forward to accept the leadership of the revolt, ordered Portilla and the officers to obey him, had the flag raised in the presidio plaza and a cannon salute fired. The Frenchman also reported, though verbally, that five foreign vessels, which were to have sailed before the insurrection, remained in the Port of San Diego, and it was his belief that the captains had pledged assistance, if necessary, to the plotters. Foreigners more and more were beginning to play influential roles in California politics.
The pronunciamiento, which had been written by Bandini, proclaimed that. . . “let the rights of the citizen be born anew; let liberty spring up from the ashes of oppression, and perish the despotism that has suffocated our security.” In all probability what the conspirators really had in mind for the future was an independent California, under their leadership.
The Army of San Diego, under command of Portilla, marched north to meet the Army of Gen. Victoria. At Los Angeles, they were welcomed with enthusiasm, the political prisoners were freed, and now a citizen army of about 150 strong marched out to confront Victoria’s force of about 30 men of the San Blas and Mazatlán companies, at Cahuenga Pass.
Bandini, Pico and Carrillo, the instigators of the revolt, were far removed from the scene of action. The facts of the subsequent battle are obscure. Victoria held the enemy in contempt and calling upon Portilla to surrender, ordered his men to fire, perhaps over the heads of the opposition, to let them know he meant business. Portilla fled. Others held their ground. José Maria Avila, with the Army of San Diego, and Capt. Romualdo Pacheco, aide to Victoria, clashed on horseback, with drawn swords and lances. As the horses swung around, and away, Pacheco received a bullet in the back which pierced his heart and he fell dead. Things happened fast in the next few minutes, and Victoria himself went down with several severe lance wounds. Avila was unhorsed and killed. The encounter was over as quickly as it had begun. The wounded Victoria was taken by his men to San Gabriel, where he resigned as governor of California, then went to San Luis Rey for further rest, and finally to San Diego. There he boarded the Pocahontas, which had been chartered by Bandini to take him back to Mexico.
He was joined by Fr. Peyri of San Luis Rey. Peyri was through with California. He long had sought his passport, on account of age and despair at the onrushing fate of the mission he had built and so loved, and finally being granted the privilege of retirement, he slipped away at night to board the Pocahontas. The Indians to whom he had been a practical as well as spiritual father learned of his flight and 500 of them went to San Diego, to plead with him to return, but the ship sailed on Jan. 17, 1832. His work of 33 years at San Luis Rey had come to a close.
One of the last persons to talk with Fr. Peyri and record his feelings was Robinson, only a few days before his departure, and
“the tears of regret coursed down the cheek of the good old friar, as he recalled to mind the once happy state of California. His great penetration of mind led him to foresee the result of the new theory of liberty and equality, among a people where anarchy and confusion so generally prevailed, and who, at the time, were totally unprepared for, and incapable of self-government. He chose rather retirement in poverty, than to witness the destruction and ravage that from this time ensued.”
Alexander Forbes, an Englishman who visited the two Californias and published a history of them in London in 1839, wrote that he had the pleasure of seeing Fr. Peyri on his way to Mexico, and that he was of prepossessing appearance, and looked like a robust man of 50 though he was then 67 years of age.
“In his grey Franciscan habit, which he always wore, with his jolly figure, bald head, and white locks, he looked the very beau ideal of a friar of olden time. This worthy man having entered the cloisters of a convent, may be considered dead to the world. But he will live long in the memory of the inhabitants of California. . .”
But there was no peace for the good padre. He returned to Spain and there found so much strife he was unable even to visit his native town. From Spain it is learned that he had brought two young Indian neophytes with him from California and placed them in the Propaganda College in Rome, the city in which he himself finally died, regretting that he had ever left his mission and his “children.”
The two Luiseño boys were Pablo Tac and Agapito Amamix. Agapito died in Rome in 1837. Pablo Tac began his studies in Latin grammar, and while still a boy between 12 and 14 years of age, produced what may have been the first literary work by a native California Indian. His sketch of the Luiseho Indians, their customs and life at Mission San Luis Rey, has been preserved. He also produced an incomplete dictionary of 1200 words, studied rhetoric, the humanities and philosophy, before dying a few weeks before his 20th birthday.
At San Blas, Victoria wrote to Mexican officials warning of the plans of Echeandía and the diputación and declaring that they could only bring ruin to the missions and all of California, and that he feared an attempt would be made to separate the territory from Mexico.
