I encountered this question at a website called City Profile
I've been very fortunate to have visited all 21 California missions – plus three in Baja California. I have to admit that not any single one is my “favorite.” To me, all of them are awesome.
Think of it. In the late 1700s, men wearing gray robes enter an unknown land occupied by thousands of naked savages waving spears, bows, and arrows. Outnumbered, with a minimum of soldiers to protect them, the friars located sites and materials, laid out the structure without any degrees in architecture, and built them with the help of people who had never dreamed of anything like agriculture or constructing such structures.
What about the numerous Indian slaves they had?
That is one of the biggest lies foisted upon those interested in California history!
Due to the kindness and devotion shown by the friars, the Indians willingly came to the various sites. Their work days were far, far easier than any we experience now – more then two centuries later. They attended morning prayers, ate breakfast better than what they'd known before, spent two hours in religious instruction, worked for two hours, then broke for lunch. That was followed by two more hours of work, after which they were free to look after their own needs and desires.
How about the whippings to make them work?
Another bald-faced lie!
Only when the individual could no longer be verbally corrected did the friars spank them as a parent would spank a child of their time. The friars looked upon the Indians as children to whom they, as spiritual leaders and parents, were responsible. As parents, they spanked their children when necessary. A clear and inviolate rule was that no punishment was to cause blood to flow, create crippling bruises, or other harm. For proof, check out Hispanic California Revisited by the Franciscan Press of Mission Santa Barbara. [Be it known, the friars daily “punished” themselves far, far worse!]
So, which is my favorite
San Carlos Borromeo at Carmel due to its unique architecture and beautiful interior – and that it served as the headquarters for the Franciscan friars.
San Gabriel Archangel as it was the biggest with the most productive horse herds and livestock.
San Juan Capistrano as it shows best the various mission industries.
San Antonio de Padua which lies far from the beaten path and is probably closest to what the missions were like in the late 1700s.
When one considers what the Franciscan friars accomplished in the 18th Century, one has to wonder how on earth they did it.
These men came from modest families in the outer areas of Imperial Spain. Even if their families were blooded and members of the aristocracy, they certainly had little or no background in the crafts needed to create self-supporting communities. What education they did received was ecclesiastical. They studied the bible and the teachings of the Catholic church. They spent more time kneeling in prayer than in actual physical activities.
Like Father Serra, most felt called upon to set forth to the New World, a place of danger in which they saw the opportunity to bring heathens to the Word of God. They endured dangerous journeys in leaky ships on which they had little in the way of decent food. They landed on the east coast of New Spain to be faced with a trek of several hundreds of miles to a place where they continued their education in things felt necessary to their calling.
I must admit that this is a place where my research into this era falls short. I have been unable to gather little information on the Franciscan mission to the College of San Fernando. I am certain it is contained in the archives somewhere but have yet found a source to provide me with more than the bare essentials of a school for missionaries.
Fathers Serra, Palóu and Crespí were but three of many who passed through the college to go on to places in Mexico [Majica as known to the inhabitants of that land]. These three first went into the rugged Sierra Gorda mountains. Eventually Father. Serra was made President of five Sierra Gorda missions. He built the Church of Santiago de Jalpan, which is still in use, and supervised the founding of the four other churches. After being appointed as a professor at the college, he once again was given the chance to conduct a mission in Mexico. Father Serra's missionary activity during these years was mostly in south and central Mexico, in what is modem Oaxaca, Morelia, Puebla, and Guadalajara; the region east of Sierra Gorda; and in the province of Mesquital, part of Mazatlan [eastern Mexico]. The work was very exhausting, and the only rest he had was during the time required to go from one town to another or the return to the college after a mission. One time he was poisoned, someone putting rattlesnake venom in the chalice. He refused an antidote but recovered just the same.
But, to continue about what the friars had to do besides teaching new disciples and conducting holy rites. They were called upon to construct European style buildings in a land where permanent structures were unknown. The Indians lived in crude shelters made of twigs, limbs and brush, open to the breezes. The friars had to find the materials and shape them to be used for building not only places of worship but places to live and conduct the various trades.
Then, as if that were not enough, in order to put it all together, they had to be carpenters, masons, potters, farmers, herders, veterinarians, doctors, linguists, and teachers. Where on earth did they learn all of this.
Reviewing genealogy records for the period shows that most of the soldiers who served with the friars at the missions were poorly-educated men who had few skills beyond their military duties. Some were farmers and all knew horsemanship and how to care for their animals. I guess this is where the Indians learned to becomes such outstanding vaqueros in such a short time.
Part of learning so much about California history is having the bubbles burst on some of the cherished stories I learned and loved about my home state.
One of them, of course, is Zorro, The Masked Avenger. A landed Spanish Don, he rode forth to wrong the rights against the poor and unprotected populace of Mexican California.
It turns out that Zorro, The Fox, is a fictional character from the mind of a New York-based dime-book writer of the early 1900's, Johnston McCulley.
What a bummer. But, my research teaches me there were no Spanish Dons [those holding Spanish royal titles] who owned the massive Rancheros in early California. The huge land grants were handed out to private soldiers who had completed their enlistments in lieu of a lot of pay they had not received from the Royal Treasury. There were a couple of officers who received grants but they were Criollos, Spanish/Indians born in the New World. These soldiers often “hired” local Indians to work for them, their pay being in the form of food, clothing, housing, and animals.
