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The Old Franciscan Missions Of California By George Wharton James Characters: 22317

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

San Diego Mission founded, Serra was impatient to have work begun elsewhere. Urging the governor to go north immediately, he rejoiced when Portolá, Crespí, Rivera, and Pages started, with a band of soldiers and natives. They set out gaily, gladly. They were sure of a speedy journey to the Bay of Monterey, discovered by Cabrillo, and seen again and charted by Vizcaino, where they were to establish the second Mission.





Strange to say, however, when they reached Monterey, in the words of Scripture, "their eyes were holden," and they did not recognize it. They found a bay which they fully described, and while we to-day clearly see that it was the bay they were looking for, they themselves thought it was another one. Believing that Vizcaino had made an error in his chart, they pushed on further north. The result of this disappointment was of vast consequence to the later development of California, for, following the coast line inland, they were bound to strike the peninsula and ultimately reach the shores of what is now San Francisco Bay. This was exactly what was done, and on November 2, 1769, one of Portolá's men, ascending ahead of the others to the crest of a hill, caught sight of this hitherto unknown and hidden body of water. How he would have shouted had he understood! How thankful and joyous it would have made Portolá and Crespí and the others. For now was the discovery of that very harbor that Padre Serra had so fervently hoped and prayed for, the harbor that was to secure for California a Mission "for our father Saint Francis." Yet not one of them either knew or seemed to comprehend the importance of that which their eyes had seen. Instead, they were disheartened and disappointed by a new and unforeseen obstacle to their further progress. The narrow channel (later called the Golden Gate by Frémont), barred their way, and as their provisions were getting low, and they certainly were much further north than they ought to have been to find the Bay of Monterey, Portolá gave the order for the return, and sadly, despondently, they went back to San Diego.

On the march south, Portolá's mind was made up. This whole enterprise was foolish and chimerical. He had had enough of it. He was going back home, and as the "San Antonio" with its promised supplies had not yet arrived, and the camp was almost entirely out of food, he announced the abandonment of the expedition and an immediate return to Lower California.

Now came Serra's faith to the fore, and that resolute determination and courage that so marked his life. The decision of Portolá had gone to his heart like an arrow. What! Abandon the Missions before they were fairly begun? Where was their trust in God? It was one hundred and sixty-six years since Vizcaino had been in this port, and if they left it now, when would another expedition be sent? In those years that had elapsed since Vizcaino, how many precious Indian souls had been lost because they had not received the message of salvation? He pleaded and begged Portolá to reconsider. For awhile the governor stood firm. Serra also had a strong will. From a letter written to Padre Palou, who was left behind in charge of the Lower California Missions, we see his intention: "If we see that along with the provisions hope vanishes, I shall remain alone with Father Juan Crespí and hold out to the last breath."

With such a resolution as this, Portolá could not cope. Yielding to Serra's persuasion, he consented to wait while a novena (a nine days' devotional exercise) was made to St. Joseph, the holy patron of the expedition. Fervently day by day Serra prayed. On the day of San José (St. Joseph) a high mass was celebrated, and Serra preached. On the fourth day the eager watchers saw the vessel approach. Then, strange to say, it disappeared, and as the sixth, seventh and eighth days passed and it did not reappear again, hope seemed to sink lower in the hearts of all but Serra and his devoted brother Crespí. On the ninth and last day--would it be seen? Bowing himself in eager and earnest prayer Serra pleaded that his faith be not shamed, and, to his intense delight, doubtless while he prayed, the vessel sailed into the bay.

Joy unspeakable was felt by every one. The provisions were here, the expedition need not be abandoned; the Indians would yet be converted to Holy Church and all was well. A service of thanksgiving was held, and happiness smiled on every face.

With new energy, vigor, and hope, Portolá set out again for the search of Monterey, accompanied by Serra as well as Crespí. This time the attempt was successful. They recognized the bay, and on June 3, 1770, a shelter of branches was erected on the beach, a cross made ready near an old oak, the bells were hung and blessed, and the services of founding began. Padre Serra preached with his usual fervor; he exhorted the natives to come and be saved, and put to rout all infernal foes by an abundant sprinkling of holy water. The Mission was dedicated to San Carlos Borromeo.

Thus two of the long desired Missions were established, and the passion of Serra's longings, instead of being assuaged, raged now all the fiercer. It was not long, however, before he found it to be bad policy to have the Missions for the Indian neophytes too near the presidio, or barracks for the soldiers. These latter could not always be controlled, and they early began a course which was utterly demoralizing to both sexes, for the women of a people cannot be debauched without exciting the men to fierce anger, or making them as bad as their women. Hence Serra removed the Missions: that of San Diego six miles up the valley to a point where the ruins now stand, while that of San Carlos he re-established in the Carmelo Valley.

