THE English had made the occupation of Louisiana imperative. Carlos lifted his eyes to the West, and there he saw another menace. Russian fur hunters had overrun Siberia to the Pacific by the beginning of the eighteenth century. Catherine of Russia, continuing the age-old quest for the Strait of Anian, in 1725 had sent Vitus Bering, the Dane, to seek a northern passage from the Pacific into the Atlantic. On his first voyage (1725-1730) he discovered Bering Strait, leading, not into the Atlantic, but into the Arctic Ocean, where Siberia and Alaska all but touch hands. By the close of the Seven Years’ War Russian fur-trading posts had been established on Bering, Kadiak, and Unalaska Islands, and Russian vessels were cruising Pacific waters southward toward Oregon. Moreover, there was the perilous prospect of an English incursion overland from Canada or from the Ohio Valley, California had been in danger before, and little had been done. The Russian menace might have ended with correspondence had there not been on the frontier a man of action clothed with ample powers. This man was José de Gâlvez, the visitor-general who had carried out for Carlos reforms in New Spain. Gavez not only realized that a crisis had arrived but, true to form, he acted; and, while settling affairs in Lower California, he organized a defensive expedition to Alta California. The plan was typical of Spain’s method of holding and assimilating new frontiers. Soldiers and missionaries were to go forth, side by side, and plant military colonies and missions at San Diego and Monterey, then the most celebrated harbors on the coast, for the Bay of San Francisco was still unknown.
To carry out the work Gâlvez had good material ready at hand. The general command was entrusted to Don Gaspar de Portolâ, the newly appointed Governor of Lower California. Since the expulsion of the Jesuits, the work of converting and civilizing the natives there had devolved upon a band of Franciscan friars, sons of the missionary college of San Fernando, at Mexico City. The president of these “Fernandinos” in Lower California, Fray Junipero Serra, was chosen to guide the banner of the Faith into the new territory, and he would take with him five other friars chosen from his missions. The expedition, which was under way early in 1769, consisted of two passenger vessels and a supply ship and two overland parties.
Owing to errors in latitude made by the earlier explorers, the vessels sailed too far north in their search for San Diego Bay. The San Antonio reached port after fifty-four days at sea. The San Carlos was one hundred and ten days on the way, and when she entered the harbor her crew were too ill from scurvy and lack of fresh water to lower the boats. A fortnight was spent chiefly in caring for the sick and burying the dead. The supply ship, the San José, was never heard of again after her departure from port in Lower California.
The land expeditions were much more fortunate, though the way was difficult and long. Provisions for the journey, horses, mules, and cattle were assembled at Velicatâ, a post eighteen leagues beyond Santa Maria, the northernmost of the old missions.
The first of the overland parties set out from Velicatâ, on March 24, 1769. It was led by Captain Rivera, commander of the company of Loreto. He had twenty-five leather jacket soldiers (soldados de cuera), three muleteers, and some forty Indians from the old missions, equipped with pick, shovel, ax, and crowbar, to open the roads through the mountains and across gullies. Along went Father Juan Crespi, principal historian of the expedition. Rivera’s men were declared to be “the best horsemen in the world, and among those soldiers who best earn their bread from the august monarch whom they serve.” The cuera, which gave them their name, was a leather jacket, like a coat with-out sleeves, reaching to the knees, and made of six or seven plies of white buckskin, proof against the Indians’ arrows except at very close range. For additional armor they had shields and chaps. The shields, carried on the left arm, were made of two plies of bull’s hide, and would turn either arrow or spear. The leather chaps or aprons, fastened to the pommel of the saddle, protected legs and thighs from brush and cactus spines.
For the first eight days the trail was that followed by the Jesuit Father Linck, three years before. Thereafter, a distance of three hundred miles, the route was now explored by white men for the first time. Frequently water had to be carried in barrels and skin bags (botas), for the Peninsula is dry. More than once the animals had to camp for the night without water. Sometimes there was no fuel for a camp fire. Several nights were made terrible by the roaring of a lion. Much of the way was over rugged mountains. The wild Indians did no harm, but they were occasionally threatening. Frequently it rained, and the men spent uncomfortable nights in water-soaked clothing. At last the difficult journey came to an end. On the 13th of May, scouts from a height saw the masts of the two vessels anchored in San Diego Bay. Next day their joy was mixed with sadness; the welcome salutes and the fond embraces were offset by the sad news of the horrible inroads made by scurvy into the ranks of the sea party.
