The Explorers, 1492-1774

CHAPTER SIX: Padres Lead the Way

In the more than a century and a half that passed between the visit to San Diego of Sebastian Vizcaino and the arrival of Fr. Junipero Serra in 1769, only the missionaries kept alive the dream of settling California. The Roman Catholic Church came to New Spain with the conquerors, and, when the fever of discovery died away, it remained for the missionaries to push the frontier farther and farther north. For all that has been said against Spain and the cruelty of the conquest, the Crown had the most noble of intentions. New Spain would be a utopia in which new cities could be laid out and rise free of the walled confines and decay of the Old World, and where the Indians could be brought toward civilization as wards of the government. Of course, Spain had an eye to the practical side. There weren’t enough Spaniards to colonize such vast territories, and Indian labor was necessary for the production of raw materials in the economy planned by Spain. And, incidentally, by keeping the Indians as wards or vassals of the Crown, the King hoped to prevent the rise of a new and always jealous feudal nobility like that which it had cost so much to destroy at home.

The encomienda system, by which the conquistadores such as Cabrillo bound Indians to the land, was abolished. After 1549, trusteeships of land no longer included the right to Indian labor and, in 1561, the Royal Audiencia of Mexico heard the last cases of slaves to be set free. The Indians of New Spain were to form a society of peasants. They were to pay tribute; were not to wear Spanish clothes but their native costumes; were not to own or use horses and saddles, or bear arms; and though they had legal rights that could be exercised through special Indian courts, they were not to have any real political representation.

The Indians were to be forced to live in small towns built around a square, as most of them do to this day, and the square was to be dominated by the Church and the City Hall as symbols of religious and secular power. Their daily life was to be regulated by the toning of the church bells and the orders of Spanish officials.

Noble intentions were not enough, as it proved, and the dream of a utopia slowly faded under the pressure of harsh realities and the decline of Spanish authority and prestige throughout the world. All that was accomplished was to destroy the fabric of Indian life. Thus Mexico developed along two lines: the small, poor isolated Indian communities; and the commercial establishments represented by the sprawling haciendas of landed proprietors who, for all practical purposes, became self -made nobles, aristocrats on horseback, commanding thousands of laborers and large private armies.

The Indians who went into their service, to exchange work for goods, were bound to the hacienda through debt as effectively as under the old encomienda system. The result was catastrophic. Between 1519 and 1650, the majority of the Indian populations of Southern Mexico and Central America was wiped out, largely by disease, which the natives had as little hope of resisting as they had of improving their way of living.

In all this immense tragedy, the Indian had only one thing to which he could cling – religion. The Catholic Church did try to bridge the overwhelming gap between the Old World and the New; the missionaries who were in the forefront of the settlement of New Spain were just as interested in the present as the hereafter. The Church has been criticized for the magnificent and costly cathedrals built over so much of Mexico, in view of the poverty and degradation of their subjects, but the spirit of the Renaissance in Europe prevailed: the more beautiful the church, the greater its glory to God – and the Church was all the Indian had.

In what Spain hoped to accomplish, the missionaries were to be the shock troops, the spearheads for the advance of civilization and Christianity, and from the first they concerned themselves with the conditions of the Indians. As a result of the Catholic Reformation in Europe, the missionary orders were spreading around the world. Men from many countries were leaving safe and often luxurious existences to don the robes of humility and to dedicate their lives to service and poverty.

The missionary work in the outer frontiers of New Spain was conducted primarily by the Franciscans, Jesuits and Dominicans, though there also were the Carmelites and Augustinians. Fr. Ascension, who accompanied Vizcaino, was a Carmelite. They served as agents of both the Church and the State, and as explorers and diplomats. The Franciscans were the most important to California. The first group of them arrived in Mexico in 1522. A papal bull gave them extraordinary powers to administer sacraments, to give absolution for excommunication, to confirm, to consecrate churches, and to provide ministers. They were to have no interference.

The order was founded in Italy in the 13th Century by Francis of Assisi and was called the “Order of Little Brothers,” or Friars Minor (O.F.M.), grey friars, or brown robes. They were recruited mostly from the humble classes and uncloistered mendicant labor, and gradually spread over all of Europe, Palestine, North Africa, Persia, India, and parts of eastern Russia.

The Dominicans or Black Friars, called the Order of Preachers of the Preaching Brothers, had a part in the last phases of mission building in Baja California. This order was founded in the 13th Century and, while dedicated to scholarship as well as to preaching, was similar in many ways to the Franciscan: each had begging friars, a second order for women, and a third for the laity.

