California Missions – San Diego De Alcala

THE story of the founding of San Diego by Serra has already been given. It was the beginning of the realization of his fondest hopes. The early troubles with the Indians delayed conversions, but in 1773 Serra reported that some headway had been made. He gives the original name of the place as Cosoy, in 32° 43′, built on a hill two gunshots from the shore, and facing the entrance to the port at Point Guij arros. The missionaries left in charge were Padres Fernando Parron and Francisco Gomez.

About the middle of July ill health compelled Parron to retire to Lower California and Gomez to Mexico, and Padres Luis Jayme and Francisco Dumetz took their places.

San Diego was in danger of being abandoned for lack of provisions, for in 1772 Padre Crespi, who was at San Carlos, writes that on the 30th of March of that year ” the mail reached us with the lamentable news that this Mission of San Diego was to be abandoned for lack of victuals.” Serra then sent him with ” twenty-two mules, and with them fifteen half-loads of flour ” for their succor. Padres Dumetz and Cambon had gone out to hunt for food to the Lower California Missions. The same scarcity was noticed at San Gabriel, and the padres, ” for a considerable time, already, had been using the supplies which were on hand to found the Mission of San Buenaventura ; and though they have drawn their belts tight there remains to them provisions only for two months and a half.” Later, Crespi asks :

” What are we to do if there is not wherewith we can maintain ourselves ? If the escort for a long time is maintaining itself with the sole ration of half a pint of corn, and of only twenty ounces of Flour daily ; and the Fathers the same, with a little milk — how are they to be able to endure? We are without pottage whatever, more than the little Corn and Flour aforesaid. And they say that thus they have passed most of the year—without lard, without tallow, and without one candle of this sort, nor even wine for masses — since only on Sundays and feast days is Mass said. God grant that Father Dumetz arrive promptly with the Succor for these Missions, and that the Barque bring it to us. For otherwise we are Lost.”

Fortunately help came from both sources ; so the work continued.

The region of San Diego was well peopled. At the time of the founding there were eleven rancherias within a radius of ten leagues. They must have been of a different type from most of the Indians of the coast, for, from the first, as the old Spanish chronicler reports, they were insolent, arrogant, and thievish. They lived on grass seeds, fish, and rabbits.

In 1774, the separation of the Mission from the presidio was decided upon, in order to remove the neophytes from the evil influences of the soldiers. The site chosen was six miles up the valley (named Nipaguay by the Indians), and so well did all work together that by the end of the year a dwelling, a storehouse, a smithy built of adobes, and a wooden church eighteen by fifty-seven feet, and roofed with tiles, were completed. Already the work of the padres had accomplished much. Seventy-six neophytes rejoiced their religious hearts, and the herds had increased to 40 cattle, 64 sheep, 55 goats, 19 hogs, 2 jacks, 2 burros, 17 mares, 3 foals, 9 horses, 22 mules, — 233 animals in all.

The presidio remained at Cosoy (where the old palms now are at Old San Diego), and four thousand adobes that had been made for the Mission buildings were turned over to the military. A rude stockade was erected, with two bronze cannon, one mounted towards the harbor, the other towards the Indian rancheria.

The experiments in grain raising at first were not successful. The seed was sown in the river bottom and the crop was destroyed by the unexpected rising of the river. The following year it was sown so far from water that it died from drought.

There were several changes, arrivals, and departures among the padres during the first few years, but the most important was the arrival on August 30, 1773, of Francisco Palou with seven others from Lower California.

In the meantime Serra, having had difficulties with Governor Fages, went to Mexico to plead the cause of the Missions, and, returning, arrived at San Diego March 13, 1774. On the 6th of April he left for Monterey. Slowly things began to improve. In the fall of 1775 all seemed to be bright with hope. New buildings had been erected, a well dug, and more land made ready for sowing. The Indians were showing greater willingness to submit them-selves to the priests, when a conflict occurred that revealed to the padres what they might have to contend with in their future efforts towards the christianizing of the natives. The day before the feast of St. Francis (October 4), 1775, Padres Jayme and Fuster were made happy by being required to baptize sixty new converts. Yet a few days later they were saddened by the fact that two of these newly baptized fled from the Mission and escaped to the mountains, there to stir up enmity and revolt. For nearly a month they moved about, fanning the fires of hatred against the ” long gowns,” until on the night of November 4 (1775) nearly 800 naked savages, after dusk, stealthily advanced and surrounded the Mission where the inmates slept unguarded, so certain were they of their security.

