California Missions – San Buenaventura

FOR thirteen years the heart of the venerable Serra was made sick by the postponements in the founding of this Mission. The Viceroy de Croix had ordered Governor Rivera ” to recruit seventy-five soldiers for the establishment of a presidio and three Missions in the channel of Santa Barbara : one towards the north of the channel, which was to be dedicated to the Immaculate Conception ; one towards the south, dedicated to San Buenaventura, and a third in the centre, dedicated to Santa Barbara.”

It was Serra’s intense desire that the whole of the Indians along the two hundred leagues of Pacific Coast should be converted, and he argued that if Missions were established at convenient intervals of distance, they would be caught in one or another of them. Portola, after he made his trip from San Diego to Monterey in 1769, re-ported fully to Serra the condition of the Indians he found on the shore of the Channel Coast, — how that they, by means of pictures made in the sand, showed that vessels had been there, and white men, with beards, also visited them ; thus, undoubtedly, recalling the traditions of the Vizcaino visit made nearly two hundred years before. Portola described their huts and the arrangement of their villages. The one he named ” Assumpta ” was the site of the future San Buenaventura. There he found the Indians more industrious and athletic, and the women better clad, than elsewhere. They were builders of well-shaped pine canoes, and were expert fishermen. They were also stone-masons, using only tools made of flint. Exchanges were made by Portola with them of curious trinkets for highly polished wooden plates, which showed that they were accomplished wood-workers. Each family lived in its own hut, which was conical in shape, made of willow poles and covered with sage and other brush. A hole was left in the top for the smoke to escape which rose from the fire, always built in the centre of the hut.

Reports such as these had kept Serra in a constant ferment to establish the long-promised Mission there, so we can imagine it was with intense delight that he received a call from Governor Neve, who, in February, 1782, informed him that he was prepared to proceed at once to the founding of the Missions of San Buenaventura and Santa Barbara. Although busy training his neophytes, he determined to go in person and perform the necessary ceremonies. Looking about for a padre to accompany him, and all his own coadjutors being engaged, he bethought him of Father Pedro Benito Cambon, a returned invalid missionary from the Philippine Islands, who was recuperating at San Diego. He accordingly wrote Padre Cambon, re-questing him, if possible, to meet him at San Gabriel. On his way to San Gabriel, Serra passed through the Indian villages of the Channel region, and could not refrain from joyfully communicating the news to the Indians that, very speedily, he would return to them, and establish Missions in their midst. I have often wondered, and still wonder, what the thoughts of the Indians were, as this man — benignant, energetic, devout — talked with them and revealed his purposes towards them. Who can tell?

In the evening of March 18 Serra reached Los Angeles, and next evening, after walking to San Gabriel, weighed down with his many cares, and weary with his long walk, he still preached an excellent sermon, it being the feast of the patriarch St. Joseph. Father Cambon had arrived, and after due consultation with him and the Governor, the date for the setting out of the expedition was fixed for Tuesday, March 26. The week was spent in confirmation services and other religious work, and, on the date named, after solemn mass, the party set forth. It was the most imposing procession ever witnessed in California up to that time, and called forth many gratified remarks from Serra. There were seventy soldiers, with their captain, commander for the new presidio, ensign, sergeant, and corporals. In full gubernatorial dignity followed Governor Neve, with ten soldiers of the Monterey company, their wives and families, servants and neophytes.

At midnight they halted, and a special messenger over-took them with news which led the Governor to return at once to San Gabriel with his ten soldiers. He ordered the procession to proceed, however, found the San Buenaventura Mission, and there await his return. Serra accordingly went forward, and on the 29th inst. arrived at ” Assumpta.” Here, the next day, on the feast of Easter, they pitched their tents, ” erected a large cross, and pre-pared an altar under a shade of evergreens,” where the venerable Serra, now soon to close his life work, blessed the Cross and the place, solemnized mass, preached a sermon to the soldiers on the Resurrection of Christ, and formally dedicated the Mission to God, and placed it under the patronage of St. Joseph.