On the 15th of May, the day after Rivera and Crespi reached San Diego, Portola and Serra set out from Velicatâ. The season was better, the trail had been broken, and the journey was quicker than Rivera’s. On the last day of June, after a march of six weeks, the wayfarers reached San Diego. Serra said Mass, the Te Deum was sung, and artillery roared salute from the new outpost of Church and State. The first band of Spanish pioneers on the soil of Alta California, when all were assembled, comprised one hundred and twenty-six souls; ninety-three of the original number had perished on the San Carlos or after landing; of the Indians, some had deserted on the way, reluctant to leave home. On Sunday, the 16th of July, Serra preached to a group of natives made happy by little trinkets from his stock, and dedicated the mission of San Diego de Alcali. Nearby the presidio of San Diego was founded.
The port of Monterey was still to be protected. Portoli therefore sent the San Antonio back to Mexico for men and supplies; then, leaving the San Carlos at anchor for want of a crew, he continued up the coast by land to complete his task, without the aid of the vessels. The march began on the 14th of July, two days before Serra formally founded his mission of San Diego. Ahead rode Portoli, Fages, Costanso, the friar’s, six Catalan volunteers, and the Indian sappers. Next followed the pack train in four divisions, each of twenty-five loaded mules, with muleteers and a soldier guard. In the rear came Captain Rivera, the rest of the soldiers, and friendly Indians driving the herd of spare mules and horses.
Portoli and his band rode northward along the coast by a route practically that now followed by the railroads. Most of the way pasture and water were plentiful and the Indians numerous and friendly. At Los Angeles River a sharp earthquake shock was felt. “It lasted about half as long as an Ave Maria, and about ten minutes later it was repeated, though not so violently.” The coast was followed without great difficulty past San Luis Obispo to a point near the southern line of Monterey County. Here the way was blocked by rugged Santa Lucia Mountain, whose steep cliffs overhang the sea. A halt of several days was necessary for Rivera and the scouts to find a way through the mountains. The march was continued then to the north and northeast for about forty-five miles across Nacimiento and San Antonio rivers, and down Arroyo Seco to Salinas River, which was reached near Soledad. It was one of the hardest stretches of country encountered by the early explorers of the West. Crespi wrote, “The mountains . . . are inaccessible not only for men but also for goats and deer.” Arroyos flowing down the gorges had to be crossed innumerable times. From a high peak near San Antonio River nothing but mountains could be seen in any direction. “It was a sad spectacle for us, poor wayfarers, tired and worn out by the fatigues of the long journey.” Some of the soldiers by now were disabled by scurvy. “All this tended to oppress our hearts; but, remembering the object to which these toils were directed, and that it was for the greater glory of God through the conversion of souls, and for the service of the king, whose dominions were being enlarged by this expedition, all were animated to work cheerfully.”
Six days down Salinas River took the expedition to the shore of Monterey Bay. But Vizcaino had told of a “fine harbor.” None was found, and Portolâ, mystified, concluded that some mistake had been made, and that the harbor must be farther north. He therefore continued up the coast. As the men pressed on through the spacious forests, they saw, rank upon rank, the sheer, ruddy trunks of giant timber, and they called this new tree the palo colorado. This is the first historical mention of the famous California redwood. At Half Moon Bay they saw the Farallones, Point Reyes, and Drake’s Bay; which last they recognized at once, for it was better known than any other point on the north coast. Plainly, they had passed Monterey and were a long distance out of their course. So they pitched camp at Point Pedro, to rest and to debate what should be done. And, their food being nearly exhausted, some hunters struck into the mountains northeast of the camp to look for game. The chase, or perhaps only the hope of it, led them upward until presently they came out on a clear height and beheld a great quiet harbor, almost land-locked, so near together stood the two titanic pillars of its one gate, open to the sunset ocean. These hunters were the first white men to catch a glimpse of San Francisco Bay.
On the 4th of November, Portolâ’s party descended to the bay and explored it to its head. Then, retracing their route along the coast, they again reached Point Pinos and Monterey Bay, They planted two crosses, one on Carmel River and the other on the bay shore, and continued on to San Diego.
There affairs had gone badly. Fifty persons had died and the rest were homesick. During Portolâ’s absence they had had a serious brush with the natives, who had pillaged their huts and stripped the invalids of their garments. Provisions were scarce, and there was even talk of abandoning the enter-prise. But Rivera was dispatched to Loreto for stock and supplies, and the pioneers held on as if they knew the full meaning of their fortitude. In the crisis Serra’s faith was superb. “What I have desired least is provisions,” he wrote. “Our needs are many, it is true; but if we have health, a tortilla, and some vegetables, what more do we want?
If I see that along with the food hope vanishes I shall remain along with Father Juan Crespi and hold out to the last breath.”
