IT is the fashion nowadays to call it by its old Spanish name, El Camino Realthe King’s Highwayand to travel it, if one travels it at all, by motor-car, making the run from San Diego to Los Angeles between a late breakfast and an early tea; then to Santa Barbara in another day, and on to Paso Robles the third; to Monterey the fourth, spending the night at Del Monte; and on the evening of the fifth, you slip leisurely into San Francisco to a bath and a comfortable dinner. Or you may reverse the procedure.
To one with a taste for the outdoors and the romance that clings to Franciscan Missions, there is a great delight in this trip of six hundred miles over roads rich in sights mere Old-Worldly than New, and never dull. To be sure, they are somewhat chequered in conditionsometimes hub-dep in sand, again sticky with mud, oftener reasonably good, and not infrequently like park boulevards ; but each day of the five is novel in its scenery. To-day you are skirting a sunset sea; tomorrow threading mountain cañons; now crossing huge ranches dotted with grazing cattle or given over to the raising of beans and sugar-beets by the thousand acres, where Hindus and Japanese, in picturesque toggery, labor in the sun. Here you skim over breezy mesa-lands under a sky like Italy’s, with no evidence of humanity in sight; and then you descend into agricultural valleys where the presence of the olive, the pomegranate, the fig, the prune and the orange, and the adobe abodes of swart Mexicans, deepen the illusion that this is not the United States, but a foreign land.
Personally I prefer walking, the way of the heroic old Franciscans themselves, who, gowned and girdled and with umbrella on shoulder, were accustomed to foot it when they stirred abroad. But since the shortness of life prevents most of us who are not professional pedestrians from often under-taking six-hundred-mile jaunts on foot, I find it expedient to do my Mission pilgriming in sections, covering by train such parts of the intermediate stretches as suit my convenience. So is needless fatigue saved and the sentiment kept of pilgrimage to the hallowed places of earth in becoming humility.
In point of fact, the precise trails the Padres followed from Mission to Mission are now largely a matter of conjecture. The elements and the changing requirements of the times have obliterated them so that even tradition is wanting as to many of them.
Nevertheless, the road of today that joins all the missions, like beads on a string, is near enough the original to preserve the atmosphere of the adventure, even if the finical student of things as they exactly were, mourns its divagations.
Of all such foot excursions I like most, I think, the memory of the one to the ruined Mission San Antonio de Padua, in Monterey county. If one drops off the train at the dreary little town of Soledad, and crosses the Salinas River by a crazy bit of foot-bridge that is in evidence when the water is low, one may walk in the very foot-steps of Serra and Portolâ (California’s first governor) past the crumbling mud walls of the Mission Nuestra Señora de la SoledadOur Lady of Solitudeup the Arroyo Seco Cañon through Reliz Pass into the seclusion of the lonely Cañada de los Robles where is what remains of the San Antonio Mission. In silent dignity by its little river it stands in a solitude almost as profound as on that summer day of 1771 when, as the old chronicle tells us, Padre Junipero Serra and his companions arrived there from Monterey, and swinging their church bells from the branch of an oak, Serra satisfied the longing of his apostolic heart by ringing them furiously and crying at the top of his voice for all the Indian gentiles to hear who might, “Come, come, come to Holy Church: come to receive the faith of Jesus Christ!”
That, however, is more than one day’s walk for most legs and through a mountainous region so sparsely settled that the attempt might necessitate a night under the stars. So, sending my grip ahead by stage, I set out from King City by the broad high-way which many of the motorists follow, into the foothills of the Sierra Santa Lucia, up the Jimlo grade with its magnificent outlooks, and down into the oak glades of the San Antonio river basin, twenty pleasant miles to Jolonthey pronounce it Ho-lone’where is the nearest public house to the Mission.
