The Journal of San Diego History
March 1965, Volume 11, Number 2
Ray Brandes, Managing Editor

By John T. Doyle

ALTHOUGH the peninsula of Lower California was discovered as early as 1534, and many attempts were made to colonize it, it remained wholly unoccupied by Spain down to 1697. In February of that year two Jesuit fathers, Juan Maria Salvatierra and Francisco Eusebio Kino, asked permission to attempt the spiritual conquest of the country, which was granted on condition that the king should not be called on for any part of the expense involved, and that possession should be taken distinctly in the name of the Spanish crown. Armed with this authority and the sanction of their superiors in the order, the two missionaries set about collecting funds for their undertaking, and in a short time succeeded in obtaining sufficient means to commence it. These funds, subscribed by charitable individuals, whose names and contributions the gratitude of the fathers has preserved for us to this day, increased, in progress of time, to an aggregate of sufficient importance to find frequent mention in Mexican legislation and history, under the name of the “Pious Fund of the Californias.” It constituted afterwards the endowment and support of the Missions on all the west coast of the continent as far north as claimed by Spain, the whole of which was called by the general name of the Californias.

The thirteen Missions founded by the Jesuits in Lower California extended from Cape San Lucas, at the extremity of the peninsula, northwards. Details regarding them are deemed out of place here: they were in a flourishing condition at the time of the expulsion of the order in 1768, and the establishments remain to the present day; ruined indeed and deserted by the population that once clustered round them, but attesting still the pious zeal of their founders.

In 1767 the Spanish monarch, by a “pragmatic sanction,” directed that the Society of Jesus should be expelled from his dominions. With a refinement of cruelty this decree was directed to be put into force in every part of the kingdom at the same instant. At a given hour of the night, long after the inmates were in profound sleep, a train of vehicles was drawn up at the door of every Jesuit college, novitiate, or other establishment of any kind, and the porter was roused from sleep and directed, in the name of the king, to summon all the members of the community to instant assembly in the chapel or refectory. Hastily putting on their garments, the members obeyed the summons, bewildered to conjecture its cause. The roll was called, the laggards, if there were any, were brought in, and the assembled members were then informed that his Majesty had been pleased to banish them forever from his dominions. Carriages were awaiting them below, and relays of animals were provided for their transportation to the nearest seaport, where vessels were prepared to convey them abroad. A few moments only were allowed to them to snatch their breviaries, beads, prayerbooks, and necessary clothing, and within an hour after the first knock at the door of the establishment the whole body of inmates was in motion towards the coast, where they were with equal suddenness and despatch shipped off to Rome. During their journey to the point of embarkation no intercourse was allowed either with friends or with persons casually met on the road. They vanished from Spain, and from all the European possessions of Spain, as silently and as rapidly as a morning mist.

It was not possible to enforce this barbarous decree with the same cruel precision in California. The place was too remote, and its resources inadequate. It was necessary to supply the Missions with other missionaries, else the Indians, who had been with so much trouble and effort reduced to habits of civilization, would infallibly have relapsed again into savagery and paganism, and the whole work of conquest would have to be recommenced. Thus the necessities of the situation somewhat modified the cruelty of the proceedings in California. The missionaries were assembled in La Paz in February, 1768, and amid the tears and lamentations of their Indian flocks, who, from every Mission in the peninsula, sent delegations to accompany their spiritual fathers, they finally embarked, and, after a toilsome pilgrimage across Mexico, finally took ship at Vera Cruz on the 13th of April. From the magnitude. of the Pious Fund the hungry politicians, who hoped to profit by their expulsion, looked for large amounts of money from the plunder of the California Missions. The total of all sums found at them proved less than a hundred dollars.

Arrangements had been made by the viceroy by which Franciscan friars, drawn from the convent of San Fernando de Zacatecas, took the place of the expelled Jesuits in the several Missions; and adopting the rules and practices of their predecessors they gradually slid into the confidence of the simple-hearted natives, and carried on the work as it had been commenced.

