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The Old Franciscan Missions Of California By George Wharton James Characters: 12507

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

We have already seen that San Gabriel, the fourth Mission, was founded September 8, 1771. The natives gave cheerful assistance in bringing timber, erecting the wooden buildings, covering them with tules, and constructing the stockade enclosure which surrounded them. They also brought offerings of acorns and pine-nuts. In a few days so many of them crowded into camp that Padre Somero went to San Diego for an addition to the guard, and returned with two extra men. It was not long before the soldiers got into trouble, owing to their treatment of the Indian women, and an Indian attack, as before related, took place. A few days later, Fages appeared on the scene from San Diego with sixteen soldiers and two missionaries, who were destined as guard and priests for the new Mission of San Buenaventura. But the difficulty with the Indians led Fages to postpone the founding of the new Mission. The offending soldier was hurried off to Monterey to get him out of the way of further trouble. The padres did their best to correct the evil impression the soldiers had created, and, strange to say, the first child brought for baptism was the son of the chief who had been killed in the dispute with the soldiers.

But the San Gabriel soldiers were not to be controlled. They were insolent to the aged priests, who were in ill-health; they abused the Indians so far as to pursue them to their rancherías "for the fun of the thing;" and there they had additional "sport" by lassoing the women and killing such men as interfered with their lusts. No wonder Serra's heart was heavy when he heard the news, and that he attributed the small number of baptisms--only seventy-three in two years--to the wickedness of the men who should have aided instead of hindering the work.

In his first report to Mexico, Serra tells of the Indian population around San Gabriel. He says it is larger than at any other Mission, though, unfortunately, of several different tribes who are at war with one another; and the tribes nearest to the sea will not allow others to fish, so that they are often in great want of food. Of the prospects for agriculture he is most enthusiastic. The location is a well-watered plain, with plenty of water and natural facilities for irrigation; and though the first year's crop was drowned out, the second produced one hundred and thirty fanegas of maize and seven fanegas of beans. The buildings erected are of the same general character as those already described at San Carlos, though somewhat smaller.





When Captain Anza reached California from Sonora, by way of the Colorado, on his first trip in 1774, accompanied by Padre Garcés, he stayed for awhile to recuperate at San Gabriel; and when he came the second time, with the colonists for the new presidio of San Francisco, San Gabriel was their first real stopping-place after that long, weary, and arduous journey across the sandy deserts of Arizona and California. Here Anza met Rivera, who had arrived the day before from Monterey. It will be remembered that just at that time the news came of the Indian uprising at San Diego; so, leaving his main force and the immigrants to recuperate, he and seventeen of his soldiers, with Padre Font, started with Rivera for the south. This was in January, 1776. He and Rivera did not agree as to the best methods to be followed in dealing with the troublesome Indians; so, when advices reached him from San Gabriel that provisions were giving out, he decided to allow Rivera to follow his own plans, but that he would wait no longer. When he arrived at San Gabriel, February 12, he found that three of his muleteers, a servant, and a soldier belonging to the Mission had deserted, taking with them twenty-five horses and a quantity of Mission property. His ensign, Moraga, was sent after the deserters; but, as he did not return as soon as was expected, Anza started with his band of colonists for the future San Francisco, where they duly arrived, as is recorded in the San Francisco chapter.

In 1777-1778 the Indians were exceedingly troublesome, and on one occasion came in large force, armed, to avenge some outrage the soldiers had perpetrated. The padres met them with a shining image of Our Lady, when, immediately, they were subdued, and knelt weeping at the feet of the priests.

In October, 1785, trouble was caused by a woman tempting (so they said) the neophytes and gentiles to attack the Mission and kill the padres. The plot was discovered, and the corporal in command captured some twenty of the leaders and quelled the uprising without bloodshed. Four of the ringleaders were imprisoned, the others whipped with fifteen or twenty lashes each, and released. The woman was sentenced to perpetual exile, and possibly shipped off to one of the peninsula Missions.

In 1810 the settlers at Los Angeles complained to the governor that the San Gabriel padres had dammed up the river at Cahuenga, thus cutting off their water supply; and they also stated that the padres refused to attend to the spiritual wants of their sick. The padres offered to remove the dam if the settlers were injured thereby, and also claimed that they were always glad to attend to the sick when their own pressing duties allowed.

On January 14, 1811, Padre Francisco Dumetz, one of Serra's original compadres, died at San Gabriel. At this time, and since 1806, Padre José María Zalvidea, that strict martinet of padres, was in charge, and he brought the Mission up to its highest state of efficiency. He it was who began the erection of the stone church that now remains, and the whole precinct, during his rule, rang with the busy hammer, clatter, chatter, and movement of a large number of active workers.

It was doubtless owing to the earthquake of December 8, 1812, which occurred at sunrise, that a new church was built. The main altar was overthrown, several of the figures broken, the steeple toppled over and crashed to the ground, and the sacristy walls were badly cracked. The padres' house as well as all the other buildings suffered.

