Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

Sunday, September 25, 2016


There has always been conflict between church and state. Kings and Emperors versus the priests of whatever religion existed at the time and place. Thus was the case from the very landing of Christopher Columbus in the New World. Priests accompanied Cortez to Mexico and they most certainly were part of the exploration of the California's.

And it was always the case that conflict always existed between the two. While Father Serra was the President of the Missions, he was forced to deal with one political leader after another. When Governor Portolá left, Lieutenant Fages took his place – and instantly found himself at odds with the feisty friar. Father Serra went so far as to have Fages replaced and removed by Captain Rivera – who soon found himself in conflict with the mission president. Before long, Fages was back. And then, along came Governor de Neve. 


1777 —The Political Storm Brews

It will be some time before we may start a new mission.”

Those gathered gazed at Father President Serra, seeing the disappointment in his dark eyes. Timothy and Jaime had been invited, along with their wives, to a gathering in the friars’ garden of the compound. In addition to the nine friars were Claudio and Ismelda, along with Corporal Sangria, who led the four mission soldiers.

Governor de Neve has been given the responsibility for expanding His Catholic Majesty’s influence by founding some major pueblos. He has not yet told me when but indicates his desire to found one near Mission San Gabriel, another near Mission Santa Clara and expanding the presidio here, in San Diego and San Francisco.”

Father President Serra paused and Timothy wondered at the power of the man’s voice coming from such a small, frail—no, certainly not frail—body.

La Princesa carries military supplies to the presidio at San Francisco Bay, to include cannon and crews. She has unloaded some supplies here for the presidio.”

Father President Serra clearly left it unsaid that few, if any, supplies had been brought for the mission. All had heard de Neve felt the missions had enough time to make themselves self-sufficient. “We have much work ahead of us,”he continued. “We must improve our industries here and at all the other missions. I beg of you all to bend your backs to the task in the name of The Lord.”

All present knelt to accept Father President Serra’s blessings and take part in the prayers he led.

Most fields had been tilled and planted. More Esselen and En’nesens had joined in the work of tending to herds and flocks. Chickens flourished and sows had healthy litters. Misión San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, while not yet self-sufficient, was well on the way to being so. Neophytes toiled, men no longer angry at being asked to perform work they once considered fit only for women. Hides were tanned and turned into leather to be used at the mission and sent to the presidio for the soldiers. Fat was rendered into tallow to make candles which lit the mission, the chapel in Monte Rey, the presidio and the pueblo—also traded for goods from the settlement to the north. Lumber of the sawmill ended up in structures throughout the area. Fishing boats from the small cove filled nets that brought catches ashore to feed all throughout the area. Wool from the flock of sheep was woven into blankets and other uses. The Esselen women, expert basket weavers, made many to be used everywhere. The clay pit continually provided adobe bricks, again for not only the mission but also the presidio and the town. Jaime kept busy overseeing furniture-making, as well as carving objects for sale and trade. In addition to ladrillos or bricks fired in the kilns, tejas or tiles and glazed ceramic pots, dishes and canisters were formed. The smithy busily turned raw metals into iron and bronze implements, steel still too complicated to be locally smelted.

Father President Serra once again succumbed to the sores infesting his leg. Before he could start off to inspect the missions, fever came over him and he fainted during evening prayers. Carried into his small hut beside the chapel, he refused to have the doctor from the presidio sent for. He only grudgingly permitted Carla to have him sip an infusion of willow bark and another herb. And only when all but she had left, he asked her to have Claudio, the chief drover, come to him.

Claudio later told his friends of his encounter with Father President Serra. “He asked me to treat his leg as I would one of the animals in our herds. I told him I was no doctor and he should at least call upon Deer Maiden, the curandera.”Claudio explained how he finally gave in to the father’s request. “I took some tallow and pounded it fine and mixed it with some herbs Deer Maiden gave me for the purpose. I fried it in a small pan and, when it was cool, smeared it on his leg.”He paused, tears in his eyes. “I do not know how Father President Serra could possibly walk on such a thing. It was covered in boils with pus everywhere. I had to cleanse it with warm soap and water before I could apply the poultice.”He explained how Carla’s infusion had eased the fever and Father President Serra finally dropped off to sleep. “Padre Palóu came in and said he would look after Father President Serra and call me if I was needed.”

It is a good treatment Father President Serra should receive more often. If you all remember, the last time he allowed it was during our stay in Velicatá.”

All nodded at Jaime’s reminder. “Father President Serra can certainly be a most stubborn man at times.”Butterfly’s words were said with love.