At this time the Marquis de Croix was Viceroy of New Spain, and José de Galvez was sent over from the mother country as Visitador General, armed with extraordinary powers. Apprehensions of an attempt by the English to enlarge their possessions in America and to obtain a foothold on the Pacific made it appear unsafe to permit the northwest coast to remain longer unoccupied, and Galvez determined to colonize it on a large scale. He was a man of immense zeal and untiring industry, well chosen for an occasion requiring energetic action. Fortunately he met with an ecclesiastic to second his movements who possessed the same qualities in as high a degree, perhaps in a higher, and who joined to them a humble piety, a zealous devotion to duty, and a self-abnegation even more remarkable. This was Father Junipero Serra, president of the Missions.

Father Michael Joseph Serra was born in the island of Majorca, in the year 1713. After pursuing his studies in the Lullian University there he evinced a preference for a religious life, and was admitted to the order of St. Francis, taking instead of his baptismal names that of Junipero, by which only he is known in history. The Franciscans and Dominicans were, about that period, extending their Missions among the Indians of America in rivalry with the Jesuits, and Father Serra with three of his fellow-members became inflamed with the desire to take part in these pious enterprises. The other associates were Fathers Rafael Verger, Francisco Palen, and Juan Crespi. They obtained permission to join a body of missionaries which in 1749 was assembled at Cadiz to embark for the New World, and after a ninety-nine days’ voyage they landed in Vera Cruz. Palou has left us a quaint history of their journey, which in these days of rapid transit is rather amusing. The voyage from Majorca to Malaga was made in a small English coaster, the captain of which [says he] was a stubborn cross-grained heretic, of a disposition so aggravating that, during the fifteen days our passage to Malaga lasted, he gave us not a minute’s peace. We scarce had time to read our office, from his everlasting and persistent craving to dispute about religion and wrangle over doctrinal points. He understood no language save English and a mere smattering of Portuguese, and in the latter he conducted his disputations. With the English version of the Bible in his hand he would read a text of the Holy Scripture and proceed to interpret it according to his own ideas. But our Father Junipero was so well versed in dogmatic theology and so familiar with the Holy Scriptures that he would at once point out the error and misinterpretation, and frequently refer to another text in confirmation. The captain would thereupon rummage his greasy old Bible, and when he could find no other escape would declare that the leaf was torn and he couldn’t find the verse he wanted.

The captain, as Father Palou states, remained “doggedly perverse” till the last, and in fact the disputes waxed so hot at times that he more than once threatened to throw the missionaries overboard, and on one occasion clapped a dagger at Father Serra’s throat, threatening his life. It is not surprising that the missionaries rejoiced at again reaching terra firma after fifteen days of tossing in a Mediterranean vessel and enjoying from the officers these social amenities.

After many years’ successful missionary efforts in the Sierra Gorda, Father Serra was selected to take principal charge of the Missions of California, now confided to the Franciscans, and he arrived at the port of Loreto with fifteen associates on the 2d of April, 1768. After having made the necessary dispositions for occupying the various establishments of the peninsula — a task which occupied many months, as they extended over a territory seven hundred miles in length — he was ready to coöperate with Galvez in the subjection of Upper California to the practical dominion of the crown of Spain and the Christian religion. Two expeditions were organized for the purpose, one by sea and the other by land. The latter was formed into two detachments, which, after a toilsome march from San Fernando de Vellicata, on the Indian frontier of Lower California, were, on the 1st of July, 1769, reunited at the bay of San Diego, where the schooners San Carlos and San Antonio, which bad come up the coast to meet them, were also safely anchored. San Diego was a place of which at that time nothing more was known than that there was an excellent harbor, which had been visited by Sebastian Vizcayno in his voyage of 160l-2. This journey to San Diego occupied ninety-three days, during which Father Serra suffered excruciatingly from an injury to one of his legs, so that at times he could neither walk nor ride.