But relief was at hand. To the eyes of the friars, who had kept an unceasing vigil of prayer for nine days, and to the discouraged Portolâ, the white sails of the San Antonio cleaving the clear blue twilight must have seemed as the wings of some heavenly visitant, more beautiful than ever ship before had spread to the beneficent wind. Alta California had been saved from the danger of abandonment. Another expedition to Monterey was successful and the presidio and mission of San Carlos were founded there (1770), near the spot where one hundred and sixty-eight years before Father Ascension had said Mass under a spreading oak tree.
The Russian menace had been met. Spain’s frontier had been advanced eight hundred miles. That the event was of more than local import was generally felt, and the news of it, hurried to Mexico by special courier and dispatch boat, was celebrated at the capital. “His Excellency [the Viceroy] wanted the whole population forthwith to share in the happiness which the information gave him, and therefore he ordered a general ringing of the bells of the cathedral and all the other churches, in order that all might realize the importance of the Port of Monterey to the Crown of our monarch, and also to give thanks for the happy success of the expeditions; for by their means the dominion of our king had been extended over more than three hundred leagues of good land.” – More than this, the Viceroy ordered a solemn Mass of thanksgiving sung in the cathedral, and attended in person with his whole viceregal court.
Two problems of major importance now engaged the authorities the opening of a land route from Sonora and the occupation of San Francisco Bay. Thus far supplies had been sent chiefly by ship from San Blas to Loreto on the peninsula, thence northward by pack train over seven hundred and fifty miles of largely arid country to San Diego and five hundred and fifty miles farther to Monterey. California needed colonists, and the supply ships were too small to transport them in any number. The soldiers in California, left without their families, chose their companions from among the native women and thus grievously hampered the work of the friars. Furthermore, a land route would reduce the cost of the new settlements to the government by opening a way for the transport of stock and crops raised abundantly in Sonora.
The man for the task was found in Juan Bautista de Anza, commander of Tubac, an Arizona fort, and a frontiersman by birth and training. Anza set out from his post at Tubac with a company of thirty-four men, including two friars, thirty-five mules laden with provisions, sixty-five cattle, and one hundred and forty horses the horses being poor animals, as the best of the stock had just been run off by the Apaches. He turned southwest, crossed the divide, and descended the Altar River through the Pima missions to Caborca, the last Spanish settlement between Sonora and Father Serra’s San Gabriel Mission, six hundred miles distant. From Caborca his way led through the Papago country to the Gila at the Colorado Junction, over the waterless Devil’s Highway, where men and beasts suffered torture from thirst. At the junction he made friends with Palma, chief of the Yumas, and presented him with a bright sash and a necklace of coins struck with the King’s image, which latter so delighted the naked giant that “he neither had eyes enough to look at it, nor words with which to express his gratitude.” The Yumas assisted Anza in crossing the Colorado River and guided him down its farther bank to Santa Olaya Lake, on the edge of the great sand dunes of the Colorado Desert.
His guides from here forward were Father Francisco Garcés, who three years before had crossed the Colorado Desert, and Sebastian, an Indian who had fled east across the Sierras from Mission San Gabriel to Sonora. But the guides lost their way and for about a fortnight Anza wandered helplessly among the dunes till at last he encountered mountains of sand which the jaded animals would not even attempt to pass. When he turned back towards Santa Olaya Lake his difficulties were not over; for the blowing sand had wiped out all trails. But at last he reached it and there went into camp for two weeks, to rest and restore the men and the pack animals. The camp was thronged daily with the Yumas and their allies. The friars, Fathers Diaz and Garcés, endeavored to convert the savages; and the soldiers, who had a fiddler among them, held nightly dances with the Indian girls, there on the rim of the desert, defying its menace with their jollity.
Anza left a part of his equipment and some of his men with the Yumas and went on with the others, who had sworn to persevere with him to the end, even if they should have to make the coast on foot. He went southwestward, down the Colorado, seeking a way round the southern line of the desert. He found water and pasturage north of the Cócopa Mountains, from which point he veered generally northwestward to a pass in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
This trail of the first white man to cross the Sierras is historic. Anza entered the great range by way of San Felipe Creek. “The canyon is formed by several very high, rocky mountains, or it would be better to say, by great heaps of rocks and stones of all sizes, which look as though they had been gathered and piled there, like the sweepings of the world.” Continuing up Coyote Canyon, past starved Indians living in the cliffs and caves “like rabbit warrens,” three days after leaving the desert he emerged through a rocky pass into Cahuilla Valley.’ The desert now gave way to mountain verdure. “At this very place,” says Anza, “there is a pass which I named Royal Pass of San Carlos. From it are seen some most beautiful valleys, very green and flower strewn; snowy mountains with live oaks and other trees native to cold lands. The waters, too, are divided, some running on this side to the Gulf, and others to the Philippine Ocean.” Anza crossed the plateau, a distance of some fifteen miles, and, little hindered by falling snow on the mountains, which turned to mist in the valley, descended Bautista Canyon and camped on San Jacinto River. A few days later, as the Southern California sunset blazed upon the peaks, Anza knocked at the gates of San Gabriel Mission, near the future Los Angeles. His march had covered some seven hundred miles. He went on to Monterey and returned from there to Tubac over the trail which he had opened, through the Royal Pass of San Carlos.
