By Richard L. Carrico
Contrary to the common impression about them, people identified as scientists seldom claim the certainty attributed to them by others. Quite the contrary; among the various definitions of science is one to the effect that it consists not of absolute knowledge but of a statement of the probable based on our always inadequate acquaintance with the facts. Similarly, a common view of archaeology is that it is sufficient unto itself, that archaeologists are concerned only with excavating things and showing them in museums, and that they have no need to go beyond such routine mechanical measures to achieve their results.
Richard Carrico’s identification of the remains of the two children, designated burials No. 5 and No. 15 (as they were discovered in that order) in the same grave in the small chapel on the north side of the main chapel in the San Diego Presidio, is an excellent illustration of the fallacies inherent in those views. He has done very well indeed what every archaeologist tries to do. He has gone beyond the mechanics of excavation to synthesize data (facts) provided by archaeology, ethnology, and history and arrived at a whole which is indeed greater than the sum of its parts.
Not that the mechanics of excavation may be disdained. Had not David Kinder and Mrs. Francis Murgen been the careful excavators they were, the information might have been missed that the child designated as burial No. 5 had been provided with a garment, having a band of gold and silver threads, which extended from the pelvic area on one side up and over the head to the pelvic area on the opposite side of the body. Not that it would have been inconceivable that a boy would have been provided with a shroud edged in that fashion, but it would have been extremely unlikely that a boy in a fortified community on the northwest frontier of New Spain or, later, Mexico would have worn a necklace of tiny glass (and one possible pearl) beads. Enough of them had survived the years of burial, although by 1968 in dreadfully fragile condition, that the meticulous excavation carried out using dental picks and camels-hair brushes, enabled us to treat it as a fact that the person represented by burial No. 5 had worn such a necklace and hence most probably had been a girl.
Displaced as the remains had been by the intrusion of burial No. 5 in the same grave, and with nothing associated to give us such a clue, there was nothing Dr. Spencer Rogers, physical anthropologist at the Museum of Man in San Diego, could tell us about burial No. 15 except its approximate age at time of death. As that had occurred before puberty, those skeletal characteristics which make possible the determination of sex were not present and so the sex of burial No. 15 had to remain undetermined.
In 1968 the possibility that comparison of the archaeological information with the burial records might yield identification of some of the burials was, of course, promptly seized upon, The trouble was that my inspection of the burial records was not attentive enough to pick up the historical data revealed by Carrico’s more intensive scrutiny and consequently I had concluded that it would not be possible to identify those two burials. Perhaps my eyes had been too bedazzled by the initials and one nameplate found on surviving fragments of coffin lids or other burials. Whatever the reason, my acquaintance with the facts was inadequate and Carrico made his adequate. San Diego and the world of scholarship are fortunate that Richard Carrico decided to add the skills of archaeology to those he had already acquired in historiography and in addition apply his historiography to archaeology.
Paul H. Ezell
Department of Anthropology
San Diego State University
The following analysis is an attempt to integrate historical research with archaeological field work. The underlying thesis is that the archaeologists excavating the Presidio de San Diego are not ghouls or mere collectors of artifacts. Instead they are dedicated individuals who are literally doing the dirty work necessary to supply important data which will clarify the often clouded history of the Presidio de San Diego.
By studying the data supplied by archaeology, and combining it with careful historical research, it is possible to learn a great deal about life in the Presidio during the years 1769 to 1830. In particular, it is possible to affix names and histories to the otherwise nameless burials which have been excavated at the Presidio site.
Until now it has been possible to name only two of the more than forty-five known burials. Only the burials of the Fitches, Henry Delano and his daughter Natalia, have been identified. Once named, it is possible to reach into the past and discover the history of the previously ignominiously numbered burials. This analysis seeks to replace impersonal numbers with names, and in doing so to bring to life a small portion of early San Diego history.
Archaeologists excavating the Presidio de San Diego are like archaeologists everywhere in that they are not content simply to excavate materials and then ignore them. Quite the contrary; after the initial discovery, be it of bone, arrowhead, or coffin nail, it becomes the archaeologist’s task to derive as much information as possible from even the most obscure item.