Thus faring, towards evening, I fell in with Frater Vagabundus. Of course, that was not his name. He volunteered none and I did not ask. It is not etiquette to inquire names in the rural West, where men have been known to work side by side very contentedly for a year or two, knowing one another only as “Slim” or “Shorty.” Frater Vagabundus was a stocky man of middle age and imperturbable countenance, with a stubby red beard and a pipe in his mouth. He was decently enough dressed, as a working-man might be, and swung over his left shoulder by a broad strap was a roll of blankets. In one hand he carried a covered lard-kettle that tinkled with a sound as of tin utensils within. He was a type of pedestrian one often encounters on California high-ways. They may be seen plodding from one end of the State to the other, their bed-rolls upon their backs, ostensibly in quest of work, but probably impelled mostly by the rover’s taste for fresh air and a change of scene. Yet they seem a grade above the professional hobo of comic literature and the police court. As we were bound in the same direction, we dropped into step and chatted a bit together. He was not averse to speech, but his words came slowly and rustily, as if little used.
“Lots of mechanics on the road now,” he observed; “people are not hiring much.”
“And you,” said I, “what is your trade?”
“Oh, I’m just a common laborer,” he replied with unexpected humility, `but I pick up a job now and then. Even if it doesn’t pay any money, there’s a meal of wittles in it, and that’s worth while. Some of the boys are always watching to beat their way on the cars; but, says I, what good does that do ’em? They can’t get no work that way. Once a rancher hired me all winter to do chores for grub and lodginghe couldn’t afford to pay out moneyand the boys said I was a fool. But I guess not. I had rumatism in my legs and couldn’t walk good, and the rest done me good. I’ve been up in Alameda County, and it got bum there, and I think mebbe times is better in the south, so me and another fellow we’re headin’ for Los Angeles. I’m looking for him now”glancing down the road back of him”he’s back there a piece. We know a wacant house, not far from here, where we can sleep.”
“Oh, it don’t cost much to live on the road,” he went on, “I always carry a loaf of bread and some coffee, and I’ve rice enough now to last a week. Then at the railroad warehouses they’ll almost always give you a handful of beans, and I’m here to tell you beans stays by you. In the morning I have coffee and bread, and I don’t need nothin’ more till along about five o’clock and then I make up a fire and have rice, and when it’s dark I roll up in my blankets and sleep till morning. Sometimes there’s several of us camps together, and company’s cheerful.”
Here a Ittle trail struck off from the road, and my companion stepped into it.
“Well, I’m leavin’ you here,” he said, “solong and be good.”
I had gone but a few rods on my way, ruminating upon the new glimpse into life my vagabond friend had opened up to me, when I heard a scuffling noise at my feet, and there, caught by one long ear in the savage barbs of a wire fence, cowered a trembling jack-rabbit. He had beaten a pathetic little pathway on the ground in his frantic efforts to get free, and his bleeding ear was half torn through, but enough remained to hold him. Frater Vagabundus was still in sight, and I called to him to come.
“Here’s your supper,” I said.
He caught up a billet from the ground, and with a blow, released poor Jack from his, misery.
“You bet that’ll make a fine stew,” he chuckled, his eyes a-sparkle, as he held the rabbit up by its hind-legs.
“I like to take photographs as I travel,” I ventured; “would you mind if I take yours?”
He gave a scared glance at the camera and quickly averted his face.
“No, no,” he stammered, backing away, “II’m not dressed good enough.”
So did I learn that Frater Vagabundus had a past, and I was sorry.
