Time of the Bells, 1769-1835
CHAPTER NINE: The Golden Age
The golden age of the missions was at hand. The closing years of the 18th Century saw all but three of the 21 California missions built or started, with a now well-trod El Camino Real to link most of them a day’s journey apart. Livestock by the thousands grazed over nearly a million acres. Orchards, vineyards and farm crops began to fill the valleys. Indians in increasing numbers learned to depend on the missions, to accept Christianity, and to slowly take up the rudiments of civilized living. A succession of sympathetic governors brought a period of cooperation between military and religious authority.
The kindly and orderly Fr. Lasuén, the president of the California missions, wrote in 1792, that at his request Antonio Domingo Henrique had arrived at the San Carlos Mission at Monterey and had “brought along his Indian wife from San Diego. At all the missions of the south as far as San Luis Obispo, he had made spinning wheels, warping frames, combs, looms, and all the utensils of the art save carding instruments. He has taught carding, spinning, and also the weaving of various woolen cloth, also of the Sayal Franciscano, of which they have already made clothing for some missionaries.” Sayal Franciscano was a coarse woolen cloth.
At San Diego, Frs. Juan Mariner and Hilario Torrent, now in charge, reported that “three buildings have been enlarged; a portion of the walls that guard the mission has been erected; a vineyard and a grove have been surrounded with a wall of adobe forming a circuit of 500 varas; and the fields have been prepared for planting.” The wall was more than 1400 feet long.
A fresh spring was discovered not far from the mission and an irrigation ditch nearly 3500 feet long was constructed to bring the water to the fields. A mission school was opened in 1795. The year 1797 saw the baptism of 565 Indians and the mission population rose to 1405, thus becoming at that period the most populous mission in California. The figures were somewhat illusory, however, as the Diegueños were not a religious people and readily slipped back to their old ways. The Indian aversion to containment also was heightened by his fear of disease. White men’s diseases, contracted from soldiers and settlers, were overwhelming to natives who had lived open and somewhat isolated lives. When diseases would spread to villages, and at times with appalling results, the Indians followed their time-honored practice of steaming themselves in their temescals, or hot-air baths, and then leaping into cold water. To those suffering such diseases as measles, this was fatal. But a complete return to native ways would not have been an answer. All over the continent the Indian was being pushed back or killed, no matter the resistance.
The French navigator, La Pérouse, on his visit to California had compared the mission establishments to the slave plantations of Santo Domingo. The winds of liberalism were blowing hard through French thinking and his was a casual glance at a complex system that had grown out of Spain’s Laws of the Indies and by custom and necessity. The missions were an extension of Empire as well as of Christianity. The heart of the mission system in California went back to Fr. Serra’s Presentación to the Viceroy in Mexico City in which he won reaffirmation of the Spanish doctrine that the missionary stood in relation to the Indian as a father to his child — “in loco parentis.” The missionary had the responsibility for the Indian’s conversion and education, his well-being and his discipline, and his preparation for freedom and citizenship.
The Indian joined the mission of his own free will. Once he was baptized — and he was fully advised of all its obligations — he no longer could wander the countryside as he wished but must reside at the mission, that is, in every circumstance where it was possible; accept his share of the work, and learn the ways of civilized man. If he fled, he would be brought back and punished. Two centuries of experience had taught both Spain and the missionaries that there was no other way. One of the reasons for the slow progress in development of the San Diego Mission was the necessity of allowing Christianized Indians to return periodically to their rancherias, or even to reside in them, because of poor crops due to lack of water. The Indians would revert quickly to their native state, and the work would have to be done all over again.
Fr. Lasuén wrote vividly of the trouble this caused at San Diego:
“At that mission they keep just enough Indians to justify the place being called a mission and to make it a refuge to which those who stay at their rancherias can have recourse in their needs. What good has been achieved and what progress made? 0 my venerable Fr. Guardian! What anxiety! What despondency! What sleepless nights! What anguish! What daily and nightly toiling on the part of the missionaries! What licentiousness! What a change in the neophytes from Christian civility to heathen barbarity! … There is no doubt that in all the pagan rancherias heathen practices prevail. Who will remove the obstacles the Christians encounter when they continue to live with their tribesmen at the very scenes of those heathen customs? And who will prevent them from joining their tribesmen or even from witnessing the orgies? Accustomed to their abominable feasts, and finding their recollections revived every hour, what place will they give to the catechism and to the obligations contracted in the Baptism they have received? They possess no energy to apply themselves to what is conducive to a rational, social, and civilized life. On the vigilance and incessant care of the missionaries it then depends whether or not the Indians observe what they have learned.
“Let it be sincerely borne in mind, however, that if at San Diego, as in Lower California, that method is employed, it is through dire necessity; for those sterile lands by no means produce the provisions necessary to support all the neophytes together. This impossibility compels the missionaries to permit the Christians to live scattered in their rancherias, obliged to visit the mission only from time to time. To let them live in this way is thought to be a smaller evil than to let them remain pagans. It is a necessary evil, but the result is disastrous.”
There were no courts and no judges. California was a frontier, and justice in the mission domain was administered in large measure by the padres. What was right and what was wrong, and reward and punishment, had to be a matter of personal judgment. A form of Indian self-government was accomplished by the election of alcaldes, or constables, whose duty it was to bring before the padres the neophytes guilty of minor infractions and to administer the prescribed punishment. Major crimes, or crimes of blood, were punished by the military. The lash and the stocks were common in many parts of the civilized world in those years, as will be remembered from the experiences of English seamen under Capt. Vancouver.