The Golden Gate could now be protected. Having first been to Mexico City to confer with Viceroy Bucarely, on October 23, 1775, Anza led out from the rendezvous at Tubac the first colony destined for San Francisco. It comprised soldiers, friars, and thirty families in all two hundred and forty persons. The type of Spanish colonist to be had is amply revealed in Anza’s recommendations to the authorities. Their pay must be given them in advance, because most of them were “submerged in poverty,” and it must be given to them in the form of clothing and outfit because, if paid in money, they would immediately gamble it all away. The list of essentials included besides arms, horses, mules, cattle, and rations shirts, underwear, jackets, breeches, hose, buckskin boots and but-toned shoes, capes, hats, and handkerchiefs for the men, also ribbons for their hats and their hair; for the women, chemises, petticoats, jackets, shoes, stockings, hats, rebozos and ribbons; and the items of children’s needs also concluded with ribbons. Spurs, bridle and bit, saddle and saddle-cushion, and a leathern jacket (cuera) of seven thicknesses, were a few more of each man’s requirements. And the dole of each family seems to have included all inventions known at the time from frying pans to blank books ! Two hundred head of cattle were taken to stock California. In the party were three friars, Font, Garcés, and Eixarch. Garcés, who had accompanied Anza to San Gabriel on his first journey, and Eixarch, were to remain with the Yuma Indians at the mouth of the Gila. Font went as diarist and astronomer. The Gila was reached on the 28th of November without other grave mishap than the death of a woman in child-birth. Six days were spent at Yuma, the junction of the Gila and the Colorado, because of illness among the women, and because of the necessity of installing Garcés and Eixarch among their chosen flock. Anza ordered a cabin erected for the friars and their servants and stocked it with provisions for four months. Chief Palma aided with all the weight of his great authority. Such was the beginning of white settlement at Yuma.
On the 4th of December Anza resumed his journey. Some of his horses had died from the cold, and there were eleven sick persons in the party. At Santa Olaya Lake he divided his expedition into three relays, to march on different days, in order to save the scant water holes in the desert country ahead. In his conferences with Palma, whom he had now rendered ecstatic by the gift of a Spanish military costume, Anza must have learned more about the way over the sand dunes; for, leading the first detachment in person, he struck out straight ahead across the desert. In three days he reached the cool wells of Santa Rosa, and, two days later, camped at San Sebastian, near the pass into the mountains. Here he awaited the remainder of his party. When the other detachments came up, the colonists were ill from cold and thirst, and the two hundred cattle had been without water for four days. The horses were badly worn. Just before leaving Tubac the Apaches had stolen fifteen hundred head, and most of the emigrants had come without change of mounts, in some cases with two or three children on a single horse. Henceforth some went on foot. But human nature is buoyant. And the reunion at San Sebastian was celebrated with a noisy dance. A bold widow sang a naughty song; her paramour punished her; Anza reprimanded the man, and Father Font reproved Anza.
Anza’s cavalcade turned northwestward now and crossed the Sierras by way of the path he had discovered on his former journey. The snow-covered mountains extended a chilly reception to the colonists, who came from semi-tropical Sonora and Sinaloa. The women wept, but Anza dried their tears. In the deep canyon on Christmas eve, a child was born, the third extra colonist to enter the ranks of the expedition since the departure from Tubac. On the way up the mountain slope over ninety head of cattle died from cold and exhaustion. Just at San Carlos Pass a severe earthquake shock was experienced by the weary band. The intrepid Anza Tomiâr, or Big Chief, the Cahuillas called him had intended to break trail from the pass to Monterey without touching at San Gabriel, but the condition of his party and the stock made this plan impracticable. Where Riverside now stands he crossed the Santa Ana River on the bridge built by himself two years before and led his colonists into the precincts of San Gabriel on January 4, 1776. Two months later he had brought them to Monterey.
Anza explored the shores of San Francisco Bay and selected sites for a presidio and a mission and then returned to Sonora. The march of over a thousand miles, which he had led, was one of the longest overland migrations of a colony in North American history before the settlement of Oregon.
