Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Who Were The California Indians

As I've researched information about the founding of the California missions, I've paid some attention to the natives of the area but have written very little. In Book Four, I've included an Esselen Indian as the friend of my Main Character, James Beadle. But, I've never truly gone deeply into their cultures or beliefs.

I think it's time to correct that. First, here is a list of the California Indian Tribes and Organizations from http://500nations.com/California_Tribes.asp with a number of links to those tribes who have websites.

In visiting the various sites, I've come across a common theme – according to them, the natives lived an ideal life until the coming of the Spaniards and their soldiers. From then on, they lost their sparkling cultures and wonderful way of life.

I don't mean to be cruel or belittling, but these themes appear to be to gain more concerns and sympathy than to deal with reality.

[The above depiction is false in that male Indians wore nothing but body pain and tattoos.]

Indeed, the weather of coastal California was such that the natives seldom needed clothing or even substantial structures. They protected themselves, when necessary, with structures woven together from branches and sticks. And, if the weather became cold, they donned furs or capes made from seal hides. As for food, their weak stone-tipped arrows managed to bring down small animals so they spent their entire lives foraging for food. Anything went into the small woven family pot, the liquid heated with stones from the cooking fire dropped into it, to include, mice, moles, gophers, rabbits, birds caught in rude nets, and an occasional other animal found wounded or dead. During periods of bad weather such as droughts, they starved and many of their children died. And they had plenty of illnesses that caused death long before the arrival of the Spaniards. For instance, many suffered from syphilis due to their lifestyle of seeking sexual partners whenever and wherever possible – they did not have formal marriages in the European sense.

An aside. Like most Native Americans, the women were those who selected their mates. Californians saw the animals around them and understood the Laws of Natural Selection, the females seeking the best males to provide for them and their offspring.

An ideal lifestyle?


The Chumash were seafarers. They built some truly beautiful boats using tar found on the beaches to make them seaworthy. They regularly rowed to the California Channel Islands to hunt for eggs and trap seabirds living there. But, they had no knowledge of sails and had no defense against bad weather. Their nets were made of kelp, very heavy and quite difficult to use to gather in fish.

Very few natives traveled more than one day's distance from where they were born. That is why members of the same tribe but different clans had difficulty speaking with one another.

And all lived in fear! Unlike other American Indians, they had no adequate defense against the most fearsome predator in California – the Grizzly Bear. These creatures roamed at will and readily hunted and took young children for a meal. Adults could do little about it as their poorly made bows could not send stone-tipped arrows with enough force to do anything but annoy the bears.

And, they had absolutely no knowledge of farming the fertile soil so their diets lacked many of the nutrients proved by vegetables and fruits. And, while the land abounded with healthful herbs, the local medicine men or healers had little knowledge of how to use them.

California, being a geographical area of instability, had lots of natural hot springs with healing properties. The natives had some knowledge of their benefits but did not use them to the fullest. Many tribes however did use sweat lodges for healing ceremonies.


I'll discuss more about California Indians in my next post.

Friday, October 18, 2013


Readers don't give a hoot about the travails of writing. They read the final product and either like or dislike it. Hopefully, in my case, they like it.

But, in order for them to read it, I have to get it written!

And, you certainly don't need to hear the woes causing this “writer's block” - a convenient name of just plain facing a blank wall.

Ir all started when, out of the clear [actually smog free] sky, I was informed we were going to rent our daughter's home. Not that I minded, it's far better than where we've lived for the last seven plus years. It was just a short notice affair and I still don't know if I got everything done concerning moving from one place to another. At least the bills seem to be getting to us.

And then, we took an overnight trip to San Diego to pick up my sister-in-law so she could stay with our daughter for a few weeks after she delivered our granddaughter.

But, the real crux of the problem is that this fourth book in Father Serra's Legacy is turning out to be, by far, the most difficult to write.

The characters are there. As Timothy and Jaime have reached their fifties, I've written The Missions Wither from the viewpoint of Timothy's son James and his best friend, David, an Esselen Indian from the Carmel/Monterey area.