Fr. Esteban Tapis, who succeeded Fr. Lasuén as president upon the latter’s death in 1803, in response to formal questions put by the Viceroy in an Interrogatorio, described the Mission System of punishment:
“A man, boy or woman either runs away or does not return from the excursion until other neophytes are sent after him. When he is brought back to the mission, he is reproached for the transgression of not complying with the obligation of hearing holy Mass on a day of obligation. He is made to see that he has freely subjected himself to this and other Christian duties, and he is then warned that he will be chastised if he repeats the transgression. He again runs away, and is again brought back. Then he experiences the chastisement of the lash or the stocks. If this is insufficient, as is the case with some, seeing that a warning is useless, he is made to feel the shackles, which he wears for three days while he is kept at work. The same practice is observed with those who are caught in concubinage. With those who steal something of value, or who fight with the danger of doing harm, this order is not observed; for these are first chastised and then made to abhor theft or exhorted to keep the peace. It has been noticed that this is the most successful way of maintaining public and private tranquility.
“The stocks in the apartment of the girls and single women are older than the fathers who report on the mission. As a rule, the transgressions of the women are punished with one, two or three days in the stocks, according to the gravity of the offense; but if they are obstinate in their evil intercourse, or run away, they are chastised by the hand of another woman in the apartment of the women. Sometimes, though exceedingly seldom, the shackles are put on.
“Such are the chastisements which we inflict on the Indians in keeping with the judgment with which parents punish their own beloved children. We have begotten the neophytes for Christianity by means of our labors for them, and by means of Baptism in which they received the life of grace. We rear them by means of the Sacraments and by means of the instruction in the maxims of Christian morals. We therefore use the authority which Almighty God concedes to parents for the education of their children, now exhorting, now rebuking, now also chastising when necessity demands it. For these chastisements generally the assistance of the comandante or of the guard is not solicited. Yet it has always been asked when it appeared to us expedient. The Indians feel that they are never chastised without being well convinced of their guilt, and that, by the grace of God, they are never punished because of some ill will the missionary is supposed to have for one or the other. . . Hence it is that the neophytes accept with humility the Father as before.”
At times there were accusations of excesses, and investigations were undertaken. Kindness and sacrifice were taken for granted. The life of the fathers was a hard one. Two of them worked at each mission among hundreds, even thousands of savages. Some of the padres paid with their lives, and willingly accepted martyrdom; a few others lost their minds; others became discouraged and returned to Mexico or Spain. Most of them kept on, and because of their vows of poverty, with no thought of reward on earth. They fought to avert the tragedy that finally and inevitably came to the Indians.
The mission lands, which eventually embraced most of the fertile coastal and upland valleys between San Diego and Sonoma, were not the property of the individual missionaries or the mission orders, or even of the church itself. The King of Spain took title to all lands of California, upon settlement of San Diego in 1769, though this possession in effect was limited to the presidios and supporting lands, and the natives were recognized as the owners, under the King, of all the territory required for their existence. Towns and individuals were granted only usufructuary titles. The need of Indians for land to support themselves was expected to become less as they abandoned their wild ways and became more civilized, and this would permit a gradual increase in Spanish settlements.
As for the rest of California, and including all of the mission lands, the Spanish laws recognized the rights of the Indians to the soil of their fathers and protected the Indians against encroachment. The Laws of the Indies read: “We command that the residences and lands which may be granted to the Spaniards shall be given as not to prejudice the Indians, and that those which have been granted to their prejudice and injury, shall be returned to those to whom they may lawfully belong.”
In time, and at the right moment of development, the missionaries were to turn the lands back to the Indians, and surrender the missions to the secular clergy, and move on to new frontiers. This point was never reached in California. The authority of Spain was waning, the empire was breaking up, and new forces were to be let loose.
Mission life was routine; order was brought out of a wilderness. In general, seven hours of the day were allotted to labor, with two hours of prayer daily and four or five on Sundays and on days of festivals. In the morning their food consisted of atole or a gruel of barley, wheat, or corn. At noon, they got pozole, which consisted of the same grains, only boiled. In the evening, it was the same food as in the morning, but in addition, every few days cattle were slaughtered to provide beef. Married couples and their small children were housed in the neophyte Indian village, in the vicinity of the mission; young girls, unmarried women and widows were given rooms or apartments of their own, as much as possible, and which were called monjerios. They were locked in at night, and this was consistent with Spanish customs of guarding the quarters of their young women even in their own homes. Their quarters grew into training schools where instructions in sewing, cooking and cleanliness were given by the wives of the Mexican carpenters and blacksmiths who had come to California to work at the missions and begin new lives for themselves. In the late afternoons and evenings they could go to the village. While men and boys slept in their own quarters, they had considerable freedom and participated in church duties and, of course, in the trade and mechanics necessary to mission life. Many worked at the presidios, in construction or in private homes, and herding livestock and tending the fields of the Nación, or of the government.
The mission establishment was a world unto itself. It raised its own food, made its own clothing and many of its own tools, formed its own building materials, built its own waterworks, and operated its own little hospital and school; and its people were born, married and buried within its confines. By the turn of the century the San Diego Mission herds had grown to 7000 and its flocks to 6000. Annual harvests varied from 2500 to nearly 10,000 bushels, depending on weather. The Indians, with reluctance, were exchanging nakedness for covering. They were learning some Spanish and the padres some Mau, the language of the Diegueños.
