California Missions – San Rafael, Arcangel

IN spite of what Russian writers say to the contrary, there is little doubt but that the mortality of the neophytes in San Francisco led to the founding of San Rafael as a health measure. The native name for the site was Nanaguani. The date of founding was December 14, 1817. There were about 240 neophytes transferred at first, and by the end of 1820 the number had increased to 590. In 1818 a composite building, including church, priest’s house, and all the apartments required, was erected. It was of adobe 87 feet long, 42 feet wide, and 18 feet high, and had a corridor of tules. In 1818, when President Payeras visited the Mission, he was not very pleased with the site, and after making a somewhat careful survey of the country around recommended several other sites as preferable.

In 1824 a determined effort was made to capture a renegade neophyte of San Francisco, a native of the San Rafael region, named Pomponio, who for several years had terrorized the country at intervals as far south as Santa Cruz. He would rob, outrage, and murder, confining most of his attacks, however, upon the Indians. He had slain one soldier, Manuel Varela, and therefore a determined effort was made for his capture. Lieutenant Martinez, a corporal, and two men found him in the Canyada de Novato, above San Rafael. He was sent to Monterey, tried by a court-martial on the 6th of February, and finally shot the following September. This same Martinez also had some conflicts about the same time with chieftains of hostile tribes, north of the bay, named Marin and Quintin, both of whom have left names, one to a county and the other to a point on the bay.

When San Francisco Solano was founded 92 neophytes were sent there from San Rafael. In spite of this, the population of San Rafael increased until it numbered 1140 in 1828.

In 1824 Kotzebue visited the Mission and spoke enthusiastically of its natural advantages, though he made but brief reference to its improvements. On his way to Sonoma Duhaut-Cilly did not deem it of sufficient importance to more than mention.

Yet it was a position of great importance. Governor Echeandia became alarmed about the activity of the Russians at Fort Ross, and accused them of bad faith, claiming that they enticed neophytes away from San Rafael, etc. The Mexican government in reply urged the foundation of a fort, but nothing was done, owing to the political complications at the time, which made no man’s tenure of office certain.

When the northern Missions were placed under the padres from Zacatecas, Padre Mercado was sent to San Rafael. He was a self-opinionated man, who soon got into trouble with Commandante Vallejo of San Francisco. He demanded the surrender of a neophyte whom the guard had arrested in accordance with Vallejo’s orders; and when the corporal of the guard asked for meat for his men, Mercado insultingly told him ” he did not furnish meat to feed wolves.” The corporal caused a sheep to be killed, and this rendered Mercado furious. A few months later a band of gentile Indians came to San Rafael, and during the night a robbery was committed. The padre accused fifteen of the strangers of the theft, arrested them, and sent them to San Francisco. Fearful lest the whole band should then come down upon him for vengeance, he armed his neophytes and sent them out under the command of his major-domo to surprise the gentiles. The movement was a success from his standpoint, as twenty-one were killed, as many more wounded, and twenty made captives, some of these latter being women and children. When the matter was reported to Governor Figueroa he was exceedingly indignant, especially as the padre asked for reinforcements to ” pacify ” the rancherias. Mercado was suspended by his prefect, pending an investigation, while Vallejo, releasing the prisoners sent to San Francisco, also freed those in bonds at San Rafael, and then went among the rancherias, explaining the matter and doing his best to quiet the angry feelings aroused. In the middle of the following year Mercado was released and returned to San Rafael, two friars, who had been sent to report upon the matter, claiming he had nothing to do with the attack.

In 1834 Ignacio Martinez took charge as comisionado, and the inventory, September 31, shows values as follows : church, $192 ; ornaments, etc., $777 ; 75 volumes, $108; total, $1077. The Mission buildings, $1123; gar-den or orchard, $968 ; boats, etc., $500 ; live-stock, $4339 ; Nicasio Rancho, $7256; credits, $170; total, $18,474 ; debts, $3488 ; leaving a balance of $15,025.

In December there were distributed to 343 Indians, doubtless heads of families, 1291 sheep and 439 horses.

The statistics for the seventeen years of the Mission’s history (1817—34) show 1873 baptisms, 543 marriages, 698 deaths.

The secularization decree ordered that San Rafael should become a parish of the first class, which class paid its curates $1500, as against $1000 to those of the second class.

In 1837 it was reported that the Indians were not using their liberty well ; so, owing to the political troubles at the time, General Vallejo was authorized to collect every-thing and care for it under a promise to redistribute when conditions were better. In 1840 the Indians insisted upon this promise being kept, and in spite of the Governor’s opposition Vallejo succeeded in obtaining an order for the distribution of the live-stock.

In 1845 Pico’s order, demanding the return within one month of the Indians to the lands of San Rafael or they would be sold, was published, and the inventory taken thereupon showed a value of $17,000 in buildings, lands, and live-stock. In 1846 the sale was made to Antonio Sunol and A. M. Pico for $8000. The purchasers did not obtain possession, and their title was afterwards declared invalid.

In the distribution of the Mission stock Vallejo reserved a small band of horses for the purposes of national defence, and it was this band that was seized by the ” Bear Flag ” revolutionists at the opening of hostilities between the Americans and Mexicans. This act was followed almost immediately by the joining of the insurgents by Fremont, and the latter’s marching to meet the Mexican forces, which were supposed to be at San Rafael. No force, how-ever, was found there, so Fremont took possession of the Mission on June 26, 1846, and remained there for about a week, leaving there to chase up Torre, who had gone to join Castro.

When he finally left the region he took with him a number of cattle and horses, went to Sonoma, and on the 5th of July assumed active command of all the insurgent forces, which ultimated in the conquest of the State.

From this time the ex-Mission had no history. The buildings doubtless suffered much from Fremont’s occupancy, and never being very elaborate easily fell a prey to the elements.

There is not a remnant of them now left, and the site is occupied by a modern, hideous, wooden building, used as an armory. Behind this are a few of the old pear trees planted by the padres, but little, if anything, else remains. Yet one feels the wisdom of the choice of even this spot.

Sheltered and secluded by surrounding hills, that are rounded and beautifully sloped, and then covered with richest verdure and a variety of trees in which song-birds nest and sing, and beneath which peaceful cattle and sheep graze, it must have been a place of rest, content, and retirement for the poor sick neophytes brought up from San Francisco.