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The Old Franciscan Missions Of California By George Wharton James Characters: 15032

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

The story of Bucareli's determination to found a presidio at San Francisco, and Anza's march with the colonists for it from Sonora, has already been recounted. When Serra and Galvez were making their original plans for the establishment of the three first Missions of Alta California, Serra expressed his disappointment that St. Francis was neglected by asking: "And for our founder St. Francis there is no Mission?" To which Galvez replied: "If St. Francis desires a Mission, let him show us his harbor and he shall have one." It therefore seemed providential that when Portolá, Pages, and Crespí, in 1769, saw the Bay of Monterey they did not recognize it, and were thus led on further north, where the great Bay of San Francisco was soon afterwards discovered and reasonably well surveyed.

Palou eventually established the Mission October 9, 1776. None of the Indians were present to witness the ceremony, as they had fled, the preceding month, from the attacks of certain of their enemies. When they returned in December they brought trouble with them. They stole all in their reach; one party discharged arrows at the corporal of the guard; another insulted a soldier's wife; and an attempt was made to kill the San Carlos neophyte who had been brought here. The officers shut up one of these hostiles, whereat a party of his comrades rushed to the rescue, fired their arrows at the Mission, and were only driven back when the soldiers arrived and fired their muskets in the air. Next day the sergeant went out to make arrests and another struggle ensued, in which one was killed and one wounded. All now sued for peace, which, with sundry floggings, was granted. For three months they now kept away from the Mission.

In 1777 they began to return, and on October 4, Padre Serra, on his first visit, was able to say mass in the presence of seventeen adult native converts. Then, passing over to the presidio on October 10, as he stood gazing on the waters flowing out to the setting sun through the purple walls of the Golden Gate, he exclaimed with a heart too full of thanksgiving to be longer restrained: "Thanks be to God that now our father St. Francis with the Holy Cross of the Procession of Missions, has reached the last limit of the Californian continent. To go farther he must have boats."

In 1782, April 25, the corner-stone of a new church was laid at San Francisco. Three padres were present, together with the Mission guard and a body of troops from the presidio. In the Mission records it says: "There was enclosed in the cavity of said corner-stone the image of our Holy Father St. Francis, some relics in the form of bones of St. Pius and other holy martyrs, five medals of various saints, and a goodly portion of silver coin."

In 1785 Governor Pages complained to the viceroy, among other things, that the presidio of San Francisco had been deprived of mass for three years, notwithstanding the obligation of the friars to serve as chaplains. Palou replied that the padres were under no obligation to serve gratuitously, and that they were always ready to attend the soldiers when their other duties allowed.

In November, 1787, Captain Soler, who for a brief time acted as temporary governor and inspector, suggested that the presidio of San Francisco be abandoned and its company transferred to Santa Barbara. Later, as I have shown elsewhere, a proposition was again made for the abandonment of San Francisco; so it is apparent that Fate herself was protecting it for its future great and wonderful history.

In 1790 San Francisco reported 551 baptisms and 205 deaths, with a present neophyte population of 438. Large stock had increased to 2000 head and small to 1700.

Three years later, on November 14, the celebrated English navigator, George Vancouver, in his vessel "Discovery," sailed into San Francisco Bay. His arrival caused quite a flutter of excitement both at the presidio and Mission, where he was kindly entertained. The governor was afraid of this elaborate hospitality to the hated and feared English, and issued orders to the commandant providing for a more frigid reception in the future, so, on Vancouver's second visit, he did not find matters so agreeable, and grumbled accordingly.

Tiles were made and put on the church roofs in 1795; more houses were built for the neophytes, and all roofed with tiles. Half a league of ditch was also dug around the potrero (pasture ground) and fields.

In 1806 San Francisco was enlivened by the presence of the Russian chamberlain, Rezánof, who had been on a special voyage around the world, and was driven by scurvy and want of provisions to the California settlements. He was accompanied by Dr. G.H. von Langsdorff. Langsdorff's account of the visit and reception at several points in California is interesting. He gives a full description of the Indians and their method of life at the Mission; commends the zeal and self-sacrifice of the padres; speaks of the ingenuity shown by the women in making baskets; the system of allowing the cattle and horses to run wild, etc. Visiting the Mission of San José by boat, he and his companions had quite an adventurous time getting back, owing to the contrary winds.