They walked to the chapel next morning when summoned by the bells and all rejoiced to see Father President Serra at the altar. He led the morning prayers, singing as heartily as if nothing had passed. Afterward, he announced he would leave shortly to inspect the two missions to the north. He did not need to ask for volunteers to accompany him. In the end, he allowed Jaime, Butterfly, Teresa and two mule drivers accompany him. Much to the surprise of all, Father President Serra mounted a donkey to lead the way. Even then, he only rode as far as the presidio before dismounting to go inside, telling his companions to wait. He did not spend much time there and, when he returned, Lieutenant Carrillo and two soldiers accompanied him. A third individual, an Esselen, followed them, herding six horses for the three soldiers.

It pleased me greatly that Governor de Neve assigned me to accompany Father President Serra, my friends.”José rode forward from leading the small escort to join Jaime and his family. “I was becoming bored to tears with all the paperwork.”When Jaime asked who now did it, José told him, “The governor does it all himself. He does not seem to trust others to perform such an important task.”

Neither Jaime nor Butterfly could miss the tone of derision in the soldier’s voice.

Seeing the riders approaching, the colonists at The Place of Willows gathered and happily welcomed the frail, little man in a gray robe. Two En’nesen women stepped forward with babies in their arms, begging by sign and broken Spanish for Father President Serra to bless their children. A colonist woman also came forward so Father President Serra happily baptized the three, ensuring Señor Catano would make a record of it, sending one copy to the mission. At their begging, he also performed a Rosary for them, blessing a small cross they had set up just inside the gate to their compound. The group also accepted a noon meal prepared for them. Father President Serra also promised he would send someone to complete a small chapel to act as a visita.

They crossed the river and made it to the future site of San Juan Bautista by early evening. The three families that had been there on other trips had doubled, forming a small Ohlone village by the stream. Camp was quickly pitched, and the Ohlone gathered around to listen as Father President Serra led the others in evening prayers. Something in the musical intonations captured the Indians’ fancy and they swayed in unison with them.

Mission Santa Clara came into view late the following afternoon. Fathers de la Pena and Marguia, with just a few neophytes to help, had laid out and started the church, constructing it of adobe bricks after laying several tiers of stone and boulders for a solid foundation. A small wooden structure adjacent to it housed the two friars, and quarters for the helpers had been constructed in the usual pole, reed and mud form. Corrals held horses and cattle and a sty held three sows, bellies bulging with soon-to-come litters. Chickens hunted and pecked nearby, a coop erected for the nights. They had even broken and tilled the hard soil to plant some corn, wheat and barley. Irrigation came from ditches in the ground from upriver. The original small wooden bridge had strengthened across the Guadalupe River.

Of even more importance to Father President Serra, several Ohlone and Miwok villages now stood not far from the site, and many Indians helped with minor chores—as usual, mostly women as the men still disdained physical work. A wooden compound held the nuggets of workshops and one storeroom secured with a large steel padlock.

The only shortcoming Jaime noted was thatch roofs that had proven over and over again to be vulnerable to fire. Father Marguia showed him the foundation of a kiln to fire clay, explaining other things took precedence. He also pointed out how work-intensive making adobe bricks was.

You need not tell me this, Father, as I started out my life among the missions by working in a clay pit for such bricks.”

Father Marguia begged Jaime's forgiveness and went on to explain their difficulty in obtaining wood. Jaime therefore asked Father President Serra’s permission and rode with Butterfly, Teresa and Lieutenant Carrillo into the hills and mountains to the west. It was with great pleasure that he noted towering pines, including some of the awesome redwoods.

But the mission lacks the steel blades and expertise to fell and shape such trees into working lumber,”Jaime told his friend José. “I am surprised the Padres have accomplished as much as they have without such tools.”He made a note to bring it up to Father President Serra when they returned.

The trip proved eventful in one way—one of the massive grizzled bears came upon them. José’s horse bolted and threw him to the ground. Jaime’s and the others’ horses remained calm, giving their riders a chance to unshoulder and draw their bows, notching three foot long arrows with steel tips. The bear rose onto its hind legs, head higher than those of the men on horseback. His sharp fangs shone with the drool of his rage, eyes reddened in frenzy. Butterfly, always the better marksman, placed her arrow in the bear’s throat. Jaime’s hit the chest but the arrow barely entered, deflected by a rib. Teresa, having a smaller, weaker bow, aimed for and shot her arrow into the animal’s gut.

By that time, José leaped to his feet and managed to draw his pistol. Less than five feet from the animal, he loosed fire, the blast of the discharge singeing the bear’s pelt. The ball hit with such force it broke a rib as it entered a lung.