The first Mission of Upper California was founded at San Diego, and before the lapse of a fortnight a second expedition was organized, under Don Gaspar de Portola, which was directed to proceed up the coast as far as Monterey and to found a Mission there. Monterey was also a place made known to Spanish geographers by Vizcayno’s voyage of 1602, in his report of which he had described it in glowing terms as a magnificent harbor, fit to shelter the navies of the world. Fathers Juan Crespi and Francisco Gomez were the chaplains of this expedition, which was also to have the cooperation of the two schooners, which were directed to the same destination.

How this land expedition toiled up the coast from San Diego, of its “moving accidents by flood and field, of hairbreadth ‘scapes, …. of antres vast and deserts idle, rough quarries, rocks and hills,” of how in its search for Monterey it stumbled on the bay of San Francisco and first made known to civilized man the garden of the present State of California, I have related elsewhere and will not here repeat. Suffice it to say, that having penetrated as far up the coast and over the Coast Range as to look down from the crest over what is now Searsville on the broad expanse of the Santa Clara Valley, and on the great estuary which its historian described as a ” Mediterranean sea,” the expedition, compelled by the approach of winter, the scarcity of food, and the increasing hostility of the aborigines, turned on the 11th of November to retrace its steps to San Diego.

On again reaching Point Pinos and the supposed place of the bay of Monterey, nearly a fortnight was devoted to a vigorous exploration of the rugged coast in search of the magnificent port described by Vizcayno, but in vain. The locality did not correspond in any degree to the traveler’s glowing description of it. Failing to discover the harbor they were looking for, the leaders concluded it had been either destroyed by some convulsion of nature, or filled with silt, and so obliterated. They erected a large wooden cross at the north and another at the south side of Point Pinos as a memorial of their visit, and for the purpose of attracting the attention of the expedition by sea, which had been despatched to coöperate with them. On the cross erected at the south side was cut the legend: “Dig at the foot of this and you will find a writing”; and at its foot accordingly they buried a brief account of their journey. Its text is set forth in the diary of Father Crespi as follows:

The overland expedition which left San Diego on the 14th of July, 1769, under the command of Don Gaspar de Portola, Governor of California, reached the channel of Santa Barbara on the 9th of August and passed Point Concepcion on the 27th of the same month. It arrived at the Sierra de Santa Lucia on the 13th of September, entered that range of mountains on the 17th of the same month, and emerged from it on the 1st of October. On the same day caught sight of Point Pinos and the harbors on its north and south sides without discovering any indications or landmarks of the bay of Monterey. Determined to push on farther in search of it, and on the 30th of October got sight of Point Reyes and the Farallones at the bay of San Francisco,footnote l which are seven in number. The expedition strove to teach Point Reyes, but was hindered by an immense arm of the sea, which, extending to a great distance inland, compelled it to make an enormous circuit for that purpose. In consequence of this and other difficulties, the greatest of all being the absolute want of food, the expedition was compelled to turn back, believing that it must have passed the harbor of Monterey without discovering it. 

Started on return from the estuary of San Francisco on the 11th of November, passed Point Año Nuevo on the 19th, and reached this point and harbor of Pinos on the 27th of the same month. From that date until the present, 9th of December, we have used every effort to find the bay of Monterey, searching the coast thoroughly notwithstanding its ruggedness, but in vain. At last undeceived, and despairing of finding it after so many efforts, sufferings, and labors, and having left of all our provisions but fourteen small sacks of flour, we leave this place to-day for San Diego. I beg of Almighty God to guide it, and for you, traveler, who may read this, that he may guide you to the harbor of eternal salvation.

Done in this harbor of Pinos, the 9th of December, 1769.

NOTE. — That Don Michael Constanzo, the engineer, observed the latitude of various places on the coast, and the same are as follows.