Construction of new buildings proceeded apace. Adobe blocks and clay tiles were made by Indians from soil of the hills, and timber for roofs was hauled down from the high mountains by oxen. Lime kilns were built against the hillsides for mortar and plaster, and baking tiles. Fr. Esteban Tapis’ report on labor done by California mission Indians said that, “Sixteen young men, and at times as many more middle-aged men, with two women to bring sand and straw, make 500 tiles a day. The troughs with clay are close by and are always filled.” Wooden molds were used for making adobe blocks as well as tile. Tile was not made by forming clay around the thigh of an Indian, as sentimental tradition has it. They were shaped in that fashion so as to fit into each other. Important to the mission fathers were the vineyards and the olive orchards. Wine was a necessary part of religious ceremonies and from the olive came the oil for cooking. Grape cuttings were not sent into New California until 1779, and as late as 1781, Fr. Serra, in a letter to Fr. Lasuén, wrote that “I hope the maize is doing well, and that the vine shoots are living and bearing fruit, for this lack of wine for the Mass is becoming unbearable.” By 1801, Lasuén was able to write that “The Missions of San Diego, San Juan Capistrano, San Gabriel, San Buenaventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo raise grapes and press some wine.” Bancroft believes the padres’ first grapes introduced into California were of south Spanish stock — first the reddish black grape of Los Angeles, rich in juice, and then the fruiter, bluish black Sonoma, which he said, yields a lighter wine. Other varieties were introduced as time went on. The recollections of Carlos N. Hijar of California in 1834, give a description of old wine making:
“The wine of pastoral days was made after this manner: Suitable ground was selected, and a desvan or platform placed thereon. This was covered with clean hides, and the grapes piled upon it. Some well-washed Indians, having on only a zapeta (loin-cloth), the hair carefully tied up and hand covered with cloth wherewith to wipe away the perspiration, each having a stick to steady himself withal, were put to treading out the grape juice, which was caught in coras, or in leathern bags. These were emptied into a large wooden tub, where the liquid was kept two or three months, under cover of the grape skins to ferment. Such as did not flow off was put into wooden presses, and the juice into copper jars, and covered with a kind of hat. Through two or three inserted tubes heat was conveyed to the mass to aid evaporation and condensation. These jars served as a still for brandy. For white wine the first juice only was taken and stored.”
Olive seeds were brought into California before grape cuttings and by 1803, Lasuén reported that “in some missions they have begun to harvest olives; and at San Diego they have already made some very good olive oil.” The olive press for the San Diego Mission is still in existence, at the Junipero Serra Museum. San Diego became a source of olive oil for most of the missions of the San Diego district.
The orange tree found its way from Spain to Mexico and then to San Diego.
It was a period of growth and prosperity that saw the beginning of a mission that became the largest and most beautiful of them all — San Luis Rey — The King of the Missions, east of Oceanside and a day’s march, or 40 miles from San Diego. The need for a mission between San Diego and San Juan Capistrano had long been felt, and Lasuén personally explored the area and selected the site, rejecting one farther inland, at Pala, or Pale, as being too far from El Camino Real. The Pala site had been noted by Fr. Juan Mariner and Capt. Juan Pablo Grijalva on an exploratory trip in 1795, when they went up the San Diego River, and then through Sycamore Canyon to Santa Maria Valley, or Pamo Valley, and into what they named El Valle de San José, now known as Warner’s Hot Springs. From there they went down the San Luis Rey River, and turned north through Santa Margarita and Las Flores to San Juan Capistrano. The site chosen for the new mission was on the north side of San Luis Rey River Valley which Fr. Juan Crespí had named Cañada de San Juan Capistrano when the Portolá Expedition to Monterey crossed it in 1769. Crespí had described it as an ideal location for a mission. To avoid confusion with San Juan Capistrano Mission, the new site was named Old Capistrano and the mission given the name of San Luis Rey de Francia, in honor of King Louis IX of France, as the Viceroy had commanded. It was the 18th mission in the California chain.
On the 13th of June, 1798, in the presence of soldiers from the Presidio of San Diego, and many Indian gentiles and neophytes, Lasuén conducted the ceremonies of founding a new mission and entrusted its completion to Fr. Antonio Peyri. No figure in California mission history lived in Indian heart and memory longer than Fr. Peyri. He remained with the King of the Missions until near its end, when, broken and in despair, he fled. This mission drew to it the Luiseño Indians of northern San Diego County, who were not Yumans as were the Diegueños, but belonged to the Shoshonean linguistic stock, and generally speaking they proved more adaptable and more religious. The Luiseños went to work with eagerness and by summer, 6000 adobe bricks had been made for a church which was completed in 1801-1802. In time it became the most populous mission in all of California.
There were now five missions in the San Diego District: San Diego, the “Mother Mission;” San Gabriel, San Juan Capistrano, San Luis Rey, and San Miguel which was about 55 miles below San Diego and under Dominican jurisdiction but dependent on San Diego for assistance and protection.
It was a tranquil period. The King’s messengers continued their lonely journeys along El Camino Real, from Mexico to San Francisco and return, and the increasingly frequent appearances of American ships contributing the only excitement of the times. The warm sun of California was kind to the old soldiers, who after serving out their terms of duty, chose to settle down, many with Indian wives. Lt. Col. Don Diego de Borica, who was governor at the end of the first three decades of Spanish rule, wrote that it was a great country, with good bread and climate, with an astounding general fecundity, “both of rationals and irrationals. The climate is so good that all are getting to look like Englishmen.”