It is in this investigative-research function that the archaeologist has been compared to a detective. Like the detective, the researcher must leave no stone unturned, no clue unchecked and no inference untested. Inferences must be drawn and conclusions, even if tentative, must be postulated. The value of an artifact is not intrinsic. The true worth of a discovery is brought to light only after intensive research and analysis.
The burial excavations at the Presidio de San Diego personify the often arduous task that lies before the archaeologist. For the most part the excavation of burials is a slow task requiring a great deal of patience and acumen. A single burial may require over one hundred man-hours to excavate, and the accompanying research can take twice as long. As the burial excavation progresses it is photographed, analyzed and often covered up again intact. Throughout the entire excavation every attempt is made to avoid destruction of the remains.
The value of a properly excavated burial is manifold. The position, encasement, and burial depth can serve as indices to status, age and relative wealth. Skeletal analysis can often determine age at time of death, sex, cause of death, as well as stature and racial type. Even the associated surrounding soil can be used to determine if the burial was disturbed after placement and if so for what purposes. Combined, all of this information may give the researcher clues needed to answer the important question of who the person was.
A prime example of what proper excavation and careful research can accomplish is revealed by two excavations which were done in 1968, but for which research was only recently completed.
In 1968 archaeologists working in the side chapel of the Presidio de San Diego unearthed two burials beneath the adobe floor tiles. Skeletal analysis revealed that the burial designated No. 5 was young, between five and seven years old, and of undetermined sex. Later discovery of fabric and fragments of jewelry indicated that the burial was female. The other burial, No. 15, proved to be of about the same age with the sex remaining undetermined due to age factors. 2 By virtue of stratigraphic data it was determined that burial No. 15 was the earlier burial and that it had in fact been pushed aside to make room for the placement of the later female burial. The pushing aside of the earlier burial had violently disturbed it while the newer burial was virtually intact. (See Plates 1 and 2)
When a burial is discovered myriad questions always arise: Who was this? When did he live? How old was he? What role did he play in his community? Thus when the excavator’s work is completed, the researcher’s task has just begun. In the summer of 1972 research was initiated that would lead to a better knowledge not only of these two burials, but of the life patterns in early San Diego in general.
Research involving early burial records revealed that virtually all Presidio burials prior to 1782 were in the cemetery south of the present chapel or in an adjacent building which had served as a temporary chapel during the construction of the larger chapel, circa 1773 – 1782. 3 Exceptions to this were the very early burials prior to construction of the Presidio itself. After completion of the large chapel, burials took place in the cemetery and in various locations within the chapel itself, including the side chapel and near the main altar.
The children’s burials, No. 5 and No. 15, were discovered beneath displaced remortared adobe floor tiles in the side chapel thus indicating interment after chapel construction, circa 1782. This stratigraphic data indicated the burials had taken place prior to the abandonment of the chapel in the 1840s. Thus the two children were buried sometime between 1782 and 1850.
Continued burial research disclosed that between 1780 and 1830 thirty-eight children were buried at the Presidio. 4 Their ages ranged from one day old to eleven years old. Subsequent evaluation allowed for the exclusion of ten children on the basis of being too old and twenty-four were eliminated as being too young at the time of death to be the children in question. 5
The list of possibilities was thus narrowed to four individuals: Joseph María Romero, died October 3, 1785, age six; Maximo Olivera, died May 25, 1791, age five; Michaela Leyva, died February 5. 1792, age four; and María Josepha Romero, died December 6, 1797, sister of Joseph María Romero.
At this point it was necessary to go from statistical data to calculated inferences. These inferences, as listed below, led to the contention that the excavated remains designated as burial No. 5 were in fact María Josepha Romero and that burial No. 15 was her brother, Joseph María Romero.
The reasoning is that, first, the side chapel and altar areas were usually reserved for persons with at least a degree of status or endearment in the community. Michaela Leyva was the daughter of a low ranking soldier and his Indian wife, Clara. Maximo Olivera was the son of Corporal Juan Olivera and his wife, Guadalupe. Neither Juan Olivera nor his wife distinguished themselves within the community or seemed to achieve extraordinary status.