Here follow the latitudes of various points, after which the letter continues:

If the commanders of the schooners, either the San José or the Principe, should reach this place within a few days after this date, on learning the contents of this writing, and the distressed condition of this expedition, we beseech them to follow the coast closely towards San Diego, so that, if we should be happy enough to catch sight of them, we may be able by signals of flags or firearms to apprise them where succor and provisions may reach us.

“Glory be to God,” says the pious chronicler, “the cross was erected on a little hillock, close to the beach of the small harbor on the south side of Point Pinos, and at its foot we buried the letter.”

The cross erected at the north side of the Point bore the simple inscription, cut on its transverse arm with a razor: “The overland expedition from San Diego returned from this place on the 9th of December, 1769, starving.”

Their prayer for succor was in vain; it never reached those to whom it was addressed. The schooners, after beating up the coast as far as the latitude of Monterey, were driven back by adverse winds, and, after months of fruitless effort to make port there, returned to San Diego, arriving just in time to relieve the infant colony from starvation. The land party plodded its weary way down the coast,encountering sickness, suffering, privation, and occasionally death, until on the 21st of January, 1770, its surviving members reached San Diego, whence it had set out six months and twelve days before.

The effort at missionary colonization was not, however, abandoned. In 1770 another expedition moved up the coast, following the track of the first explorers, whose diary was their guide, and founded the Mission of San Carlos on the bay of Monterey, close to which was established the presidio of the same name. The place first selected proved unsuitable for the site of a Mission, and before the close of 1771 the establishment was removed a few miles to the southward and planted on the banks of the Carmel River, overlooking the charming little bay of the same name. This new foundation was called “El Carmelo.” The presidio retained its site and subsequently became the capital city of the department.

Monterey has become in our day a famous watering-place frequented by visitors from the ends of the earth, and the ancient Mission, El Carmelo, now little better than a ruin, continues to attract the attention of travelers from its picturesque site and from the fact that it contains the remains of the venerable men whose pious efforts created the Missions and laid the foundations of civilization in California. There were interred the remains of Fathers Junipero Serra, Juan Crespi, and Rafael Verger.

San Diego and Monterey served to mark the extremes of the first Spanish occupancy; the interval was filled up and the area of missionary conquest gradually extended by other similar establishments. The names of these institutions, founded in rapid succession, are as follows:

1771 — San Gabriel, San Fernando, San Antonio.
1772 — San Luis Obispo.
1776 — San Juan Capistrano, San Francisco de Assisi.
1777 — Santa Clara.
1782 — San Buenaventura.
1786 — Santa Barbara.
1787 — La Purissima.
1791 — La Soledad, and Santa Cruz.
1797 — San Juan Bautista, San Jose, San Miguel.
1798 — San Luis Rey.
1802 — Santa Ynez.

After this missionary efforts seem to have relaxed, but a revival at a later date led to the foundation of San Rafael in 1817, and San Francisco Solano in 1823. Sonoma, at which this last was located, was as far north as the missionaries penetrated.


These Missions were, of course, designed for the instruction of the rude aborigines in the truths of Christianity and in the arts of civilized life. The scheme of life and discipline was devised by the Jesuits, who in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries organized and carried on the most extensive system of missions in every quarter of the heathen and pagan world. India China, Japan, both coasts of Africa: a large part of Central Asia, and both North and South America were the scenes of their indefatigable labors.

The Franciscans, who succeeded the Jesuits in California, followed their system. In order to induce the Indians to abandon their nomadic tribal life, and to exchange their reliance for food on the fruits of the chase and the spontaneous products of the forest for the ways of civilized men, they were at first supplied by the missionaries with food and clothing and afterwards taught to cultivate the earth and support themselves. Timber was felled wherever accessible and transported to a suitable site, where, with unbumed brick and tiles, the Mission church and buildings were erected. The following description of San Luis Rey, condensed from the account of an intelligent traveler who saw it in its palmy days, will convey a fair idea of the establishments of which it was a type.