While the Franciscans sought conversion by the practice of untutored simplicity and a life of absolute poverty, the Dominicans sought to overcome ignorance and error through the training of minds. While the Dominicans concerned themselves more with humanitarian legislation for protection of the Indians, the Franciscans, armed with nothing more than faith, good will and energy, proved to be more practical workers in the Christian vineyard, and won the respect and love of the Indians wherever they went.

The Jesuits were the settlers of Baja California and for a time were so powerful that they became victims of jealous rivals and royal intrigue, and were expelled from all of New Spain. The Society of Jesus – Jesuits or Black Robes – was founded by Ignatius Loyola, a Basque of noble birth, who lived from 1491 to 1556. Unlike the Franciscans and Dominicans, which were mendicant orders, the first followers were university men of some of the best families of Europe and were required to be well grounded in philosophy and theology. They were organized along military lines and, as Soldiers of God, carried on the Catholic fight against Protestantism over a great part of the world. More than a thousand of them were to be sacrificed or tortured.

The first Jesuits arrived in Mexico in 1572 and soon established a college in Mexico City. This was followed by five more in other cities. Eventually the Jesuits were to establish colleges exclusively for Indians.

Some shining figures of western history emerge from the mission period. From the very beginning the fathers championed the cause of the natives and protested against their inhumane treatment.

A Dominican, Antonio de Montesinos, who was in the first group of Dominicans to reach the Spanish possessions in the Caribbean in 1511, preached to the settlers in no uncertain terms: “You are in mortal sin … for the cruelty and tyranny you use in dealing with these innocent people … Tell me by what right or justice do you keep these Indians in such cruel or horrible servitude? … Are these not men? … Have they not rational souls? … Be certain that, in such a state as this, you can no more be saved than the Moors or Turks.” Unfortunately, for this and other like outbursts, he was recalled to Spain. One of the colonists he denounced was Bartolome de Las Casas, the historian, who later himself became a Dominican, and fought the cause of the Indians for the rest of his life, earning the title of “Protector of the Indians.”

One of the earliest of the Franciscans in Mexico, Toribio de Motolinia, a friend of Hernan Cortes, wrote bitterly of the conditions he found at the mines in which the Indians were forced to work: “It is hardly possible to walk except over dead men or bones, and so great were the numbers of birds and buzzards that came to eat the bodies of the dead that they cast a huge shadow over the sun.”

The first Franciscan Bishop of Mexico, Juan de Zumarraga, who arrived in 1528 at the age of sixty, was repelled by the abuses of the encomienda system and the distress rising from disputes among the leaders of New Spain. Fearing that he could not get a message openly to the Crown, he concealed a letter in a ball of wax which a sailor placed in a barrel of oil and later delivered to the king. The Bishop wrote to the King: “If it is true that your Majesty gave such a license, for the reverence of God, do very great penance for it.

The letter had the desired result: Nuno de Guzman, president of the ruling Audiencia, was banished and a new Audiencia established.

All of the missionaries were not strong men, of course, and many of them at times were unnecessarily harsh in their handling of the Indians, but they were willing to die for their work and their belief, and many did. It is also true that the first missionaries to arrive in the New World, through religious zeal to wipe out heathen practices and false idols, destroyed much of the literature that could have told us more about the pre-conquest civilizations. When the mistakes were realized, the Church tried to atone for the wrongs of their “soldiers,” and the friars were in the forefront of efforts to preserve the art, literature and folklore of the Indian nations.

In the march northward the Franciscans proceeded up north eastern Mexico, and into New Mexico, Texas and Florida, while the Jesuits went up through northwestern Mexico, into Sinaloa, Sonora, Chihuahua, Arizona and finally into Baja California. Though partially financed from the royal treasury, the missions were expected to become self-sufficient and many of them actually became rich establishments through stock raising and farming. Ideally, after ten years, the missions were supposed to be turned over to the parish clergy and the mission lands distributed among the Indians. This was not practical, especially in the north, where the Indians were less developed and not readily adaptable to a settled life of cultivation and discipline. Besides, the land grabbers were always waiting to seize the best lands whenever the mission hold was relaxed. The missionaries at first hoped to teach the Indians in their own native tongues, but, as there was such a bewildering variety of languages and dialects, they resorted to the teaching of Spanish, and thus it became the spoken word of a vast area from Southern United States to the tip of South America.