Jolon is a quaint mountain hamlet, old as things go in our West, and of a look unusual in California’s villagesa look of finished snugness, almost English, beneath venerable oaks. There are a couple of roadside taverns with roomy verandas and balconies, a store or two, a grimy blacksmith shop beside a spreading tree, and in winter a generous bit of green. Of the two inns, Dutton’s picturesquely festooned with a huge grape-vine that dates back to the Padres’ day, would probably get the asterisk of commendation in Baedeker, if either would, though at “four bits for beds and four bits for meals,” which is the Dutton tariff, one is not to be too fastidious. Dutton’s is, however, the real thing in old-fashioned rural inns, and, after a comfortable country supper, it is pleasant to sit in an arm-chair by the huge fireplace in the bar and toast your toes, read the San Francisco morning paper and listen to the talk of the local publicans and sinners. Having attained a certain age, Jolon has lost the crudity of the typical Wild West border village; and if you are looking for a Bret Harte setting, you will not find it there, but rather something more like the atmosphere of “The Rainbow” in George Eliot’s tale or the “Six Jolly Fellowship Porters” of Dickens. There is, to be sure, the miner, inseparable from the California mountains, but he of Jolon is a quiet, benevolent-looking mountain of a man, tipping the scales at 320 pounds, they say, in a shirt neither red nor flannel, and who plays cribbage every night with the barber, pegging the score with three-penny nails. As for gambling, when there is any, it is nothing more reckless than “pitch pedro” for nickels, in which the jovial landlord, six feet two in his stockings and Falstaffian of paunch, likes to take a hand, and loses four bits or so with an equanimity that enhances his popularity with his partners in the gameFrank who clerks in the store and Black Bill, the hostler, for Jolon is democratic. A sprinkling of Spanish “fellows” from the mountain ranches, a Socialistic blacksmith with radical views on taxation, and a chance traveler or two, like myself, complete the company, who, after swapping the neighborhood news, discussing the prospects of the fishing season and settling the affairs of the nation at large, disperse soberly at nine o’clock, and fifteen minutes later, Jolon lies slumbering.
Lamps were still burning in Jolon kitchens when, next morning in the nipping dawn, I set forth by the westward road that leads through the Milpitas Rancho to the Mission. It is a country of wild pasture-lands and of scattered oaks. The leafless branches that winter morning were draped in gray, hanging lichens and clotted with witches’ brooms of pale green mistletoe. Along the hills there was a shrill clamor of coyotes, and with the sun’s first level rays that lighted to rose color the purple deeps of the Santa Lucias ahead of me, came the lamenting of wild doves and the sleepy twitter of innumerable small birds awakened. So for five miles, when the road emerged from the trees into a wide grassy canada, or level valley, where meadow-larks were singing in the sun. A mile away, on a hill-top amid trees, was a house of the Milpitas Rancho, but straight ahead at the end of the road the façade of San Antonio Mission with its one corridored wing shone white. Of all its aforetime extensive domain, only a few acres remain to it now, about which a wire fence is drawn to protect the crumbling ruin from the cattle of the surrounding ranch. Within the enclosure two small black swine that morning were rooting in the grass, and when the sound of my footsteps reached them, they lifted curious snouts and ears at me and grunted audiblyperhaps a welcome. Somehow, it seemed a fitting greeting, this salutation of the humble beasties on ground dedicated to the saint whose love for the lower animals was as tender and all-embracing as was that of his Father Francis.
A few years ago, the Landmarks Club made a start at repairing the wreck which time and vandals have made of this Mission’s buildings; but, beyond clearing out the fallen rubbish within the church building, strengthening the walls and putting on a shingle roof, they had accomplished little when the money ran out. Once a year, on June thirteenth, Saint Anthony’s day, a priest comes to hold religious service in the church, and people gather from miles around to attend and make it a fiesta day. At-other times, the edifice appears to be reduced to a sanctuary for stray tramps and birds. In the empty sockets high under the roof, where dead-and-gone beams once rested, mud swallows build their nests, and as I walked the deserted nave, two owls of the species Californians graphically call “monkey-faced” flew up from the high rafters over the altar where they had been dreaming out the day, and flapped blindly about. The hand of irreverence has indeed been laid hard on San Antonio. Empty whiskey bottles were scattered that day about the floor, amid the slovenly remains of a tramp’s camp who had lately helped himself to free lodging there; and the plastered walls, as high as the arm of man could reach, were literally covered with the scratched and scribbled names of visitors. More cheerful is what remains of the Padres’ garden into which one steps from a side-door of the sacristy. Here, shut out from the world, in the blessed sunshine, with a bee or two for company, I sat on a bit of green turf under an ancient budding pear tree and ate my luncheon garnished with cress from the little brook that flowed back of the Mission into the San Antonio river. A few rose bushes, some tamarisks and a blossoming currant or two, still maintained a struggling existence there, though the hands that planted and tended them were long since dust.
