MoboReader > Literature > Picture and Text / 1893

   Chapter 5 No.5

Picture and Text / 1893 By Henry James Characters: 5413

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The Decline of San Luis Rey and Pala.

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The original purpose of the Spanish Council, as well as of the Church, in founding the Missions of California, was to train the Indians in the ways of Christianity and civilization, and, ultimately, to make citizens of them when it was deemed they had progressed far enough and were stable enough in character to justify such a step.

How long this training period would require none ventured to assert, but whether fifty years, a hundred, or five hundred, the Church undertook the task and was prepared to carry it out.

When, however, the republic of Mexico fell upon evil days and such self-seekers as Santa Anna became president, the greedy politicians of Mexico and the province of California saw an opportunity to feather their own nests at the expense of the Indians. Let the reader for a few moments picture the general situation. Here, in California, there were twenty-one Missions and quite a number of branches, or asistencias. In each Mission from one to three thousand Indians were assembled, under competent direction and business management. It can readily be seen that fields grew fertile, flocks and herds increased, and possessions of a variety of kinds multiplied under such conditions. All these accumulations, however, it must not be forgotten, were not regarded by the padres as their own property, or that of the Church. They were merely held in trust for the benefit of the Indians, and, when the time eventually arrived, were to be distributed as the sole and individual property of the Indians.

Had that time arrived? There is but one opinion in the minds of the authorities, even those who do not in all things approve of the missionaries and their work. For instance, Hittell says:

In other cases it has required hundreds of years to educate savages up to the point of making citizens, and many hundreds to make good citizens. The idea of at once transforming the idle, improvident and brutish natives of California into industrious, law-abiding and self-governing town people was preposterous.

Yet this-the making of citizens of the Indians-was the plea under which the Missions were secularized. The plea was a paltry falsehood. The Missions were the plum for which the politicians strove. Here is what Clinch writes of San Luis Rey:

Under Peyri's administration, despite its disadvantages of soil, San Luis Rey grew steadily in population and material prosperity. In 1800 cattle and horses were six hundred and sheep sixteen hundred. The wheat harvest gave two thousand bushels, but corn and beans were failures and barley only gave a hundred and twenty fanegas. Ten years later 11,000 fanegas of all kinds of

grain were gathered as a crop. Cattle had grown to ten thousand five hundred and sheep and hogs nearly ten thousand. The Indians had increased to fifteen hundred. Fourteen hundred and fifty had been baptized while there had been only four hundred deaths recorded. By 1826 the parent mission counted nearly three thousand Christian Indians and nearly a thousand gathered at Pala, six leagues from the central establishment. A church was built there and a priest usually resided at it. At its best time San Luis Rey counted nearly thirty thousand cattle, as many sheep and over two thousand horses as the property of its three thousand Indians. Its average grain crop was about thirteen thousand bushels. San Gabriel surpassed it in farming prosperity with a crop which reached thirty thousand bushels in a year, but in population, in live stock, in the low death rate among its Indians and in the character of its church and buildings, San Luis Rey continued to the end first among the Franciscan missions.

It can well be imagined, therefore, that when the Mexican politicians decided that the time had arrived to secularize the Missions, San Luis Rey would be one of the first to be laid hold of. Pablo de la Portilla and later, Pio Pico, were appointed the commissioners, and it seems to be the general opinion that they were no better than those who operated at the other Missions, and of whom Hittell writes:

The great mass of the commissioners and their officials, whose duty it became to administer the properties of the missions, and especially their great numbers of horses, cattle, sheep and other animals, thought of little else and accomplished little else than enriching themselves. It cannot be said that the spoliation was immediate; but it was certainly very rapid. A few years sufficed to strip the establishments of everything of value and leave the Indians, who were in contemplation of law the beneficiaries of secularization, a shivering crowd of naked, and, so to speak, homeless wanderers upon the face of the earth.

It is almost impossible for one who has not given the matter due study to realize the demoralizing effect upon the Indians and the Mission buildings of this infamous course of procedure. The Indians speedily became the prey of the vicious, the abandoned, the hyenas and vultures of so-called civilization. Deprived of the parental care of the fathers, and led astray on every hand, their corruption spelt speedy extinction, and two or three generations saw this largely accomplished. Only those Indians who were too far away to be easily reached escaped, or partially escaped, the general destruction. The processes were swift, the results lamentably certain.

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