The necessity of settling Baja California long had been recognized, as the finding of suitable ports of refuge for the Manila galleons was a continuing problem. It was a forbidding challenge. The Jesuit Johann Jakob Baegert wrote that California “from top to bottom and from coast to coast is nothing else than a thorny heap of stones or a pathless, waterless rock arising between two oceans.”

The Jesuits advancing up the Pacific Coast failed in their first attempts to colonize Baja California. Prominent in this effort was Fr. Eusebio Francisco Kino, one of the most brilliant and courageous figures of a harsh and forbidding frontier where only absolute faith in God and self could sustain men in their hardships. Fr. Kino, a distinguished mathematician, was born in Segno in the Italian Tyrol about 1645, and trained in Germany. Although he had hoped to go to the China mission field, he was assigned to Baja California along with Don Isidro Atondo y Antillon, with the official appointment of royal cosmographer. He was only to remain a year. After a colony was established at La Paz in 1683, the Spaniards had considerable trouble with the Indians and were forced to withdraw to Sinaloa. They tried again the same year with another settlement at San Bruno, just north of Loreto, among Indians of higher type, and met with some temporary success, Fr. Kino reporting he had baptized four hundred Indians. Ever restless and with an inquiring mind, Fr. Kino was the first white man to cross from the Gulf side to the Pacific. When he returned to San Bruno he found many persons ill, for the location was an unhealthy one. In 1685, a decision had to be made to abandon the mission.

His plea for continuing the founding of missions on Baja was rejected, and he sorrowfully wrote of the Indians they were leaving behind without the possibility of solution:

“Everybody was very much grieved to see such gentle, affable, peaceful, extremely friendly, loving and lovable natives left deserted. Already many of them were begging for holy baptism … and they confessed that it was not easy to find another heathendom so free as these people from the ugliest vices, such as drunkenness and homicide.”

Fr. Kino went to northern Sonora and southern Arizona, to the country known to the Spanish as Pimeria Alta, or upper Pima Land, as an explorer, colonizer and rancher. In the next 24 years this lone, zealous, resourceful and imaginative figure was to push the frontier back to the Gila and Colorado Rivers. He founded many missions, personally baptized 5,000 Indians, imported cattle, horses and sheep, and distributed them, as well as seeds, to the Indians, and founded cattle ranches that exist to this day.

He made more than fifty long journeys by horseback, often with no soldiers and accompanied only by Indians, and in 1701 and 1702 made two explorations down the Colorado River, the second one to the head of the Gulf. His telescope provided the final proof that Baja California was indeed a peninsula and not an island. His maps of Pimeria Alta remained the basis for maps of the region until the 19th Century.

On one of the explorations that eventually proved Baja California to be a peninsula, Fr. Kino was accompanied by Fr. Juan Maria Salvatierra, born in Milan of a noble family, but half Spanish. Kino and Salvatierra started from the Mission Dolores on the Altar River in Sonora, crossing the heart of the desert to the shores of the Gulf, one of the toughest explorations in American history, in their continuing search for a land route to Baja California. Salvatierra describes it as follows:

“It was horrible country, which looked more like ashes than earth, peppered with boulders and … entirely black, all of which formed figures, because the lava which flows down, solidifies, stops and assumes shapes . . . Indeed, I do not know that there can be any place which better represents the condition of the world in the general conflagration. And it caused still greater horror to discover that eight leagues from here stretches a great cordillera, a range of mountains, which seemed likewise of volcanic ash.”

Arriving at the Gulf, they saw that there was no waterway leading west to separate California from the mainland. Salvatierra says: “We distinctly and with great clarity saw California and the cordilleras.” They could see that the mountains on either side of the Gulf curved towards each other, but nearer hills closed the view to the northwest, so that their conclusion that the two masses joined could not be certain from where they stood, though it appeared that the land was closed. Turning back, they ascended a small peak, and Kino noted: “The sun set and from the peak we saw with all clarity the sea below, toward the south, and the place on the beach to which we descended. We saw the half arch of California whose end had been concealed from us by the spur of the mountains kept getting constantly closer together and joining the other hills and peaks of New Spain.” The next year Kino confirmed these findings with his expedition to the Gila junction of the Colorado River and down the Colorado.

