California Missions – San Gabriel, Arcangel

WE have already seen that San Gabriel, the fourth Mission, was founded September 8, 1771. The natives gave cheerful assistance in bringing timber, erecting the wooden buildings, covering them with tules, and constructing the stockade enclosure which surrounded them. They also brought offerings of acorns and pinenuts. In a few days so many of them crowded into camp that Padre Somero went to San Diego for an addition to the guard, and returned with two extra men. It was not long before the soldiers got into trouble, owing to their treatment of the Indian women, and an Indian attack, as before related, took place. A few days later, Fages appeared on the scene from San Diego with sixteen soldiers and two missionaries, who were destined as guard and priests for the new Mission of San Buenaventura. But the difficulty with the Indians led Fages to postpone the founding of the new Mission. The offending soldier was hurried off to Monterey to get him out of the way of further trouble. The padres did their best to correct the evil impression the soldiers had created, and, strange to say, the first child brought for baptism was the son of the chief who had been killed in the dispute with the soldiers.

But the San Gabriel soldiers were not to be controlled. They were insolent to the aged priests, who were in ill-health; they abused the Indians so far as to pursue them to their rancherias ” for the fun of the thing “; and there have additional sport by lassoing the women and killing such men as interfered with their lusts. No wonder Serra’s heart was heavy when he heard the news, and that he attributed the small number of baptisms — only seventy-three in two years — to the wickedness of the men who should have aided instead of hindering the work.

In his first report to Mexico, Serra tells of the Indian population around San Gabriel. He says it was larger than at any other Mission, though, unfortunately, of several different tribes who were at war with one another ; and the tribes nearest to the sea would not allow others to fish, so that they were often in great want of food. Of the prospects for agriculture he was most enthusiastic. The location was a well-watered plain, with plenty of water and natural facilities for irrigation; and though the first year’s crop was drowned out, the second produced one hundred and thirty fanegas of maize and seven fanegas of beans. The buildings erected were of the same general character as those already described at San Carlos, though somewhat smaller.

When Captain Anza reached California from Sonora, by way of the Colorado, on his first trip in 1774, accompanied by Padre Garces, he stayed for awhile to recuperate at San Gabriel; and when he came the second time, with the colonists for the new presidio of San Francisco, San Gabriel was their first real stopping place after that long, weary, and arduous journey across the sandy deserts of Arizona and California. Here Anza met Rivera, who had arrived the day before from Monterey. It will be remembered that just at that time the news came of the Indian uprising at San Diego; so, leaving his main force and the immigrants to recuperate, he and seventeen of his soldiers, with Padre Font, started with Rivera for the South. This was in January, 1776. He and Rivera did not agree as to the best methods to be followed in dealing with the trouble-some Indians; so, when advices reached him from San Gabriel that provisions were giving out, he decided to allow Rivera to follow his own plans, and that, as for him, he would return to the North and do the work for which he came. When he arrived at San Gabriel, February 12, he found that three of his muleteers, a servant, and a soldier belonging to the Mission had deserted, taking with them twenty-five horses and a quantity of Mission property. His ensign, Moraga, was sent after the deserters ; but, as he did not return as soon as was expected, Anza started with his band of colonists for the future San Francisco, where they duly arrived, as is recorded in the San Francisco chapter.

In 1777—8 the Indians were exceedingly troublesome, and on one occasion came in large force, armed, to avenge some outrage the soldiers had perpetrated. The padres met them with a shining image of Our Lady, when, immediately, they were subdued, and knelt, weeping, at the feet of the priests.

In 1779 Indians were chosen as alcaldes and regidores to aid in the administration of discipline. The same year the crops were large, as it is reported that they had 2000 bushels of surplus maize.