In the earlier part of this century the Mission began to grow rapidly. Padres Francisco Dumetz and Vicente de Santa Maria, who had been placed in charge of the Mission from the first, were gladdened by many accessions, and the Mission flocks and herds also increased rapidly. Indeed we are told that ” in 1802 San Buenaventura possessed finer herds of cattle and richer fields of grain than any of her contemporaries, and her gardens and orchards were visions of wealth and beauty.”

On his second visit to the California coast, Vancouver, when anchored off Santa Barbara, traded with Padre Santa Maria of San Buenaventura for a flock of sheep and as many vegetables as twenty mules could carry. The padre returned to his Mission in Vancouver’s vessel, and the English captain visited with him for a day in his hospitable quarters. Said he :

“I found the Mission to be in a very superior style to any of the new establishments yet seen. The garden of Buenaventura far exceeding anything I had before met with in these regions, both in respect of the quantity, quality, and variety of its excellent productions, not only indigenous to the country, but appertaining to the temperate as well as torrid zone ; not one species having yet been sown or planted that had not flourished. These have principally consisted of apples, pears, plums, figs, oranges, grapes, peaches, and pomegranates, together with the plantain, banana, cocoanut, sugar-cane, indigo, and a great variety of the necessary and useful kitchen herbs, plants, and roots. All these were flourishing in the greatest health and perfection, though separated from the sea-side only by two or three fields of corn that were cultivated within a few yards of the surf.”

It is to Vancouver, on this voyage, that we owe the names of a number of points on the California coast, as, for instance, Points Sal, Arguello, Felipe, Vicente, Dumetz, Fermin, and Lasuen.

Vancouver says that owing to a fire the buildings were being reerected. The new church was of stone. It was about half finished in 1794, and three years later was reported nearly completed. Yet the work dragged on until September 9, 1809, when it was duly dedicated by Sefian, assisted by five other friars and one priest. It was roofed with tiles.

In 1795 there was a fight between the neophyte and gentile Indians, the former killing two chiefs and taking captive several of the latter. The leaders on both sides were punished, the neophyte Domingo even being sentenced to work in chains.

In 1806 the venerable Santa Maria, one of the Mission founders, died. His remains were ultimately placed in the new church.

In 1800 the largest population in its history was reached, with 1297 souls. Cattle and horses prospered, and the crops were reported as among the best in California.

The earthquake of 1812–13 did considerable damage at San Buenaventura. Afraid lest the sea would swallow them up, the people fled to San Joaquin y Santa Ana for three months, where a temporary jacal church was erected. The tower and a part of the fachada had to be torn down and rebuilt, and this was done by 1818, with a new chapel dedicated to San Miguel in addition.

Of course San Buenaventura felt all the alarm experienced by the other coast settlements at the time of Bouchard’s attacks, and Padre Seflan, with neophytes and guards, fled from the Mission to the canyada of New Purisima, where a temporary church was erected, and where they remained twenty-four days.

May 29, 1819, twenty-two Mohave Indians came from their home on the Colorado River to trade with the neophytes. This practice the authorities had given strict orders not to allow. Consequently the visitors were refused permission either to see the padre or the neophytes, and they were locked up in the guard-house until ready to depart the following day. The next day, while all were at mass in the church, one of the Indians insisted upon leaving the guard-house. The guard struck him and called for the corporal. The latter left the church with another soldier to quell the disorder, and both were attacked and killed with clubs. The padre then called upon the rest of the soldiers, and gave arms to the neophytes, bidding them defend them-selves ; and in the general melee that ensued ten Mohaves were killed and one neophyte. The rest of the Indians escaped, but were afterwards captured by a force from Santa Barbara. They were set to work at the presidio and again escaped. For a long time thereafter this caused an uneasy feeling throughout the whole region, as it was feared the Mohaves would come in force on a mission of vengeance. This feeling in time died away.

That San Buenaventura was prosperous is shown by the fact that in June, 1820, the government owed it $27,385 for supplies ; $6200 in stipends, and $1585 for a cargo of hemp, — a total of $35,170, which, says Bancroft, ” there was not the slightest chance of ever receiving.”