It is worthy of note that even while Don Juan Anza reconnoitered San Francisco Bay for a site whereon to erect the outward signs of absolute monarchy, the Liberty Bell at Philadelphia three thousand miles away proclaimed the signing of the Declaration of Independence; and that within seventy-five years San Francisco was to become the western gateway of the new American nation.
The presidio of San Francisco was founded in September and the mission in October, 1776. Next year one of Anza’s lieutenants founded San José, some miles to the south, close to the mission of Santa Clara. Four years later a second body of colonists came over Portola’s route and founded the pueblo of Los Angeles. The year 1782 saw the founding of Santa Barbara. Thus Spain had made good her hold on California at four strategic points, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Monterey, and San Francisco, having meanwhile pushed exploration by sea up the present Oregon and British Columbia coasts with an eye always to Russian and English activities. Spain was much disturbed to find that England, who should have been fully occupied with the Revolutionary War in America and the defense of her frontiers from the English Channel to India against the combined power of France and Spain, had yet found time to send an explorer, Captain Cook, into North Pacific waters.
Of names illustrious in the pioneer mission field of America none is more renowned than Junipero Serra. If, as in the case of Serra, we are disposed to think that the biographies of some of the pioneer padres, written by members of their own Order, may be too colored with hero worship to be strictly historical, let us remember at the same time that only men capable of arousing exalted affection and admiration could tempt their memorialists into this extravagance. In his character, it is plain, Serra was gentle, loving, and selfless. Like Kino, he had distinguished himself in the Old World and had turned his back upon honors to enter the laborious and perilous life of a missionary to savages. It was a life that promised little but hardship, disappointment, danger, to be cut short, perhaps, by a death of agony at the hands of those he sought to save. Whatever might be the worldly policies of governors and ecclesiastics pertaining to the results of his labors, the true missionary himself was moved by two separate motives a passion for his Faith and a yearning towards those whom he deemed eternally lost without it. His humanity as well as his zeal found exercise in a fatherly interest in the children of the wilderness and in efforts to teach them innocent games and pleasures in the place of some of their native amusements which were less moral. To learn their various languages and Indian languages are among the most difficult to master to coax them into habits of industry, to make them love labor and strict virtue as well as the Catechism required infinite patience and kindness no less than a heart staunch against all fear.
Such a blend of zeal and humanity was seen in Junipero Serra. Withal, he was an organizer and executive. All in all, indeed, Serra was the outstanding Spanish pioneer of California. During the fifteen years of his labors there, he supervised the founding of nine permanent missions of the twenty-one which the Franciscans built in the Golden State before secularization undid the work of their Order. San Diego was the first, but the more famous was San Carlos at Carmel, where Serra lived until his death in 1784. The present San Carlos, which has been preserved and is still regularly used for services, was begun on the same site in 1793. The little congregation which gathers there now answers no longer to the descriptions left us by visitors of long ago such as those of the Frenchman La Pérouse, who saw the original building, the English discoverer, George Vancouver, and, later, the Boston seaman and writer, Richard Henry Dana. Then, along the five-mile road leading from Monterey, the capital, to Carmel, passed the magnificent Governor and his uniformed escort, caballeros in slashed and gilt-laced pantaloons and brilliant serapes, staid senoras shrouded in black lace mantillas yet keeping an eye on their daughters, whose glances, decorous but eager, roved over the rim of the cart as some hero with jingling spurs curvetted past, peasants under their huge sombreros, gray-gowned friars in sandals, Indian muleteers and vaqueros, and Indian laborers in their coarse dull cotton smocks. Scarlet, gold, and blue livened the black and white and tawny brown in the costuming of this frequent procession, which made its way along the shore of a sea sapphire and amethyst and spread with the hammered gold of the kelpfields, on through the green slopes, on among the giant columns of the Carmel pines, to San Carlos, on the hill above the river, with red-tiled roof and belfry and thick bluish stone walls. In Serra’s day there was only a small adobe church beside the orchards of olives and fruit trees which he planted. Half a stone’s throw from the church Serra dwelt in a cell furnished with a chair and a table, a bed of boards, and the blanket which covered him when he slept. Nearby rose a high cross and, at dawn and often through the day and night, he knelt at its foot in prayer. It was, says Father Palou, Serra’s pupil, friend, and biographer, “his companionship and all his delight.” Under the shadow of the cross in his cell, attended by his disciple Palou, Serra died. From near and far, the Indians who venerated him came to strew his plain coffin with flowers. And they wept bitterly that their Padre, now silent in death, would never again greet them with his habitual tender admonition, “amar d Dios” to love God.
