San Luis Rey, Guajome And Pala

From San Fulano, it was but a short drive into the pretty valley of the San Luis Rey river, where on a little sunny knoll in the midst of a fertile farming country, stands another Mission associated with “Ramona,” the Mission San Luis Rey. This, in its heyday, was perhaps the largest and richest—temporally speaking—of all the Southern California religious establishments of the Franciscans, and it was here that Alessandro’s father, as will be remembered, was master of the flocks and herds and leader of the choir. While much of the Mission building has fallen into decay, the main church-edifice, with an impressive façade toned by time to mellow colors, still stands a worthy monument to the Christian zeal and architectural good taste of the founders. Religious services are regularly held here, and across the road is a Franciscan college for the education of priests. As we drove up, a christening-party of Mexicans was shyly entering the church-door which was held ajar by the smiling, brown-robed padre. Through the open portal the sun sent its cheerful beam into the black interior—an obvious symbol of the inward brightness which, it was to be hoped, would lighten life’s shadows for the little Christian.

The Mission is rich in picturesqueness which will amply repay the artist, the photograph-taker or the dreamer, for many days’ stay. The accommodation for the visitor, however, is exceedingly meager, as there is no public house within four miles, and there remains only the possibility of securing a room at the storekeeper’s or with some obliging Mexican. We tried the latter plan for one night, but we would recommend anyone not immune to fleas and to whom frijoles and chili-sauce have lost their charm, to lodge at Oceanside, four miles distant though it be.

A few miles from San Luis Rey, just back from the Pala road which we took after leaving the Mission, is the old Spanish rancho of Guajome—they pronounce it wah-ho-may and it means “The Place of the Frogs”—standing cool within the shadow of great cypresses. Here the creator of Ramona is said to have spent some weeks when she was beginning her novel, absorbing the atmosphere of Spanish-Californian home life which is so livingly reproduced in the work. Guajome is indeed the original home of Ramona and the geography of the novel in several particulars is intelligible only when we know this. Owing to some feeling which eventually rose between the novelist and the mistress of Guajome, portions of the story were recast to conform to the physical features of the Camulos estate. Like Camulos, Guajome being private property is “no thoroughfare” to unintroduced visitors, though to any traveler genuinely interested in the beauty of the historic place, the kindly host will doubtless extend—as he did to us— the proverbial hospitality of the Spanish-American landed proprietor.

Built four-square about a central patio where flow-ers bloom and cluster around a quiet fountain, the adobe walls of the house three feet thick and the roof red-tiled, Guajome is a typical Southern California country house of the ancient régime. Set be-side unfailing waters in the midst of fertile acres, it is a kingdom in itself ; and in the old days, after the fashion of a land without cities, it possessed re-sources for the entire support of the resident family and the numerous following of servants and dependents. Herds of cattle, horses and sheep pastured on the ranch’s thousand hills; vineyards, olive-orchards, and wheat-lands rolled their tides of fruitfulness up to the ranch-house walls. Among the retainers of the estate were artisans of many sorts –carpenters, and blacksmiths, harness-makers and weavers; there were those under the Guajome roof who were skilled in the medicinal value of herbs ; and for the cure of souls, a chapel stood by the entrance to the main house, where the offices of the church were administered from time to time when some visitant father came. A thoroughly feudal community in the old days was Guajome, where the master required that every night the gates of the main court upon which the sleeping apartments of the family opened, be locked securely and the keys delivered to him by the majordomo. Any luckless servant found within the enclosure after that, was summarily flogged.

All this and more our Spanish host told, as he strolled with us over the place, plucking for us here a sprig of rue and here a sweet lemon for souvenirs of the visit. Then true to the spirit of hospitality which in the period of Spanish dominion in California saw that no stranger departed not properly horsed and without small silver in his purse, he accompanied us to our carriage, looked quietly over the harness to be sure that no flaw was in it, and as he handed in the lines, asked :

“And now do you surely know your way,”

On a hillside commanding a distant view of the ranch, where sumacs and elders make a shady bower, we pulled up by the road for luncheon, taking Gypsy Johnson from the shafts and turning her out to graze in a knee-high patch of juicy grass. Our canteen, the vade mecum of every California traveler, supplied us water, dry sticks that lay about were sufficient for a bit of camp-fire, and in half an hour we were in full enjoyment of chops and stewed tomatoes and a steaming pot of tea. An ill-mannered blue jay took up his station on a neighboring rock, having an eye to some of our leavings, and now and then scolded us roundly for being so slow to move on. We tossed him a mutton-chop bone, which after watching suspiciously for a moment or two he cautiously approached, then backed off, drew near again, and finally dashed with boldness upon it and made off with it, no doubt thinking, like another Jack Horner, “What a brave boy am I!”

“Breakfast in sight of San Luis Rey; dinner overlooking the barley fields and olive yards of Guajome; supper, I suppose, in the shadow of the Pala bell tower; why go to Italy when there are sights like this and such days as these within the borders of our ain countree?’ exclaimed Sylvia rapturously, as she removed the teapot from the fire and set the tomatoes on to heat.

I sat silent, gazing in placid contentment on the green hills which stretched away mile upon mile in soft undulations. Then I could not help saying:

“Oh, it’s all right for people to go to Italy, if they want to; the ones I find fault with are those who come out here and never get out of sight of a hotel from the time they register at the hotel in San Diego till they fee the last lackey at the one in San Francisco, and then lay claim to knowing something about California—they haven’t seen the real California at all.”