The Mission building is in the form of a hollow square of about one hundred and fifty yards front, along which a gallery extends. The church forms one of the wings. The edifice, a single story in height, is elevated a few feet above the ground. In the interior is a court adorned with a fountain and planted with trees, on the corridor extending around which open the apartments of the friars and the major-domo as well as those used for workshops, schoolrooms, and storehouses, and the chambers set apart for the accommodation of travelers and guests.

The male and female infirmaries, as well as the schoolrooms, are placed in the most quiet portions of the premises. The young Indian girls occupy a set of apartments secluded from the rest and commonly called the “nunnery,” and they themselves are familiarly styled the “nuns.” They are thus entirely protected from intrusion, and, being placed under the guardianship of staid and trustworthy matrons of their own race, are taught to spin and weave wool, flax, and cotton, and do not leave the nunnery until marriageable.

The Indian children attend the same schools with those of the white colonists, and are educated with them. Those who exhibit the most talent are taught some music, as the plain chant of the church, as well as the violin, flute, horn, violoncello, and other instruments. Such as attain superior proficiency, either as carpenters, smiths, or even agricultural laborers, are made foremen, by the name of alcaldes, and placed in charge of the other workmen.

Two ecclesiastics are stationed at each Mission; the elder is charged with the internal administration and the duty of religious instruction, the younger, with the direction of the agricultural and mechanical labor. The Franciscans assiduously cultivate the study of the Indian dialects, of which they have compiled dictionaries and grammars, some of which are still extant.

Industry is inculcated and encouraged by the constant example of the Fathers, who are always the first to put their hands to the work; and considering the meagerness of their resources, and the absence of European labor, the works they have executed with theaid of unskilled savages, of low intelligence, are marvels of architecture and mechanical skill. These comprise mills, machinery, bridges, roads, and canals for irrigation, besides extensive agricultural labors. For the erection of nearly all the Mission buildings large beams had to be transported from the mountains eight and ten leagues off, and the Indians taught to burn lime, cut stone, make bricks, tiles, etc.

Opposite the Mission building is usually a guard-house forlodging the escort of the priests, consisting of four cavalry soldiers, under command of a sergeant, who act as couriers, carrying correspondence and orders from one Mission to another, besides protecting the Mission from the incursions of hostile Indians.

The following is a summary of the ordinary day’s work at a Mission. At sunrise the bell sounded for the Angelus and the Indians assembled in the chapel, where they attended morning prayers and mass and received a short religious instruction. Then came breakfast, after which, distributed in squads as occasion required, they repaired to their work. At 11 A.M. they ate dinner, and after that rested until 2 P.M.. Work was then resumed, and continued until an hour before sunset, when the bell again tolled for the Angelus. After prayers and the rosary the Indians supped, and then were free to take part in a dance or some such innocent amusement. Their diet consisted of fresh beef or mutton in abundance, with vegetables and tortillas made of flour or com-meal. They made drinks of the same ingredients, which were called atole and pinole respectively. Their dress consisted of a shirt of linen, a pair of pantaloons, and a woolen smock. The alcaldes and head workmen had also cloth clothes like those of the Spaniards; the women received every year two changes of underclothing a smock, and a new gown.

The Indians of California were not the sturdy warlike race of the eastern side of the continent, nor did they possess the intelligence or partial civilization of the natives of the tableland of Mexico. They were originally of low intelligence and brutish habits. Besides what they obtained from fishing and hunting — in which they do not appear to have been specially dexterous — their food consisted largely of acorns, pine nuts, and the like, and their clothing was practically nil. Though neither as subtle nor as fierce as the Iroquois, Algonquins, and Hurons of Canada, with whom Parkman’s brilliant pages have made us familiar, they were not wanting in cunning, treachery, or ferocity, and on more than one occasion the missionaries sealed their faith with their blood — a sacrifice from which, to their honor be it said, the Franciscans never flinched, any more than the followers of Ignatius.