Aided by other devoted Franciscans, Serra had accomplished much according to the plan which he held to be essential to the welfare of the Indians. Along the fertile coast valleys from San Diego to San Francisco stretched a chain of missions, some seated so that the limits of one mission’s lands touched upon the borders of the next. Grain fields, vineyards, olive groves, and orchards flourished, cared for by native labor under Indian overseers. Indian herdsmen tended the great flocks of sheep and the droves of cattle and horses. Each mission with its lands and its Indians formed a type of patriarchal state under the padre’s rule backed by the soldiery. Under the new régime, which curbed every native instinct and changed the whole fashion of their lives the Indians decreased. But, while it is easy to pick flaws in the mission system of dealing with the Indians, it is not so easy to point to any other system which has done better. The problem of civilizing a wild people has baffled others than the padres.
In the policy of the Government regarding the missions and in the plans of the friars, the Indian was the central idea. Both looked to his conversion and civilization. The Government intended, after a reasonable period, to take over the missions, turn them into pueblos under civil jurisdiction, each church to become a curacy of the diocese, and to allot land to the Indians, who were to be no longer neophytes under patriarchal dominance, but citizens living independent lives under the rule of the state. The mission lands did not belong to the friars, whose vows of poverty precluded their holding property. The usufruct was theirs to manage, as stewards and administrators -salaried by the Crown but having themselves no titles to the occupied territory. The friars were not in sympathy with the governmental desire pre-maturely to secularize the missions and thus to expel the missionaries, or to confine the activities of those who might remain to purely spiritual affairs. It is conceivable that they did not wish to resign their temporal powers; and it is certain that they did not believe that the Indians would be benefited by the change. With all their energy, therefore, the friars resisted secularization.
A decree passed by the Spanish Cortés in 1813, but not published in California until January, 1820, ordered the friars immediately to “cease from the government and administration of the property” of the Indians; but a vigorous controversy halted its execution. After the revolt from Spain, the Mexican Government enacted laws of the same tenor, looking, as some say, to the emancipation of the Indians and to their participation in the life of the state as citizens, or, as others put it, to the confiscation of the mission lands. The immediate result was confusion, waste, and destruction. The Indians did not comprehend the new measures, said to be designed for their progress. They accepted the views of the friars that a great evil was being committed by the new republican Government. To oppose that Government some at least of the mission Indians had been armed and drilled under the direction of their padres, whose sympathies were strongly royalist. Not understanding that the lands and herds which they had tended were now legally to become their own, and believing only that they and their padres were to be robbed of them, they plunged into a furious destruction of live stock and other property. Helpless to cope with the situation, the new Government ordered a temporary restoration of the old system. But the trouble did not abate. Dishonest officials, eager only to possess themselves of the valuable lands destined for the Indians, added to the complexity of the problem. Settlers intruded into the mission valleys and took up holdings. Natives helped themselves to stock and ran off to distant rancherias. By 1843, five of the missions at least had been entirely deserted. In 1845 a proclamation provided for the rental or sale of the missions. The abandoned buildings were to be sold at auction. The surplus property of others was to be sold and the buildings rented. This order had not been fully carried out when the flag of the United States was raised at Monterey on July 7, 1846. Under American regulations, the mission buildings with an adequate amount of land were restored to the Church. The surplus land reverted to the Government. So, in the end, the Indians possessed nothing. Retreating before the inrush of white settlers, they went back to their wild life, far less able to cope with its conditions after some fifty years of civilization and strict religious discipline. A few of the friars remained till they died to care for the spiritual welfare of their scattered and diminished flocks. The majority departed for other mission fields or returned to their monasteries in Mexico and Europe.
The missions, some of them intact, others in various stages of decay, or of restoration through the activities of the Landmarks Club of California, remain as monuments, not alone to the friars who designed them, but also to the Indians who built them. The natives, instructed by their padres, made those adobe bricks and quarried those great stone blocks and piled them into the high walls several feet in thickness, into the tall pillars, the rounded arches, the belfry towers and the solid courtyards of buildings covering, in some instances, enormous sites. San Luis Rey, the largest of the missions, built of adobe, had a corridor of thirty-two broad arches opening upon its patio, which was about eighty yards square. Nearly three thousand Indians peopled the adjacent village, tilled the mission’s lands and herded its stock; and, in the evenings, a native band of forty pieces played for the delectation of their tribesmen and their padres. The Indians built roads and bridges under the tutelage of the friars, some of whom had been architects and engineers, prior to taking vows Indians baked the dusky red tiles for the roofs. They carved the altar pieces and pulpits, the door-posts and lintels; they made the moldings and employed their primitive native art in the brilliantly colored frescoes which still adorn some of the interior walls. They hewed and smoothed the great beams for the ceilings and grooved them into place; and they wrought the stone bowls for font and fountain and set them on their adobe pedestals. Patient teaching and faithful labor wrought for beauty and God.