Part of the force went on to the presidio, where, in the absence of the commander, the laxity of discipline was such that no sentinel was on guard.

An hour after midnight the whole of the Mission was surrounded. The quarters of the christianized Indians were invaded, and they were threatened with instantaneous death if they gave the alarm. The church was broken into and all the vestments and sacred vessels stolen. Then the buildings were fired. Not until then did the inmates know of their danger. Imagine their horror, to wake up and find the building on fire and themselves surrounded by what, in their dazed condition, seemed countless hordes of savages, all howling, yelling, brandishing war clubs, firing their arrows, — the scene made doubly fearful by the red glare of the flames.

In the guard-house were four soldiers, — the whole of the Mission garrison ; in the house the two priests, Jayme and Fuster, two little boys, and three men (a blacksmith and two carpenters). Father Fuster, the two boys, and the blacksmith sought to reach the guard-house, but the latter was slain on the way. The Indians broke into the room where the carpenters were, and one of them was so cruelly wounded that he died the next day.

Father Jayme, with the shining light of martyrdom in his eyes, and the fierce joy of fearlessness in his heart, not only refused to seek shelter, but deliberately walked towards the howling band, lifting his hands in blessing with his usual salutation : ” Love God, my children ! ” Scarcely were the words uttered when the wild band fell upon him, shrieking and crying, tearing off his habit, thrusting him rudely along, smiting him with stones, sticks, and battle-axe, until at the edge of the creek his now naked body was bruised until life was extinct, and then the corpse filled with arrows.

During this time the fierce attack on the guard-house continued. Soon it was in flames. Six men and two children defended it against not less than four hundred screeching, vindictive, avowedly murderous savages. One of the soldiers, who in the flurry had forgotten his leathern cuirass, was soon disabled; thus three only of the soldiers and the carpenter were the firing squad, with Father Fuster and the two boys loading the guns for them. When the heat grew unbearable this brave band rushed into a kitchen close by, which had one side open. Its roof consisted of boughs thrown loosely over to protect those inside from the sun’s rays. Into the open space the Indians hurled firebrands, discharged their arrows, and sent whirling stones with crashing force. To afford a little more protection, the defenders raised a small barricade with chests, boxes, etc., from the adjoining storeroom.

Soon the Indians who had gone to storm the presidio returned. They had not reached their destination when the glare of the flames apprised them that the attack on the Mission had begun; and, fearing lest the garrison should thereby be warned and prepared for them, they decided to return. The loud shout that went up from the Indians at this great reinforcement would have sent terror into the stoutest heart ; yet, though only two of the soldiers and the padre were left in fighting trim, the grim defence still went on. So successful were the shots of the defenders that they managed to keep the foe at bay until morning, when, giving up the fight, the attacking force gathered up their dead and wounded and retired to the mountains.

No sooner were they gone than the neophytes came rushing up to see if any were left alive. Their delight at finding Father Fuster was immediately changed into sadness as others brought in the awfully mutilated and desecrated body of Father Jayme. Not until then did Father Fuster know that his companion was dead, and deep was the mourning of his inmost soul as he performed the last offices for his dear companion.

Strange to say, so careless was the garrison that not until a messenger reached it from Father Fuster did they know of the attack. They had placed no guards, posted no sentinels, and, indifferent in their foolish scorn of the prowess and courage of the Indians, had slept calmly, though they themselves might easily have been surprised, and the whole garrison murdered while asleep.