Life was regulated by the sound of bells. They could be heard far up and down Mission Valley, calling the Indians to prayer and to work, and announcing the good or the bad tidings of the day. Ringing of the bells was an honor which the Indians loved, and a few of them were still ringing bells in abandoned chapels long after the mission period had come to a close.
In the early expeditions, bells came before food. The Serra-Portolá Expedition certainly carried a number of bells into California which had been taken from the old Jesuit missions of the peninsula. Two of three known to have been brought up in 1769 hung for years outside at Santa Ysabel but vanished in 1926. One bore the date of 1723, and the other that of 1767. The third bell still hangs at the San Diego Mission and bears a date of 1738. All missions at their founding were to have two bells, one presumably for devotions and the other for the day’s routine, but all missions in time had as many as eight. The later bells were obtained in trade by way of American ships from Lima, Mexico, Boston and even from Russian sources. There were two types of bells: The devotional bells were large stationary ones which were rung by movement of the clapper, while smaller ones known as glad bells were suspended and designed to turn completely over. Their joyous ringing announced the comings and goings of padres and visitors and the events of the many festivals.
Edith Buckland Webb, describes the daily routine in her book, “Indian Life at the Old Missions”:
“The Indians’ day began at sunrise when the Angelus bell called them to prayers in the mission church. About an hour later another bell announced breakfast, whereupon each family sent to the community kitchen for its share of the food that had been prepared. After breakfast another ring of the bell sent all who were old enough and able to work to their appointed tasks. There were no laggards in this community. From the small boy who scared birds away from the orchard or straying animals from drying adobes to the little girl who helped prepare the wool for spinning, and the old woman who gathered wood for the kitchen fires, all who were able to work had some special task to perform. In the forenoon and again in midafternoon, one of the Padres gathered together all the children over five years of age and instructed them in the Doctrina. Following the morning period with the children, the Padre visited the fields and shops to see that no one was absent from work. Shortly after eleven o’clock the Padres had their noonday meal. From twelve until two o’clock the Indians ate their meal and enjoyed the inevitable siesta. Then back to work they went until about five o’clock, when it was time for prayers and devotions. At six o’clock came the ringing of the Angelus. Supper was then served. For the remainder of the evening until Poor Soul’s bell was rung at eight o’clock, the Indians were free to do as they wished within certain limitations, of course. Thus it was, day after day, week after week, and year after year.”
Not all went peacefully in the early years of the 1800’s. At San Juan Mission, an Indian sent into the storehouse for fat, while carrying a lighted candle, took time out to amuse himself killing bats, and set the building afire, with a loss of 2500 bushels of wheat and six tons of tallow. The rains as always were undependable and something would have to be done about it. Another earthquake on May 25, 1803, damaged the San Diego Mission church. The next year, on April 26 at a ceremony conducted by Fr. Mariano Payeras, and with Commandant Rodriguez and his officers present, the bodies of Fr. Luis Jayme, the first Christian martyr of California; Fr. Juan Figuer, who died on Dec. 18, 1784, and Fr. Juan Mariner, who died on Jan 29, 1800, were taken from their old resting places and reburied in a common grave between the altars of the newer church. Another expedition was sent into the sierra to contact all Indian rancherias to establish more friendly relations so that fugitive Indians could be found and returned. Fr. José Bernardo Sánchez and Alférez José Joaquín Maitorena left San Diego on June 20, 1806, and visited all Indian settlements in a wide arc from San Luis Rey Mission to San Miguel Mission below the border. They returned on July 14 with two runaways.
Affairs at the presidio lapsed into routine. The 25 Catalán Volunteers were withdrawn, a light was placed on Point Guijarros to guide mariners, and the presidio was released from the obligation of the military protection of San Miguel. And it was just as well. A report said that of the six 6-pounders available for the protection of San Diego, five were now useless. The effective force at the presidio was about 80 men. The only fighting for a time was among themselves. In 1806 Rodriguez was recalled to Mexico, where he died in 1810, and Capt. Raimundo Carrillo was named to succeed him. Before he arrived Lts. Francisco Maria Ruiz and José de la Guerra y Noriega got into a dispute as to their respective authority. Ruiz knocked Guerra down and Guerra drew his sword. Fr. Sánchez interceded, bloodshed was averted, and peace was restored. A beginning toward a more civilized life was indicated by a notation that a sergeant was now teaching school at the presidio.
Considerable work was done in this period on trying to improve Fort Guijarros; numerous receipts found in Mexico City archives in 1961 testify to expenditures for nails and carpenters’ work on the fort’s esplanade and timber facing. The timbers had entirely rotted away in eight years. One receipt dated Oct. 9, 1808, was for work on “Bastión Punta de Guijarros named San Joaquin,” thus indicating for the first time that the fort had a formal name.
The death of Rodriguez also had ended his role in a long dispute over some items missing from goods brought to San Diego for the presidio on the Concepción in 1800. Among them were four pairs of woolen socks and some cloth. The correspondence of Boards of Survey on who should be held responsible for the loss had covered a period of ten years. Poor Manuel, chasing up and down the beaches of Southern and Lower California, vainly trying to halt the rich fur smuggling, and subjected to ridicule and his loyalty and bravery questioned, was badgered constantly by the bureaucrats of Mexico City who insisted on knowing what had happened to the four pairs of socks.