The architecture combined something of the Moresque, the Roman, and the Old Spanish, and was perhaps influenced by the Aztec, certainly was influenced by the needs and inspirations and the climatic conditions of a virgin country and by the materials at hand for building. The result was an original style, massively beautiful and harmonious with the landscape. Santa Barbara is a famous ex-ample. It never suffered ruin; it is, in fact, the only mission in California which, from its earliest days, has never been untenanted by Franciscans.
Some of the ruined missions suffered their first blows, not from secularization, but from the severe seismic shocks of 1812 el ano de los temblores. Chief of these was the vast cruciform building of San Juan Capistrano, which succeeded the small mission built by Serra. Before its ruins, in point of beauty, even the unblemished pile of Santa Barbara must give way. The great cross, shattered now, with its church, monastery, convent, and workshops and its wings of corridors outlined, was erected of gray stone and was hardly less than a decade in building. On a mountain several leagues away the great timbers for the beams were hewn. The stone came from a quarry six miles distant. The huge blocks were transported by the mission Indians, numbering roughly a thousand, in crude bullock-carts; the smaller blocks men, women, and even children carried on their heads. Back and forth in the daylight hours, year after year, the Indians of Capistrano trod the long way to bring the stone that should build an imperishable shrine. Imperishable, in one sense, it is; but its structure, completed in 1806, stood unmarred for only six years. One of the uninjured rooms of the convent was converted into a chapel. Services are held there and the parish priest lives at the mission.
About San Juan Capistrano, even today, lingers the fragrance of the past. In the little seaside village, Spanish, with Mexican accent, Basque, and Portuguese are more commonly heard than English. in fact, English is seldom heard. The sombrero frequently, and even an occasional dingy and frayed serape, may be seen in the groups of swarthy skinned men lounging and smoking in the sun. Not far from the railway which connects San Diego with Los Angeles by a swifter route than the old trail of the padres in the mouth of the valley, the majestic ruin stands. Gone is the high bell-tower, once visible, so it is said, from ten miles away. The roofs have crumbled in places, and the gray walls and the thick square columns of the arches are fissured from the temblor which destroyed the lofty church and crushed out the lives of several hundred worshipers. Grasses and weeds push their way through the broken floorings and riot with the blazing California poppy in the patios. Busy little birds, swift of wing and incessant in song, pop in and out of a village of nests in the deserted corridors. Lazy doves, bronze and blue and snow-white, float up from the street along the sparkling bay to sun and plume themselves on the ruined arches. And the lizard, though unattended by the lion, keeps the court. But the dark vulture, wheeling above San Juan, wings slowly on; for the stillness here is too old to be of the dead. It is the placidity of beauty, which is immortal.
In their pagan days the Indians of Capistrano honored the moon. Padre Boscana has preserved in his writings the refrain of the song sung at the feast and dance with which they greeted her: “As the moon dies and comes to life again, so we, having to die, shall live again.” Night is still the feast of beauty at Capistrano. It is a feast kept now in silence with the stately dance of a tribe of shadows moving through the arches to the slow rhythm of the rising moon. So does a vanished people “live again” in the supreme loveliness of their wrecked handiwork.
Colonization in California proceeded steadily, if slowly. California was far away and equally good lands could be had in Mexico. Spaniards lacked some of the incentives which stirred Englishmen to emigrate to the shores of the Atlantic. They attained to little greater degree of personal freedom and little larger share in their own government in a frontier presidio than in the City of Mexico or in Seville. Distance, of course, often made them independent for a time. But the heel of absolutism was on their necks wherever they went, and those who came lacked incentives to energetic industry. The land was too fertile; too much was done for them. Colonists were paid a salary for a term of years, given lands, stock, tools, in fact every necessary but the normal stimulus to labor. In California, where the climate compelled no measures of protection and the soil produced abundantly without urging, the spirit of dolce far niente possessed the settlers. Even the later coming of well-to-do families, who boasted the purest blood of Spain, made little change in the life of happy, sunny ease. Sheep and cattle increased, roamed the green valleys and found their own sustenance, with little effort on the part of their owners. Olive trees, introduced by the padres, flourished; and grain yielded from fifty to a hundredfold from a single sowing. Why work? Why be “progressive”? The implements used in cultivation were of the most primitive design. As late as ’49 the Californians were ploughing, and happily, with an iron point attached to a crooked branch. The labor of field and range was done by Indians for a share of the produce. The lord of the hacienda was chiefly engaged in riding, in gambling, dancing, in visiting or receiving his friends, or attending bull and cock fights. There was indeed little else for him to do. The Government did not solicit his cooperation. He might, and often did, stir up a little revolution. If he had a mind to trade, he must pay a tithe on all transactions; and there were no markets for his stock, so that frequently he must slaughter great numbers of sheep, cattle, and horses to reduce his herds. He was not always devout, but he obeyed perfunctorily the laws relative to religious observances and left the rest to the virtue and piety of his women. Intellectually, his life was perforce sterile; for California was isolated; books there were none, and education was not greatly encouraged. Reversing the proverbial admonition, he seldom did today what he could put off till tomorrow: manana was time enough for a task; now was for pleasure. And no pleasure was keener than bestriding a fine horse. His days were lived in the saddle; and his feats of horsemanship provoked the envy and admiration of early American and European travelers who have recorded them. To the end of Mexican days the Californians sustained the reputation brought by Rivera’s men at the birth of the province –“the best horsemen in the world.”
