California Missions – San Miguel, Arcangel

LASUEN’S third Mission, of 1797, was San Miguel, located near a large rancheria named Sagshpileel, and on the site called Vahia. One reason for the selection of the location is given in the fact that there was plenty of water at Santa Isabel and San Marcos for the irrigation of three hundred fanegas of seed. To this day the springs of Santa Isabel are a joy and delight to all who know them, and the remains of the old irrigating canals and dams, dug and built by the padres, are still to be seen.

On the day of the founding Lasuen’s heart was made glad by the presentation of fifteen children for baptism. At the end of 1800 there were 362 neophytes, 372 horses and cattle and 1582 smaller animals. The crop of 1800 was 1900 bushels.

Padre Antonio de la Concepcion Horra, who was shortly after deported as insane, and who gave Presidente Lasuen considerable trouble by preferring serious charges against the Missions, was one of the first ministers.

In February of 1801 the two padres were attacked with violent pains in the stomach and they feared the neophytes had poisoned them, but they soon recovered. Padre Pujol, who came from Monterey to aid them, did not fare so well, for he was taken sick in a similar manner and died. Three Indians were arrested, but it was never decided whether poison had been used or not. The Indians escaped when being taken north to the presidio, and eventually the padres pleaded for their release, asking however that they be flogged in the presence of their families for having boasted that they had poisoned the padres.

In January, 1804, Padre Martin went with a soldier to Guchapa, chief of the Cholan rancheria, fourteen leagues away, to ask for some of his young men to make Christians of them. Guchapa refused, and in repulsing the friar and scorning his threats he said he was not afraid of the soldiers, for they died the same as other men. In order to modify the chief’s ideas, thirteen soldiers were despatched to capture him ; which they did, though he made a brave resistance. On his arrival at the Mission he was conciliated with presents, and persuaded into meeting the padre’s ideas, finally departing leaving his son as a hostage for the fulfilment of his promises.

In August, 1806, a disastrous fire occurred, destroying all the manufacturing part of the establishment as well as a large quantity of wool, hides, cloth, and 6000 bushels of wheat. The roof of the church was also partially burned. At the end of the decade San Miguel had a population of 973, and in the number of its sheep it was excelled only by San Juan Capistrano.

In October, 1814, an expedition under Padre Juan Cabot left San Miguel for the exploration of the Tulare region. They must have travelled rapidly, for the next day they camped on the edge of a large lake where was a rancheria of seven hundred souls. Cabot baptized twenty-six of the old and sick and then pushed on to another rancheria — Sumtache — which was at enmity with the first. Misunderstanding the purport of the visit, the Sumtaches fought the Spaniards, killed two horses, and only ceased hostilities when one of their women was killed. Finally the region of King’s River was reached, and, though trees were scarce, it was deemed that somewhere in this region a successful Mission could be established. In sending the report to Lasuen, Padre Martin urged the establishment of such a Mission, claiming that if it were not done ” Satan, war, and venereal disease would leave nobody to be converted.”

In 1818 a new church was reported as ready for roofing, and this was possibly built to replace the one partially destroyed by fire in 1806. In 1814 the Mission registered its largest population in 1096 neophytes, and in live stock it showed satisfactory increase at the end of the decade, though in agriculture it had not been so successful.

Ten years later it had to report a great diminution in its flocks and herds and its neophytes. The soil and pasture were also found to be poor, though vines flourished and timber was plentiful. Robinson, who visited San Miguel, at this time, reports it as a poor establishment and tells a large story about the heat suffocating the fleas. Padre Martin died in 1824.

In 1834 there were but 599 neophytes on the register. In 1836 Ignacio Coronel took charge in order to carry out the order of secularization, and when the inventory was made it showed the existence of property, excluding every-thing pertaining to the church, of $82,000. In 1839 this amount was reduced to $75,000. This large valuation was owing to the fact that there were several ranches and buildings and two large vineyards belonging to the Mission. These latter were Santa Isabel and Aguage with 5500 vines, valued at $22,162.

The general statistics from the founding in 1797 to 1834 give 2588 baptisms, 2038 deaths ; largest population was 1076 in 1814. The largest number of cattle was 10,558 in 1822, horses 1560 in 1822, mules 140 in 1817, sheep 14,000 in 1820.