It was a melancholy procession that marched from the smoking ruins to the presidio, — the wounded and disabled, the murdered padre, the charred remains of the black-smith, and the few animals that remained of the Mission herds, accompanied by the saddened padre and his faithful few.

Investigation revealed that after the last baptismal ceremony two of the neophytes, Carlos and Francisco, had run away and started on a tour of all the rancherias, in-citing the Indians to rise and kill the Spaniards. As to the participation of the other neophytes, there seems to be disagreement. Anza believed that these planned the up-rising, deceiving the padres, and made the surprise possible.

When the news reached Serra it brought a song of praise from his heart, instead of a wail of regret: ” God be thanked ; now the soil is watered ; now will the reduction of the Dieguinos be complete.” In the meantime letters were sent for aid to Rivera at Monterey, and Anza, the latter known to be approaching from the Colorado River region ; and in suspense until they arrived, the little garrison and the remaining priests passed the rest of the year. The two commanders met at San Gabriel, and together marched to San Diego, where they arrived January 11, 1776. It was not long before they quarrelled. Anza was for quick, decisive action ; Rivera was for delay ; and, when news arrived from San Gabriel that the food supply was running short, Anza left in order to carry out his original orders, which involved the founding of San Francisco. Not long after his departure Carlos, the neophyte who had been concerned in the insurrection, returned to San Diego, and doubtless acting under the suggestion of the padres, took refuge in the temporary church at the presidio. The law of sanctuary for many centuries operated in nearly all — if not all — European countries. Any debtor or person suspected of crime was allowed to postpone his arrest by entering a church. It was the old Hebrew law that a criminal was safe if he took hold of the two horns upon the altar. In all Spanish-speaking countries the civil law forbade the magistrates or their officers from laying their hands upon any person inside a church without the permission of the clerical authorities. The proper and authorized method of procedure was to make a sworn declaration, and with this in hand given to the priest, the obstacle was removed.

In the case of the Indian Carlos, Padre Fuster notified Rivera and informed him what was to be done. The Governor, instead of sending the sworn document which would have ended the matter, sent an officer with a letter demanding the surrender of the Indian on two grounds, namely : that his offence was such as not to entitle him to sanctuary ; and that the room where mass was said could not be called a church. The padre held a consultation with his brother priests, and as a result the Governor was told that, except on the sworn statement, they dare not give up the man, save by orders of their superior, Serra, and that, there-fore, if he attempted to make the arrest by force they would be under the necessity of excommunicating him. Immediately on receipt of this answer, Rivera called for a lighted candle, his baton of office, and, his sword by his side, entered the church, seized the skulking Indian, took him outside and delivered him to the guard. Padre Fuster protested against this violation of both civil and church law, but all the answer he got was : ” Protest away, your reverence, for there goes the protest before you.” And he pointed to the prisoner that his officers were taking away.

On the next feast day Padre Lasuen (who afterwards became Padre presidente of the California Missions), had to say mass, but before he did so declared that those who had violated the sanctuary must depart, and Rivera and his officers, who had participated in the affair, were obliged to retire before the service proceeded.

It was not until after the intervention of Padre Serra that the ban of excommunication was removed from Rivera, and this was doubtless one of the causes that led him to annoy the priests whenever occasion arose.

In his method of dealing with the rebel Indians, Serra saw a great hindrance to his spiritual work. It had been found by long years of missionary labor that prompt and decisive measures, and then the exercise of a kindly spirit, worked far better than long continued retaliatory measures. Rivera, on the other hand, went in for extensive campaigns, long examinations, and rigorous punishment of those he deemed guilty. All this interfered with resumption of work on the church; so Serra himself went to San Diego, and, finding the ship ” San Antonio ” in the harbor, made an arrangement with Captain Choquet to supply sailors to do the building under his own direction. Rivera was then written to for a guard, and he sent six soldiers. On August 22, 1777, the three padres, Choquet with his mate and boatswain and twenty sailors, a company of neophytes, and the six soldiers went to the old site and began work in earnest, digging the foundations, making adobes, and collecting stones. The plan was to build a wall for defence, and then erect the church and other buildings inside. For fifteen days all went well. Then an Indian went to Rivera with a story that hostile Indians were pre-paring arrows for a new attack, and this so scared the gallant officer that he withdrew his six men. Choquet had to leave with his men, as he dared not take the responsibility of being away with so many men without the con-sent of Rivera ; and, to the padre’s great sorrow, the work had to cease.