As conversions made progress among the natives, and the young people, instructed from their childhood, came to maturity, they were taught various industries, besides farming. Ordinary smith’s and carpenter’s work they learned to do fairly well; their saddlery was of a superior sort, and is still sought for. As weavers, tailors, and shoemakers they would not perhaps have obtained recognition in Paris, London, or New York, but they made serviceable blankets, serapes, cloth, and shoes, and I have seen creditable specimens of their work in silver. Domestic animals were introduced and they increased with astonishing rapidity, and in the care and management of them the Indians became very dexterous and serviceable — in fact, some of the most skillful horsemen in the world.

Hides, tallow, grain, wine, and oil were sold to ships visiting the coast. From the proceeds the friars distributed to the Indians handkerchiefs, clothing, tobacco, rosaries, trinkets, etc., and employed the surplus profits in the embellishment of the churches, the purchase of musical instruments, pictures, ornaments for the altar, etc. Where lands were found suitable for the purpose the fathers established outlying farms as appurtenances of the particular Mission on which they were made to depend. At these were gathered considerable colonies of civilized Indians selected from the most reliable.

Besides instructing the natives and incidentally fulfilling the duties of parochial clergy, the Missions extended a bountiful hospitality to all travelers and wayfarers. Planted at intervals of about a day’s journey, on the natural route of travel along the coast, they became the usual resting-place for all travelers in either direction. Horses were the only means of locomotion, and at the end of his hard day’s ride the weary traveler stopped at the door of the Mission building as naturally, and with as little thought of intrusion, as one might now at a public hotel. Throwing his rein to an Indian arriero, he was received by the missionary priest, or in his absence by the sacristan, with the patriarchal hospitality that Abraham extended to Lot. A bath was provided, followed by a plentiful meal and a comfortable bed. He was at liberty to stay as long as his convenience required, and on leaving was provided with a fresh horse and directions, or, if needed, a guide, for his further journey. Perhaps it is a tradition from these early days, but travelers still speak kindly of the hospitality of California.


Serus in coelum redeat ! 

The Missions in this State were in all twentyone. They may be said to have attained their maximum of prosperity during the first quarter of the present century. The Indian tribes of the coast, as far north as Sonoma, had by that time been reduced to pupilage at the various establishments described, and those of the younger generations had been sufficiently instructed in the simple arts of domestic life not only to carry on the various industries mentioned, but to make useful servants to the rancheros and white settlers, whose numbers, recruited from discharged and superannuated soldiers, a few voluntary-and some involuntary — immigrants from Mexico, occasional trappers, runaway sailors, or other adventurous foreigners, quos ratio dederat aut fors objecerat, had by this time become sufficiently considerable to create a demand for such services. There were still wild tribes in the mountains, to the north and east, but they gave little trouble, and the friars seem to have lost the spirit of missionary enterprise which characterized the companions and immediate successors of Father Junipero, and settled down to a quiet life among their neophytes and white neighbors, producing from the soil all the necessaries and many of the simple luxuries of life, and accumulating, for the Indian communities they governed, pastoral wealth, in the shape of countless herds of cattle, horses, sheep, goats, and swine.


The grain raised on the Mission ranches was threshed out, just as in Egypt and Mesopotamia twenty-five hundred or three thousand years ago, by spreading it on the ground and turning in a band of horses to trample it. A rude mill, generally turned byhand or by horsepower, furnished flour, though at two or three of the Missions water-power was utilized for this purpose. At each Mission gardens and orchards were inclosed, wherein, besides ordinary vegetables, fruits of various sorts were cultivated, including the fig, the orange, the olive, and the vine. The last two gave the missionaries oil and wine in abundance, for use to Mission products, but I am not aware that it has ever been tabulated. An idea of them may be formed from the statement that in the year 1820 the Mission cattle are quoted at 140,000 head; the horses at 118,000, the sheep at 190,000, etc. The average annual product of grain, from 1811 to 1820, is given at over 113,000 bushels.