Rezánof's visit and its consequences have been made the subject of much and romantic writing. Gertrude Atherton's novel, Rezánof, is devoted to this episode in his life. The burden of the story is possibly true, viz., that the Russians in their settlements to the north were suffering for want of the food that California was producing in abundance. Yet, owing to the absurd Spanish laws governing California, she was forbidden to sell to or trade with any foreign peoples or powers. Rezánof, who was well acquainted with this prohibitory law, determined upon trying to overcome it for the immediate relief of his suffering compatriots. He was fairly well received when he reached San Francisco, but he could accomplish nothing in the way of trading or the sale of the needed provisions.

Now began a campaign of strategic waiting. To complicate (or simplify) the situation, in the bailes and festas given to the distinguished Russian, Rezánof danced and chatted with Concha Argüello, the daughter of the stern old commandant of the post.

Did they fall in love with each other, or did they not? Some writers say one thing and some another. Anyhow, the girl thought she had received the honest love of a noble man and responded with ardor and devotion. So sure was she of his affection that she finally prevailed upon her father (so we are told) to sell to Rezánof the provisions for which he had come. The vessel, accordingly, was well and satisfactorily laden and Rezánof sailed away. Being a Russian subject, he was not allowed to marry the daughter of a foreigner without the consent of his sovereign, and he was to hurry to Moscow and gain permission to return and wed the lady of his choice.

He never returned. Hence the accusation that he acted in bad faith to her and her father. This charge seems to be unfounded, for it is known that he left his vessel and started overland to reach Moscow earlier than he could have done by ship, that he was taken seriously ill on the trip and died.

But Concha did not know of this. No one informed her of the death of her lover, and her weary waiting for his return is what has given the touch of keenest pathos to the romantic story. Bret Harte, in his inimitable style, has put into exquisite verse, the story of the waiting of this t

rue-hearted Spanish maiden[4]:

[4] From Poems by Bret Harte. By permission of the publishers, The Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Mass.

"He with grave provincial magnates long had held serene debate

On the Treaty of Alliance and the high affairs of state;

He from grave provincial magnates oft had turned to talk apart

With the Comandante's daughter on the questions of the heart,

Until points of gravest import yielded slowly one by one,

And by Love was consummated what Diplomacy begun;

Till beside the deep embrasures, where the brazen cannon are,

He received the twofold contract for approval of the Czar;

Till beside the brazen cannon the betrothèd bade adieu,

And from sallyport and gateway north the Russian eagles flew.

Long beside the deep embrasures, where the brazen cannon are,

Did they wait the promised bridegroom and the answer of the Czar.

Day by day ...

Week by week ...

So each year the seasons shifted,--wet and warm and drear and dry;

Half a year of clouds and flowers, half a year of dust and sky.

Still it brought no ship nor message,--brought no tidings, ill or meet,

For the statesmanlike Commander, for the daughter fair and sweet.

Yet she heard the varying message, voiceless to all ears beside:

'He will come,' the flowers whispered; 'Come no more,' the dry hills sighed.

Then the grim Commander, pacing where the brazen cannon are,

Comforted the maid with proverbs, wisdom gathered from afar;

* * *

So with proverbs and caresses, half in faith and half in doubt,

Every day some hope was kindled, flickered, faded, and went out.

* * *

Forty years on wall and bastion swept the hollow idle breeze

Since the Russian eagle fluttered from the California seas;

Forty years on wall and bastion wrought its slow but sure decay,

And St. George's cross was lifted in the port of Monterey;

And the Citadel was lighted, and the hall was gaily drest,

All to honor Sir George Simpson, famous traveler and guest.

* * *

The formal speeches ended, and amidst the laugh and wine,

Some one spoke of Concha's lover,--heedless of the warning sign.

Quickly then cried Sir George Simpson: 'Speak no ill of him, I pray!

He is dead. He died, poor fellow, forty years ago this day.--

'Died while speeding home to Russia, falling from a fractious horse.

Left a sweetheart, too, they tell me. Married, I suppose, of course!

'Lives she yet?' A deathlike silence fell on banquet, guests, and hall,

And a trembling figure rising fixed the awestruck gaze of all.