A few days later a native reported that soldiers were marching up the peninsula from Velicata. These were found to be extra soldiers for guards, so it was not long before work was resumed, and the buildings were in condition for occupancy.

In March of 1778 Captain Carrillo was sent to chastise hostile Indians at Pamo who had sent insolent messages to Captain Ortega. Carrillo surprised the foe, killed two, burned others who took refuge in a hut, while the others surrendered and were publicly flogged. The four chiefs, Aachel, Aalcuirin, Aaaran, and Taguagui, were captured, taken to San Diego, and there shot, though the officer had no legal right to condemn even an Indian to death without the approval of the governor. Ortega’s sentence reads : ” Deeming it useful to the service of God, the King, and the public weal, I sentence them to a violent death by two musket-shots on the 11th at 9 A. M., the troops to be present at the execution under arms, also all the Christian rancherIas subject to the San Diego Mission, that they may be warned to act righteously.”

Ortega then instructed Padres Lasuen and Figuer to prepare the condemned. ” You will cooperate for the good of their souls in the understanding that if they do not accept the salutary waters of baptism they die on Saturday morning ; and if they do — they die all the same ! ” This was the first public execution in California.

In 1779 Indians were chosen as alcaldes and regidores. This was a wise procedure, and one which, perhaps better than any other, if persisted in, would have taught the responsibilities of citizenship to the Indians. To have members of their own society act as magistrates, and, under the direction of the padres until they were wise enough to work alone, administer their laws, would have taught them far more than paternalism could have done. It is a great pity that this system, thus wisely begun, was not persisted in and introduced at all the Missions.

In 1780 the new church, built of adobe, strengthened and roofed with pine timbers, ninety feet long and seven-teen feet wide and high, was completed.

In 1782 fire destroyed the old presidio church.

All communication with Mexico was either by water or overland down the peninsula. When Governor Neve left California he recommended that a new and better route to the south be found, and this was evidently done, as in 1786 General Rengel gave his approval to a new route which was said to save ten or twelve leagues of distance and avoid some dangerous bands of coast Indians.

It was also attempted, in 1783, to find an inland route by way of the desert and the Colorado River to Sonora, but the officer sent out — Alferez Velasquez — soon wearied and returned. In 1785 Governor Fages himself made the trip, having one or two brushes with the Indians. He, by the way, was the first white man who crossed from the Colorado River to San Diego. He made this trip in 1782.

In 1783 Lasuen made an interesting report on the condition of San Diego. At the Mission there were church, granary, storehouse, hospital, men’s house, shed for wood and oven, two houses for the padres, larder, guest-room, and kitchen. These, with the soldiers’ barracks, filled three sides of a square of about 160 feet, and on the fourth side was an adobe wall, nearly ten feet high. There were 740 neophytes at that time under missionary care, though Lasuen spoke most disparagingly of the location as a Mission site.

In May, 1790, Jose Antonio Romeu was appointed governor of the Californias, and in August of 1791 he reached San Diego on his way to Monterey. His rule was short, for he died in April of the following year, and was succeeded by Arrillaga, who was the lieutenant-governor.

In 1800 the number of neophytes at San Diego was 1523. There had been 1320 baptisms and 628 deaths. It was now the most populous Mission in California. In the year 1797 there were 554 baptisms, the banner year in the whole history of the Missions except 1803, when, at Santa Barbara, 831 received the water of the holy sacrament.