But the increase of white settlers, bringing with them the wants, ambitions, and freedom of modem life, was incompatible with the continued success of institutions based, as the Missions were, on paternal authority. The Indians were infants in all respects except age and capacity for evil; and the settlers were subject to no restraints except those of the civil authority, which was of the weakest kind.

Contact and intercourse with them corrupted the Indians and relaxed the bonds of discipline among them. Moreover the broad acres and the vast herds of the Missions excited the cupidity of the settlers, who did not regard the property of the friars and Indians in the same light as that of white people. Under these influences the Mexican congress, in 1833, passed a law for secularizing the Missions, converting them into parishes, replacing the missionary priests by curates, and emancipating the Indians from their pupilage to the Church. Administrators were to be appointed for the temporalities of the Missions, the proceeds of which, after a small allowance for the maintenance of the priest and the charges of public worship, were to be applied to public purposes.

Under this law the greedy politicians of the day were enabled to plunder the Missions pretty nearly to their heart’s content. Administrators were appointed, who administered away the, tangible property in favor of themselves and their friends with marvelous industry and celerity. People whose names were held in esteem among the colonists, members of the “first families,” leaders in public opinion and public affairs, are recorded as having despoiled the Missions of their lands and cattle by wholesale. The desolation wrought was so rapid and complete, and its effects on the Indian population so malign, that the Government became alarmed and suspended the operation of the law. But it was too late; the mischief had been accomplished and the establishments thenceforth visibly decayed. A traveler of 1840-41 says that at the Mission of San José as late as 1837 Father Gonzales turned over, to the administrators 17,000 head of cattle, of which as many as 8000 remained unappropriated in 1840, as well as 200 horses and 9000 sheep, while four hundred Indians remained even at that late day gathered about the Mission. He was also much interested by a school, still in existence, where sixty Indian children surprised him by their progress in elementary studies, especially arithmetic. In 1834 (after the secularization) San Luis Rey had an Indian population of 3500 and possessed over 24,000 cattle, 10,000 horses, and 100,000 sheep. It harvested 14,000 fanegas of grain and 200 barrels of wine. In the same year San José had 2300 neophytes, 20,000 cattle, 11,000 horses, and 19,000 sheep, and harvested 10,000 fanegas of grain and 60 barrels of wine.

The ruin of the Missions was completed by the American conquest. The few remaining Indians were speedily driven or enticed away, for the rough frontiersmen who came over the plains knew nothing of missionary friars or civilized Indians; they came here to squat on public land and respected no possession beyond 160 acres, and that only in the hands of one familiar with the English language and modern weapons. None of the establishments retains its original character. Where population has grown up around the site, as at Santa Clara, San Francisco, and San Rafael, they became parish churches. At other places squatters took possession of them, extruding priest and mayor-domo impartially, and in more than one case even the churches were sacrilegiously degraded to the use of stables and the like. In others many parts of the buildings were demolished for the sake of the timber, tiles, and other building material they afforded.

The most extensive of the old establishments was that of San Luis Rey. I visited it with a companion in the summer of 1862. We left San Juan Capistrano at an early hour, and reached San Luis at about 2 P.M., without meantime meeting a human being or seeing a house or a fence. Our way had taken us along a faintly marked wagon trail in the rugged foothills of the Sierra, through tangled chemisal and under-brush, crossed by many steep barrancas, which out of California would scarce be deemed practicable for wheels. After many hours of this monotonous travel we suddenly emerged from the chain of hills to the prospect of a charming valley, through which meandered a little stream of crystal water, which after many windings found its way to the sea, which then opened on our sight, bounding the western horizon. In the middle of the valley, on a slight elevation, rose the towers of the old church, the red-tiled roof of which, and of the adjoining buildings of the ancient Mission, shone bright and ruddy in the glare of an almost tropical sun.