Fr. Kino died in 1711. He had gone to Mission Santa Magdalena, about twelve miles west of his headquarters at Mission Dolores, to participate in ceremonies dedicating a new chapel to his patron saint, San Francisco Xavier. During the ceremonies he was taken ill and died shortly. The bed on which he died was the same as he used in his lifetime: two calfskins for a mattress, two Indian blankets, and a pack saddle for a pillow. The final tribute to him was fitting though full of inaccuracies, and read:

“Padre Eusebius Franco. Kino – On the fifteenth of March, a little after midnight, Father Eusebio Francisco Kino died with great peace and edification in this house and pueblo of Santa Magdalena at the age of seventy years, having been for nearly twenty-four years missionary of Nuestra Senora de los Dolores, which he himself founded. He worked tirelessly in continuous peregrinations and in the reduction (conversion) of all this Pimeria. He discovered the Casa Grande, the rivers Jila and Colorado, the Cocomaricopa and Suma nations, and the Quicimaspa of the Island. And now, resting in the Lord, he is buried in a coffin in this chapel of San Francisco Xavier on the Gospel side where fall the second and third choir seats. He was German by nationality and of the province to which Bavaria belongs, before he entered the Pimeria having been missionary and cosmographer in California, in the time of Admiral Don Ysidro de Atonda.”

(signed) Agustin de Campos

Fathers Kino and Salvatierra had never lagged in their intensive promotion of the plan to Christianize Baja California. In 1697 their labors were rewarded when the Spanish government turned over that missionary field to the Jesuits. Because of the long history of failure to colonize there, Spain expected the Jesuits to be self supporting. With the aid of Father Juan de Ugarte, who became its treasurer, the famous Pious Fund was raised from the gifts of devoted Christians in both Old and New Spain. The fathers were given complete authority; even the military must bow to their decisions. Father Salvatierra was appointed superior, and arrived at Loreto in October, 1697, with three Christian Indians, a handful of soldiers and sailors, and the leader of the military, Captain Romero. Shortly Father Picolo joined them. The march northward along the Pacific coast by friars and soldiers had begun.

A look at the map shows a chain of seventeen Jesuit missions, beginning near Cape San Lucas and stretching north almost to 300 N. Latitude. It was the achievement of seventy-two years. In the beginning the Jesuits’ main purpose was to Christianize the Indians. Then the Spanish government asked them to locate suitable ports of refuge for the Manila galleon. Consequently the Jesuits were not only religious pioneers but explorers as well. They were to open the way to San Diego.

The mother mission at Loreto was founded in the first year and remained the capitol and base of the only presidio until 1736, when a second was established at La Paz, later to become the capital of the peninsula. To Loreto came the supply ships, battling the dreaded Gulf storms. Many of them were lost in the early years, and the Jesuits came close to starvation. But somehow they hung on. Loreto was their base, and its church their spiritual center. The original mission endured until 1830. The present church structure dates from the year 1752.

To Loreto came more and more fathers from many countries of Europe, as the work expanded west over the steep ridges of La Giganta. The usual procedure in founding a mission was to find a suitable site with water and pasturage. Trails had to be hacked out for mule trains bringing supplies from the mother mission. Then Indians were gathered and with their help buildings erected and crops sown. Ingenious systems of irrigation were devised. But on Baja California there was always a struggle with the elements. Drought caused springs to dry up and crops to wither; because of it many a mission had to move its site. Torrential rains brought floods to wash away the hard-won fields; winds of hurricane force knocked down the first crude buildings. If the weather proved kind, along came swarms of locusts to strip the green leaves from every growing thing. After years of struggle, however, the fathers could point proudly to orchards, patches of vegetables and melons, date palms – some of which still survive – fields of grain, sugar-cane and cotton, flocks of cattle, sheep, horses and mules. Over the rough trails the fathers went forth to found new missions north and south.

First they established a group of central missions, some of which were to endure the longest. This group included San Javier (1699), Mulege (1705), Comandu (1708), and Purisima (1720). Others founded early proved impractical to maintain and were early abandoned. The churches at San Javier and Mulege still stand and are used by worshippers today. The Cochimi Indians of the region still remembered Father Kino, welcomed the fathers, and, aside from a few malcontents who occasionally stirred up trouble, were on the whole friendly and amenable to the teachings of the Church.

