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The Old Franciscan Missions Of California By George Wharton James Characters: 15638

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Rightly to understand the history of the Missions of the California of the United States, it is imperative that the connection or relationship that exists between their history and that of the Missions of Lower California (Mexico) be clearly understood.

As I have already shown, the Jesuit padres founded fourteen Missions in Lower California, which they conducted with greater or less success until 1767, when the infamous Order of Expulsion of Carlos III of Spain drove them into exile.

It had always been the intention of Spain to colonize and missionize Alta California, even as far back as the days of Cabrillo in 1542, and when Vizcaino, sixty years later, went over the same region, the original intention was renewed. But intentions do not always fructify and bring forth, so it was not until a hundred and sixty years after Vizcaino that the work was actually begun. The reasons were diverse and equally urgent. The King of Spain and his advisers were growing more and more uneasy about the aggressions of the Russians and the English on the California or rather the Pacific Coast. Russia was pushing down from the north; England also had her establishments there, and with her insular arrogance England boldly stated that she had the right to California, or New Albion, as she called it, because of Sir Francis Drake's landing and taking possession in the name of "Good Queen Bess." Spain not only resented this, but began to realize another need. Her galleons from the Philippines found it a long, weary, tedious and disease-provoking voyage around the coast of South America to Spain, and besides, too many hostile and piratical vessels roamed over the Pacific Sea to allow Spanish captains to sleep easy o' nights. Hence it was decided that if ports of call were established on the California coast, fresh meats and vegetables and pure water could be supplied to the galleons, and in addition, with presidios to defend them, they might escape the plundering pirates by whom they were beset. Accordingly plans were being formulated for the colonization and missionization of California when, by authority of his own sweet will, ruling a people who fully believed in the divine right of kings to do as they pleased, King Carlos the Third issued the proclamation already referred to, totally and completely banishing the Jesuits from all parts of his dominions, under penalty of imprisonment and death.

I doubt whether many people of to-day, even though they be of the Catholic Church, can realize what obedience to that order meant to these devoted priests. Naturally they must obey it--monstrous though it was--but the one thought that tore their hearts with anguish was: Who would care for their Indian charges?

For these ignorant and benighted savages they had left their homes and given up all that life ordinarily means and offers. Were they to be allowed to drift back into their dark heathendom?

No! In spite of his cruelty to the Jesuits, the king had provided that the Indians should not be neglected. He had appointed one in whom he had especial confidence, Don José Galvez, as his Visitador General, and had conferred upon him almost plenary authority. To his hands was committed the carrying out of the order of banishment, the providing of members of some other Catholic Order to care for the Indians of the Missions, and later, to undertake the work of extending the chain of Missions northward into Alta California, as far north as the Bay of Monterey, and even beyond.

To aid him in his work Galvez appealed to the Superior of the Franciscan Convent in the City of Mexico, and Padre Junipero Serra, by common consent of the officers and his fellows, was denominated as the man of all men for the important office of Padre Presidente of the Jesuit Missions that were to be placed henceforth under the care of the Franciscans.

This plan, however, was changed within a few months. It was decided to call upon the priests of the Dominican Order to take charge of the Jesuit Missions, while the Franciscans put all their strength and energy into the founding of the new Missions in Alta California.

Thus it came to pass that the Franciscans took charge of the founding of the California Missions, and that Junipero Serra became the first real pioneer of what is now so proudly denominated "The Golden State."

The orders that Galvez had received were clear and positive:

"Occupy and fortify San Diego and Monterey for God and the King of Spain." He was a devout son of the Church, full of enthusiasm, having good sense, great executive ability, considerable foresight, untiring energy, and decided contempt for all routine formalities. He began his work with a truly Western vigor. Being invested with almost absolute power, there were none above him to interpose vexatious formalities to hinder the immediate execution of his plans.


Founder and First Padre Presidente of the Franciscan

Missions of California From the Schumacker crayon

Map of the Coast of California

Map originally made for Palou's Life of Padre

Junipero Serra, published in Mexico in 1787.