In 1823 the president and vice-prefect Serum, who had served as padre at this Mission for twenty-five years, died August 24, and was buried by the side of Santa Maria. After his death San Buenaventura began rapidly to decline.

In 1822 a neophyte killed his wife for adultery. It is interesting to note that in presenting his case the fiscal said that as the culprit had been a Christian only seven years, and was yet ignorant in matters of domestic discipline, he asked for the penalty of five years in the chain gang and then banishment.

In the struggle between the rival claimants for gubernatorial honors in 1838 San Buenaventura was the scene of one of the ” deadly conflicts.” General Castro, who supported Governor Alvarado, marched with a force of a hundred men and a few cannon to meet the opposing forces of Castaneda (the supporter of Carrillo), who were in-trenched in the Mission. After three separate demands for surrender and evacuation, all of which were refused, the cannonading began, lasting two days, in which one man was killed on the besieging side. At the close of the second day the defenders fled under cover of night. Sending a force in pursuit, seventy fugitives were caught, with fifty muskets and other arms. It was afterwards learned that so careless were the Carrillo forces that they had no sentinels or pickets out ; they were completely surrounded be-fore they were aware of it, their horses captured, and water supply cut off. Their valor for the next two days was kept up on Mission wine, and it is possible that they fled only when the supply gave out. In the cannonading two guns were placed on the shore-side, in the direction of the chapel, and one perhaps on the elevation back of the Mission. As late as 1874 the walls still bore the marks of the cannon-balls.

At the time of this struggle Carrillo was the comisionado to carry out the secularization decree at San Buenaventura. In 1834 the neophyte population had decreased to 626, but the live-stock and agricultural operations showed no decline. The decree was not made effective until the spring of 1837.

The baptisms for the whole period of the Mission’s history, viz., for 1782-1834, is 3876. There is still preserved at the Mission the first register, which was closed in 1809. At that time 2648 baptisms had been administered. The padre presidente, Serra, wrote the heading for the Index, and the contents themselves were written in a beautiful hand by Padre Senan. There are four signatures which occur throughout in the following order: Pedro Benito Cambon, Francisco Dumetz, Vicente de Sta Maria, and Jose Senan.

The largest population was 1330 in 1816. The largest number of cattle was 23,400 in the same year. In 1814, 4652 horses ; in 1816, 13,144 sheep.

Micheltorena’s decree in 1843 restored the temporalities of the Mission to the padres. This was one of the two Missions, Santa Ines being the other, that was able to provide a moderate subsistence out of the wreck left by secularization. On the 5th of December, 1845, Pico rented San Buenaventura to Jose Arnaz and Narcisco Botello for $1630 a year. There are no statistics of the value of the property after 1842, though in April of 1843 Padre Jimeno reports 2382 cattle, 529 horses, 2299 sheep, 220 mules and 18 asses, 1032 fruit trees and 11,970 vines. In November of that same year the bishop appointed Presbyter Rosales, since which time the Mission has been the regular parish church of the city.

In 1893 the Mission church was renovated out of all its historic association and value by Father Rubio, who had a good-natured but fearfully destructive zeal for the ” restoration ” of the old Missions. Almost everything has been modernized. The fine old pulpit, one of the richest treasures of the Mission, was there several years ago ; but when, in 1904, I inquired of the then pastor where it was, I was curtly informed that he neither knew nor cared. All the outbuildings have been demolished and removed in order to make way for the modern spirit of commercialism which in the last decade has struck the town. It is now an ordinary church, with little but its history to redeem it from the look of smug modernity which is the curse of the present age.

Before leaving San Buenaventura it may be interesting to note that a few years ago I was asked about two ” wooden bells ” which were said to have been hung in the tower at this Mission. I deemed the question absurd; but on one of my visits found one of these bells in a storeroom under the altar, and another still hanging in the belfry. By whom, or why, these dummy bells were made, I have not been able to discover.