The tribes in the southern part of the peninsula presented a tougher problem. The Guaicures were a degraded type, quarrelsome and revolting in their habits. They still remembered the white men who had tried to settle at La Paz, from the time of Cortes to Atondo. They remembered, distrusted, hated, and determined to resist. Their numbers were augmented by half -breeds and deserters from the crews of free-booting vessels and galleons. The Jesuits were determined to get a foot-hold here. They discovered San Bernabe Bay, the long-sought harbor of refuge, where the Manila galleon could put in for fresh water, green vegetables, and fruit for its scurvy-ridden crew before the last lap to Acapulco. Four missions were founded in the region: La Paz (1720), Santiago (1721) near Las Palmas Bay, San Jose del Cabo (1730) near San Bernabe Bay, and Todos Santos (1733), which later moved, from the east coast to the west near the Pacific. Then in 1735 came a great Indian uprising in which all four missions were wiped out, two fathers murdered, and many Christian neophytes slain by their pagan brothers. The crew of the Manila galleon, which had put in to get supplies from Del Cabo, narrowly escaped with their lives. The news traveled slowly and when military help came it proved ineffective. The La Paz mission was rebuilt, but abandoned in the next year. A permanent garrison was stationed there. Later Missions Santiago and Todos Santos were rebuilt, and the neophytes concentrated there. But the region remained a boiling pot of trouble and treachery for many years.

Meanwhile the missionaries were exploring west and north. The fathers searched the Pacific coast south for suitable harbors for the galleons, since after the uprising San Bernabe was no longer a safe haven, and fresh supplies were cut off by the destruction of Mission Del Cabo. Nothing was found suitable, for there was no water in that and waste to supply a mission. Little by little the fathers pressed to the north. Father Taraval, a Jesuit from Lombardy, visited Sebastian Vizcaino Bay, Scammon’s Lagoon, and even paddled a canoe to Cedros Island.

Perhaps the greatest of the pioneers was Father Juan de Ugarte. Little is known of his early life, but he did become a professor of philosophy at the Jesuit Colegio Maximo in Mexico City, where he met Father Salvatierra. As treasurer of the Pious Fund, he helped raise funds for the first mission at Loreto and went there himself in 1701. Eventually he went to the mission of San Javier. It was a difficult and troublesome assignment, the Indians trying his patience and charity with their ridicule of his language mistakes and their reluctance to adapt themselves to a more domesticated life. But he won their confidence slowly and surely by administering punishment as he felt it necessary, and by his physical prowess. He was a giant of a man and awed the Indians by slaying mountain lions, an act forbidden them by their superstition.

A contemporary wrote of him:

“I cannot think of this without being moved to compassion and without recognizing the power of God, the sight of a gentleman, raised amid comforts of a wealthy home, now reduced to a tedious and burdensome life, and buried in obscure and remote solitude, a man of letters and highly esteemed in the schools and pulpits of Mexico, a man of sublime genius, voluntarily condemned to associate for thirty years with stupid savages.”

Father Ugarte became the superior of the missions in Baja California after Father Salvatierra’s death and founded the first school for Indian boys and girls, and a hospital for the sick. All this was in addition to the regular work of preaching, teaching, baptizing, and hearing confessions. His work really marked the beginning of the mission system to be developed so much in future years in both Lower and Upper California.

He found time to do much exploration in the Gulf, even building a ship with his own hands and the help of the natives. His boundless energy gave him no rest, although he was constantly suffering from an asthmatic cough and fever in the last years of his life. When urged to retire, he said: “Rest and quiet make me suffer more, and from this you may judge that travel and labor is for me a relief.”

He literally wore himself out in his intense devotion to his missions, and was the actual savior of the whole Baja California project when the discouraged Father Salvatierra had wanted to give up. No man was ever more loved and respected by the Indians of California. He died at San Javier in 1730, at the age of 69.

In 1737, a mission was founded between the central and southern groups, San Luis Gonzaga, located in an oasis forty miles east of Magdalena Bay. To it as missionary came that remarkable Alsatian, Father Baegert, who labored there in solitude for fifteen years. He has left a valuable record of his life on Baja California in a book which is today still popular in translation, and which gives a careful description of the terrain and natives.

As the missionaries pushed their way north, they found great Indian populations to Christianize. Already the older foundations were in a decline because of the inroads of diseases brought by white men. Against them the Indian had little resistance. Mission Guadalupe del Sur was founded in 1720, northwest of Mulege. Then came San Gertrudis in 1752, which was founded by a Croatian Jesuit, Father Consag, another ardent explorer. He too ascended the Gulf, confirming the findings of Alarcon, Fathers Kino and Ugarte that California was a peninsula and not an island. He left a map to prove it. On this expedition, to the north of the Salsipuedes Islands so dreaded by mariners, he discovered Los Angeles Bay, which he recommended as a base for supply ships from Sonora.