In order that the spiritual part of the work might be as carefully planned as the political, Galvez summoned Serra. What a fine combination! Desire and power hand in hand! What nights were spent by the two in planning! What arguments, what discussions, what final agreements the old adobe rooms occupied by them must have heard! But it is by just such men that great enterprises are successfully begun and executed. For fervor and enthusiasm, power and sense, when combined, produce results. Plans were formulated with a completeness and rapidity that equalled the best days of the Conquistadores. Four expeditions were to go: two by land and two by sea. So would the risk of failure be lessened, and practical knowledge of both routes be gained. Galvez had two available vessels: the "San Carlos" and the "San Antonio."

For money the visitor-general called upon the Pious Fund, which, on the expulsion of the Jesuits, he had placed in the hands of a governmental administrator. He had also determined that the Missions of the peninsula should do their share to help in the founding of the new Missions, and Serra approved and helped in the work.

When Galvez arrived, he found Gaspar de Portolá acting as civil and military governor, and Fernando Javier Rivera y Moncada, the former governor, commanding the garrison at Loreto. Both were captains, Rivera having been long in the country. He determined to avail himself of the services of these two men, each of them to command one of the land expeditions. Consequently with great rapidity, for those days, operations were set in motion. Rivera in August or September, 1768, was sent on a commission to visit in succession all the Missions, and gather from each one all the provisions, live-stock, and implements that could be spared. He was also to prevail upon all the available families he could find to go along as colonists. In the meantime, others sent out by Galvez gathered in church furniture, ornaments, and vestments for the Missions, and later Serra made a tour for the same purpose. San José was named the patron saint of the expedition, and in December the "San Carlos" arrived at La Paz partially laden with supplies.

The vessel was in bad condition, so it had to be unloaded, careened, cleaned, and repaired, and then reloaded, and in this latter work both Galvez and Serra helped, the former packing the supplies for the Mission of San Buenaventura, in which he was particularly interested, and Serra attending to those for San Carlos. They joked each other as they worked, and when Galvez completed his task ahead of Serra he had considerable fun at the Padr

e Presidente's expense. In addition to the two Missions named, one other, dedicated to San Diego, was first to be established. By the ninth of January, 1769, the "San Carlos" was ready. Confessions were heard, masses said, the communion administered, and Galvez made a rousing speech. Then Serra formally blessed the undertaking, cordially embraced Fray Parron, to whom the spiritual care of the vessel was intrusted, the sails were lowered, and off started the first division of the party that meant so much to the future California. In another vessel Galvez went along until the "San Carlos" doubled the point and started northward, when, with gladness in his heart and songs on his lips, he returned to still further prosecute his work.

The fifteenth of February the "San Antonio," under the command of Perez, was ready and started. Now the land expeditions must be moved. Rivera had gathered his stock, etc., at Santa Maria, the most northern of the Missions, but finding scant pasturage there, he had moved eight or ten leagues farther north to a place called by the Indians Velicatá. Fray Juan Crespí was sent to join Rivera, and Fray Lasuen met him at Santa Maria in order to bestow the apostolic blessing ere the journey began, and on March 24 Lasuen stood at Velicatá and saw the little band of pilgrims start northward for the land of the gentiles, driving their herds before them. What a procession it must have been! The animals, driven by Indians under the direction of soldiers and priests, straggling along or dashing wildly forward as such creatures are wont to do! Here, as well as in the starting of the "San Carlos" and "San Antonio," is a great scene for an artist, and some day canvases worthy the subjects should be placed in the California State Capitol at Sacramento.

Governor Portolá was already on his way north, but Serra was delayed by an ulcerated foot and leg, and, besides, he had not yet gathered together all the Mission supplies he needed, so it was May 15 before this division finally left Velicatá. The day before leaving, Serra established the Mission of San Fernando at the place of their departure, and left Padre Campa in charge.

Padre Serra's diary, kept in his own handwriting during this trip from Loreto to San Diego, is now in the Edward E. Ayer Library in Chicago. Some of his expressions are most striking. In one place, speaking of Captain Rivera's going from Mission to Mission to take from them "whatever he might choose of what was in them for the founding of the new Missions," he says: "Thus he did; and altho it was with a somewhat heavy hand, it was undergone for God and the king."