Conversely, the Romero children were the progeny of Felipe Romero, the Presidio blacksmith, an experienced craftsman and artisan, and of María del Rosario de Marquez, a native of Loreto, Baja California. 6 Felipe and Maria Romero were married by Father Lasuen on November 17, 1778 in the Presidio chapel and had at least six children, the earliest being born in 1779 and the last in 1800.
As regards the importance of a blacksmith, it should be remembered that horses were a prime factor in maintaining a viable military force throughout the eighteenth century and that an incorrectly shod horse was a definite liability. In addition to being responsible for shoeing the horses, Romero was also in charge of manufacturing virtually all of the metal articles the Presidio needed. As is well attested to in the documents of the time, it was a long time between arrivals of supply ships, and a mender of metal was well respected. In fact it was Father Serra who “…established the blacksmith, Felipe Romero, from Guadalajara.”7 Thus the presidial blacksmith was a man much admired and depended upon.
Furthermore, it was the blacksmith, Felipe, who gallantly rushed to the aid of his comrades during the Indian attack upon the Mission de Alcalá in November 1775. His heroism as well as the blasts from his musket were considered instrumental in stopping what could have been a massacre. 8 The popularity and high status of Felipe and his wife, María del Rosario de Marquez, are further reflected in the fact that they were repeatedly asked to be godparents of the Presidio’s newly born. This took place at a time in history when a godparent still had legal and moral obligations and responsibilities in the event of the death of the natural parents. Even the most cursory glance at the baptismal records of the period convince the reader that time and time again the Romeros served as godparents to the rapidly expanding Presidio population. 9 If status was a criterion for burial in the side chapel or in the chapel itself, then the Romero children were prime candidates for interment there.
A second inference is drawn from the archaeological data itself. Excavation revealed that the female burial had been super-imposed upon the earlier burial. Further analysis indicated a rough date of ten years between the burial of the first child and the subsequent burial of a female child. 10 María Romero died eleven years after her brother, thus her sex and the time of her burial coincide with the stratigraphic record.
Yet another indication that these were the Romero children is that their deaths occurred relatively early in the history of the Presidio chapel. This is important when one realizes that the side chapel was a rather small room with a limited amount of burial space. Considering that over 117 burials took place between 1782 and 1849, it is logical that the side chapel would fill up rather early. The early burials of Joseph and María Romero (1785 and 1797) seem to have insured that their final resting place could in fact be in the side chapel; later burials would have had to take place in other less crowded, less prestigious places.
A significant ethnographic fact is that family plots were, and still are, common in most Western societies. 11 Is it not probable then that the Romero children were buried together as members of a family of a man who had a high degree of local status?
If in fact the children were buried in a family plot, how does one explain the rather callous fact that the earlier burial had been shoved aside to make room for the new interment? It may seem incongruous to take enough care to bury the children near each other, but disregard the remains of the earlier child. However, the persons choosing the site for the second burial and the persons digging the grave could well have been different persons. It is possible that a small detachment of soldiers or Indians were detailed to dig the graves, as well as fill them up. When the earlier burial was found, it would have been no problem merely to shove the bones aside, cover them with a little fresh dirt and forget them.
It can be asserted further that it is very plausible that the parents or the priest remembered roughly where the earlier child was buried, but not exactly enough to avoid the resting place of the first child. One need only to remember the graveyard scene in Hamlet to visualize this. In the scene the gravediggers encountered a set of older bones while making a grave for a recently deceased person. The discovery prompted Hamlet to comment, “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio….” 12 Yorick the man was well remembered, but Yorick the corpse was forgotten.
An analysis of the evidence supports the contention that in fact burials No. 5 and No. 15 are María Josepha Romero and Joseph María Romero respectively. The degree of coincidence necessary to make the two burials some other un-named, undiscovered children is inconceivable. English myth to the contrary, the Spaniards were meticulous record keepers. The whole concept of birth and death included having such events properly recorded and sanctified. Baptismal records, as well as death records, are exact documents which are complete for this period. The analysis rests on the validity of these precise records.
During the latter part of the eighteenth century, two children lived, played, worshiped and died in the Presidio de San Diego. They witnessed events that we can only attempt to re-create. They dreamed dreams that we will never fathom and held conversations, the memory of which died with them. It is probable that their early deaths robbed them of a greater place in San Diego history. Others of their generation—the Carrillos, Ontiveros, Machados, and Picos—left a deep and lasting imprint on San Diego history and California history alike.