At Monterey, the triumphant Echeandía convoked the state assembly and Pfo Pico was elected temporary governor and Echeandía military commander. They soon fell out and Pico took himself out of the picture. Rule of the state was divided, Echeandía taking the south and Capt. Agustin V. Zamorano the north. Echeandía , though he was aware that Mexico was sending up a new governor, issued another reglamento on the missions and emancipation of the Indians, this one affecting only those in the south, San Diego, San Luis Rey, San Juan Capistrano, and San Gabriel. Indians were enticed from their work; many at distant points revolted, and robberies and murders became common. Robinson wrote that at San Pedro he learned the Missions San Juan Capistrano and San Luis Rey were being drained of their richest possessions:
“Daily reports were received of robberies and murders, committed by the Indians at St. Diego, who were in a wretched state. At the Mission below that place, which is called St. Miguel, they revolted and attempted to kill the priest, but he defended himself within his house, with the assistance of two soldiers, and finally drove them off . . . stabbings were frequent at St. Juan and St. Luis; and the drunken Indian, as he staggered along from his scene of debauch, ejaculated, ‘Soy libre!‘ I am free.”
Frs. Martin and Oliva at Mission San Diego, in reply to Echeandía ‘s reglamento, wrote that
“We shall not oppose nor do we oppose whatever Your Honor may determine, for we continue here at this mission only for the spiritual welfare of these people. Since May 20 of this year, the neophytes of this mission have already managed their temporalities without any meddling in their affairs on our part. If at any time anything has been said about the damage which the little remaining property is suffering, it was done because the waste in the management is notorious. Only the wine cellar has not been turned over to the Indians, because this has been regarded as not conducive to their corporal and spiritual welfare.”
By the year 1832 the regular annual reports on the state of the mission ceased. The last report signed by Fr. Fernando Martin on Dec. 31, 1832, listed a total of 6522 baptisms since the founding of the mission in 1769. There had been 1803 marriages and 4332 deaths recorded. At the end of the year 1832 there were 1455 neophytes at the mission, 4500 head of cattle, 13,250 sheep, 150 goats, 220 horses and 80 mules. Fr. Martin, who finally took the oath of allegiance to the republican constitution of Mexico, one of the few friars who did so, served all of his time in California at the San Diego Mission, arriving in 1811 and dying here in 1838.
The ranchos, which in Spanish times played only a small role in development of the province, now began to assume a greater importance. The San Blas ships no longer came regularly, and private agriculture and stock raising increased steadily. The Mexican period saw the granting of many ranchos, and the hide trade was to make many of the owners wealthy. In 1831 the San Dieguito Rancho, now known as Rancho Santa Fe, comprising 8824 acres, was granted provisionally to the Silva family but Juan Maria Osuna took possession in 1836. The Santa Maria Rancho, or Pamo Valley, 17,708 acres, was granted provisionally to a Mexican soldier, Narciso Botello, but eventually passed to José Joaquin Ortega. San José del Valle, or Warner’s Ranch, 26,688 acres, was taken over as a grazing ground in 1834 by the brother of Capt. Pablo de la Portilla, and was granted to him two years later.
The new commandant general and inspector, and Jefe superior politico, was Brevet Brigadier-General José Figueroa, who had been commandant general of Sonora and Sinaloa for five or six years and thus somewhat conversant with the continuing troubles in California. He was given detailed instructions on the encouragement of trade, colonization and distribution of lands both to citizens and foreigners, and in particular, in regard to the secularization of the missions, which in effect abrogated all that Echeandía had done but yet called for study with a view to a change in the system. To enforce his orders he was given a command of 75 officers and men lately released from prison for revolutionary attempts. They sailed on the Catalina, and at Cape San Lucas, the soldiers revolted and with the aid of the sailors, seized the ship, all the arms and money, and sailed away to the mainland to join a new uprising under Gen. Santa Ana. The Catalina later was returned to La Paz and Figueroa and his men finally made their way to Monterey, arriving in January of 1833. He took quick command of affairs; members of the rebellious factions eventually were granted amnesty, and Echeandía himself, after bringing Figueroa up to date on the missions and secularization, boarded the Catalina at San Diego and sailed for Mexico.
Robinson thought less of Echeandía even than did Pattie, the trapper: “What a scourge he had been to California! What an instigator of vice! ‘Hombre de vicio,’ as he was called. The seeds of dishonor sown by him will never be extirpated so long as there remains a mission to rob, or a treasury to plunder.” But Echeandía settled down in his old profession of engineer and apparently lived out a peaceful life.
As for the American, Pattie, he finally abandoned California to its fate, for the time being, and went to Mexico to seek satisfaction for his services to California, but had to borrow money to get back to the United States. When aging, though still restless, he is believed to have taken to the trails once more, during the gold rush. A companion later recorded that “this man left my camp in the Sierra Nevada Mountains’ amidst the deep snows of the terrible winter of 1849-50…. I suppose he perished in the deep snows, or was killed by Indians.”