Over the horizon the forces of change were gathering momentum. The United States bought from France the vast Louisiana Territory on the wide unprotected border of New Spain; the Lewis and Clark Expedition penetrated the northern wilderness to reach the Pacific at the mouth of the Columbia River, and the Pike Expedition conquered the Rocky Mountains. Napoleon turned on Spain and the Spanish Empire broke up. At 11 o’clock on the night of Sept. 16, 1810, in the little Mexican town of Dolores, Fr. Miguel Hidalgo walked out to the steps of his church and gave the cry of “Mexicans, viva Mexico!” A revolution that was to last more than a decade was under way.
California was far away and these events for a long time had little effect on the 40 Franciscan fathers whose converts now totaled 19,000. The Mission of San Diego was assuming its final appearance. The church which was restored in 1931 and stands today, was begun in 1808 and dedicated on Nov. 7, 1813. The mission buildings and walls formed a great square. Though the Southern California earthquake of 1801 had done some damage to the mission and presidio buildings, the great earthquake of 1812, which virtually wrecked the Mission of San Juan Capistrano and killed more than 40 persons, had little effect here.
This period saw the construction of one of the marvels of the mission era, the dam and aqueduct that brought a regular supply of water, at long last, to the orchards and fields. The project was begun in 1807, and probably was not finished until sometime in 1815 or 1816. The padres were too busy to keep detailed records. All of the missions had irrigation projects of one kind or another, some of them dating back to 1773. But none compared to the one at San Diego. With a skill born of necessity, they went to the head of Mission Gorge, through which the San Diego River plunges into Mission Valley, and on exposed bedrock built a dam of stone and cement and backed up a permanent reservoir of water. It was 244 feet long, 13 feet thick, 13 feet high and had a gate and spillway. The river ran the year around at this site, before it dropped through the canyon and in dry periods lost itself in the sands of Mission Valley. But the mission was six miles away, down an almost impenetrable rock canyon. The padres drew the water off on the right or north side, and ran it through an open tile aqueduct, by gravity flow, all the way down the canyon and then to the mission.
It was not until 1813, however, that the Frs. Sanch6z and Martin mentioned casually in a report, “We are working on an aqueduct, which is to bring water to the mission. We hope to succeed with the help of God.” A year later they reported, “Work on the aqueduct is progressing; already as many as 6600 uaras (3.8 miles) have been completed.” And that constitutes most of the written history of the mission dam and aqueduct.
In 1867, Judge Benjamin Hayes inspected the old system and wrote the following description in his famous “Immigrant Notes”:
“Immediately on the right bank (going downstream), a few feet above the channel, commences the aqueduct by which water was drawn from this grand reservoir. It consists of a single tile about six inches at the bottom, resting upon small stones; on each side, a brick 18 inches square inclined outward, so as to make a surface of two feet of water, some 12 inches deep; these bricks lined on the inside with cement, and propped on the outside by small rocks solidly cemented. The aqueduct commenced at the dam and ran full three miles through a gorge the most difficult than can be conceived — keeping on the hillsides of the right bank of the river. Sometimes it crossed gulches from 10 to 15 feet wide. In such places a stone foundation was built up high enough to keep the level. The canal in general was simply of cobblestones and a narrow tile laid in cement in the bottom. In the gulches, the rock foundation has with time fallen down or been washed away. Such has been the strength of the cement, this brick canal holds together across the gulch as firmly as if cast iron pipe, and now and then portions of it hang to the rocky wall at the height often to 20 feet above the bed of the river…”
The dam itself impounded about 20-acre feet of water, which when carried down the gorge, was stored in a settling basin near the mission. The structure included a sand trap, to clear the water before it entered the flume, and a 4-inch penstock through which the water was forced by a pressure chamber apparently to turn the wheel of a grist mill.
The eye can still follow the line of the aqueduct in certain places. It is difficult to estimate the cost in human toil. Hundreds of Indians must have struggled for years, under the sweating and tireless padres, and through the heat of summer, to carry tile and material for cement through a gorge almost impassable on foot. Engineers who saw the works in the early days were convinced that the fathers must have had the assistance of an engineer; but the padres had built such great works, with unskilled labor, throughout Mexico. It had to be done, and it was done. Once the aqueduct through the gorge was finished, they still had three miles more to go. The water had to be carried along and around the base of the curving hills in a dirt ditch just above the bed of the river, to reach the mission area. Floods and vandals eventually took their toll. Roaring flood waters washed away a 24-foot section of the dam. The flood of 1916 swept off much of what remained of the aqueduct, after many of the tiles already had been carried off for roofs, chimneys and hallways of pioneer homes. The struggle of the fathers to bring water to their crops and mission is in essence the story of San Diego.