The Mission herds multiplied in this decade from 1730 to 6960 head, and its flocks from 2100 to 6000. The harvest of agricultural products in 1800 was 2600 bushels, the largest crops having been 9450 bushels in 1793 and 1799. A large tile-roofed granary was built, 96 by 24 feet. In 1794 the Mission wall was constructed, and the vineyard surrounded by five hundred yards of adobe wall. In 1795 work was begun on a newly discovered source of water-supply for irrigation. This is believed by some to have been the extensive work now in ruins ; though others claim it was not begun until after the ruinous drought of 1809.

The dam is in a rocky gorge at the west end of the Cajon Valley, about three and a half miles above the Mission. It is built of gray granite and cement, more than twelve feet thick, and is almost as perfect as when completed, though the sand has filled it up nearly to the level. A three-inch tile opened into the acequia, which is made of cement and stones, with a concave tile for the bottom. It is two feet across and two feet in depth.

There were places where the aqueduct had to be carried over cross-gulches, but the fall of the channel was so perfectly engineered that it delivered the water in full flow at the spot required. In 1817 Governor Sola visited San Diego, and he says the padres ” had now begun to bring water through conduits,” so it may be possible these works were not finished until about that time.

From the top of the dam a glorious view may be had of Cuyamaca Peak, about forty miles away, where the timbers were secured for the Waste Gate and the Mission ; and about a mile above the dam, on a hill commanding a wonderful outlook, is an old fortified sentinel post that gives view over the whole Cajon Valley. It was a circular en-closure of stone between huge boulders, and the old Indians have told me it was constantly used for years on account of the hostile tendencies of the mountain Indians.

Considerable excitement was caused in 1803 by the appearance of the ” Lelia Byrd,” Captain Cleveland, which tried to do some illegal bargaining for otter-skins, trade in which was absolutely forbidden by the Spanish government. Cleveland had learned that some of the soldiers had skins to sell if they could dispose of them secretly ; so in the night two boats were sent off. One came back in due time with a few skins ; the other was captured and its men made prisoners. Next morning Cleveland went ashore with four men, rescued the captives, returned to his vessel, and then, setting sail, attempted to run out past the guns of the fort. It should not be forgotten that when the commandant came on board to investigate the reason for the visit of Cleveland he left a sergeant and five men on board as a guard. These men were made to occupy as conspicuous a position on the fleeing vessel as possible, but this did not prevent the officers at the fort from sending several well-directed shot at the vessel, one of which made an ugly hole just above the water line. But she made her escape, after landing the six Spaniards. One amusing sequence to the affair was the overhauling of one of the, corporals and his men for their share in the trading. They were compelled to give up the goods they had received for their contraband otter-skins, and they were eventually sold at auction for $212, the proceeds of which were divided among the men who made the capture of the sailors of Cleveland’s boat.

May 25, 1803, an earthquake slightly damaged the Mission church, and then, or later, a new church was begun. It was finished and dedicated on San Diego’s day, November 12, 1813.

In 1824 San Diego registered its largest population, being then 1829.

When Spanish rule ended, and the Mexican empire and republic sent its first governor, Echeandia, he decided to make San Diego his home; so for the period of his governorship, though he doubtless lived at or near the presidio, the Mission saw more or less of him. As is shown in the chapter on secularization, he was engaged in a thankless task when he sought to change the Mission system, and there was no love lost between the Governor’s house and the Mission.

In 1833, from February to June, there was considerable excitement caused by a rumor that Indians in El Cajon were to gather together and make an onslaught upon the Mission. A small force was sent out to capture the chief, Tajochi, and other ringleaders. He was sentenced to two years of public work, and three of his associates received shorter sentences.

In 1833 Governor Figueroa visited San Diego Mission in person, in order to exhort the neophytes to seize the advantages of citizenship which the new secularization regulations were to give to them ; but, though they heard him patiently, and there and at San Luis Rey one hundred and sixty families were found to be duly qualified for ” freedom,” only ten could be found to accept it. Nevertheless he appointed Captain Arguello as comisionado to carry out the new law, though the Mission itself was not formally secularized until 1834. In April of that year Joaquin Ortega became the majordomo. How many Indians were allotted lands we do not know, though the pueblo of San Pascual, with thirty-four families, was in existence in November. These were doubtless San Diego neophytes. But the decline of the Mission had begun. Though in November, 1835, the decree was issued that the temporal control should be restored to the padres, nothing seems to have been done.

