Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

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.