The mission grazed its herds and raised its crops over a wide area of San Diego County. The presidio lands were close to the coast, embracing the region around the bay, and the principal common lands, or the lands on which the people as individuals could raise their own crops, were in Sorrento, or Soledad Valley. The government lands lay south of the presidio lands, embracing what is now National City and Chula Vista. In Spanish times this was known as Rancho del Rey, or the King’s Ranch, and in Mexican days as Rancho de la Nacion, or the national ranch. Here were grazed the stock of the military and the presidio. While the mission orchards were in the bed of the San Diego River, the larger crop acreage was in El Cajon Valley, which they knew as Santa Monica. Between the mission and Santa Monica, on the low hills and along the San Diego River below Mission Gorge, grazed the mission’s horses, mules and some sheep. Cattle and sheep were grazed at Valle de San Jos&eatue; and El Agua Caliente, now known as Warner’s Ranch; cattle at San Bernardo Ranch, on the upper San Dieguito River; cattle in the Escondido area; sheep, horses and mules at Pamo, now known as Santa Maria Valley, site of Ramona; cattle at San Pasqual Valley and at Paguay, now known as Poway Valley.
The padres went on as if time were standing still. A second line of missions in the interior, to penetrate the sierra into which disgruntled converts and renegades were fleeing and stirring up trouble among mountain tribes, was considered and then abandoned. Instead, a number of the missions erected extensions, or asistencias, which in actuality became little missions. Three of these were in San Diego County. Two under the jurisdiction of Mission San Luis Rey were San Antonio de Pala, founded at Pala on upper San Luis Rey River in 1810, and Las Flores, established near the coast between Oceanside and San Clemente in 1823. The chapel at San Ysidro was established by the San Diego Mission in 1818. The padres traveled regularly to these chapels with the word of Christ.
The Diegueño Indians who had accepted Christianity were slowly changing, and a summary of their character and progress was prepared by Frs. Fernando Martin and José Sánchez at the San Diego Mission in 1812, in filling out a document called “Respuesta,” or Answer, at the request of the Spanish Government. The two padres answered thusly:
The Indians did not seem eager to preserve the customs of their forefathers, and while they were adverse to labor and mechanical arts, they learned any task with facility; among the neophytes there was a good deal of fondness for Europeans and Americans, and no hatred or rancor was observed; there was no inclination to learn to read or write, but they could learn readily; the virtues of compassion, charity, and generosity were noticed especially in the women; there was much affection between man and wife, the parents loved their children, and suffered want themselves rather than let their children feel it; they trained their children and exhorted, reproved or punished them for doing a wrong, but this was not common to all of them. On the other hand, they were little trustworthy in their dealings and words; they were inclined to tell lies, for they dreaded chastisement; the dominant vices were impurity, stealing and murder. They were much inclined to pride and rancor; the men persecuted one another to death out of jealousy or for some other grievances; the women, when they were angered at their men, revenged themselves by committing suicide. The Indians had an idea of eternity, or reward and punishment, of a final judgment, or purgatory, hell and heaven, for some lived continent, others confessed during the year, many at Easter time, and at the hour of death all anxiously pleaded for the holy Sacraments. But in the same year, Fr. Pedro Panto died unexpectedly at the mission. It is believed his soup had been poisoned by an Indian cook, though this was never proved.
The year 1812 was an important one in many ways. The United States was at war with England; conditions in Mexico, because of revolution, were extremely unsettled, and help for the missions, presidios and settlements in California began to dwindle. The territory was almost totally neglected. The military began to look to the unhappy missions for survival, demanding food, shoes, clothing and money; and the governor, at one point, instructed the San Diego Mission to send a dozen bottles of its famous wine to the Viceroy, for forwarding as a gift to King Fernando VII. For two hundred years New Spain had been governed for the benefit of Spain and the relatively few persons of Spanish blood who comprised a ruling or owning class. In all the years of Spanish rule only four viceroys had been born in America, and they were sons of Spanish officials. Of 602 captains-general, governors and presidents, only 14 were creoles. The Spanish colonial policy was one of fear and distrust of the colonists, and because of the great distances and difficulties of communication, even of the officials sent to rule over them. Creoles could aspire to little but mining and agriculture and were excluded generally from high office and commercial enterprises. The haughty Spaniards dismissed the native-born Americans as being indolent, fatally fond of extravagant display, and lacking in sustained energy. But the civil war dragged on, despite reverses and betrayals. Little of the details of all this reached San Diego though it seems the officers and the padres, who were mostly of Spanish birth, remained loyal to Spain.
The presidio population grew to 130 males and 117 females, including children but not including 55 soldiers of the 100 scattered throughout the presidial district. In 1813, a few soldiers at the post, including Sgt. José Maria Pico, were accused of plotting or at least desiring a local revolt, and three of them eventually died in prison. At times they seemed more concerned about the Russians, who had moved down the coast and established Fort Ross above Bodega. Bay, north of San Francisco. The Governor, Lt. Col. Pablo Vicente de Solá, of the regular Spanish Army, looked things over in 1817, and made a sad report. He saw no way of dislodging the Russian intruders, without bringing large forces into California; the troops already here were ineffective against an enemy armed with anything more than bows and arrows; the artillerymen were old and disabled; the cannons were defective, and ammunition lacking. He found the San Diego Presidio buildings in a so “fatally ruinous condition” he urged their removal to another site 300 yards farther south, but nothing was done. He warned also that the Anglo-Americans had been acquiring considerable knowledge of the territory and its lack of defenses.
One of the most curious -and for a time, most suspicious -visitors to the coast was Capt. James Smith Wilcocks, on the American ship Traveller, identified in Spanish reports as the Caminante. When his ship was sighted off Monterey, all guns were manned, soldiers marched to battle stations, and Gov. Solá himself donned his uniform and prepared for action. Ordered ashore, Capt. Wilcocks said he merely wanted to engage in trade. He was dressed in black with a swallowtail coat and tall fur hat. Thus there was every indication he was some kind of a spy. However, he managed to establish friendly relations and eventually, in September of 1817, picked up a cargo of grain at San Diego and carried it to Loreto, the first such shipment from this port. At Loreto his ship was seized by a Mexican treasury officer and stripped of valuables. It finally was released.
