Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

Saturday, June 2, 2012

More of Fernando Rivera

Despite his love of the Jesuits who had made his career for him, Captain Rivera obeyed orders in a most professional manner. He helped gather the Jesuits and led them to the vessel they were to board for the voyage to San Blas – and then home to Spain. I can find no record of his thoughts, but Governor Portolá described the grief of the Indians at the loss of their padres – a feeling surely shared by Rivera.

His job then was to lead Portolá and the usurper Franciscans through the rugged Baja desert. Their first goal was a Cochimi village called Velicatá which he and Father Linck had discovered three years before. That was to be the site of the first – and only – Franciscan mission in Baja
Rivera set off on this 700 plus mile trek with 25 of his own presidials [known as soldados de cuera or Leatherjackets] and 40 Indian neophytes recruited from Missions Santa Maria and San Borja. He was too break trail, establish camp sites, herd livestock, and generally prepare the way for Portolá's party. 
One other individual needs to be mentioned here, Sergeant Jose Ortega. This dauntless soldier led the way from Loreto to San Diego and then on to San Francisco. He and his scouts never hesitated, although sometimes sick and weak. He was often turned back but never gave up. The true hero behind los Caminos del Misiónes and el Camino Real is Ortega.

Rivera had been preparing for the expedition since the previous September 1768. He set off and reached Velicatá in December. But, his journey had barely started. Once Portolá, Serra, and the others arrived, Rivera and 25 soldados de cuera, Friar Juan Crespí, the masters mate, Jose Carizares, three muleteers, and a band of Christianized natives left Velicatá in March. This land division was termed the first division. They traveled for some 51 days and covered 121 leagues to San Diego. Food was short, and the neophytes were expected to forage for most of what they needed. Many neophytes died along the way...more deserted.

On May 15, 1769, Rivera and his party reached San Miguel Bay, the site of Misión San Diego.

Things had not gone so very well for the sea part of the expedition. Two ships lay in the harbor but their crews were ashore in a camp where they were sick and dying of scurvy and dysentery. The friars and the only Doctor, Don Soler, were taxed to the maximum. They cure to scurvy was known – simply provide lots of fresh fruits and vegetables to replace the lost Vitamin C. But the Spaniards were loath to eat any of the local foods, perhaps feeling they were tainted by the local savages. And, the local Indians were not all that friendly and had been giving the Spaniards a lot of problems so they weren't about to help. The Indians, not knowing the idea of ownership, wandered through the camp and picked up anything that took their fancy. That strained relations to the point of gunfire and even arrow fire.

As soon as Portolá and the others arrived, Rivera and his men were once more sent ahead to break way and establish a road for the others to follow in their search for the fabled Bay of Monte Rey.

Again, Rivera performed professionally. He and his soldiers carried out their duties and more while Lieutenant Fages [Rivera's superior remember!] followed along, many sick and all complaining of the harsh conditions and lack of “real” food. 
They missed Monte Rey on the way north and were still uncertain when they returned. Rivera and his men were sent through the very rugged terrain south from there along the coast while Fages and his Catalonian Volunteers got to rest.

They, at last make it back to San Diego in February 1770. Was Rivera or his men given a break? Not hardly. One ship had been sent to San Blas for supplies but had not returned. 
Portolá sent Rivera once more on a long trek, returning to Loreto to gather supplies and bring them back overland. While he was doing this, the packet boat San Antonio returned to San Diego with supplies. It then sailed north to establish the main fort [presidio] at Monte Rey.

When Portolá gave up the governorship, handing it over to Fages, Rivera knew he'd been messed over. He returned to San Diego and Loreto – where his wife and children lived – and sent a letter to the viceroy asking permission to retire on grounds of pains and bad health.

The viceroy gave his permission and Rivera returned to the mainland to live the leisurely life of a Spanish gentleman.

But, not for long.

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