One of

the adjuncts to San Gabriel was El Molino Viejo,--the old mill. Indeed there were two old mills, the first one, however, built in Padre Zalvidea's time, in 1810 to 1812, being the one that now remains. It is about two miles from the Mission. It had to be abandoned on account of faulty location. Being built on the hillside, its west main wall was the wall of the deep funnel-shaped cisterns which furnished the water head. This made the interior damp. Then, too, the chamber in which the water-well revolved was so low that the powerful head of water striking the horizontal wheel splashed all over the walls and worked up through the shaft holes to the mill stones and thus wet the flour. This necessitated the constant presence of Indian women to carry away the meal to dry storerooms at the Mission where it was bolted by a hand process of their own devising. On this account the mill was abandoned, and for several years the whole of the meal for the Mission was ground on the old-style metates.

The region adjacent to the mill was once largely inhabited by Indians, for the foreman of the mill ranch declares that he has hauled from the adjacent bluff as many stone pestles and mortars, metates and grinders as would load a four-horse wagon.

It should not be forgotten that originally the mill was roofed with red tiles made by the Indians at the Mission; but these have entirely disappeared.

It was the habit of Padre Zalvidea to send certain of his most trusted neophytes over to the islands of San Clemente and Catalina with a "bolt" or two of woven serge, made at the Mission San Gabriel, to exchange with the island Indians for their soapstone cooking vessels,--mortars, etc. These traders embarked from a point where Redondo now is, and started always at midnight.

In 1819 the Indians of the Guachama rancho, called San Bernardino, petitioned for the introduction of agriculture and stock raising, and this was practically the beginning of that asistencia, as will be recorded in the chapter on the various chapels. A chapel was also much needed at Puente, where Zalvidea had six hundred Indians at work in 1816.

In 1822 San Gabriel was fearfully alarmed at the rumor that one hundred and fifty Indians were bearing down upon that Mission from the Colorado River region. It transpired that it was an Opata with despatches, and that the company had no hostile intent. But Captain Portilla met them and sent them back, not a little disconcerted by their inhospitable reception.

Of the wild, political chaos that occurred in California after Mexico became independent of Spain, San Gabriel felt occasional waves. When the people of San Diego and the southern part of the State rebelled against Governor Victoria, and the latter confident chief came to arrange matters, a battle took place near Los Angeles, in which he was severely wounded. His friends bore him to San Gabriel, and, though he had entirely defeated his foes, so cleverly did some one work upon his fears that he made a formal surrender, December 6, 1831. On the ninth the leader of the rebels, the former Governor Echeandía, had a conference with him at San Gabriel, where he pledged himself to return to Mexico without giving further trouble; and on the twentieth he left, stopping for awhile at San Luis Rey with Padre Peyri. It was at this time the venerable and worthy Peyri decided to leave California, and he therefore accompanied the deposed governor to San Diego, from which port they sailed January 17, 1832.

After secularization San Gabriel was one of the Missions that slaughtered a large number of her cattle for the hides and tallow. Pio Pico states that he had the contract at San Gabriel, employing ten vaqueros and thirty Indians, and that he thus killed over five thousand head. Robinson says that the rascally contractors secretly appropriated two hides for every one they turned over to the Mission.

In 1843, March 29, Micheltorena's order, restoring San Gabriel to the padres, was carried out, and in 1844 the official church report states that nothing is left but its vineyards in a sad condition, and three hundred neophytes. The final inventory made by the comisionados under Pio Pico is missing, so that we do not know at what the Mission was valued; but June 8, 1846, he sold the whole property to Reid and Workman in payment for past services to the government. When attacked for his participation in what evidently seemed the fraudulent transfer of the Mission, Pico replies that the sale "did not go through." The United States officers, in August of the same year, dispossessed the "purchasers," and the courts finally decreed the sale invalid.

There are a few portions of the old cactus hedge still remaining, planted by Padre Zalvidea. Several hundreds of acres of vineyard and garden were thus enclosed for purposes of protection from Indians and roaming bands of horses and cattle. The fruit of the prickly pear was a prized article of diet by the Indians, so that the hedge was of benefit in two ways,--protection and food.

On the altar are several of the old statues, and there are some quaint pictures upon the walls.

In the baptistry is a font of hammered copper, probably made either at San Gabriel or San Fernando. There are several other interesting vessels. At the rear of the church are the remains of five brick structures, where the soap-making and tallow-rendering of the Mission was conducted. Five others were removed a few years ago to make way for the public road. Undoubtedly there were other buildings for the women and male neophytes as well as the workshops.

The San Gabriel belfry is well known in picture, song, and story. Yet the fanciful legends about the casting of the bells give way to stern fact when they are examined. Upon the first bell is the inscription: "Ave María Santisima. S. Francisco. De Paula Rvelas, me fecit." The second: "Cast by G.H. Holbrook, Medway, Mass., 1828." The third: "Ave Maria, Sn Jvan Nepomvseno, Rvelas me fecit, A.D., '95." The fourth: "Fecit Benitvs a Regibvs, Ano D. 1830, Sn. Frano."

In the year 1886 a number of needed repairs were made; the windows were enlarged, and a new ceiling put in, the latter a most incongruous piece of work.

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