It remained for Frenchmen, however, to bring about a crisis in California. The revolution against Spain had swept South America, as well as Mexico, and foreign intervention was feared and expected everywhere. The American ship Clarion arrived at Santa Barbara and warned that two insurgent ships were being outfitted at the Hawaiian Islands for raids on the American coast. Gov. Sold sprang into action, if that is what it can be called. In the case of San Diego he ordered all articles of value, such as sacred church vessels and ornaments, taken to Pala; women and children were ordered to be ready to flee inland; all livestock, except horses fit for use, were to be driven inland; spikes where to be prepared in case guns had to be spiked and abandoned; and all able bodied men were to hold themselves in readiness to meet the worst. Neophyte archers were ordered to presidios. Messengers to carry warnings were placed on the alert. Commandant Guerra at Santa Barbara pronounced in a letter that, “Under the protection of the God of battles I believe I can destroy all such villains as may have the rashness to set foot upon this soil.” Well, nothing happened, for a time, and the guard was relaxed. But on the afternoon of Nov. 20, 1818, two vessels appeared off Monterey. They were the Argentina, carrying 38 heavy guns, commanded by Capt. Hippolyte de Bouchard, a Frenchman, and the Santa Rosa, with 26 guns, under a Lt. Peter Corney. They had sailed from Buenos Aires under the flag of another rebellious colony that had declared its independence from Spain, with the avowed purpose of stirring up trouble in California. The crew consisted of 366 men of many nationalities. One of these ships originally was American, and in all probability they were serving as privateers, perhaps financed in part by Americans sympathetic with the colonial rebellions against Spain. Corney himself was an American.
Exactly what happened in the early stages is confusing. After some shots were exchanged, and Bouchard had formally demanded the surrender of California, he put a large force of men ashore, led by Kanakas, or Hawaiians, armed with pikes, and a brief encounter was fought at Monterey, where Gov. Sold had assembled a force of 80 men. As Bouchard’s men numbered into the hundreds, Sold retreated to the present area of Salinas, and waited the arrival of reinforcements from San Francisco and San Jose. With 200 men and a large force of Indians, the Spaniards marched back to Monterey, to find the town in ruins, and some of the buildings still burning, and the raiders and their ships gone.
Lt. Corney in his log reported regarding Monterey:
“It was well stocked with provisions and goods of every description, which we commenced sending on board the Argentina. The Sandwich Islanders, who were quite naked when they landed, were soon dressed in the Spanish fashion; and all the sailors were employed in searching houses for money and breaking and ruining everything.”
They next plundered a ranch at Refugio, between Point Concepci6n and Santa Barbara, where they expected to find considerable wealth accumulated from smuggling, took on wood and water at Santa Cruz Island, and then cast anchor off Santa Barbara on Dec. 6, where some prisoners were exchanged with Spanish forces, to the great anger of Gov. Sold, when he learned of it, and then appeared off San Juan Capistrano on Dec. 14.
Up from San Diego for the defense of San Juan Capistrano came Alf6rez Santiago Argiiello with 30 men. Lt. Corney tells the story:
“The Commodore sent his boat ashore to say, that if they would give us an immediate supply of provisions, we would spare their town; to which they replied we might land if we pleased and they would give us an immediate supply of powder and shot. The Commodore was very much incensed at this answer, and assembled all the officers to know what was best to be done.”
The decision was made to land, pillage and sack the town. “We found it well stocked with everything but money and destroyed much wine and spirits and all the private property … next morning we punished about 20 men for getting drunk.”
Despite his brave talk, Argüello had been unable to oppose the attack with 30 men, but now he was joined by soldiers from Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, under command of José de La Guerra, and a challenge was sent to Bouchard to land and fight. San Diego was made ready. But the ships disappeared. Had Bouchard succeeded in alienating California, it today might be an independent nation.
The soldiers went back to their customary duties. Lt. José Maria Estudillo, acting commandant of the Presidio at San Diego, had his hands full, as Indian runaways from San Diego and San Miguel in Baja California had joined in forays from San Diego to Santa Ana, stealing horses, cattle and mules, and selling them along the Colorado, and attacking ranchos, killing sheepherders and carrying off women.
Nature took a hand in affairs in 1820. The winter was a cold one, and there was considerable suffering. A comet was seen in the north. In January, an earthquake shook San Juan Capistrano. In San Diego, in September, it is said Mission Valley was flooded on a clear day from a cloudburst in the mountains. The last exploratory trip for new southwest mission sites, perhaps in the hope that if the present missions were secularized, new ones could be established in the interior, was undertaken by Frs. Mariano Payeras and José Sánchez in 1821. They went through El Cajon Valley to Santa Ysabel, and from there north by way of Pala and Temecula to San Jacinto and San Bernardino, before turning west to San Gabriel.