Being the natural meeting place for overland parties coming from the peninsula northwards, and from Sonora west and north, San Gabriel was made the rendezvous of all the colonizing expeditions. When Neve’s recommendations for the founding of the so-called Channel Missions were being carried out, a party of colonists, consisting of thirty-five soldiers and thirty families, arrived at San Gabriel by way of the Colorado River from Sonora, on July 14, 1781; and on August 18 of the same year another party, which had come from Mexico by crossing the Gulf at Guaymas and up the peninsula, consisting of seventeen men, probably soldiers, and eleven settlers and their families also arrived. As some of the children of the latter band had recently had smallpox, they were quarantined at a distance of a league from the Mission as a preventive measure. On the 26th of August Governor Neve issued, at San Gabriel, his instructions for founding the pueblo of La Reina de los Angeles. The impossibility of transporting needed supplies and making necessary preparations before the rainy season set in compelled delay in founding the channel settlements. The return of Ensign Limon, — the officer who, with his nine soldiers had escorted the settlers from the Colorado River to San Gabriel, and had then started back for Sonora, but had been attacked by hostile Yuma Indians and two of his men killed and himself wounded, — while causing great excitement, gave no reason for a delay in proceeding with the founding of Los Angeles, so that on September 4 it was formally accomplished. In 1782 the council determined to punish the murderous Yumas, and, accordingly, plans were laid with a great deal of official red tape, but practically nothing was done until August 21, when Governor Neve set out from San Gabriel with Fages and sixty men. Three days before reaching the river, despatches reached Fages which led him to return and assume the duties of governor, to which office he had just been appointed, while Neve proceeded to Sonora to assume his new and higher office. Captain Romeu, who had come from Sonora with one hundred and eight men, was left to chastise the Yumas ; but, after a few days’ skirmish, in which a few Indians were killed, the place was abandoned, as far as the Spaniards were concerned, practically forever.

During the whole of this time, the forces that were to be employed at the new Channel Missions had been quartered at San Gabriel, giving quite a martial appearance to the place. In the spring of 1782, however, they moved, and established Santa Barbara.

In 1784 the venerable Serra, on a tour to all the Missions, stopped at San Gabriel, and there was so ill that his end was daily expected. But he rallied and succeeded in returning to San Carlos, where he died. In 1790 the number of neophytes had increased from 638, in 1783, to 1040; large stock from 860 to 4221, and small stock from 2078 to 6013. The harvest in the year 1790 was 6150 bushels. In 1800 it had 9400 bushels.

Gigedo, speaking of the condition of affairs at the close of the eighteenth century, says of the Colorado River and San Gabriel:

” This point and the Mission of San Gabriel form the circle within which swarm pagan Indians, who may be persuaded to accept our holy religion and the mild dominion of our sovereign, and so contribute to the important object of making the peninsula of the Californias one of the most respectable colonies on the frontier of New Spain.”

But Fate decreed otherwise of the Colorado River, and the Indians at San Gabriel, having more or less contact with those of the Colorado and the Mohave regions, and, doubt-less being incited to lawlessness by these unsubjugated peoples, gave considerable trouble to the Spaniards. Neophytes conspired with gentiles, and the Mission storehouse was robbed, cattle and horses driven off. In 1810 the padres report that a force of 800 hostile Indians of the Mohave and Yuma tribes marched to San Gabriel with the avowed intention of destroying it and San Fernando, but the timely arrival of forces prevented the attack.

In October, 1785, trouble was caused by a woman tempting (so they said) the neophytes and gentiles to attack the Mission and kill the padres. The plot was discovered, and the corporal in command captured some twenty of the leaders and quelled the uprising without bloodshed. Four of the ringleaders were imprisoned, the others whipped with fifteen or twenty lashes each, and released. The woman was sentenced to perpetual exile, and possibly shipped off to one of the peninsula Missions.

In 1810 the settlers at Los Angeles complained to the Governor that the San Gabriel padres had dammed up the river at Cahuenga, thus cutting off their water supply; and they also stated that the padres refused to attend to the spiritual wants of their sick. The padres offered to remove the dam if the settlers were injured thereby, and also claimed that they were always glad to attend to the sick when their own pressing duties allowed.

On January 14, 1811, Padre Francisco Dumetz, one of Serra’s original compadres, died at San Gabriel. At this time, and since 1806, Padre Jose Maria Zalvidea, that strict martinet of padres, was in charge, and he brought it up to its highest state of efficiency. He it was who began the erection of the stone church that now remains, and the whole precinct, during his rule, rang with the busy hammer, clatter, chatter, and movement of a large number of active workers.

It was doubtless owing to the earthquake of December 8, 1812, which occurred at sunrise, that a new church was built. The main altar was overthrown, several of the figures broken, the steeple toppled over and crashed to the ground, and the sacristy walls were badly cracked. The padres’ house as well as all the other buildings suffered.