But it did not completely stop the bear. The monster managed to lunge forward and swipe a paw at his nearest tormentor—José. The bear tossed the Spaniard several yards, saved from decapitation by the many-layered leather jacket he wore. He received a serious slash in his arm and a badly sprained rib. Only when they were certain the bear was dead could the others come to inspect the damage.

Teresa, under her mother’s direction, applied a cloth tightly above the slash and tightened it with a stick to stem the flow of blood. Butterfly washed the wound with water from her flask and applied a cotton cloth to further reduce the flow of blood. “We will apply a poultice to it when we get back to camp,”she told him.

Jaime used his razor-sharp knife to remove the fangs and claws. He also took a small hatchet from the pack across his horse’s withers and chopped off a hind leg to take back to camp. José’s horse returned of its own and José was able to climb into the saddle. He insisted to having the bear’s hindquarter placed behind the saddle.

Due to Teresa and Butterfly’s prompt ministrations, José lost little blood and managed to ride back to the mission. Three neophytes with a mule were sent back to finish quartering the bear. One of the Ohlone healers made an astringent poultice to place over the wound to cleanse and speed up the healing.

A huge fire awaited the large chunks of bear meat spitted and hoisted over it. The Ohlone gathered at the friars’ invitation, bringing roots, berries and acorn meal to be mixed with masa for tortillas. While bear fat dripped on chins, Father President Serra, after blessing the meal, ate his usual bowl of atole.

They continued on the next day to Mission San Francisco de Asis. The original log chapel still stood but the compound had been moved to higher ground. The gardens and fields stayed below, adjacent to Lake Dolores where they could be irrigated. Work had started on a dam further upstream but would take some time to complete, along with planned aquaducts. Father Palóu welcomed his boyhood friend and proudly showed him the solid stone foundation upon which the new church with adobe walls would be erected.

José wanted to see what progress had been made at the presidio. Jaime rode with him while Butterfly and Teresa made camp.

It is so good to see you, my friends.”

All gazed in appreciation of the finery of an officer their friend, José Francisco Ortega wore. “It is good to see you also, Señor Teniente.

Butterfly carefully examined Ortega’s tall, leather boots, nodding with approval at the pueblo’s cobbler’s work. She also admired his newly made clothes of cotton dyed and woven in the mission’s workrooms.

Lieutenant Ortega, whom Rivera had promoted from sergeant, had come north with the Man O’War and oversaw the construction of the site. After erecting shelters for the soldiers, sailors and animals, he had cordoned off the area with sharpened stakes pointing outward to keep out the Miwok. Timber carried by the ship had been turned into an arsenal, which was surrounded on all sides and the roof by canvas bags filled with sand and dirt. The six long guns, twenty pounders as Ortega explained, sat beneath canvas. There were also two field cannon on wheels with a caisson pulled by horses and these wereset up facing the four Miwok villages along the shore.

I do not expect an attack, but it is always correct to be ready, Lieutenant.”After so many years as a simple soldier, it was most difficult for Ortega to address José familiarly.

The only problem with the site was its distance from a reliable fresh water source. A small rivulet came down the hill not far away but easily dried up if the fogs and mists disappeared. Ortega tried to correct with a cistern made of rock but it would not hold enough water for any length of time.

The soldiers lived in tents, although the sailors, all twelve of them, preferred hanging their hammocks from trees or tent poles. The sailors appreciated the change of diet from hardtack and salted meat. They had plenty of supplies and traded the Miwok for meat, usually ground squirrels, rabbits, fish and some fresh beef from the presidio herd, along with roots and berries that grew profusely in the hills around them. They could not bring themselves to eat the remainder of the Miwok diet consisting of lizards, moles and insects. The Miwok especially liked to dine upon grubs taken from beneath rotted logs.

Jaime and José quickly saw what the biggest problem would be for the presidio—the lack of women other than the Miwok. The soldiers and sailors had come from Mexico and their families had stayed behind—a horrible shortsightedness on the part of those assigning them. On the other hand, their families accompanied those living and working on the mission. That left nearly twenty military men living without female companionship but with women nearby who were not dressed modestly in Spanish fashion.

Neither man had any idea how to correct that. To make matters worse, the soldiers had come from penal institutions in Spain and the sailors were little better, many having been conscripted forcibly in Spanish ports throughout Spain’s lands.

There will come great problems with this, my friend,” Carrillo told Ortega. Ortega was well aware of it, himself lonely for the woman and child he had left behind in Monte Rey. He wished to have them join him but felt it would only hurt morale.

As it turned out, he did not have to send for his family as his wife and son arrived at the presidio the next morning. Seeing Father President Serra and the party going north, she had packed up her things, and leading a mule loaded with them, had followed on foot.