So, pleasantly congratulating ourselves on being given the opportunity to see something of which the conventional tourist knows nothing and cares as little, we packed up and set out for Pala, that picturesque outpost of the Church, or sub-Mission, established nearly a century ago by the priests of San Luis Rey for the gathering in of the Indians of the hill country.

Should one desire to linger along this part of the road where the little river San Luis Rey bears the traveler company the whole twenty miles from Mission San Luis Rey to Pala, there are plain but comfortable accommodations to be had over night at a hamlet called Bonsall. As there were but six hours of daylight before us when we quenched our roadside fire near Guajome, and Sylvia had ambitious designs to paint the little Mission in its evening color, we pushed on without stop, and just as the sun neared its setting we entered the lovely natural amphitheater where Pala lies. And there before us, as fair in its way as Giotto’s campanile, shone the white bell tower designed so long ago by some for-gotten artist of the church. The old church buildings, the corridors and the quadrangle have fallen badly into decay, but this bell tower with two bells a-swing from wooden beams in the belfry is in thorough preservation. From an artist’s standpoint the bell tower is the whole of Pala, and Sylvia lost no time in getting out her paint-box and sketch-block and setting to work, while I went off upon a reconnaissance of the country with a view to the night’s lodgings.

When I returned after half an hour’s absence, I suppose my voice betrayed some annoyance, for I felt it, as I told my troubles :

“I thought we could get accommodations at the store—those know-it-alls at Santa Barbara said we could; but it seems they are going to transfer a new batch of Indians to this reservation from Warner’s Ranch. There has been a lot of trouble with them about it, and the storekeeper has had orders from Washington to allow no strangers to remain on his premises under penalty of having his license revoked. So he referred me to a Señora Somebody who lives just outside the Government Reservation, and I went to see her, but as well as I could make out from her Spanish-these Mexicans talk a villainous jargon—the priest from down below is due any evening on his parochial rounds, and if he should arrive to-night and find that room preempted, she thinks there would be a loss to her spiritual welfare, as he always puts up at her house. She passed me across the road to a Mexican family, and we can have a room there for six-bits. The woman of the house seems all right but the place is only a shack, and of course nobody knows how many fleas board there.”

Sylvia was looking at the bell tower through a frame of fingers. Was ever there such an indescribable, unpaintable, other-worldly color as that which glorified it in the mellow twilight?

“It doesn’t matter,” she murmured absently, “nothing matters. I could sleep sitting up in the buggy, for the sake of dwelling one hour in the midst of such beauty as this. Besides, the color would be heavenly at sunrise.”

Northward by the ” Pala grade, ” as the long, steep climb is called that leads up from the Pala valley to the mesa country around Temecula, Gypsy Johnson pulled us, and here the “Ramona” student needs to divide himself in many sections to see everything at once, for this place of tragic memory is a veritable “Ramona” center. At the village itself one may see the store that is called Hartsel’s in the novel; some distance to the west is plainly seen the cañon out of which Alessandro and Ramona climbed on the eventful night of their visit together to Temecula; and far away to the east, its snowy summit that spring day of our visit floating like an island of dreamland upon the unstable vapors of earth, San Jacinto mountain showed—San Jacinto, upon whose demon-haunted slope Alessandro met his cruel death. There are Indians there still—Coahuillas, Luiseños and what not—and every year some excited traveler comes away from that country with a story of having seen the, original Ramona, an ancient crone of anywhere from a hundred upward; and to prove it, shows her photograph ; all of which gets into the paper to the misguidance of the public. As Ramona is the regular feminine form of Ramon, a frequent man’s name in Spanish, no doubt there are Ramonas a-plenty among the California Indian women, but there is in fact no reason for believing that Mrs. Jackson’s heroine had other existence than in the fancy of the novelist.

San Jacinto, with its Indian rancherias, its sum-mer camps, its shadowy forests, and its rugged peaks lifting the climber two miles above the level of the sea and affording superb outlooks to the east over the deserts of California and Arizona and to the westward across fertile valleys to the Pacific Ocean—this is a trip to itself. Reluctantly we left it far off to our right, as we drove along, now through barley ranches, now across green pasture-lands dotted with thousands of browsing kine; now over wide, treeless stretches, sandy and rock-strewn but carpeted in places with wild grasses, filaree, and myriads of wild flowers of such beauty and abundance as had had no existence for us previously except in dreams; and where we sometimes would find ourselves slowly threading our way through an enormous band of bleating sheep, their shepherd, canteen on back and staff in hand, following in their dusty wake, while an anxious-eyed dog with drooping tail kept watch and ward over stragglers.

So by easy stages we jogged into Riverside, Red-lands and San Bernardino, and then straight west-ward through fifty miles of orange groves and vine-yards to our home city of Pasadena.

The liveryman was airing himself at his door as we drove along, and we stopped to pass the time of day with him. His practical eye rapidly summed up the condition of the team, and he smiled affably.

“You don’t seem to have had any smashups,” said he, “and you haven’t spavined the mare, and you’re both looking right brown and peart. I reckon you had a real good time in the country; now, hadn’t you?”

And we assured him we certainly had.