One of the adjuncts to San Gabriel was El Molvrco Viejo, the old mill. Indeed there were two old mills, the first one, however, built in Padre Zalvidea’s time in 1810 to 1812, being the one that now remains. It is about two miles from the Mission. It had to be abandoned on account of faulty location. Being built on the hillside, its west main wall was the wall of the deep funnel-shaped cisterns which furnished the water head. This made the interior damp. Then, too, the chamber in which the water-wheel revolved was so low that the powerful head of water striking the horizontal wheel would splash all over the walls and work up through the shaft holes to the mill stones and thus wet the flour. This necessitated the constant presence of Indian women to carry away the meal to dry storerooms at the Mission, where it was bolted by a hand process of their own devising. On this account the mill was abandoned, and for several years the whole of the meal for the Mission was ground on the old-style metates.

The main building is 24 by 55 feet, with walls of solid masonry nearly five feet thick at the base and sloping to a little over three feet at the top, and resting on a foundation of stone and cement. There were two great arches in the lower story (east front), where the water-wheel was placed. The south wheel-chamber was never used. An earthquake in 1812 cracked the north fore-bay, and thus rendered it useless as a water storage. The water was conveyed from Los Robles Canyon in a ditch to the fore-bay, which is a funnel-shaped cement cistern, 12 feet deep. From the bottom of this cistern a narrow spout-flume ex-tended through the thick stone wall into the brick-arched wheel-chamber, and the water poured through the spout horizontally against the buckets of the water-wheel. The water from Mill Canyon was also brought in by ditch. After its use here the water flowed into the dam below, where it was used again for power to operate a saw-mill, also erected by the indefatigable Zalvidea. The grinding stones of the old mill were 21 feet in diameter and 7 to 8 inches thick, and are now used as a horse-block at San Marino, the residence of the Hon. J. De Barth Shorb. From under the buttress at the northeast corner of the mill, in the wheel-chamber, flows a tiny stream of water, and many writers have made much mystery out of this. When all the circumstances are considered the mystery is easily solved. The San Gabriel Indians were all made to work by Padre Zalvidea, who, being austere with himself, was austere with all who were in his keeping. There were about thirty classes of workers, all under the direction of the famous mayordomo, Claudio Lopez. Claudio appointed his deputies, who took actual charge of the bands, armed with bull-whips made of strips of rawhide, which they did not hesitate to use if any of the men and women failed to do their allotted tasks. This harsh treatment led to frequent escapes into the mountains, where the aggrieved Indians would organize into bands of hostiles. Uprisings, attacks, murders were not entire strangers to the padres, so Zalvidea made both his Mission and the mill strong enough for fortresses of defence in case of need. And lest they should be so needed, he wisely provided a supply of water by means of this cunningly devised water-way. Fortunately it was never needed.

In 1859 Col. E. J. C. Rewen, one of the members of the noted Walker filibustering expedition, and an ex-attorney general of California, bought the old mill and converted it into a comfortable residence; but at his death in 1879 it was abandoned and its later owner used it as a bunk-house for tools, etc.

The region adjacent to the mill was once largely inhabited by Indians, for the foreman of the mill ranch declares that he has hauled from the adjacent bluff as many stone pestles and mortars, metates and grinders as would load a four-horse wagon.

It should not be forgotten that originally the mill was roofed with red tiles made by the Indians at the Mission ; but these have entirely disappeared.

It was the habit of Padre Zalvidea to regularly send certain of his most trusted neophytes over to the Islands of San Clemente and Catalina with a bolt or two of woven serge, made at the Mission San Gabriel, to exchange with the Island Indians for their soapstone cooking vessels, — mortars, etc. These traders invariably embarked from a point where Redondo now is, and started always at midnight.

In 1819 the Indians of the Guachama rancho, called San Bernardino, petitioned for the introduction of agriculture and stock raising, and this was practically the beginning of that asistencia, as will be recorded in the chapter on the various chapels. A chapel was also much needed at Puente, where Zalvidea had six hundred Indians at work in 1816.

In 1822 San Gabriel was fearfully alarmed at the rumor that one hundred and fifty Indians were bearing down upon that Mission from the Colorado River region. It transpired that it was a band of Opatas with despatches, and that they had no hostile intent. But Captain Portilla met them and sent them back, not a little disconcerted by their inhospitable reception.