Though changing fashions in the outside world affected the dress of the upper class, the Californians, generally, clung to their own style of garb. The caballero who rode forth to take part in one of the numerous fiestas at Monterey or San José was attired in a jacket trimmed with scarlet, a brightly colored silk sash, velvet pantaloons slashed below the knee and laced with gilt, embroidered shoes, a sombrero sporting a band of embroidery or ribbon under which his head was tightly bound with a black silk handkerchief. A serape was draped about his shoulders; his long hair was braided in a queue and tied with ribbons. Ribbons and jingling bits of metal on bridle-reins and stirrups added to the pride of his high-mettled horse. The sloe-eyed maid who challenged him to dance by breaking on his head a cascaron an eggshell filled with gold and silver paper, or scented water would be arrayed in white muslin smock and petticoat flounced with scarlet her arms bare and her trim ankles visible scarlet sash, shoes of velvet or of blue satin; and a gay rebozo or cotton scarf, in the management of which she would display an infinite number of enticing and graceful gestures. When the day’s sports were over, the thin sweet twanging of guitars would call caballero and senorita to the dance, until, by ones and twos and whispering, laughing groups, the merrymakers flitted home like shadows across the plaza which lay white as pearl in the drenching light of the southern moon.
The houses of the well-to-do in country or in town were built about a court. The rooms opened on a corridor which ran round the court, where usually brilliant flowers grew and a fountain sent up its rainbow sparkle. The poorer ranch houses were of the plainest design and ill-furnished. The people lived out of doors and gave little thought to the interior of their dwellings. They built their large rambling one-story houses of adobe with red tile roofs, sometimes coating the outside walls with whitewash and the inner with plaster. The poorer houses had no floors but the hard earth and no furniture except a chair or two with rawhide seats, a bed of the same material, and a wooden bench which was fixed along the wall. The hacienda was overrun with Indian servants, frequently hired from the missions, who did whatever work the benign sun and soil had left for human hands to do.
But if the Californian was idle and, as the padres sometimes complained, not over-virtuous, he was kindly and hospitable to a fault. His house and all he possessed were free to friend and stranger for a day or a year. No guest could wear out a Californian’s welcome. If the guest were a poor man, on the day of his departure he would find a little heap of silver coins in his room from which he was thus silently bidden to ease a need his host had too much delicacy to mention. Horses would be provided for his journey to the next hacienda, where he would meet with the same treatment.
It was the opinion of travelers of that time that the Californians were superior to other Spanish colonists in America, including the Mexicans. And the superiority was variously ascribed to the greater degree of independence, social at least if not political, which they had attained through their far removal from Mexico and their lack of intercourse with the other colonies; and to the fact that, after the first settlements were made, the great majority of new colonists were of good Castilian blood; and to the influence of California itself. However that may be, the life of the Californians presented phases not always seen in Spanish colonies. The beauties and graces of the Spanish character flowered there; and the harsher traits were modified. Perhaps the Californian bull fight may be cited as typical of this mellower spirit, for it lacked the sanguinary features which characterized the national sport in Mexico and Spain. The quarry retired from the arena not much the worse for a chase which had served chiefly to exhibit the dexterity and horsemanship of the toreador.
After the inrush of Americans, who, paradoxically enough, stumbled upon the gold which Spaniards had vainly sought, this leisurely life inevitably passed away. California of our time commemorates the day when a people possessed by the energy of labor came to the Golden Gate. But it still bears, indelibly stamped upon it, the imprint of Spain.