The Mission next to be established should have been San Buenaventura, but events stood in the way; so, on July 14, 1771, Serra (who had been zealously laboring with the heathen near Monterey), with eight soldiers, three sailors, and a few Indians, passed down the Salinas River and established the Mission of San Antonio de Padua. The site was a beautiful one, in an oak-studded glen, near a fair-sized stream. The passionate enthusiasm of Serra can be understood from the fact that after the bells were hung from a tree, he loudly tolled them, crying the while like one possessed: "Come, gentiles, come to the Holy Church, come and receive the faith of Jesus Christ!" Padre Pieras could not help reminding his superior that not an Indian was within sight or hearing, and that it would be more practical to proceed with the ritual. One native, however, did witness the ceremony, and he soon brought a large number of his companions, who became tractable enough to help in erecting the rude church, barracks and houses with which the priests and soldiers were compelled to be content in those early days.




See page 246.

On September 8, Padres Somera and Cambon founded the Mission of San Gabriel Arcángel, originally about six miles from the present site. Here, at first, the natives were inclined to be hostile, a large force under two chieftains appearing, in order to prevent the priests from holding their service. But at the elevation of a painting of the Virgin, the opposition ceased, and the two chieftains threw their necklaces at the feet of the Beautiful Queen. Still, a few wicked men can undo in a short time the work of many good ones. Padre Palou says that outrages by soldiers upon the Indian women precipitated an attack upon the Spaniards, especially upon two, at one of whom the chieftain (whose wife had been outraged by the man) fired an arrow. Stopping it with his shield, the soldier levelled his musket and shot the injured husband dead. Ah! sadness of it! The unbridled passions of men of the new race already foreshadowed the death of the old race, even while the good priests were seeking to elevate and to Christianize them. This attack and consequent disturbance delayed still longer the founding of San Buenaventura.

On his way south (for he had now decided to go to Mexico), Serra founded, on September 1, 1772, the Mission of San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. The natives called the location Tixlini, and half a league away was a famous canyada in which Fages, some time previously, had killed a number of bears to provide meat for the starving people at Monterey. This act made the natives well disposed towards the priests in charge of the new Mission, and they helped to erect buildings, offered their children for baptism, and brought of their supply of food to the priests, whose stores were by no means abundant.

While these events were transpiring, Governor Portolá had returned to Lower California, and Lieutenant Fages was appointed commandant in his stead. This, it soon turned out, was a great mistake. Fages and Serra did not work well together, and, at the time of the founding of San Luis Obispo, relations between them were strained almost to breaking. Serra undoubtedly had just cause for complaint. The enthusiastic, impulsive missionary, desirous of furthering his important religious work, believed himself to be restrained by a cold-blooded, official-minded soldier, to whom routine was more important than the salvation of the Indians. Serra complained that Fages opened his letters and those of his fellow missionaries; that he supported his soldiers when their evil conduct rendered the work of the missionaries unavailing; that he interfered with the management of the stations and the punishment of neophytes, and devoted to his own uses the property and facilities of the Missions.

In the main, this complaint received attention from the Junta in Mexico. Fages was ultimately removed, and Rivera appointed governor in his place. More missionaries, money, and supplies were placed at Serra's disposal, and he was authorized to proceed to the establishment of the additional Missions which he had planned. He also obtained authority from the highest powers of the Church to administer the important sacrament of confirmation. This is a right generally conferred only upon a bishop and his superiors, but as California was so remote and the visits of the bishop so rare, it was deemed appropriate to grant this privilege to Serra.

Rejoicing and grateful, the earnest president sent Padres Fermin Francisco de Lasuen and Gregorio Amurrio, with six soldiers, to begin work at San Juan Capistrano. This occurred in August, 1775. On the thirtieth of the following October, work was begun, and everything seemed auspicious, when suddenly, as if God had ceased to smile upon them, terrible news came from San Diego. There, apparently, things had been going well. Sixty converts were baptized on October 3, and the priests rejoiced at the success of their efforts. But the

Indians back in the mountains were alarmed and hostile. Who were these white-faced strangers causing their brother aborigines to kneel before a strange God? What was the meaning of that mystic ceremony of sprinkling with water? The demon of priestly jealousy was awakened in the breasts of the tingaivashes--the medicine-men--of the tribes about San Diego, who arranged a fierce midnight attack which should rid them forever of these foreign conjurers, the men of the "bad medicine."