The events and other characters are also there. Mexico gains its independence from Spain and takes over California. Foreigners are moving in. The missions are being threatened by something called secularization – taking them away from the friars and turning them over to the Indians. A total disaster as, unlike their Mexican counterparts, the California Indians were simply not prepared to deal with the discipline required to operate the mission industries.

So, what's the problem?

Up until now, I've been able to envision the scenes I wish to present to the reader. Where are the characters. What they are doing? How they react to the news of far away activities and even how to bring those actions closer to them. That simply isn't happening. The thought starts – and ends with a blooming wilt.

Will it end? Of course it will! You see, once this Book Four of Father Serra's Legacy is on the market, I've got another to rewrite that I am very excited about. I've posted some tidbits about Don Fernando Rivera and his story, Leatherjacket Soldier, is what I am truly looking forward to preparing for readers – and I know there's a huge market out there of Mexicans and Hispanics here and abroad, to read about a true hero of his time and place.


[And, guess what, I'm back to writing!}

Friday, September 27, 2013


It's almost impossible to describe.

Extensive reviews of grammar and sentence structure.

Plot structures.

Creating believable characters the reader empathizes with.



Revising and reviewing.

Going through comments and changed from an editor you don't know.

Going through it all again with another editor you don't know.

Finally getting a proof copy to go over word-by-word and sentence-by-sentence. Putting it all down on an errata list.

Receiving the proof copy of the book, ensuring that each change has been made, to discover it's ready for publication.

The sun rises a bit brighter. The birds chirp sweeter. Food has a sharper taste. A deep sigh of relief and a determination that the next is going to be even better!

So, here comes this:

Book Two of Father Serra's Legacy to be released October 8, 2013 by Bluewood Publishing

Timothy and Jaime follow Father Serra in his efforts to found nine missions in California between San Diego and San Francisco. The determined friar struggles to overcome interference by the Spanish governor and lack of support from the viceroy. The California natives flock to the missions, not only by the better life they provide but due to the loving care they receive from the friars. The two join the hundreds of mourners when, at last, the frail priest succumbs. But, all know that Father Serra's quest will continue.

The novel will be available at Bluewoodpublishing.com, Amazon.com, and other online publishers in both paperback and e-book format.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Guest Post by David Kier; The Spanish Missions on the California Peninsula 

One of history’s greatest endeavors was the establishment of the mission system in Baja California. When it began in 1697, California was believed by many to be an island and as remote from Spain as Mars is today from Earth. The goal was to occupy the land for the king and convert the native population to Christianity and the European style of living.

The Jesuit Order was given the task to establish these missions as they had been successful on the mainland of Mexico. Because all previous attempts at colonizing the peninsula had failed, the Jesuits made special demands to have complete autonomy in the project. The king agreed, but the Jesuits would have to finance the operation with private money. Benefactors came forward and donated to a ‘Pious Fund’ from which the system could build the missions.

The following 70 years, 17 missions were founded by the Jesuits on the peninsula. They also had built a ’Royal Highway’ called El Camino Real to connect the missions and their satellite sub-missions, called ’visitas’ which supported the head mission, called a ‘cabecera‘.

With political changes going on in Europe, the Jesuit success in the New World became suspect. Rumors of wealth acquired in the new lands that were never proven, had caused their expulsion to be ordered in 1767. All the Jesuits in California were marched to Loreto, and in February, 1768 sailed to the mainland where they would walk across Mexico and join the other Jesuits in sailing back to Europe.

The Franciscan Order would be next on the peninsula, but without the autonomy and would be following Royal directives. One of these was to push the mission system into the lands north of the peninsula and quickly establish missions at the harbors of San Diego and Monterey (the bay of San Francisco was not yet discovered). This new land was first called Nueva (New) California and the peninsula was known as Antigua (Old) California. Before long, the names would change to Alta (Upper) California and Baja (Lower) California.

Just 5 years after the Franciscan arrived, they requested to be relieved of the Baja California missions, including the first one they had founded at Velicatá named San Fernando. The Dominicans would take over operation of the Baja California missions and establish nine more between San Fernando de Velicatá and San Diego from 1774 to 1834.