Father Consag ascended the Pacific coast by land beyond the point reached by Father Taraval. On a sandy point he found the shore littered with Chinese tiles and porcelain from a wrecked galleon. In his diary he speaks of the cold fog there as “the sad mantle of the sea.”

Time was running out for the Jesuits, but still they moved north. In 1762, Mission San Francisco de Borja was founded with funds donated by a member of the famous Borja family. It was located twenty miles east of Sebastian Vizcaino Bay. There labored the last great exploring Jesuit, Father Link. His most important expedition was to the northeast in an effort to find a mission site near the Colorado River, which was thought to be much closer than it actually was. The plan was to connect the Baja California missions with those of Sonora and Arizona. But Link’s progress was barred by the Sierra Pedro San Martir, and he had to turn back. It was he who discovered the site of San Fernando Mission, to be founded later by Father Serra. No Jesuit got farther north than Father Link.

Only one more mission was founded by the Jesuits: Santa Maria (1766), to the south of Sierra San Pedro Martir. Originally situated at Calamajue, where ruins still remain, it was moved because of bad water to a point fifteen miles from San Luis Gonzaga Bay.

Suddenly came the end with the expulsion of the Jesuits, which was to set the stage for the settlement of San Diego and the opening of Alta California after all these years. The decision for the expulsion from New Spain was reached in secrecy. Sealed instructions opened by the Viceroy of Mexico on June 24, 1767, called for the arrest of all Jesuits in colleges and missions and for their removal to Veracruz for deportation. The job of expelling them from Baja was given to Don Gaspar de Portola, the newly appointed governor of California.

The expulsion from Baja California was a time of deep sadness. The Jesuits – five Spaniards, five Germans, three Austrians, two Mexicans, and one Bohemian – gathered at Loreto for their departure on February 3, 1768. Behind them they left their life work and twenty of their fellow Jesuits who had died and been buried in the hard land.

Father Baegert, who described Baja California so grimly, wrote that at San Javier, on the last journey to Loreto,

“After we had celebrated High Mass on the Day of the Purification of St. Mary, such general crying and pitiful lamenting arose among all the natives present that 1, too, was moved to tears and could not restrain myself from weeping all the way to Loreto. Even now, while I am writing this, tears enter my eyes.”

As the Fathers were carried to the waiting ship by Indians chanting the Litany of Loreto, even Portola wept.

The Jesuits were also expelled by Portugal and her colonies in 1759, and by France in 1764. The Society of Jesus was dissolved in 1773 and restored in 1814. While there was great opposition to its members, no open accusations were made, and no trials held. Many resented the name of their society and its appropriation of the name of Jesus, the individualism and independence of its members, who, they claimed, meddled in politics and concealed vast wealth in the distant Baja California missions. Obviously their critics had never visited that barren land, which boasted but one small mine at Santa Ana in the south, with very little take. The Jesuit fathers had toiled for seventy-two years to convert ignorant natives, battling against heat, disease, discouragement, and loneliness. Any treasure they had was of heaven, not earth.

Today little physical evidence of their work remains: a few orchards, a few stone churches, and widely scattered ruins.

The mission fields of Sonora, Arizona, and Baja California were to be turned over to the Franciscans. In 1768, they took over fourteen Jesuit missions in Baja California, of which they were to transfer all but one to the Dominicans in 1774. Later the Dominicans were to extend the Baja California mission chain to La Frontera, the territory north of San Fernando. They founded seven missions between 1774 and 1797, and two more in the 19th Century. This chain stretched to within fifty-five miles of San Diego. All but two were near the coast on the best route to San Diego, which had been laid out by the Franciscans, and was known as the Pacific Trail.

Each of the Dominican missions lasted roughly for fifty years, unless first destroyed by the natives. Their importance diminished as the number of natives dwindled under the impact of disease and a changed way of life. By 1830 the old Jesuit missions were discontinued by decree, until only San Fernando and six to the north were in operation. The last padre in La Frontera missions quit in 1849, after which time all mission sites were sold or granted to individuals.

But at the time of the expulsion of the Jesuits, the missions were the only signs of civilization in an inhospitable land. The Franciscans from San Fernando College in Mexico City, sent to take them over, were to carry out a plan still unrevealed to them but already set in motion: to establish the first missions in Alta California at San Diego and Monterey. Father Junipero Serra was selected as their leader.