Big schemes were still in the air. In Mexico City, José Maria Hijar, a wealthy Mexican, and Jose’ Maria Padrés, who had been ousted from California by Victoria, joined with the territory’s new congressman, Juan Bandini of San Diego, to promote a plan of colonization which certainly had as its base the confiscation of mission lands. Largely through their influence the Mexican Congress passed the Secularization Law of Aug. 17, 1833, converting the missions to parish churches. Padrés was named ayudante inspector of California, ranking second only to Figueroa, and Hijar, jefe politico and director of colonization. The colonization program was well organized and financed, and the colonists, mostly tradesmen and professional people of good quality, were to receive certain sums of money, free passage, some tools and livestock and farms from public lands. There were about 250 of them, including women and children, and they sailed in two vessels, the Natalia, and the Morelos, from San Blas, encountering storms and sickness. The Natalia put into San Diego, at the request of Bandini, and the colonists were divided temporarily between San Gabriel and San Luis Rey Missions, eventually making their way to Monterey, traveling from mission to mission. The other ship made it directly to Monterey. The Natalia, which some believe to have been the same vessel on which Napoleon escaped from Elba, went on the beach near Monterey and broke up.
Though he was instrumental in obtaining passage of the law on secularization, Bandini failed in an effort to have the Congress close the port of Monterey to foreign ships in favor of San Diego. He did, however, win appointment as inspector of California customs houses. His authority was not recognized in Monterey and he had to content himself with conducting San Diego as an open port, regardless of the Congress. Bandini soon fell into disgrace, as an investigation revealed he had brought more than $2,000 in goods into California aboard the Natalia and had neglected to declare them or pay duties. Despite Bandini’s protests that such a charge was absurd, and all had been according to law, he was fined $700, the goods were confiscated, and he was suspended from office. Bandini’s outrage lasted for years.
The colonization scheme ran into delay when Gen. Santa Ana took command in Mexico City, revoked Hijar’s political authority, and Figueroa decided to wait for more instructions before going further than he already had with the secularization. The Californians, too, became somewhat disenchanted with Padrés when they learned he had brought along 21 Mexicans to serve as administrators of the missions, posts which the Californians obviously had desired for themselves. They had not long to wait, however. Figueroa decided to go ahead and in conjunction with the California diputación published official regulations for secularization. The decree was to affect only 10 missions at first, with half of the property to be turned over to the Indians, and the rest administered for the benefit of the church and the public good. Figueroa appointed 10 administrators. Six more missions were to be secularized in 1835 and the remaining five in the following year. But the Californians had no intention of turning mission lands over to the Indians, and in effect the decree shunted them to a few locations, deprived them of voices in all affairs, and required that “the emancipated will be obliged to aid in the common work which in the judgment of the jefe politico may be deemed necessary for the cultivation of the vineyards, gardens, and fields remaining for the present undisturbed.” The padres were to stay on as parish priests, and while they declined the title, they remained to do what they could for the Indians, though they no longer had authority over them. A subsequent Mexican law, passed by the Congress in April of 1834, insisted that secularization should go into effect within four months.
Figueroa toured the state to explain the blessings of liberty to the Indians. At San Diego Mission only two heads of families out of the 69 considered ready for freedom, asked for emancipation, and 14 living in the San Dieguito area. On Sept. 20, 1834, Mission San Diego was transferred by inventory from Fr. Fernando Martin to Juan José Rocha, newly appointed commissioner, and in April of the next year Joaquin Ortega became administrator, to be paid. from income from farm products which the Indians were expected to produce the same as before. The accounts of San Luis Rey were turned over to Capt. Pablo de la Portilla, by Fr. Buenaventura Fortuni. San Luis Rey still had the largest population of all the missions, and was the only one to show a gain from 1831 to 1834. There were 2844 neophytes. Large livestock, however, had declined sharply, from more than 27,000 to 13,000. Secularization brought chaos. Portilla wrote:
“The Indians absolutely refused to obey orders … they would listen to no reason. It was impossible to make them understand or appreciate the advantage of industry and obedience … they all with one voice cried out, ‘We are free … we do not choose to work!… The intentions of the government were doubtless praiseworthy; ‘liberty throughout the world,’ ought to be the way of every good citizen. But the Indians of California did not possess the qualifications for Liberty; and it was necessary for their preservation that something should be done to protect them against themselves.”
After being secularized the missions were to be pueblos. By the end of 1835, the 16 missions had been secularized and lands and goods divided, as planned, and it was then that the Mexican Congress passed a new law virtually repealing secularization. Nobody in California paid any attention to it. Robinson, as witness to these events, wrote that many of the Spanish and Mexican families “that were poor soon became wealthy, and possessors of farms, which they stocked with cattle.”
The mission establishments never became Indian pueblos, or towns, as long anticipated under Spanish laws and Mexican promises. As far as is known, only three Indian towns composed of ex-neophytes actually were organized in San Diego County, in San Dieguito Valley, at San Pascual and at Las Flores.
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