Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Missions Wither - Chapter One

1813 – The Governor Dies
A gray, moist overcast wrapped the towering trees, moisture dripping to earth from needles high above. Wisps of fog caressed the faces of a group gathered near a small cabin nestled beside a stream flowing from the dense forest. Loud screeches from above signaled a pair of giant condors seeking carrion to feed their nestlings waiting with open maws in their aerie.
A small bundle of burlap enshrouded the withered but strong body of Quail's Tears, a Pericú Indian from the Laguna Mountains of far away Baja California Sur. She had passed peacefully in her sleep. Ismelda Rodriguez, a neighbor, had come to check when she did not see the elderly woman working in her garden and found her eternally peaceful upon her straw cot. She had sent her son to Carmel to notify Quail's Tears' family.
A tall, thin figure in a gray habit stood at the head of the rough-hewn pine table upon bearing the shroud. Padre Suria, a Franciscan friar from the mission, slowly swung his thurible, the scented smoke driving away evil spirits. Although she had never accepted baptism – claiming she could not turn her back upon the beliefs of her ancestors – Quail's Tears often attended Mass at the chapel of Misión San Carlos Borromeo and had asked the friars to perform the Last Rites when her time came.
James Beadle had watched Teresa Marta, his wife, and her mother cleanse the body, covering her with tears as much as sparkling water from the stream. They then lovingly wrapped her body in preparation for burial.
Like her husband, Badger, Quail's Tears had expressed her wish to be laid in the bosom of Mother Earth in a manner allowing her to rejoin and replenish life. For that reason, her son-in-law, Jaimenacho the Carpenter, had not prepared one of his beautiful redwood coffins.
James stood apart with his father, father-in-law, and the other men, letting the women perform their duties for the matron of the clan. Among them was Alférez Bauza from the Presidio del Monte Rey. The Spanish cavalry soldier had removed his black hat with the upturned brim designed to make way for his long lance. Felipe wore the blue vest with the arms of His Catholic Majesty, Ferdinand VII over his heart signaling his being a Soldado de Cuera, a Leatherjacket soldier. The only offspring not present was Bartolomeo, Jaime's son, as he worked as a carpenter at the far-away Misión Santa Clara.
The time came and the earthly remains of Quail's Tears were gently lowered into the damp earth laced with pine and redwood needles. Wriggling creatures lining the walls of the grave told all that the matron's wishes would soon come true. Each person dropped a handful of earth into the grave. Once all had passed, the elders filled in the hole.
A plain wooden cross, carefully crafted by Jaimenacho, was planted into the soil and Padre Suria said the last prayers for the dead.
Quail's Tears, born sometime in the mid-1740s in the far-away Laguna mountains of Baja California Sur was laid to rest the third day of February 1813.
She lived a full life.”
James nodded at his father's words. “She saw much, father.” After pausing, he added, “As have you.”
Are you saying I am old, my son?”
The tinge of amusement in his father's voice signaled James that his father was not serious.
They followed the women who had covered their heads in shawls as a sign of mourning. Even in a time like that, James could not help but watch the way his wife moved, her hips swaying as she walked causing her ankle-length pleated skirt to swish back and forth. The stream gurgled next to them and James noted some tempting trout swimming in the clear water. Uncle Jaime walked at his father's side, saying little as was his custom. He is a true Indian, James thought. He then inwardly started. I carry half Indian blood. Why do I not react the same? Is it my father's English influence?
They reached El Rio Carmelo and forded, crossing sand bars brought about by the diversion of water used by the mission and pueblo. The inhabitants they passed crossed themselves as a sign of sympathy for the mourners. The group nodded their thanks.
Planks had been laid out for tables and benches. The house had no room to accommodate the number of friends and family present. James stopped to count and softly whistled when he came up with the solution; a total of fifty-three. That included seventeen family members, the remainder comprised of Claudio and Ismelda Rodriguez and their family, along with the crew of the fishing boats Carlita and The Queen of Angels, along with the sloop Santana. He even counted Captain de Vega from the military garrison at Monte Rey. The soldier had come as a sign of respect to Jaimenacho and Yellow Butterfly, who, although Indians, held great favor in the community. James had no worry about feeding all as he knew the storerooms were filled with food. His father and Uncle Jaime had already started a large fire in the brick-lined pit over which a boar's carcass and a dozen chickens sizzled. A keg of beer had been brought out of the cellar and a small wine cask was opened.