From the ranch-house on the hill a mellow-voiced bell sounded, bidding to their midday meal some half-breed laborers who were ploughing in the fertile land below the old campo santo by the riverlaborers whose ancestors had bowed their heads on other noons at the call of the angelus bell from the Mission belfry. As its tones died away, I looked up and saw a horseman beyond the broken wall. He was an elderly man, lantern-jawed, dark of visage and spare of frame. Dismounting stiffly, he threw the reins over his horse’s head, and leaving the animal to graze, he approached and saluted me with the gravity of demeanor that characterizes the well-born Spaniard. For Spanish he proved to be, as he informed me by and by, with some pridea grandson of one of Portolâ’s corporals. His grandfather, when he left the service, had been given a hundred gentle cows, a hundred dollars and a grant of land which had remained in the family until the coming of the Americans, who, by processes peculiar to the time, managed to oust the corporal’s descendants and got for themselves from Washington a title to his King-given acres.
“Melancholy business, this,” said my visitor, slowly inhaling the smoke of his cigarette and looking through half-closed eyes at the ruined buildings.
“Fifty-three years ago, when I came to this region, although that was twenty-five years after the confiscation of the Missions under the Mexican Secularization Act, there was still abundant life here. The church and the buildings around this quadrangle were then in very good repair, and families lived in them. There was a Spanish curate in residence and he loved the Mission and the old ways. I knew him wellhe died in 1881. He was a real father to the peoplevery different from the Irish priests who followed, and who cared nothing for the old order and let everything go to rack in a few years. And yet, for all the devastation of the American and Mexican vandals, who have robbed the place of everything movable, as rats riddle a cheese, nothing would be easier, if I only had the money some of you Americans have to burn, than to restore the main buildings here and show the world to-day how a typical Mission really looked a century ago; for the foundations of the principal features are still plain the church, the Indians’ houses, the shops, the sleeping quarters, the irrigation works, the burying ground, the Fathers’ garden here. You are interested in such things, sir? I will show you the plan of the original Mission.”
“Ah, the old days of Church and King,” he went on, rolling a fresh cigarette; “that was a life worth while. Now we live in a fever and all the country is under the goad of the Anglo-Saxon whip ; and pardon me sir, everything the Anglo-Saxon touches he vulgarizes. But then it was different. The Church hunted souls, not dollars. The Indians were made fit for heaven and were taught to lead lives of usefulness here; the gente de razonthe white peopleif they had little money, had abundance of the material comforts of life, a full larder and horses and cattle unnumbered, and they were rich, sir, in time, good manners and reverence for Church and authority. There were no lawyers in the country, and a man’s word was security enough. In those days the Missions were the only inns, and the bill was nothing. A man traveling on horseback could reach a Mission every night. He would be insulting the Father if he did not stop, and he was welcome to stay as long as he liked, with a good room to himself and a seat in the place of honor at table. On leaving, he could have a fresh horse if he liked and a guide to the next Mission.
“And now I want to say about the Indians. Can you imagine what it was for two or three priests and a handful of soldiers to stop at a spot like this in a pure wildernessnot a civilized soul within fifty or a hundred milesand start a Mission such as this was? When the books tell you that this establishment, for instance, dates from 1771, which was the time of its foundation, you must not think that the walls you now see were erected in that year. It was Many years before such buildings could be erected; for, after setting up a wooden cross and stringing the church bells on a framework by a temporary brush-chapel, and invoking the blessing of God, the first step was to make workmen out of untrained savages.
That, sir, takes time, and more time, patience and the help of God. Brick and tiles had to be made on the spot from the earth about them; suitable trees for timbers had to be cut out in the mountainsand in some cases that meant transportation on the backs of Indians over trails where none was before; lime had to be made from shells gathered far away on the sea-shore. The construction from this raw material of these edifices, which even in their decay awaken admiration for their beauty, went on at the same time with the spiritual instruction of the Indians ; and when finished, each establishment was both a Christian temple, and a beehive of temporal industry. Under the direction of the Fathers, the Indian neophytes were taught blacksmithing and carpentry, brick-making and stone-cutting, tailoring, shoemaking and saddlery; they were shown how to prepare the ground and raise crops; to dress olive-yards and vineyards; to herd sheep and cattle; to be millers and butchers and bakersin short, to cover at each Mission the whole round of activities needful to sup-port a community modeled on lines of European civilization. In the case of Indians who manifested artistic sense, care was taken to develop it and turn it to use in the adornment of the church walls, in the manufacture of metal vessels for the altar, in wood and stone-carving, in lace-making, and in leather work. You have doubtless seen in the active Missions of today relics of this art-work, as interesting in its way as the architecture. Music was also assiduously taught, and the making of some kinds of musical instruments.