Ships came and went. A British whaler, the Discovery, put into port in August of 1820 and Lt. Ruiz, old, tired and suspected of alcoholism, was accused of allowing the ship’s crew to take soundings in the bay. The American ship Eagle met a rebuff, when she arrived in 1821 and requested provisions. As far as the Spaniards were concerned, she was just another smuggler. That the padres were not above a little illicit trading was proved by the experiences of the Eagle. It was the Eagle which brought William Heath Davis, Sr., to California, and now under a new owner and new skipper, Eliab Grimes, she worked the coast out of sight of Spanish warships. The padres of San Luis Rey sent an agent to San Pedro to contact the Eagle and report they were ready to trade. The Eagle anchored off Las Flores Creek, and mission trading goods were brought down to the shore by carretas. Rough water prevented successful landings. The Eagle was forced to return to San Pedro, and the agent came up from San Luis Rey and purchased about a thousand dollars’ worth of goods, mostly church ornaments, when trading was broken off in fear a chance investigator from San Diego might show up at any moment. In the next year, the Eagle attempted to seize a ship at Santa Barbara, in some dispute, and ran aground. The ship and her cargo were confiscated and sold at auction to the padres for $3,000.
The long struggle in Mexico was drawing to a conclusion. Spanish rule came to an end on Sept. 27, 1821. At San Diego, Frs. Martin and Sánchez, on Saturday, April 20, 1822, took the oath of independence from Spain and swore their allegiance to a new government in Mexico. They were required to submit a formal report as to mission lands and possessions. The property of the San Diego Mission, they reported, extended 13 leagues south, or about 40 miles, to El Rosario, in Baja California, east 17 leagues, or about 50 miles, to Santa Ysabel; north seven leagues, or about 20 miles, to Cañada de San Bernardo, or San Dieguito Valley, and was bounded on the west by the Imperial Presidio and settlements. This was a territory of 3000 square miles! The mission had 340 tame horses, seven droves of mares and burros, which with young numbered 504; 200 tame and untame mules, 8600 cattle and 19,000 sheep. There were 1686 Indians at the mission.
The military commanders in California took the oath on April 11 at a junta called at Monterey by Gov. Solá. San Diego forces were represented by Lt. José Maria Estudillo, who served as secretary of the meeting. The outcome of the revolution came like a blow. Fr. José Señán, president of the missions, wrote “May God have mercy on this province which seems at present to live between Scylla and Charybdis.”
At first the military officials of California had refused to believe the reports of the success of the revolution and establishment of a new and independent imperial government. Gov. Solá, in fact, had written that he had received some documents from Mexico but they were “printed in a country of dreamers, since independence is a dream,” and that since he, as well as others, were “aware that the immortal, incomparable Spanish nation has many and great resources with which to make herself respected,” he “must look with contempt on such absurd views.”
Some time was to pass before formal transfer ceremonies took place. Mexico City, distrustful of its province, and knowing the loyalty of the Franciscans to Spain, sent an agent, or comisionado, to California to extract oaths of allegiance and hasten a change in administration.
Chosen for the task was Agustín Fernández de San Vicente, canónigo, or canon, of the Durango Cathedral. He was jovial, pinkcheeked and indiscreet. The San Carlos brought him to Monterey, and sometime in late September or early October, the official ceremony was held, and then the canon started on a tour of provinces to repeat the performance. He mixed business with pleasure, being entertained en route with races, bullfights and games of all kinds. When it was learned he was approaching San Diego, it was suggested that he be given $2000 and a deck of cards. The point was well taken; official duties didn’t interfere with his card playing there, and he wound up in a bitter dispute with Santiago Argüello over his gambling debts. Sometime between September and January, a formal ceremony also was held at San Diego.
When the hour came, and on the same day that the padres took a new oath of allegiance, the soldiers of the Presidio of San Diego lined up, and at the sound of drums and rifle shots, the red and gold flag of Spain, emblazoned with the lion of courage, was dipped and a homemade green, red and white flag of Mexico, with its native eagle, was hoisted aloft to the shouts of the people of “Viua la independencia Mexicana!” There was a flagpole. The ties of Old Spain were further cut the next day when the soldiers were ordered to chop off the queus which had been a mark of the royal forces. They didn’t like it and neither did the women. To old soldiers it was a sad hour. Others saw an opportunity to get rich under a new regime; others saw the opportunity of seeking to avenge past wrongs. A few turned their eyes toward the prosperous missions and their plentiful lands.
Most of the white people in California were descendents of those who had come by way of the Anza trail, and out of them a kind of an aristocracy was beginning to form. The San Blas ships no longer came with regularity, and the Manila galleons, after more than a quarter of a thousand years, had ceased their lonely journeys down the coast and passed San Diego in sailing the Great Circle Route between Manila and Acapulco.
San Diego had been under the Spanish flag for 280 years, since its discovery by Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo in 1542, and now it was all over.
Independence was not to bring any real benefits to most of the people of Mexico. New Spain had been divided between the Indian communities and the haciendas, and the fast-growing class of mixed people, or mestizos, was virtually dispossessed. Independence swept away the royal protection of the Indians and put an end to their special courts and the limits on their debts and labor. In the end the owners of the great haciendas got most of the former Indian lands and became more powerful than before. The mestizos remained as they had been — landless and dissatisfied. The removal of the Viceroy left a power vacuum that brought on another century of disorder and insurrection.
But the mark left by Spain on her long passage through the Western Hemisphere was a deep one. Spain left its language and its culture in a vast area from the United States-Mexican border to the tip of South America, and even in San Diego, the Hispanic influence still is reflected in its architecture, its place names and its way of life. America has been aptly called the step-daughter of Europe.
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