Quail's Tears had ignored her advancing years and readily passed on her knowledge to the youth of the family and village. James did not often visit her as he spent many hours either at sea fishing or doing those things necessary to maintain The Queen. But, when he visited her, she always had a smile and a warm welcome for him – and all of his children.
She showed them things of the earth in a manner to help them all feel closer to it – and its spirits. Flowers expressed the beauty of The Creator. The visiting bees explained how one needed to live in harmony and help each other create and sustain.
She did not possess the book learning of the Padres or Señor Mateo, but she was very wise.”
James nodded at David's words as he sipped the sweet wine from the mission vineyards. “She understood the spirits in all living things. I wonder why she never became a curandera.”
She had her man to care for, mi hombre, Teresa Marta said. “She did not have the time it takes to search for cures and healing potions.” Teresa Marta laid a blue ceramic plate piled high with pieces of pork, a half chicken, lots of frijoles and elote, golden ears of corn, in front of her husband. She also laid a lidded wicker basket filled with corn tortillas between her husband and his friend, David, the Esselen. David's wife, Felicidad, gave him a similar plate, refilling both their goblets of wine.
As she walked away, James smiled at the easy way Teresa Marta moved. She has given me three wonderful children and still moves as when we were small children together, James thought. He had never known – nor wanted to know – any other woman but Teresa Marta. Born not many months apart, they had never been separated, except once when he joined his and her father traveling with Governor Oso to Misión San Luis Obispo to hunt bears to feed those living at the various missions in the lean year.
Other young, attractive girls had sought James' hand, but he never once thought any could replace Teresa Marta. The same held true for her as many suitors came to her father's door. The two were the children of el Marinero y el Carpintero. The first non-Indian children born in the upper reaches of California. How could they consider anyone else?
James then looked to where his father and uncle sat at the head of the table. Padre Suria sat to one side of them and Captain de Vega, the presidio comandante, on the other. He does not show his years, James thought as he examined his father. His father's sandy hair did not contain gray like the streaks in the hair of Uncle Jaime. Both sat erect and showed their agility. While governors and the president guardians of the missions came and went, his father and uncle remained, leaders and teachers in their own right. Although they had never sought wealth, James knew their holdings exceeded those of anyone else in all the Californias. Will that cause a problem, he wondered, when and if the rebels win and declare independence from Spain?
James knew his Indian friend, David, never thought of owning anything. His people, who had lived in the valley from beyond time immemorial, believed the Creator Spirit gave them the world to share with all things, a loan while they lived in that world. The coming of the friars had not changed those basic beliefs even as they learned and accepted the Word of God and the rituals of the Catholic church.
The friars, in spite of their zeal and devotion to the teachings of the bible and church, understood this. That is why they allowed neophytes to return to their lands for special occasions. It was easier than trying to keep them in chains or confined to the missions. Such actions also meshed with the love and devotion the friars held for those who came to them to accept baptism and what they had to offer. The Gentiles, whether baptized or not, were their children and thusly treated.
How could that Englishman, Vancouver, speak badly of my brothers and sisters? James silently wondered. Just because they do not live as he and other Euros does not mean they are lesser.
The mood of the gathering was not morose. Death came as a natural stage of life and all would remember Quail's Tears and her additions to the colony. And, according to the teachings of the church, she was now with her husband, Badger, and all the others of her family who had passed from the world.
Diners filled themselves to capacity and women cleaned up. As usual, the men talked of worldly things, discussing the news of rebellion from Mexico.
All turned their eyes as a rider came at a full gallop over the hill from Monte Rey. He reined up in front of the mission gate, shouting something to the sentry. The soldier pointed to the family compound and the Leatherjacket soldier spun his horse and spurred it to a gallop.
Captain! Captain! The governor. He is dead.”
Captain De Vega rose and calmed the messenger, trying to learn the news.