Mexico had won its independence from Spain in 1821, but California was so remote, the Dominicans and Franciscans were allowed to continue their efforts for many years following Mexico’s independence. Sadly, the diseases and new life styles introduced by the Europeans had devastating results on the native people, on the peninsula. By 1800, the mission system in Baja California was in decline and missions began closing for lack of purpose. By 1841, all but one mission had closed or became a parish church serving the new residents of Baja California, arriving from across the gulf. In 1849, the last mission serving the native people closed at Santo Tomás. In 1854, Fr. Gabriel Gonzalez resigned as the last Dominican president in Baja California.

The Franciscans who learned well of the mistakes made by their predecessors had greater success in Alta California. This success lasted until Mexico’s secularization act (issued in 1832) ended the mission system before the natives were fully converted to European ways. Most of the natives returned to the mountains, and the missions fell into ruin. In 1848, Alta California became American territory and the Gold Rush filled the region with new people from the East Coast. Baja California also had some short-lived gold rushes in the following years, but the population impact was not as great.

The history of Old California (Baja) is fascinating, and the missions are but one part of the story. Each of the 27 missions in Baja California has a story to tell and many books from grand intellectual masterpieces to small paperback guides have been written on the subject. Changes in information on the missions have been made as old texts from the padres are discovered. Information that fills in missing links to some of the stories on the missions help modern writers to tell a more complete story or correct past errors.

__________________David Kier has spent many years visiting, photographing, and researching the missions of Baja and Alta California. He has a fascinating and informative web site: David K's BAJA Adventures @ http://vivabaja.com/
David has also published, 'The Old Missions of Baja & Alta California' available at 
http://oldmissions.com/ which provides extensive and very factual information that is not always available at other sites.

We thank David for presenting this information.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

California, Arizona, New Mexico Should Belong to Mexico

A chant used to justify illegal immigration from south of our borders.

All well and good. But, let's examine the truth of this statement.

When did Spain or later Mexico ever truly “control” land in these states? From the very beginning, Spain never had complete military control of Texas, Arizona, or New Mexico. For this entire area, there were never more than two or three hundred poorly armed and ill-equipped soldiers in scattered garrisons or presidios. And, those few garrisons relied heavily on support from missions established by Catholic missionaries.

Let's take California as an example. Up to 1769, all Spanish efforts were guided by the Jesuits in Lower California, their widely scattered missions manned by groups of no more than five soldiers at each. There was a “presidio” - a poorly manned garrison – at San José del Cabo put there as it was the main shipping point in to and out of Lower California.

When Father Serra and Governor Gaspar Portolá reached the future site of San Diego, it was with a military compliment of less than 100 soldiers fit for duty. Of the 30 Catalonian Volunteers, only six or seven did not suffer from dysentery and diarrhea. Even the hardy Leatherjacket Soldiers faced physical problems. 100 hundred soldiers to cower 60,000 Iron Age savages!

It took Spain from 1769 to 1820 to establish 19 missions from San Diego to San Francisco. Each mission had a minimum of one Franciscan friar, often two when there were enough to do so. And, each mission had an “escolta” of 5 soldiers, 1 corporal and four privates. That amounted to a total of 95 soldiers to control an estimated 30,000 Mission Indians. In addition, there were four poorly made and maintained presidios at San Diego, Santa Barbara, Monterey, and San Francisco. The total of soldiers at these four forts never exceeded 80, most of those involved in courier or sentry duty. In addition, they went for years without pay or supplies. The military relied heavily on the missions for food.

So, how about Mexican control of the area? When Mexico gained its independence from Spain, one of the first things it did was to secularize the missions – taking them away from church control and turning them over to the Indians under the control of government agents. Disaster. From 1823 to 1840, thriving, industrious missions became ruins and the Indians dependent upon them became slaves to the Rancheros, retired soldiers and civilians with political clout. The only “army” was a understaffed company of ex-convicts brought from Mexico by Governor Echeandía. The presidio at San Diego had been sold for $40 dollars, the one at Monterey in total disrepair, and the one at San Francisco abandoned, the soldiers sent to Sonoma to protect against Russian invasion and Indian incursions.