In the wild, political chaos that occurred in California after Mexico became independent of Spain, San Gabriel felt occasional waves. When the people of San Diego and the southern part of the State rebelled against Governor Victoria, and the latter confident chief came to arrange matters, a battle took place near Los Angeles, in which he was severely wounded. His friends bore him to San Gabriel, and, though he had entirely defeated his foes, so cleverly did some one work upon his fears that he made a formal surrender, December 6, 1831. On the 9th the leader of the rebels, the former governor Echeandia, had a conference with him at San Gabriel, where he pledged himself to return to Mexico without giving further trouble; and on the 20th he left, stopping for awhile at San Luis Rey with Padre Peyri. It was at this time the venerable and worthy Peyri decided to leave California, and he there-fore accompanied the deposed governor to San Diego, from which port they sailed January 17, 1832.

After secularization San Gabriel was one of the Missions that slaughtered a large number of her cattle for the hides and tallow. Pio Pico states that he had the con-tract at San Gabriel, employing 10 vaqueros and 30 Indians, and that he thus killed over 5000 head. Robinson says that the rascally contractors secretly appropriated two hides for every one they turned over to the Mission.

In 1834 occurred the destruction of the chapel at San Bernardino, and the survivors fleeing to San Gabriel brought a considerable feeling of unrest ; but the uprising was quelled, as is related in the chapter on chapels.

In this year Colonel Gutierrez was the comisionado to carry into effect the order of secularization ; but up to 1838 he had three successors, and when, in 1840, the last administrator, Juan Bandini, handed over the live-stock there were but 72 cattle and 700 sheep, though in 1839 there were 1700 horses, 1100 cattle, and 1000 sheep.

The old registers practically close in 1831, and they state that from 1771 there had been 7709 baptisms, 5494 burials, and 1877 marriages.

In 1843, March 29, Micheltorena’s order, restoring San Gabriel to the padres, was carried out, and in 1844 the official church report states that nothing is left but its vineyards in a sad condition, and 300 neophytes. The final inventory made by the comisionados under Pio Pico is missing, so that we do not know at what the Mission was valued ; but June 8, 1846, he sold the whole property to Reid and Workman in payment for past services to the government. When attacked for his participation in what evidently seemed the fraudulent transfer of the Mission, Pico replied that the sale ” did not go through.” The United States officers, in August of the same year, dispossessed them, and the courts finally decreed the sale invalid.

In 1847 Padre Estenega died, and Blas de Ordaz was appointed. He died in 1850, and since then the church has been a regular parish church, under the direction of the bishop of the diocese.

There are a few portions of the old cactus hedge still remaining, planted by Padre Zalvidea. Several hundreds of acres of vineyard and garden were thus enclosed for purposes of protection from Indians and roaming bands of horses and cattle. The fruit of the prickly pear was a prized article of diet by the Indians, so that the hedge was of benefit in two ways, — protection and food.

The Mission church is nearly 140 feet long, 26 feet wide, and 30 feet high, inside measurement. The foundations and walls are of rubble stones and cement as far as the windows ; above that brick is used. At the floor the walls are five feet thick. Originally the building had an arched roof, but this was partially destroyed in one of the earthquakes and a tile roof substituted in its stead.

On the altar are several of the old statues, and there are some quaint pictures upon the walls.

In the baptistery is a font of hammered copper, probably made either at San Gabriel or San Fernando. There are several other interesting vessels. At the rear of the church are the remains of five brick structures, where the soap making and tallow rendering of the Mission was conducted. Five others were removed a few years ago to make way for the public road. Undoubtedly there were other buildings for the women and male neophytes as well as the workshops.

The San Gabriel belfry is well known in picture, song, and story. Yet the fanciful legends about the casting of the bells give way to stern fact when they are examined. Upon the first bell is the inscription : ” Ave Maria Santisima. S. Francisco. De Paula Rvelas, me fecit.” The second: ” Cast by G. H. Holbrook, Medway, Mass., 1828.” The third : ” Ave Maria, Sn Jvan Nepomvseno, Ruelas me fecit, A. D., ’95.” The fourth : ” Fecit Benitvs a Regibvs, Ano D. 1830, Sn. Frano.”

In the year 1886 a number of needed repairs were made; the windows were enlarged, and a new ceiling put in, the latter a most incongruous piece of work.