In 1836 complaints were frequent and loud against the Indians, and the citizens made several expeditions against them, in one of which seven Indians were killed. In April or May of 1887 the Indians made a raid on the frontier ranchos, and at Jamul several whites were killed, and the majordomo’s two grown-up daughters were carried away into captivity, from which they were never released. The San Diegans were in great terror, but protection was afforded by the ship ” Alert “; and later, Juan Bandini, whose rancho of Tecate was one of the plundered, returned from Los Angeles, marched against the foe, and in a campaign of ten days is said to have killed several Indians, — all he could find. Thus already the work of the demoralization and destruction of the Indians had begun, as the result of the secularization plans. Another excitement in 1837 was caused by the rumor of a plot to attack the town and kill all the Spanish inhabitants. Indian servants were to cooperate by opening doors, but one of them revealed the plot, and three out of the dozen servants were immediately arrested and shot.

December 11, 1841, saw the arrival of the newly appointed Bishop of California. Garcia Diego was the prefect of the band of Zacatecanos who, it will be remembered, came to take charge of the seven northern Missions in 1833. When secularization made parishes of the Missions, even the politicians saw that it was no longer reasonable to suppose that the ecclesiastical affairs of California could be administered by the bishop in Sonora ; so Diego was appointed, with a large salary (on paper) and control of the Pious Fund.

On the 29th of March, 1843, Governor Micheltorena issued a decree which restored San Diego Mission temporalities to the management of the padre. He explained in his prelude that the decree was owing to the fact that the Mission establishments had been reduced to the mere space occupied by the buildings and orchards, that the padres had no support but that of charity, etc. Mofras gives the number of Indians in 1842 as 500, but an official report of 1844 gives only 100. The Mission retained the ranchos of Santa Isabel and El Cajon until 1844-45, and then, doubt-less, they were sold or rented in accordance with the plans of Pio Pico.

In 1852 Bartlett visited San Diego Mission. He says :

“It is a spot possessing great picturesque beauty, and surrounded by fertile and well watered lands. It was the last of the California Missions that was abandoned ; and but five years ago its ancient library and its priest still remained. The buildings, which are of adobe, are not extensive, but are in good preservation. The Mission is at present occupied by United States troops, under the command of Col. J. B. Magruder, and in consequence is kept in good repair.”

Today nothing but the fachada of the church remains, and that has recently been braced or it would have fallen. The photograph shows its condition in 1904. There are a few portions of walls also, and a large part of the adobe wall around the garden remains. The present owner of the orchard, in digging up some of the old olive trees, has found a number of interesting relics : stirrups, a gun-barrel, hollow iron cannon-balls, metates, etc. These are all preserved and shown as ” curios,” together with beams from the church, and the old olive-mill. Carter says:

” In this orchard is an old abandoned well, and from it, tradition affirms, is an underground passage leading to the Mission. This was used when the padres and their company were besieged, at various times, by the Indians. Whether there be such a pas-sage, no one knows for a certainty ; but it seems more than likely, for there are remains of some sort of a passage to be seen in the well, a few feet below the surface of the ground, which has been explored for a short distance, where the way was found to be caved in and blocked.”

Instead of being an underground passage, it may be that this is one of the vaults for storing tallow, of which, as I have elsewhere shown, the Missions made great quantities. By the side of the ruined church a newer and modern brick building now stands. It destroys the picturesqueness of the old site, but it is engaged in a good work. Father Ubach, the indefatigable parish priest of San Diego, is possessed with much of the spirit of the old padres, and he it is who has erected this building for the training of the Indian children of the region. On one occasion I asked the children if they knew any of the ” songs of the old,” the songs their Indian grandparents used to sing ; and to my delight, they sang two or three of the old chorals taught their ancestors in the early Mission days by the padres.