“The life under the Padres was, of course, communistic and strictly regulated. At daybreak, I have heard the old curate say, everyone was astir and had to attend early mass; then came a frugal breakfast of atôle, a soup of corn or ground roast barley, a big dipperful to each person; then the men went to work in the shops, fields or orchards, the girls, in charge of a duenna, to their sewing, weaving or grinding and the young children to school within the Mission. At noon, the angelus sounded and everybody came to a dinner of pozôle, a kind of porridge in which meat and beans or peas were principal ingredients. Two hours were allowed for dinner and rest; and then to work again for two or three hours. At five o’clock all were rung to church again for an hour’s religious teaching, instruction in Spanish and hymn-singing. Then came supper of atôle and the evening was given over to recreationdancing, music and games in this patio or in the kitchen. All the food was supplied from the Mission’s community stock; the unmarried received theirs already cooked, but the married ones got only the raw material which they had to cook themselves. When a young man wanted to marry, he told the head of his guild-all the laborers were classed in guilds, according to their tradeand that man told the Mission alcalde or judge; then the alcalde in-formed the Padre, who would call the young couple before him and talk the matter over, and if it seemed a right match, he would marry them. After the marriage, they were given an apartment and regular rations of uncooked victuals. And that was Mission life.
“Oh, of course, there was rebellion sometimes,” the old man continued as he rose to go, “that’s human nature; even white people will quarrel with their bread and butter; but generally the spanking of the ringleader laid across the Padre’s knee, or the locking up of a few of the malcontents in the stocks till they cooled off, was all that was needed to restore order. Ah, well, it’s all one now. Of all the Indians that this San Antonio Mission brought into the bosom of the Churchand at one time, there were more than a thousand neophytes on its rollsall are gone except a solitary family who are tolerated to live a few miles from here on the lands of this ranch. After the secularization, the Indians were like a sheep without a shepherd or a fold. Gringo whisky and white men’s diseases carried them off like flies. The Americans regarded them merely as thieves and vagrants, with no more rights than wild animals, and shot them as they shot coyotes if they insisted on being in the way. Spain, sir, never deprived a Mission Indian of land to live onit was reserved to this great republic, founded on the common freedom and equality of all men, to deny him ground to stand on. And so ends the story. I hope my garrulity has not tired you, but I have seen much, and read much, and my tongue cannot always be silent. Adios, sir.”
And yet, as one travels the Padres’ pathway to-day, one is made aware that theirs is not all an ended story. If Indians are not, there are in the land un-, regenerate white folk a-plenty, and many a Mission bell still calls in the service of the Cross. The Missions that are still in use are mostly in charge of the secular clergy, but at two, at least, San Luis Rey and Santa Barbara, the brethren of the Franciscan Order in their brown gowns and white rope-girdles, maintain their old community life in a restricted way.
