Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
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Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Valley of the Bears

Few people know the history of the area in and around San Luis Obispo, California. I found it to be quite interesting in my research for my Father Serra's Legacy series. As part of sort of keeping busy, I started a novelette about the founding of Mission San Gabriel but ran into writer's block. That meant turning to several short stories about Vietnam and then this one, a short story about the Chumash Indians who lived throughout wide parts of Southern California.

I intend to self-publish this on Amazon.com Kindle but, as you take the time to read my blog posts, decided to share it with you here. If you enjoy it, I would ask two things of you - please check one of the three little boxes at the end of this post and take the time to provide a brief comment. Both would be deeply appreciated.

They roamed the valley and hills for beyond the memory of the Chumash. They feared nothing as their thick hides turned aside the stone-tipped spears and arrows of the puny two-legged creatures. Even their young, when the mothers brought them forth from their dens, were bigger than most creatures.

Hoó-nahr took Chumash children at will. Fortunately, they ate everything and often spent more time eating ripe berries or digging for insects than hunting down humans.

Even the great cats, tuk'e'em, avoided them.

Thus, the people would forever remember the arrival of the Spanish in their valley.

First came the sounds like great rocks hitting upon one another. Not quite as loud as the sound that followed lightning.

And then, Erow, little fox, and his people had fled in terror at the sight of strange creatures emerging from the pass to the sea. They were unlike anything they had seen before in their lives; twice the size of deer with monsters upon their backs. The people's fear increased when the creatures became two, the monsters alighting to stand on the earth next to the animals. It was only then that the Chumash realized they were men. Men dressed in strange hides.

The people's fear soon wafted away with the wind. One of the great bears, hoó-nahr, unafraid of all, came to seize one of the creatures for a meal. The bear reared to almost twice the height of the strange man. The man withdrew a stick-like object from his waist and pointed it at the massive bear. Thunder echoed from the hills and lightning flashed from the stick.

The bear stopped and look down upon its huge chest. It swiped at it like removing a pest and then loosed a roar of rage. It continued its advance and another stranger held out a longer stick. Once again, thunder roared and lightning reached out, singeing the hair on the bear's upper chest.

Something from the lightning stick struck the grizzled bear in its throat, one of the animal's few vulnerable points. Bright red blood spurted from the wound and the bear dropped to its haunches, the same way it did when eating berries.

After a very long time, the great grizzled bear fell to one side, whimpering as life slowly ebbed away.

Erow and his people cried out in great joy, leaping and twirling in their dance of conquest.

The sow had two cubs hidden away in the bush and, at the death of their mother, they broke cover and ran to her body.

The Chumash rushed forward and beat the cubs with rocks and clubs. Even then, the claws of the young made scars upon the bodies of two warriors who got too close to them. At last, they lay dead beside their mother.

The clan feasted that night upon juicy bear meat, puzzled that the stranger who had killed her with his thunder stick turned away the offer of the great heart. How could a warrior turn away the strength of a foe?

It was but one of many odd things the strangers did.

They stayed but two days, moving toward the setting sun and the sea. They made it clear, using a universal language of signs, that they were going north.

Erow and other children stayed close to the strangers, awed at the thick covering of hides they wore that they called cueras in their strange language. The tips of their spears glistened in the sunlight and sliced easily through almost anything many, many times easier than the sharpest stone blade of the Chumash. Erow also heard them use the word caballo for the creatures they rode, along with mulas and burros that carried their burdens.

Many changes of the moon later, the warriors calling themselves Españolos returned. They hunted every great bear in the valley, killing them all. Erow's people helped skin and quarter the carcasses, their crude stone blades unequal to the shiny magic ones of the strangers. The Españolos took away more dead bears than Erow could count, still leaving many for The People.

At last, the Españolos' wizards in their dark skins returned to build a village. With great ceremony, the magic men named their village, Misión San Luis Obispo. They built with stone and dried mud and turned the ground with sharp sticks, planting many strange and wonderful things. The People were no longer limited to kwar, the meal made from the fruits of the many oak trees they called we't, that grew everywhere.

