The chapel at Pala is perhaps the best known of all the asistencias on account of its picturesque campanile. It was built by the indefatigable Padre Peyri, in 1816, and is about twenty miles from San Luis Rey, to which it belonged. Within a year or two, by means of a resident padre, over a thousand converts were gathered, reciting their prayers and tilling the soil. A few buildings, beside the chapel, were erected, and the community, far removed from all political strife, must have been happy and con-tented in its mountain-valley home. The chapel is a long, narrow adobe structure, 144 by 27 feet, roofed with red tiles. The walls within were decorated in the primitive and singular fashion found at others of the Missions, and upon the altar were several statues which the Indians valued highly.
Pala is made peculiarly interesting as the present home of the evicted Palatingwa (Hot Springs) Indians of Warner’s Ranch. Here these wretchedly treated ” wards of the nation ” are now struggling with the problem of life, with the fact ever before them, when they think, (as they often do, for several of them called my attention to the fact) that the former Indian population of Pala has totally disappeared. At the time of the secularization of San Luis Rey, Pala suffered with the rest ; and when the Americans finally took possession it was abandoned to the tender mercies of the straying, seeking, searching, devouring homesteader. In due time it was ” homesteaded.” The chapel and graveyard were ultimately deeded back ; and when the Landmarks Club took hold it was agreed that the ruins “revert to their proper ownership.” The Club then took a lease on the property for the purpose of carrying out its intentions, which are elsewhere referred to.
Though all the original Indians were ousted long ago from their lands at Pala, those who lived anywhere within a dozen or a score miles still took great interest in the old buildings, the decorations of the church, and the statues of the saints. Whenever a priest came and held services a goodly congregation assembled, for a number of Mexicans, as well as Indians, live in the neighborhood.
That they loved the dear old asistencia was manifested by Americans, Mexicans, and Indians alike, for when the Landmarks Club visited it in December, 1901, and asked for assistance to put it in order, help was immediately volunteered to the extent of $217, if the work were paid for at the rate of $1.75 per day.
With a desire to promote the good feeling aimed at in recent dealings with the evicted Indians of Warner’s Ranch, now located at Pala, the bishop of the diocese sent them a priest. He, however, was of an alien race, and unfamiliar with either the history of the chapel, its memories, or the feelings of the Indians ; and to their intense indignation, they found that without consulting them, or his own superiors, he had destroyed all the interior decorations by covering them with a coating of whitewash.