California Missions – San Francisco Solano

FIFTY-FOUR years after the founding of the first Franciscan Mission in California, the site was chosen for the twenty-first and last San Francisco Solano. This Mission was established at Sonoma under conditions already narrated. The first ceremonies took place July 4, 1823, and nine months later the Mission church was dedicated. This structure was built of boards, but by the end of 1824 a large building had been completed, made of adobe with tiled roof and corridor, also a granary and eight houses for the use of the padres and soldiers. Thus in a year and a half from the time the location was selected the necessary Mission buildings had been erected, and a large number of fruit trees and vines were already growing. The neophytes numbered 693, but many of these were sent from San Francisco, San Jose and San Rafael. The Indians at this Mission represented thirty-five different tribes, according to the record, yet they worked together harmoniously, and in 1830 their possessions included more than 8000 cattle, sheep, and horses. Their crops averaged nearly 2000 bushels of grain per year.

The number of baptisms recorded during the twelve years before secularization was over 1300. Ten years later only about 200 Indians were left in that vicinity.

In 1834 the Mission was secularized by M. G. Vallejo, who appointed Ortega as majordomo. Vallejo quarrelled with Padre Quijas, who at once left and went to reside at San Rafael. The movable property was distributed to the Indians, and they were allowed to live on their old rancherias, though there is no record that they were form-ally allotted to them. By and by the Gentile Indians so harassed the Mission Indians that the latter placed all their stock under the charge of General Vallejo, asking him to care for it on their behalf. The herds increased under his control, the Indians had implicit confidence in him, and he seems to have acted fairly and honestly by them.

The pueblo of Sonoma was organized as a part of the secularization of San Francisco Solano, and also to afford homes for the colonists brought to the country by Hijar and Padres. In this same year the soldiers of the presidio of San Francisco de Asis were transferred to Sonoma, to act as a protection of the frontier, to overawe the Russians, and check the incoming of Americans. This meant the virtual abandonment of the post by the shores of the bay. Vallejo supported the presidial company, mainly at his own expense, and made friends with the native chief, Solano, who aided him materially in keeping the Indians peaceful.

The general statistics of the Mission for the eleven years of its existence, 1823-34, are as follows : Baptisms 1315, marriages 278, deaths 651. The largest population was 996 in 1832. The largest number of cattle was 4849 in 1833, 1148 horses and 7114 sheep in the same year.

In January, 1838, Tobias, the chief of the Guilucos, and one of his men were brought to Sonoma and tried for the murder of two Indian fishermen. The prosecutor asked for five years in the chain-gang for the chief, and death for his companion, but the records do not show what punishment was awarded.

In August a band of fifty horse thieves crossed the Sacramento with a number of tame horses for the purpose of stampeding the Sonoma herds. Vallejo gave battle and killed thirty-four of the robbers, the rest surrendered, and the chief was shot at Sonoma. In October of the same year Vallejo issued a circular stating that certain persons had made his friendly chief Solano drunk, and that many Indian children had been seized and sold into slavery. Solano was arrested, and forces sent after the children, all of whom were recovered and restored to their parents.

In 1838 he had worse troubles. Smallpox broke out and thousands of northern Indians were swept away by the dread disease. Vallejo estimated that fully 70,000 lost their lives. He claimed that the pestilence came from the English settlements by way of Fort Ross, and he urged that extra precautions be taken against it. Fortunately it did not spread south of the bay.

In 1845, when Pico’s plan for selling and -renting the Missions was formulated, Solano was declared without value, the secularization having been completely carried out, although there is an imperfect inventory of buildings, utensils, and church property. It was ignored in the final order. Of the capture of Sonoma by the Bear Flag revolutionists and the operations of Fremont, it is impossible here to treat. They are to be found in every good history of California.

In 1880 Bishop Alemany sold the Mission and grounds of San Francisco Solano to a German named Schocken for $3000. With that money a modern church was erected for the parish, which is still being used. For six months after the sale divine services were still held in the old Mission, and then Schocken used it as a place for storing wine and hay. In September, 1903, it was sold to the Hon. W. R. Hearst for $5000. The ground plot was 166 by 150 feet. It is said that the tower was built by General Vallejo in 1835 or thereabouts. The deeds have been transferred to the State of California and accepted by the Legislature. The intention is to preserve the Mission as a valuable historic landmark.

The church is about thirty-six feet long and sixteen feet wide. The vestibule is about fifteen feet square, and stairs lead from it into the choir loft. This vestibule is lathed and plastered. The front wall is about six feet thick, of adobe faced with burnt red brick. The side walls of the church join the ceiling in a curve, instead of square, but this effect, I believe, is produced by lath and plaster, and is not a feature of the construction. The interior condition of the church can well be imagined after twenty-five years’ use as a hay barn.

The adjoining buildings are in even worse condition. Unlike the church, which is roofed with shingles, these are covered with tiles, but fully a fourth of them have fallen in. To protect the walls a temporary wooden roof has been put up. The building is divided longitudinally by a thick wall of adobe, upon which poles rest supporting the ridge poles. The rafters are unhewn poles, and the crosspieces are of rudely hewn planks, upon which bundles of brush are placed, and, finally, the covering of red tiles. The ceilings to the rooms are strongly constructed, the beams being strong hewn logs with hewn planks laid across them. The marks of the adze or other tool are still clearly to be seen on these logs and planks. The attic was undoubtedly used for some purpose, possibly for the sleeping-quarters of the Indian children, as at so many others of the Missions.

This building is about ninety-five feet long, and the roof overhangs on each side to cover the corridors, which are constructed in the plainest, simplest fashion. The corridor roof is interesting, in that it is made of willows or other brush laid across the roughly hewn rafters, then a strong willow is laid at right angles, and the whole bound together with rawhide thongs.