The men’s respect for Ortega went up a notch seeing his woman had followed him so far through, to them, dangerous country. Without hesitation, the men selected a spot at the upper end of the compound near the cistern and hard-packed the earth, quickly erecting a two-room structure with a roof of earth-filled canvas bags. There was no furniture, but Ortega knew he could count on Jaime to have such items made in the mission carpenter’s shop. Little Bird had another surprise in store for them when, an hour later, two unmarried Ohlone women came to the compound. She told her man they were widows and had followed as she had told them single men would be where she was going.

A corporal and a mate were presented to the two and the widows’ response was to drop their things on the ground to set about building one of their conical shelters of poles, reeds and mud. As it was late in the day, more permanent shelters of one room would be built the next day.

While it did not immediately solve the problem, it raised the spirits of the rest to know there was a possibility of female companionship. Ortega and Carrillo both made it completely clear molestation of local females could result in most serious consequences, not just for the individuals but the compound in general. They also indicated they would do their best to try to make it possible for their families to join them from Mexico.

Upon return to the camp, Jaime told Butterfly what he had seen and learned. She agreed problems were certain to develop between the military and the local population. “The Miwokdo not have permanent relationships, but taking a woman by force would cause great anger. The men already resent the newcomers taking up the land and building their encampment. I hope Lieutenant Ortega shows some good sense.”

For their part, the families brought from Monte Rey worked hard at the mission and seemed to enjoy their relationship with the friars. Father Palóu showed Father President Serra the records of three baptisms of Miwok. Two small villages had grown up beside Lake Dolores, and many of the women were eagerly learning new things such as weaving and making pottery. Even then, they did not give up their amazing ability to weave watertight baskets and wicker containers with interesting colors and patterns.

Those most unhappy with the men in gray robes and their efforts were the medicine men, the healers and elders. They did not like their people giving up the old gods and ways, most especially replacing their positions in the local society with men from far away. They watched and waited for every chance to alienate their people from the new comers.

And then a sailor saw a young girl bathing in a stream and approached her with beads, hoping she would comply with his desire for sex. She either did not understand what he sought or, in her innocence, did not realize how tempting she was to him. He lost control and accosted her—no, raped her. She ran to her father, and he gathered up a war party, seeking to kill the sailor.

Lieutenant Ortega could not allow that to happen. He ordered one of the field cannon loaded and turned upon the war party. The shot missed but the blast and cloud of smoke frightened the Miwok, who ran off. It meant the village refused to deal any further with the presidio, in fact moving away.

Father President Serra prayed for the girl, as did the other friars. They felt fortunate that soldiers assigned to the mission lived in a small compound nearby with their families.

They made their way back to Santa Clara in a driving rain. Once dry channels, now overflowing, barred their way and they often had to go upstream to find a safe fording place. They had experienced other rains but none as strong and pervasive. By the time they reached the mission, the sky darkened. Much to their alarm, they saw the river had risen to flood the fields and gardens, lapping at the walls of the compound.

Rain continued for three more days and it was only by the grace of God the mission came through with only minor damage.

We are going to have to move and rebuild, Father.”

Father President Serra could not argue with Father Marguia. As the water receded, they went forth to find a nearby site the river had not covered. Fortunately, most of the structures could be moved, some only slightly flooded. The Ohlone, having been through such floods many times, had moved their simple belongings to higher ground. The biggest loss was several cows, two mules and a horse. The rest, although breaking loose, quickly returned to familiar ground.

There was little Father President Serra could do that the friars and their helpers could not do without him. He gave prayers of thanks none had died in the floods and his small party prepared to depart. He set off afoot, Ernesto leading his donkey and pack mule.

They had gone a little more than a league when they saw a party of riders approaching from the south. There was no mistaking the leader, a soldier wearing a Morion bronze helmet with a white plume, a blue leather jacket with white facings and matching pants tucked into knee-length, shiny boots. Governor de Neve felt the need to mimic the long-gone Conquistadors in a uniform that had been out of date for nearly a century. He rode in front of six soldados de cuera leading extra horses and pack mules. His ever-present aide rode at his side.

The two parties neared one another and Jaime felt certain the governor would ride on by. He did stop to wait for the friar to come to him, turning to speak to his aide as if it were more important to do so than to heed the arrival of the president of the missions.

Father President Serra did not bristle or even seem to be offended by the governor’s manner. He stopped and briefly related to the governor what he had seen and experienced.

The governor curtly acknowledged the report and kneed his horse, moving onward to the north.

Father President Serra walked south, leading those accompanying him. Jaime and Butterfly looked askance at one another, irked at the governor’s disrespect toward a man who, to them, was as close to a saint as any living man could be.

Just another sign of the brewing storm.

No comments:

Post a Comment