The landscape was magnificent, and we paused a short time to enjoy it before hastening on to examine the spot. The walls of the quadrangle remained in fair condition, and the graveled approach to the main entrance appeared so neat that I was persuaded it had lately been swept, and that I should find some inhabitants within. I effected an entrance without much difficulty, and wandered through the interior rooms and corridors searching for the aged sacristan my imagination had suggested; but I searched in vain. No shadow was cast there except my own; I heard no sound but the echo of my own footsteps. The interior court, once a garden, bright with flowers and the lustrous leaves of the orange and lemon tree, was rank with weeds and spontaneous vegetation; the fountain was dried up, and the walls which confined its basin split by the swelling roots of neglected and overgrown trees. Great spider webs hung from the columns of the corridor, and the stillness was broken only by the drowsy hum of dragonflies and humming-birds. I entered the venerable old church, and while endeavoring to accustom my eyes to the dim, uncertain light which shrouded its interior I was disturbed by the startled cry and hasty flight of an enormous owl, which left its perch over where the high altar had stood and rustled over to a window at the opposite end. I ascended one of the towers to the belfry, where I provoked another flight of unclean birds. The old chime of bells still hung there inscribed with the maker’s name and “Boston, 1820,” telling plainly of the intercourse of the old missionaries with the whaling fleets and the hide drogers which half a century ago wintered on the coast. Probably the order for these bells bad been given in 1818, and they had been received, in pursuance of it, in 1821 or 1822. There was no express in those days between Boston and California; the journey was made via Cape Horn, and a couple of years elapsed between the departure and the return of a vessel. The Mission gardens, particularly that in front of the main building, retained many traces of former beauty. But the hedgerows, once carefully trimmed, now grown rank and wild; the old rustic seats crumbling to decay; the vines and fruit trees, which for want of pruning had ceased to produce; and the garden flowers growing neglectedly — all told of decay and ruin. From the remains of the fountain two clear streams of water still issued, and from the little rivulet they formed, bordered with cress as green as an emerald, a lazy fish looked deliberately up at me without moving — so unaccustomed to man as not to fear him. just before the American conquest this Mission had harbored an industrious Indian population of several thousand. It had been occupied by our troops as a military post during the Mexican war and for some time after its close. When it ceased to be so used the Government, as I have heard General Beale say, caused an estimate to be made of the expense of repairing and restoring it to its former condition. The figures were two millions of dollars, and the project of repairing was, of course, given over.

It stands there to-day, magnificent, even in its ruins, a monument of the piety, devotion, industry, and disinterestedness of the venerable monks who wear the habit and cord of St. Francis, and who were the first colonists of Alta California.


1. The bay of San Francisco of the old Spanish geographers and navigators was what we now call “Sir Francis Drake’s Bay.”

“The Missions of Alta California” first appeared in The Century Magazine, Vol XLI, November 1890, ns, Vol. XIX, No. 2, pp 389-402. The Century Company of New york first brought this magazine to print in November 1870, and within its pages, printed by the De Vinne Press, appeared many finely illustrated articles on California and the West, during its long years of publication.

John T. Doyle was born in New York City, November 26, 1819. He graduated with honors from Georgetown College, and began to practice law in New York City in 1842. In 1850, an illness caused him to seek rest in Nicaragua. The California gold fever next struck him, however, and in 1851, he went to San Francisco where he took up practicing law. In 1856, he returned to New York where he married. He eventually fathered five sons and three daughters. In 1859, he returned to California for the balance of his life.

Doyle had early suggested the formation of a California organization to gather and preserve material related to California history. At one time he served as President of the California Historical Society. Rockwell D. Hunt declared him to be a “conscientious student of everything connected with the missions,” attested to by this fine article.

Perhaps the best appreciation and understanding of the work of John Doyle is to be found in the work edited by Kenneth M. Johnson, Pious Fund of California, republished by Dawson’s Book Shop, in Los Angeles, 1963. The wonderful illustrations contained in this article on California’s missions were the work of Harry Fenn, staff artist for The Century Magazine, who for a decade or more contributed his work on a great variety of topics.