Two black eyes in darkened orbits gleamed beneath the nun's white hood;

Black serge hid the wasted figure, bowed and stricken where it stood.

'Lives she yet?' Sir George repeated. All were hushed as Concha drew

Closer yet her nun's attire. 'Senyor, pardon, she died, too!'"

In 1810 Moraga, the ensign at the presidio, was sent with seventeen men to punish the gentiles of the region of the Carquines Strait, who for several years had been harassing the neophytes at San Francisco, and sixteen of whom they had killed. Moraga had a hard fight against a hundred and twenty of them, and captured eighteen, whom he soon released, "as they were all sure to die of their wounds." The survivors retreated to their huts and made a desperate resistance, and were so determined not to be captured that, when one hut was set on fire, its inmates preferred to perish in the flames rather than to surrender. A full report of this affair was sent to the King of Spain and as a result he promoted Moraga and other officers, and increased the pay of some of the soldiers. He also tendered the thanks of the nation to all the participants.

Runaway neophytes gave considerable trouble for several years, and in 1819 a force was sent from San Francisco to punish these recalcitrants and their allies. A sharp fight took place near the site of the present Stockton, in which 27 Indians were killed, 20 wounded, and 16 captured, with 49 horses.

The Mission report for 1821-1830 shows a decrease in neophyte population from 1252 to 219, though this was largely caused by the sending of neophytes to the newly founded Missions of San Rafael and San Francisco Solano.

San Francisco was secularized in 1834-1835, with Joaquin Estudillo as comisionado. The valuation in 1835 was real estate and fixtures, $25,800; church property, $17,800; available assets in excess of debts (chiefly live-stock), $16,400, or a total of $60,000. If any property was ever divided among the Indians, there is no record to show it.

On June 5, 1845, Pio Pico's proclamation was made, requiring the Indians of Dolores Mission to reunite and occupy it or it would be declared abandoned and disposed of for the general good of the department. A fraudulent title to the Mission was given, and antedated February 10, 1845; but it was afterwards declared void, and the building was duly returned to the custody of the archbishop, under whose direction it still remains.

After Commodore Sloat had taken possession of Monterey for the United States, in 1846, it was merely the work of a day or so to get despatches to Captain Montgomery, of the ship "Portsmouth," who was in San Francisco bay and who immediately raised the stars and stripes, and thus the city of the Golden Gate entered into American possession. While the city was materially concerned in the events immediately following the occupation, the Mission was already too nearly dead to participate. In 1846 the bishop succeeded in finding a curate for a short period, but nothing in the records can be found as to the final disposition of the property belonging to the ex-Mission. In the political caldron it had totally disappeared.

In the early days the Mission Indians were buried in the graveyard, then the soldiers and settlers, Spanish and Mexican, and the priests, and, later, the Americanos. But all is neglected and uncared for, except by Nature, and, after all, perhaps it is better so. The kindly spirited Earth Mother has given forth vines and myrtle and ivy and other plants in profusion, that have hidden the old graveled walks and the broken flags. Rose bushes grow untrimmed, untrained and frankly beautiful; while pepper and cypress wave gracefully and poetically suggestive over graves of high and low, historic and unknown. For here are names carved on stone denoting that beneath lie buried those who helped make California history. Just at the side entrance of the church is a stone with this inscription to the first governor of California: "Aqui yacen los restos del Capitan Don Luis Antonio Argüello, Primer Gobernador del Alta California, Bajo el Gobierno Mejicano. Nació en San Francisco el 21 de Junio, 1774, y murió en el mismo lugar el 27 de Marzo, 1830."

Farther along is a brown stone monument, erected by the members of the famous fire company, to Casey, who was hung by the Vigilantes--Casey, who shot James King of William. The monument, adorned with firemen's helmets and bugles in stone, stands under the shadow of drooping pepper sprays, and is inscribed: "Sacred to the memory of James P. Casey, who Departed this life May 23, 1856, Aged 27 years. May God forgive my Persecutors. Requiescat en pace."

Poor, sad Dolores! How utterly lost it now looks!

During the earthquake and fire of 1906, the new church by its side was destroyed. But the old Indian-built structure was preserved and still stands as a grand memorial of the past.

* * *

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