In return for the wonderful food and protection from the terrible bears, The People went to the Padres, as they called themselves, and accepted the strange rituals called baptism. Thus, Erow was no more. The Padres gave him the name Pedro after a great hero of theirs.

And now, Pedro was responsible for the animals of the mission called bacas de leche, milk cows. He brought them to the compound every morning and evening where their sweet fluid was squeezed out to be turned into cheese and a drink all enjoyed.

Knowing there were animals that wanted his cows for their hungry stomachs, Pedro had cut down a large willow to make a staff with which to beat off the coyotes and wolves lurking around where the cows ate and slept.

And then, one day while leading the cows to the mission, he saw the tracks. ¡El Tigre! The big cat almost as feared as the bears. Could he fend one off with his staff?

Pedro had previously told Corporal Verdugo, one of the leaders of the Spanish warriors, of his fear of not being able to protect the cows and was given a large knife made of the magic stone the Spaniards called steel. Now, aware that the big cat was around, Pedro knew he needed something better.

The corporal rode out with Pedro and, after examining the tracks, agreed Pedro's knife was too small. He went to Padre Figuer and received permission to give Pedro one of the extra espada anchas in the small mission armory. Pedro now proudly wore the short sword attached to the sash around his waist, prepared to defend his charges.

On a dewy morning, one of the cows acted strangely. She grunted and moaned as if in great pain, her hind legs stiff and spread apart. Pedro then saw a small head emerge and he knew the cow was giving birth. He watched, smiling, as the baby, covered in shiny goo, slid out of the mother, dropping hard to the ground, the fall forcing it to take its first breath. The mother then turned to lick the shiny stuff from the baby's hide. Pedro knelt to help, watching the baby gaining strength. It quickly struggled to its feet and found its mother's rich supply of milk.

A low growl from the nearby bushes announced the presence of the big cat. Pedro knew it would attack the weak creature unable to avoid its huge claws. He drew his sword, holding it in one hand, the knife in the other.

El Tigre knew no fear of two-legged creatures. They always ran away in fear. So the one now facing it puzzled it. He leaped and Pedro barely stepped aside in time, driving his knife into the cat's side, feeling it scrape against a rib.

The cat landed and spun, almost too quick for Pedro to see. Its big paw reached out and claws raked Pedro's thigh. But that move gave Pedro the chance to swing the big blade, opening a gaping wound in the creature's hind quarters.

The cat screamed in pain, turned, and ran into the thick brush, venting its rage for all to hear.

Pedro did not realize how badly he was hurt. Seeing the blood dripping down his leg, he struggled to climb atop the horse and kneed it in the direction of the mission. Half-way there, he encountered two vaqueros. While one helped him to the ground and tried to staunch the flow of blood, the other raced off to the mission to get help.

Tuk'e'm,” the boy groaned. “Tried to eat baby cow.”

Ramón pressed a cloth to the boy's thigh, telling him to remain calm. “Padre be here soon. He know what do.”

Father Figuer came quickly, accompanied by Corporal Verdugo and another soldier. The friar worked on Pedro, pouring medicinal tequila on the wound to chase away the humors from the cat's claws. “Remember, my son, fear not for you have eaten of Our Savior's flesh and drunk of His blood. You face life eternal.”

Pedro did not doubt for one moment the padre's words as he had also heard them from the Reverend Father Serra.

Do you know where the cat went, boy?” Verdugo listened and was not surprised when Pedro said he had to show the way. Father Figuer wanted the boy to rest but signed the cross on his forehead when Pedro stood and struggled atop his horse.

The cat was not hard to follow, even through the thick brush of the hillside. They reached where two giant boulders formed a cave and heard the pained growls of the cat warning them to stay away. She was barely visible in the gloom of her den but it was enough for the corporal to dispatch her with one musket ball. Pedro then crawled inside and tied a rope to her leg so the soldiers could pull her out. Two cubs followed and were dispatched, not out of cruelty but because they would die without their mother.

Having done what he was supposed to, Pedro collapsed, the world going dark around him.

Father Figuer blessed the boy and helped lay him across the back of his horse. “He has done well today. We can all be proud of him.”