In 1836 Padre Moreno reported that when Coronel came all the available property was distributed among the Indians, except the grain, and of that they carried off more than half. In 1838 the poor padre complained bitterly of his poverty and the disappearance of the Mission property. There is no doubt but that here as elsewhere the Mission was plundered on every hand, and the officers appointed to guard its interests were among the plunderers.

In 1844 Presidente Duran reported that San Miguel had neither lands nor cattle, and that its neophytes were demoralized and scattered for want of a minister. Pico’s 1845 decree warned the Indians that they must return within a month and occupy their lands, or they would be disposed of ; and in 1846 Pico reported the Mission sold, though no consideration is named, to P. Rios and Wm. Reed. The purchasers took possession, but the courts later declared their title invalid. In 1848 Reed and his whole family were atrociously murdered. The murderers were pursued; one was fatally wounded, one jumped into the sea and was drowned, and the other three were caught and executed.

Today San Miguel is desolate and forlorn. The present pastor is old and infirm, and would find life hard were it not for the kindness of a few of his people.

The register of baptisms at San Miguel begins July 25, 1797, and up to 1861 contains 2917 names. Between the years 1844 and 1851 there is a vacancy, and only one name occurs in the latter year. The title-page is signed by Fr. Fermin Franco de Lasuen, and the priests in charge are named as Fr. Buenaventura Sitjar and Fr. Antonio de la Concepcion.

At the end of this book is a list of 43 children of the ” gentes de razon ” included in the general list, but here specialized for reference.

The register of deaths contains 2249 names up to 1841. The first entry is signed by Fr. Juan Martin and the next two by Fr. Sitjar.

The old marriage register of the Mission of San Miguel is now at San Luis Obispo. It has a title-page signed by Fr. Lasuen.

In 1888 some of the old bells of the Mission were sent to San Francisco and there were recast into one large bell, weighing 2500 lbs. Until 1902 this stood on a rude wooden tower in front of the church, but in that year an incongruous steel tower took its place. Packed away in a box still remains one of the old bells, which has sounded its last call. A large hole is in one side of it. The inscription, as near as I can make out, reads ” A. D. 1800, S. S. Gabriel.”

In 1901 the outside of the church and monastery was restored with a coat of new plaster and cement. Inside nearly everything is as it was left by the robber hand of secularization, as is fully shown in the chapter on interior decorations.

On the walls are the ten oil paintings brought by the original founders. They are very indistinct in the dim light of the church, and little can be said of their artistic value without further examination.

There is also an old breviary with two heavy hand made clasps, dated Antwerp, 1735, and containing the autograph of Fr. Man. de Castaneda.

The arches at San Miguel are not all alike ; indeed, careful observation shows that they are very irregular. Nearest to the church a wooden post is now doing service, then come two square pillars before the arches begin. The first arch is a small semicircular one, followed by four larger ones, and then two larger elliptical ones. These two form a centre, for on the other side are four large and one small semicircular arch as before.

Slightly to the right of the elliptical arch nearest the church is a chimney, which rises a little above the comb of the red-tiled roof. It is surmounted by six tiles, three on one side, sloping towards the three on the other side, these in turn capped with one tile laid fiat over the ends of all six. It adds a picturesque though simple feature to the roof of the monastery.

There is a quadrangle at San Miguel 230 feet square, and on one side of it a corridor corresponding to the one in front, for six pillars of burnt brick still remain.

At the rear of the church was the original church, used before the present one was built, and a number of remains of the old houses of the neophytes still stand, though in a very dilapidated condition.

San Miguel was always noted for its proximity to the Hot Springs and Sulphur Mud Baths of Paso Robles. Both Indians and Mission padres knew of their healthful and curative properties, and in the early days scores of thousands enjoyed their peculiar virtues. Little by little the ” superior race ” is learning that in natural therapeutics the Indian is a reasonably safe guide to follow; hence the present extensive use by the whites of the Mud and Sulphur Baths at Paso Robles. Methinks the Indians of a century ago, though doubtless astonished at the wonderful temple to the white man’s God built at San Miguel, would wonder much more were they now to see the elaborate and splendid house being erected at Paso Robles for the purpose of giving to more white people the baths, the virtue of which they so well knew.