Another myth was of the famous/infamous bandit Juan Murietta. I went to high school in Redlands, not far from a place called Murietta Hot Springs. I always thought that was perhaps one of his hideouts from the terrible American posses sent out to hunt this brave defender of Mexican rights. I learned not a lot of truth is known about this historical figure. Some say he was part Cherokee and part Spanish peon run away from sugar cane plantations in the American southeast. I also discovered there was little heroic or patriotic about him. He was an out and out cutthroat thief and murderer of the lowest order.
Another is how land grants were measured. Somewhere, I heard the story of how a rider would start out when the sun's rim rose in the east and ride until it fully set in the west. Anything inside this circle was considered part of the grant.
Alas, another fairy tale. During Spain's rule, the governor's simply marked out an area the perspective soldier grantee felt he could work and drew it up on a hand-sketched map. The grants increased radically during Mexican rule as the Mexican government and governors used them to pay back political favors. They were supposed to be landed estates of the Mexican gentry but often lacked substance and certainly did not have the massive, adobe structures we modern people think of.
The entire system of large ranchos fell apart with the rise in power of Americans who created first, the Republic of California or The Bear Flag Revolt, but quickly lost out when General John Frémont showed up and claimed it for the United States
And yes, American Destiny carried forth in the claiming of California, resulting in massive deaths of Indians who, up until the secularization of the missions, had been protected by the friars. It is something I find saddening in the history of my native land. The very first order of the American governor was to round up all Indians and force them onto reservations drawn up by local magistrates and businessmen.
One final myth was how American pirates had raided the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington. It was actually _French_- pirates!
Growing up in Southern California I took for granted the names of a lot of places. I knew, for example, that Los Angeles somehow stood for the City of the Queen of the Angels. I knew that Pico Boulevard was named for a Mexican governor. I also thought that Palos Verdes stood for Green Poles.
It wasn't until I got into deep research for my Father Serra's Legacy series that I began to learn much, more about the area of my birth and childhood. Following are some examples:
Olvera Street: Having started as a short lane, Wine Street, it was extended and renamed in honor of Agustín Olvera, a prominent local judge, in 1877. That man was a descendant of Francisco Olvera, a servant in the late 1700s. And, Wine Street was so named because of the profusion of wild grapes in the area – they were cross-bred with grapes brought from Spain.
Sepulveda Boulevard, a major travel artery in the area that ends at San Pedro, the vast ranch granted to the Sepulveda family via Juan Jose Dominguez by Governor Fages. Juan came to LA as a cowboy from Villa Sinaloa, Mexico. He was single and 53 years old. The Sepulveda family were descendants of three lancers – soldados de cuera – who came to California with the early expeditions. It is possible that one or more of their children married Dominguez or his forefathers.
[A word about this photo – it was taken about 1870, more than 60 years after the founding of the rancho. But, it shows the lush grasses that allowed for herds as big as 2,000 or 3,000 that roamed all throughout Southern California – the vaqueros being California Indians who had never even dreamed of the existence of horses or cattle less than a hundred years earlier.]
And then there is the town of La Habra. In the rancho days when vast herds of Mexican cattle and horses grazed over the hills and valleys of Southern California, Mariano Reyes Roldan was granted 6,698 acres (27 km2) and named his land Rancho Cañada de La Habra. The year was 1839, and the name referred to the “Pass Through the Hills,” the natural pass to the north first discovered by Spanish explorers in 1769. In the 1860s, Abel Stearns purchased Rancho La Habra. Soon thereafter, heavy flooding followed by a severe drought brought bankruptcy to many cattle ranchers.
I certainly knew that any of the places named San or Santa had something to do with Catholic saints. I just didn't know how that came to be. I learned that, when a location of than a mission was named, it was for the saint whose feast day it was on the Catholic calendar.
I certainly didn't know the history of the famous Beverly Hills. It seems that a Luis Manuel Quintero, who came to California from Guadalajara, Mexico, was a Poblador who signed up with Captain/Governor Rivera. He was also a tailor who was there for the founding of Royal Presidio of Santa Barbára and Mission San Buenaventura. Three of his daughters married soldiers. A granddaughter married Vincent Villa who became the owner of Rancho Rodeo de las Augas on what it now known as Beverly Hills. I only wonder if that was the source of the famous – and very exclusive – Rodeo Drive. Perhaps the rancho's driveway?
I also grew up with earthquakes being far more common than thunderstorms. So, it was interesting to learn that, when Don Gaspar's initial expedition came across a river they named after Santa Ana, they encountered an earthquake and name the river as el Rio de los Temblores or River of Tremors.
Redondo Beach = after an original settler, Candelaria Redondo, widow of Francisco Xavier Sepulveda. Probably one of her five children had a rancho there.
El Segundo? The second what? Aha! Here it is courtesy of Wikipedia: The city earned its name ("the second" in Spanish) as it was the site of the second Standard Oil refinery on the West Coast (the first was at Richmond in northern California), when Standard Oil of California purchased the 840 acres (3.4 km2) of farm land in 1911.
How about Azusa? I always got a kick out of this from the song, Route 66. Azusa originally referred to the San Gabriel Valley and river, and likely derives from the Tongva place name Asuksagna. And then, there's Cucamonga. The Mission Gabriel established the Rancho Cucamonga as a site for grazing their cattle. In 1839, the rancho was granted by the Mexican governor of California toTiburcio Tapia, a wealthy Los Angeles merchant. Tapia transferred his cattle to Cucamonga and built a fort-like adobe house on Red Hill. The Rancho was inherited by Tapia's daughter, Maria Merced Tapia de Prudhomme, and her husband Leon Victor Prudhomme. The name “Cucamonga” is probably derived from a Tongva word for “sandy place.”