Regardless of their historical magnitude, the Romero children were a part of what we categorize as early San Diego. It is hoped that through the continued work of archaeologists and historians we can reach a point where history also concerns itself with people like the Romeros instead of with only the glittering personages and overwhelmingly dramatic events. History is made up of both the great and of the seemingly insignificant. Often the border between the two is another spade-full of dirt or another turn of the researcher’s page.
1. “Landscape of the Past,” The Journal of San Diego History, October 1968, pp. 21 – 31.
2. Burial Records for the Presidio de San Diego excavations. Burial number five and number 15. On file at California State University, San Diego
3. Richard L. Carrico. The Presidio de San Diego: From Fresh Adobe to Excavated Ruin. Manuscript, San Diego History Center, Serra Museum Library, San Diego, California. Also conversations with Dr. Paul H. Ezel, Professor of Anthropology, California State University, San Diego, 1972. There is an element of doubt as to whether the cemetery south of the Presidio chapel was used prior to completion of the chapel in 1782. The Book of the Dead. 1769 – 1823, microfilm at the Diocese Office, University of San Diego, San Diego California, Burial Record No. 19, August, 1776, as recorded by Father Fuster, reveals that a sailor, Joseph Gonzales, was buried “in the Presidio cemetery” while other burials refer specifically to the Mission San Diego de Alcalá or to the church at the Presidio as final resting places. It is probable that in fact some burials took place in the south cemetery before completion of the large chapel, as well as in the “miserable adobe hut,” as recorded by Father Lasuen in Burial Record No. 148 and No. 155.
4. The Book of the Dead, 1769 – 1823, microfilm at the Diocese Office, University of San Diego, San Diego, California.
5. Baptismal Book of the San Diego Mission, 1769 – 1799 (Volume I) and 1800 – 1822 (Volume II). San Diego History Center Serra Museum Library.
6. Romero Biographical File, San Diego History Center Serra Museum Library.
7. Maynard J. Geiger, Life and Times of Father Junipero Serra, p. 412.
8. H. H. Bancroft, History of California, Volume I, 225 – 250.
9. Winifred Davidson, “California’s Warrior Blacksmiths,” Romero Biographical File, San Diego History Center Serra Museum Library.
10. Dr. Paul H. Ezell. Personal Communication, 1972.
11. Personal Communication with Dr. Paul H. Ezell. He notes that a friend of his reported that as late as 1968 he witnessed a burial of this type in Mexico.
12. The Complete Works of Shakespeare. Cleveland: The World Publishing Company, 1964, p. 976.
Bancroft, Hubert H. History of California 1542 – 1800, Volume I, San Francisco: A. L. Bancroft and Company, 1884.
Baptismal Book of the San Diego Mission, Volumes I and II, San Diego Historical Society, Serra Museum Library, San Diego, California.
Book of the Dead, 1769 – 1823, Microfilm, Diocese Office, University of San Diego, San Diego California.
Burial Records. Logbooks of Presidio de San Diego Excavations, California State University, San Diego.
Carrico, Richard L. “The Presidio de San Diego: From Fresh Adobe to Excavated Ruins.” Manuscript, San Diego History Center Serra Museum Library, San Diego, California.
Complete Works of Shakespeare. Cleveland: World Publishing Company, 1964.
Davidson, Winifred. “California’s Warrior Blacksmiths,” “Romero Biographical file,” San Diego History Center Serra Museum Library, San Diego, California.
Ezell, Dr. Paul H. Personal communication, 1972.
Geiger, Maynard J. The Life and Times of Father Junipero Serra, Volume I, Washington: Academy of American Franciscan History, 1959.
“Landscape of the Past,” Journal of San Diego History, Vol. XIV, No. 4, (October, 1968), pp. 21 – 31.
Pourade, Richard F. Time of the Bells. San Diego: Union-Tribune Publishing Company, 1961.
“Romero Biographical File,” San Diego History Center, Serra Museum Library, San Diego, California.
Smythe, William E. History of San Diego, San Diego: The History Company, 1908.