Exactly a month and a day after the baptism of the sixty converts, at the dead of night, the Mission buildings were fired and the eleven persons of Spanish blood were awakened by flames and the yells of a horde of excited savages. A fierce conflict ensued. Arrows were fired on the one side, gun-shots on the other, while the flames roared in accompaniment and lighted the scene. Both Indians and Spaniards fell. The following morning, when hostilities had ceased and the enemy had withdrawn, the body of Padre Jayme was discovered in the dry bed of a neighboring creek, bruised from head to foot with blows from stones and clubs, naked, and bearing eighteen arrow-wounds.

The sad news was sent to Serra, and his words, at hearing it, show the invincible missionary spirit of the man: "God be thanked! Now the soil is watered; now will the reduction of the Dieguinos be complete!"

At San Juan Capistrano, however, the news caused serious alarm. Work ceased, the bells were buried, and the priests returned.

In the meantime events were shaping elsewhere for the founding of the Mission of San Francisco. Away yonder, in what is now Arizona, but was then a part of New Mexico, were several Missions, some forty miles south of the city of Tucson, and it was decided to connect these, by means of a good road, with the Missions of California. Captain Juan Bautista de Anza was sent to find this road. He did so, and made the trip successfully, going with Padre Serra from San Gabriel as far north as Monterey.

On his return, the Viceroy, Bucareli, gave orders that he should recruit soldiers and settlers for the establishment and protection of the new Mission on San Francisco Bay. We have a full roster, in the handwriting of Padre Font, the Franciscan who accompanied the expedition, of those who composed it. Successfully they crossed the sandy wastes of Arizona and the barren desolation of the Colorado Desert (in Southern California).

On their arrival at San Gabriel, January 4, 1776 (memorable year on the other side of the continent), they found that Rivera, who had been appointed governor in Portolá's stead, had arrived the day before, on his way south to quell the Indian disturbances at San Diego, and Anza, on hearing the news, deemed the matter of sufficient importance to justify his turning aside from his direct purpose and going south with Rivera. Taking seventeen of his soldiers along, he left the others to recruit their energies at San Gabriel, but the inactivity of Rivera did not please him, and, as things were not going well at San Gabriel, he soon returned and started northward. It was a weary journey, the rains having made some parts of the road well-nigh impassable, and even the women had to walk. Yet on the tenth of March they all arrived safely and happily at Monterey, where Serra himself came to congratulate them.

After an illness which confined him to his bed, Anza, against the advice of his physician, started to investigate the San Francisco region, as upon his decision rested the selection of the site. The bay was pretty well explored, and the site chosen, near a spring and creek, which was named from the day,--the last Friday in Lent,--Arroyo de los Dolores. Hence the name so often applied to the Mission itself: it being commonly known even to-day as "Mission Dolores."

His duty performed, Anza returned south, and Rivera appointed Lieutenant Moraga to take charge of the San Francisco colonists, and on July 26, 1776, a camp was pitched on the allotted site. The next day a building of tules was begun and on the twenty-eighth of the same month mass was said by Padre Palou. In the meantime, the vessel "San Carlos" was expected from Monterey with all needful supplies for both the presidio and the new Mission, but, buffeted by adverse winds, it was forced down the coast as far as San Diego, and did not arrive outside of what is now the bay of San Francisco until August 17.

The two carpenters from the "San Carlos," with a squad of sailors, were set to work on the new buildings, and on September 17 the foundation ceremonies of the presidio took place. On that same day, Lord Howe, of the British army, with his Hessian mercenaries, was rejoicing in the city of New York in anticipation of an easy conquest of the army of the revolutionists.

It was the establishment of that presidio, followed by that of the Mission on October 9, which predestined the name of the future great American city, born of adventure and romance.

Padres Palou and Cambon had been hard at work since the end of July. Aided by Lieutenant Moraga, they built a church fifty-four feet long, and a house thirty by fifteen feet, both structures being of wood, plastered with clay, and roofed with tules. On October 3, the day preceding the festival of St. Francis, bunting and flags from the ships were brought to decorate the new buildings; but, owing to the absence of Moraga, the formal dedication did not take place until October 9. Happy was Serra's friend and brother, Palou, to celebrate high mass at this dedication of the church named after the great founder of his Order, and none the less so were his assistants, Fathers Cambon, Nocedal, and Pe?a.