Señor, Governor Arrillaga collapsed at Misión Soledad. The fathers tried their best to help him, but his heart had stopped.” The soldier paused to catch his breath before adding, “As he had no family, the fathers gave him the final blessings, cleansed his body, and laid him to rest beneath the floor of the chapel nave.”
Captain de Vega rose and excused himself. Ensign Bauza, the captain's aide, followed suit. They found their horses, mounted, and waved before riding back over the hill to the presidio.
What will happen now, father?
Timothy Beadle thought a moment before replying. “I think the captains will come to Monte Rey to decide amongst themselves who will become governor.” He paused and added, “It will be a temporary posting until such time as the viceroy can either send another or make it permanent.”
Does not the commandant general of the Internal Provinces have the final word on that?” James asked.
Timothy sighed. “Don Salcedo is far away in Santa Fe, Nueva Mexico. It will take some time for the word to reach him.”
True to Timothy's words, the four captains commanding the other presidios came to Monte Rey. They spent three days in conference, each session commencing and ending with prayers from Father President Prefect Señán, who had come north with the two captains from Santa Bárbara.
At last, the members of the presidio were called for a major ceremony. Ensign Bauza read the announcement after the garrison had been called to attention. “It has been decided that Captain Don José Darío Argüello is to be the temporary governor of Alta California this fourth day of August, the Year of Our Lord, eighteen hundred and thirteen. All members of His Catholic Majesty's armed services are hereby ordered to treat Governor Argüello in a manner befitting his exalted office.”
Captain Bustamante from el Presidio de San Francisco, stepped forward and presented Don José the silver baton of office that all governors carried. The new governor returned the salutes and shook the hands of Captains de Vega, Zúñiga, Goycoechea, and Bustamante.
It was only later that all learned the new governor would conduct the duties of his office from el Presidio del Santa Bárbara. That was where his wife, Maria Ygnacia and his children lived. Both of his sons were ensigns in the frontier services.
I cannot remember a time when the governor was not here in Monte Rey. But, other than his daughter who fell so deeply in love with that Russian, I do not think I know a great deal about him.”
James' father and Uncle Jaime silently agreed with his comment.
Ensign Felipe Bauza sat up straighter in his rocker and cleared his throat, letting all know he was about to give them a lengthy history. Teresa Maria came out onto the veranda just then and poured some sugar sumac tea into her father's and uncle's cup before filling her husband's. “You will need this, mi hombre,” she said to Felipe with that sweet smile of hers.
Felipe reddened and lowered his eyes. Everyone chuckled, knowing it was Juanita Marta's way of showing how much she cared for her son-in-law.
The governor has been a Leatherjacket Soldier all of his life. He enlisted in his teens in the Regiment of Dragoons, serving as a private until promoted to sergeant of the presidials in Altar, Sonora.” That surprised most as they thought he had become an officer due to his birth, his parents being from Spain. Felipe continued that Argüello had been born in Santiago de Querétaro, a province of New Spain. “He was part of the company Captain Rivera led. He somehow survived the massacre and continued on to Presidio del San Diego.
I remember him there,” Timothy said. “He would not talk about the battle, but his wounds left no doubt that he showed himself well.”
Felipe waited to ensure his father-in-law was finished before continuing. “He was promoted to Alférez in 1781 and Governor Fages had him lead the pobladores for the founding of Pueblo Los Angeles.” He was sent to el Presidio del Santa Bárbara when it was founded and then appointed lieutenant and commandant of el Presidio del San Francisco.”
All knew that Argüello had been sent to Santa Bárbara not long after the English sailor Vancouver had made his final visit to California.
Who operates el Rancho de las Pulgas for him?” James asked.
Timothy laughed, remembering that time long ago when the soldiers eagerly took over abandoned Indian huts – only to learn they were infected with fleas. Uncle Jaime smiled.
One of the Baja Indians who came with you from Loreto, Señor.” Felipe then mentioned that both of Argüello's sons served as presidial Alférez'.
Will it really make a difference?” David said so softly that only James heard him.
Probably not, amigo, but it makes the Spaniards feel important.”

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