Mexico “owning” California? When the various groups fell into internecine fighting, each side formed companias estranjeros, made up of English and American settlers who had come to California for the great weather and good prospects – all before the Gold Rush. They were the ones that turned the various pueblos from mere groups of mud huts into substantial towns.

And, the California Indians no longer owned anything as they had been all but wiped out when the missions fell into ruins. Those few surviving peones struggled, poorly clad and barely fed.

So, let me ask this question – if Mexico didn't bother to man its outposts or seriously control the vast territory of California [which included Arizona and New Mexico] knowing it was so sparsely settled that it did not merit the status of being a state, why should the belief continue that those areas still “belong” to Mexico? And thereby justifying to incursion of Mexican citizens without legal documents?

Friday, August 30, 2013

A California With Which I am Somewhat Unfamiliar

Growing up in Southern California in the 40's and 50's, we studied a bit of California history. As school bored me, I spent a lot of time at the county museum, a number of parks such as Olvera Street and Cabrillo Beach, and mission San Gabriel as it was within a bike ride of where I lived.

The general theme was that the evil white man entered the pristine territory occupied by innocent natives and destroyed their way of life. The terrible Catholic priests lured them in and turned them into robotic slaves, taking away their idyllic life.

The Spanish and then the Mexicans despoiled the land, killing off the animals the natives had survived on, replacing them with thousands upon thousands of their own animals that denuded the grasses, depleting populations of deer, antelope, bears, and all other sorts of wildlife.

However, when I began to work on this Father Serra's Legacy series, I realized I owed it to my readers to be as accurate as possible – to show California as it was during the mission years.

I've cited numerous sources in the first three novels. But, as I came to the period of Mexican Independence and the change of California rule from Spain to Mexico, I realized I had much more research ahead of me. That is when I re-discovered the works of Hubert Howe Bancroft. His books are available online but I could not get my Adobe Reader to download the books in pdf format. That meant going to the full text mode to copy and past to my word processor. As indicated previously, that has turned out to be one of the more daunting tasks to date in writing the story.

However, after struggling through typos and computer-strange symbols, I have managed to make my way through more than one million, two hundred thousands words!

Now, what I learned all those years ago makes sense to me. Most of it was based upon the compilation of sources by a 19th Century American bigot and racist. His viewpoint was clear as follows:

The cursed underlings of the Roman Pope came to the New World with the goal of despoiling the savage natives' past to bring them under the banner of the Catholic church. To drive from them their heathen beliefs and customs, all the while removing their abilities to live in peace with their origins.

…..The evil warriors of European kings destroyed the beautiful culture brought into being through centuries of Satanic beliefs. Those not caught under the spell of the Papal legates were enslaved to work the land of huge estates created by the Conquistadors. All native wealth was stripped from the land and sent back to European royalty – the soldiers gathering some of the wealth for themselves.

…..European unsanitary ways brought horrible diseases which brought death to tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of innocent savages.

…..And this destruction was even worse in the land they called California as the poor natives still lived in the Stone Age, unfamiliar with even the most simple of modern - 18th Century – industry. They neither planted nor stored foodstuffs, living strictly on what was at hand.

And then, I read his view of the Hispano-Mexicans living in California called Californios.

They are ignorant and indolent. Both men and women are outstanding equestrians but the men will do no labor they cannot do from the back of a horse. They make the Indians in their service as peones do everything, giving them little or nothing in return but food and rags to wear. The women run the homes but use peones for all the hard work. And they breed beyond belief, women having 12 to 25 children.

Ignorance is preferred by the padres as they wish to be the sole center of learning – all centered upon church doctrine. And, every time a governor took action to establish and fund schools, the padres disapproved and the people would not support them.

Californios feasted, danced and partied at every opportunity, often going for days at a time. The men were inveterate gamblers. However, their Hispanic honor did not permit them to not pay their debts, sometimes putting them into bankruptcy.

If the Californios were uneducated, the Indians were even more so. Only a small minority, usually third generation, were taught to read, write and do sums.

….. Soldiers were also generally uneducated. But, in order to be promoted to corporal, enlisted men attended school to read those things necessary to perform their duties. When being promoted to ensign or Alférez, they had to undergo more schooling. Yet, several of the original explorers attained the rank of captain with being able to read, write, or deal with their accounts.