Just before the founding of the Mission of San Francisco, the Spanish Fathers witnessed an Indian battle. Natives advanced from the region of San Mateo and vigorously attacked the San Francisco Indians, burning their houses and compelling them to flee on their tule rafts to the islands and the opposite shores of the bay. Months elapsed before these defeated Indians returned, to afford the Fathers at San Francisco an opportunity to work for the salvation of their souls.

In October of the following year, Serra paid his first visit to San Francisco, and said mass on the titular saint's day. Then, standing near the Golden Gate, he exclaimed: "Thanks be to God that now our father, St. Francis, with the holy professional cross of Missions, has reached the last limit of the Californian continent. To go farther he must have boats."

The same month in which Palou dedicated the northern Mission, found Serra, with Padre Gregorio Amurrio and ten soldiers, wending their way from San Diego to San Juan Capistrano, the foundation of which had been delayed the year previous by the San Diego massacre. They disinterred the bells and other buried materials and without delay founded the Mission. With his customary zeal, Serra caused the bells to be hung and sounded, and said the dedicatory mass on November 1, 1776. The original location of this Mission, named by the Indians Sajirit, was approximately the site of the present church, whose pathetic ruins speak eloquently of the frightful earthquake which later destroyed it.

Aroused by a letter from Viceroy Bucareli, Rivera hastened the establishment of the eighth Mission. A place was found near the Guadalupe River, where the Indians named Tares had four rancherias, and which they called Thamien. Here Padre Tomás de la Pe?a planted the cross, erected an enramada, or brush shelter, and on January 12, 1777, said mass, dedicating the new Mission to the Virgin, Santa Clara, one of the early converts of Francis of Assisi.

On February 3, 1777, the new governor of Alta California, Felipe de Neve, arrived at Monterey and superseded Rivera. He quickly established the pueblo of San José, and, a year or two later, Los Angeles, the latter under the long title of the pueblo of "Nuestra Se?ora, Reina de los Angeles,"--Our Lady, Queen of the Angels.

In the meantime, contrary to the advice and experience of the padres, the new Viceroy, Croix, determined to establish two Missions on the Colorado River, near the site of the present city of Yuma, and conduct them not as Missions with the Fathers exercising control over the Indians, but as towns in which the Indians would be under no temporal restraint. The attempt was unfortunate. The Indians fell upon the Spaniards and priests, settlers, soldiers, and Governor Rivera himself perished in the terrific attack. Forty-six men met an awful fate, and the women were left to a slavery more frightful than death. This was the last attempt made by the Spaniards to missionize the Yumas.

With these sad events in mind the Fathers founded San Buenaventura on March 31, 1782. Serra himself preached the dedicatory sermon. The Indians came from their picturesque conical huts of tule and straw, to watch the raising of the cross, and the gathering at this dedication was larger than at any previous ceremony in California; more than seventy Spaniards with their families, together with large numbers of Indians, being there assembled.

The next month, the presidio of Santa Barbara was established.

In the end of 1783, Serra visited all the southern Missions to administer confirmation to the neophytes, and in January, 1784, he returned to San Carlos at Monterey.

For some time his health had been failing, asthma and a running sore on his breast both causing him much trouble. Everywhere uneasiness was felt at his physical condition, but though he undoubtedly suffered keenly, he refused to take medicine. The padres were prepared at any time to hear of his death. But Serra calmly went on with his work. He confirmed the neophytes at San Luis Obispo and San Antonio, and went to help dedicate the new church recently built at Santa Clara, and also to San Francisco. Called back to Santa Clara by the sickness of Padre Murguia, he was saddened by the death of that noble and good man, and felt he ought to prepare himself for death. But he found strength to return to San Carlos at Monterey, and there, on Saturday, August 28, 1784, he passed to his eternal reward, at the ripe age of seventy years, nine months and four days. His last act was to walk to the door, in order that he might look out upon the beautiful face of Nature. The ocean, the sky, the trees, the valley with its wealth of verdure, the birds, the flowers--all gave joy to his weary eyes. Returning to his bed, he "fell asleep," and his work on earth ended. He was buried by his friend Palou at his beloved Mission in the Carmelo Valley, and there his dust now rests.[1]

[1] In 1787 Padre Palou published, in the City of Mexico, his "Life and Apostolic Labors of the Venerable Padre Junipero Serra." This has never yet been translated, until this year, 1913, the bi-centenary of his birth, when I have had the work done by a competent scholar, revised by the eminent Franciscan historian, Father Zephyrin Englehardt, with annotations. It is a work of over three hundred pages, and is an important contribution to the historic literature of California.

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