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   Chapter 6 No.6

Picture and Text / 1893 By Henry James Characters: 6611

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The Author of Ramona at Pala.

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When Helen Hunt Jackson, the gifted author of the romance Ramona-over which hundreds of thousands of Americans have shed bitter tears in deep sympathy with the wrongs perpetrated upon the Indians-was visiting the Mission Indians of California, in 1883, she wrote the following sketch of Pala. This is copied from her California and the Missions, by kind permission of the publishers, Little, Brown & Co., of Boston:

One of the most beautiful appanages of the San Luis Rey Mission, in the time of its prosperity, was the Pala Valley. It lies about twenty-five miles east (twenty miles, Ed.) of San Luis, among broken spurs of the Coast Range, watered by the San Luis River, and also by its own little stream, the Pala Creek. It was always a favorite home of the Indians; and at the time of the secularization, over a thousand of them used to gather at the weekly mass in its chapel. Now, on the occasional visits of the San Juan Capistrano priest, to hold service there, the dilapidated little church is not half filled, and the numbers are growing smaller each year. The buildings are all in decay; the stone steps leading to the belfry have crumbled; the walls of the little graveyard are broken in many places, the paling and the graves are thrown down. On the day we were there, a memorial service for the dead was going on in the chapel; a great square altar was draped with black, decorated with silver lace and ghostly funereal emblems; candles were burning; a row of kneeling black-shawled women were holding lighted candles in their hands; two old Indians were chanting a Latin hymn from a tattered missal bound in rawhide; the whole place was full of chilly gloom, in sharp contrast to the bright valley outside, with its sunlight and silence. This mass was for the soul of an old Indian woman named Margarita, sister of Manuelito, a somewhat famous chief of several bands of the San Luise?os. Her home was at the Potrero,-a mountain meadow, or pasture, as the word signifies,-about ten miles from Pala, high up the mountainside, and reached by an almost impassable road. This farm-or "saeter" it would be called in Norway-was given to Margarita by the friars; and by some exceptional good fortune she had a title which, it is said, can be maintained by her heirs. In 1871, in a revolt of some of Manuelito's bands, Margarita was hung up by her wrists till she was near dying, but was cut down at the last minute and saved.

One of her daughters speaks a little English; and finding that we had visited Pala solely on account of our interest in the Indians, she asked us to come up to the Potrero and pass the night. She said timidly that they had plenty of beds, and would do all that they knew how to do to make us comfortable. One might be in many a dear-priced hotel less comfortably lodged and served than we were by these hospitable Indians in their mud house, floored with earth. In my bedroom were three beds, all neatly made, with lace-trimmed sheets and pillow-cases and patchwork coverlids. One small square window with a wooden shutter was the only aperture for air, and there was no furniture except one chair and a half-dozen trunks. The Indians, like the Norwegian peasants, keep their clothes and various properties all neatly packed

away in boxes or trunks. As I fell asleep, I wondered if in the morning I should see Indian heads on the pillows opposite me; the whole place was swarming with men, women, and babies, and it seemed impossible for them to spare so many beds; but, no, when I waked, there were the beds still undisturbed; a soft-eyed Indian girl was on her knees rummaging in one of the trunks; seeing me awake, she murmured a few words in Indian, which conveyed her apology as well as if I had understood them. From the very bottom of the trunk she drew out a gilt-edged china mug, darted out of the room, and came back bringing it filled with fresh water. As she set it in the chair, in which she had already put a tin pan of water and a clean coarse towel, she smiled, and made a sign that it was for my teeth. There was a thoughtfulness and delicacy in the attention which lifted it far beyond the level of its literal value. The gilt-edged mug was her most precious possession; and, in remembering water for the teeth, she had provided me with the last superfluity in the way of white man's comfort of which she could think.

The food which they gave us was a surprise; it was far better than we had found the night before in the house of an Austrian colonel's son, at Pala. Chicken, deliciously cooked, with rice and chile; soda-biscuits delicately made; good milk and butter, all laid in orderly fashion, with a clean tablecloth, and clean, white stone china. When I said to our hostess that I regretted very much that they had given up their beds in my room, that they ought not to have done it, she answered me with a wave of her hand that "It was nothing; they hoped I had slept well; that they had plenty of other beds." The hospitable lie did not deceive me, for by examination I had convinced myself that the greater part of the family must have slept on the bare earth in the kitchen. They would not have taken pay for our lodging, except that they had had heavy expenses connected with Margarita's funeral.... We left at six o'clock in the morning; Margarita's husband, the "captain," riding off with us to see us safe on our way. When we had passed the worst gullies and boulders, he whirled his horse, lifted his ragged old sombrero with the grace of a cavalier, smiled, wished us good-day and good luck, and was out of sight in a second, his little wild pony galloping up the rough trail as if it were as smooth as a race-course.

Between the Potrero and Pala are two Indian villages, the Rincon and Pauma. The Rincon is at the head of the valley, snugged up against the mountains, as its name signifies, in a "corner." Here were fences, irrigating ditches, fields of barley, wheat, hay and peas; a little herd of horses and cows grazing, and several flocks of sheep. The men were all away sheep-shearing; the women were at work in the fields, some hoeing, some clearing out the irrigating ditches, and all the old women plaiting baskets. These Rincon Indians, we were told, had refused a school offered them by the Government; they said they would accept nothing at the hands of the Government until it gave them a title to their lands.

An Old San Luis Rey Mission Indian.

The Pala Campanile from the Graveyard.

Just Entering Pala Valley on the Road from Oceanside.

An Ancient Pala Indian.

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