The work of Galvez for Alta California was by no means yet accomplished. Another vessel, the "San José," built at his new shipyard, appeared two days before the "San Antonio" set sail, and soon afterwards Galvez went across the gulf in it to secure a load of fresh supplies. The sixteenth of June the "San José" sailed for San Diego as a relief boat to the "San Carlos" and "San Antonio," but evidently met with misfortune, for three months later it returned to the Loreto harbor with a broken mast and in general bad condition. It was unloaded and repaired at San Blas, and in the following June again started out, laden with supplies, but never reached its destination, disappearing forever without leaving a trace behind.



Under which sunrise services are held at Easter and Christmastide.


Erected by Mrs. Leland Stanford, at Monterey


The gift of James D. Phelan, in Golden Gate Park San Francisco.

The "San Antonio" first arrived at San Diego. About April 11, 1769, it anchored in the bay, and awakened in the minds of the natives strange feelings of astonishment and awe. Its presence recalled to them the "stories of the old," when a similar apparition startled their ancestors. That other white-winged creature had come long generations ago, and had gone away, never to be seen again. Was this not to do likewise? Ah, no! in this vessel was contained the beginning of the end of the primitive man. The solitude of the centuries was now to be disturbed and its peace invaded; aboriginal life destroyed forever. The advent of this vessel was the death knell of the Indian tribes.

Little, however, did either the company on board the "San Antonio" or the Indians themselves conceive such thoughts as these on that memorable April day.

But where was the "San Carlos," which sailed almost a month earlier than the "San Antonio"? She was struggling with difficulties,--leaking water-casks, bad water, scurvy, cold weather. Therefore it was not until April 29 that she appeared. In vain the captain of the "San Antonio" waited for the "San Carlos" to launch a boat and to send him word as to the cause of the late arrival of the flagship; so he visited her to discover for himself the cause. He found a sorry state of affairs. All on board were ill from scurvy. Hastily erecting canvas houses on the beach, the men of his own crew went to the relief of their suffering comrades of the other vessel. Then the crew of the relieving ship took the sickness, and soon there were so few well men left that they could scarcely attend the sick and bury the dead. Those first two weeks in the new land, in the month of May, 1769, were never to be forgotten. Of about ninety sailors, soldiers, and mechanics, less than thirty survived; over sixty were buried by the wash of the waves of the Bay of Saint James.

Then came Rivera and Crespí, with Lieutenant Fages and twenty-five soldiers.

Immediately a permanent camp was sought and found at what is now known as Old San Diego, where the two old palms still remain, with the ruins of the presidio on the hill behind. Six weeks were busily occupied in caring for the sick and in unloading the "San Antonio." Then the fourth and last party of the explorers arrived,--Governor Portolá on June 29, and Serra on July 1. What a journey that had been for Serra! He had walked all the way, and, after two days out, a badly ulcerated leg began to trouble him. Portolá wished to send him back, but Serra would not consent. He called to one of the muleteers and asked him to make just such a salve for his wound as he would put upon the saddle galls of one of his animals. It was done, and in a single night the ointment and the Father's prayers worked the miracle of healing.

After a general thanksgiving, in which exploding gunpowder was used to give effect, a consultation was held, at which it was decided to send back the "San Antonio" to San Blas for supplies, and for new crews for herself and the "San Carlos." A land expedition under Portolá was to go to Monterey, while Serra and others remained at San Diego to found the Mission. The vessel sailed, Portolá and his band started north, and on July 16, 1769, Serra raised the cross, blessed it, said mass, preached, and formally established the Mission of San Diego de Alcalá.

It mattered not that the Indians held aloof; that only the people who came on the expedition were present to hear. From the hills beyond, doubtless, peered and peeped the curious natives. All was mysterious to them. Later, however, they became troublesome, stealing from the sick and pillaging from the "San Carlos." At last, they made a determined raid for plunder, which the Spanish soldiers resisted. A flight of arrows was the result. A boy was killed and three of the new-comers wounded. A volley of musket-balls killed three Indians, wounded several more, and cleared the settlement. After such an introduction, there is no wonder that conversions were slow. Not a neophyte gladdened the Father's heart for more than a year.

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