I have, hopefully, set the record straight in Father Serra's Legacy and the reader will have a degree of security that the various novels have been researched and are accurate.

Now that I've finished the majority of the work of translating Bancroft's works, my only final job is to go through his glossary of Spanish words and correct his numerous errors. Perhaps they were just because he looked at them through 19th Century biased and bigoted eyes.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


In the survey of grand scenery, distance always lends enchantment; in California, distance covers the naked earth, fills up spaces which intervene between clumps of foliage, mats the thin grass into lawns inviting to repose, tones down rugged deformities, bridges aupalling chasms, blends colors, veils the hills in purple gauze, and casts a halo over the remoter mountains; until the landscape, cold and forbidding perhaps under closer scrutiny, fades away in warm, dreamy perspective. Nowhere on earth do landscapes display so great a variety of tints and shades. Italy may boast the blue haze, but only Californian skies disclose the golden.

Besides these qualities of land and sky and water, ever varying and inspiring, ever revealing fresh resources and new blessings, there are natural wonders, the show-grounds of our lotos-land, unsurpassed for their beauty, grandeur, and marvel. Instance the Yosemite chasm, with its series of stupendous domes and peaks, of perpendicular walls nearly a mile in height, of rushing cascades fed by glaciers, and its succession of waterfalls matchless in height and striking features. Within the radius of less than half a dozen miles is here presented a combination of magnificence which lures travellers from every corner of the globe, and leaves them impressed with ineffaceable awe and admiration. And this plateau-rent has its counterpart, or nearly so, in the Hetch-hetchy. Along the approaches to both are numerous groves of mammoth trees that rise from pedestals of more than thirty feet in diameter, into majestic proportions and height, or lie in petrified masses. There are natural arches and bridges, three hundred feet in span, formed by burrowing rivers, and caves with stalactite and tortuous chambers ; and there are bubbling lakes and springs of miraculous virtue, among them the world famed geysers, fuming and spurting their steam and heated water, hissing and' roaring under the volcanic forces that impel them; w^eird in aspect, and Plutonic in their many local appellations.

Everything is great and glorious, compact and peculiar, in this favored country; in soil and climate, resources and enjoyments, it more than verifies the glowing scenes ascribed to an ever-retreating Hesperides, even to the doubling of the golden apples, in
Glittering metal, and in fruit of orange groves and orchards. Here, at the world's end, nature has in truth made the last and supreme effort toward a masterpiece.

Thus dreamily the Pacific had slept the sleep of the ages, its waters unploughed save by whale and porpoise, its sunny islands breaking into ripples the sea's lazy swells, or frowning back the laboring tempest. Thus ages have rolled along, centuries have come and gone, while no stranger approached the gilded shore. And now, silent as a snow-bound canon of the Sierra, lonely as night on a moon-lit lake, beautiful as unfolding womanhood upon whose face the rude gaze of man hath never brought a blush, sits California, on the shore of a great sailless sea, the world's divinest poem, all unsung save by the waters that murmur their presence at her feet, save by the mountain birds and wild fowl, the land beasts and water beasts, that raise their voices to scare away the stillness; all hidden and unknown her blushing beauties and her treasures, save to the native men and women, who, clothed in the innocence of Eden, creep through the chaparral, or lie listless on the bank beside their rustic rancheria.

"Let us swear an oath, and keep it with an equal mind, In the hollow Lotos-land to live, and lie reclined On the hills like gods together, careless of mankind."

This and the previous posts come from:

Published 1888

This piece absolutely blew me away. The prose is awesome and doesn't come close to matching what I've waded through in his other works about the history of California. It still contains some of the typos created by digitizing the original and I left most of his spelling as he wrote it.

However, the first three chapters didn't thrill me as it was a personal discourse on the evils of European history and how it destroyed the lives of so many. They also showed his disdain of religions and in Chapter V showed his clear bias against the Catholic church and the religious orders that came to California. He does admit that the friars managed to create some efficient and productive “manufacturies” that produced a wealth of food and products.

I hope you enjoy them and look forward to any comments you might see fit to add.