The Mission at Santa Barbara is, of all the chain, perhaps the best known to the tourist, and in a way it is of all to-day the most heartening, because of its well-groomed appearance and the active, cheerful life that is going on under its roof and in its fields and gardens, where the bareheaded brothers in the conventional garb of their order come and go continually. A college for the education of novitiates is maintained close by, which in part accounts for the air of active routine that prevails. Santa Barbara was the last of the Missions in which Serra was personally concerned, and a pathetic interest attaches to it because of the heartbreaking delays in starting the building after he had selected the sitedelays due to the antagonism of the Territorial Governor Neve, who was determined, if he could, to break up the Mission. And so Serra, in disappointment, died without seeing the first stone laid. Two years later, in 1786, building was at last begun. A beautiful adjunct of this Mission is the Padres’ gar-den with its variety of plants, its pleasant shaded walks, and its quiet seclusion promoting meditation. To the woman visitor this enclosure is a tantalizing matter, if she catches a glimpse of it through an open door, for into it only men are admitted. “It seems,” to quote the words of an urbane Padre, “that since our Mother Eve through her fatal curiosity brought upon her daughters the curse of expulsion from Eden, the Franciscan Order does not subject any other woman to a similar temptation.” The ancient cemetery, however, which occupies a quiet corner of the Mission grounds within high, time-stained walls, is garden enough to satisfy any reasonable tastea lovely, peaceful campo santo where palm and cypress cast cool shadows and flow-ers bloom by every path.
Then there is San Gabriel, the first Mission the tourist sees if he comes to California by the Los Angeles gateway.
“These Mission was found in 1771 by the Franciscan Fathers. The picture at the left of these altar is Saint Joseph, these other is Saint Gabriel Archangel; these picture here is the Blessed Virgin, very old by Spanish master. These wall was built by Indians; here is the baptis’ font which eight thousand Indians were baptise’, and are buried all around the chorch.”
It is the voice of gentle Father Bot, late Padre of San Gabriel but now gathered to his everlasting rest. Through an open window float the ecstatic notes of the meadow-lark and the fragrance of orange blossoms. Although it is March, the air is soft and still, and a pair of dark-faced Latins of whom we catch a glimpse through the window, have found the sun very hot and are refreshing themselves by rolling a cigarette apiece in the checkered shadow of a fig tree just bursting into leaf. No, it is not Italy, nor Andalusia ; but one of the newest, richest and most progressive of the United States. Clustered about the Mission is perhaps the quaintest old-time Mexican village now to be found in California, with picturesque adobe houses shaded by old trees and smothered often in clambering roses, with gay little gardens gathered about them.
“Yes,” observed mine hostess of “The Grape-vine” with complacency, “it’s a pretty spot. I think if the Lord left any place on earth for Himself to return to, it would be San Gabriel.”
Five or six years ago the electric railway company which has gridironed with its tracks all the country around Los Angeles, put in a branch to San Gabriel, and that remains the principal evidence of American enterprise in the sleepy little place to-day. Nothing can be more incongruous than the big, red, noisy trolley cars, clanging and banging every half-hour down the narrow little main street, and discharging their loads of curious American sightseers by the old Padres’ garden gate; and if you are sensitive about such matters, you will do well to let the car go hang, and walk to the villagea mile or soby the quiet country-road lined with eucalyptus, that leads down to San Gabriel from El Molino Station on the Los Angeles-Monrovia line. Only so, or by carriage, may one, entering the village, enter also into the Old World atmosphere which is its great charm.
There is a quaint adobe fonda there, with eye-like windows in a squat roof and a patio hidden from the sky by an immense, spreading grapevine. It is not listed among the tourist hotels of the Land of Sunshine, but the unconventional traveler with a taste for life that smacks of the soil, will find it an interesting experience to take a room there for a day or two, and mix with the people. Real tamales, frijoles and chili con carne are to be hadnot the canned products of a Chicago packing-house; and, if you are not a teetotaler, there are wines, sweet and dry, from San Gabriel vineyards. Of an after-noon, games of hand-ball are to be watched in open-air courts, the score shouted in Spanish; and in the dusky evening the strumming of guitars offsets the unromantic clamor of the trolley gong. Then there is the daily possibility of a Mexican christening party or a wedding within the Mission walls; and always thrice a day the angelus sounds from the belfry its solemn call to prayer. For the Mission San Gabriel, while a professional show-place under the care now of an order of Spanish priests, who have an eye to income and charge you “two bits” apiece to show the interior of the building, is an active instrumentality’ of the Church; and though shorn of the temporal wealth which in common with all the California Missions it possessed until three-quarters of a century ago, it is still a center of religious life having a spiritual care over a populous parish where English is as a foreign language.