1814 – Traveling El Camino Real and Viewing the Destruction of Many Earthquakes
Something watches us. James turned from side to side, trying to spy what or whose eyes were upon them.
He rode next to Father President Señán at the head of a large column. Corporal Alvarez' squad spread out on both sides of twenty-five mules laden with goods for Misiónes San Gabriel and San Fernando. Many such mule trains plied back and forth between the missions without soldiers. The soldiers rode with that one due to Father President Señán's presence.
Who or what is foolish enough to follow us? James wondered.
A private saw a shape slinking through the thick brush several hundred yards from the herd. Born in California, the presence of a puma did not surprise the soldier. During the noon rest for the father president to say prayers, he reported the presence of the predator to the corporal.
“A puma following us? Is that not most unusual, corporal?”
Alvarez nodded. “Yes, Señor Beadle, most unusual. They normally stay to the mountains and seldom come this close to men.”
“She must have cubs, mi cabo, else she would never come near us.”
“But she has been with us since we departed the mission this morning.”
“Si, Señor, but los tigres travel great distances in search of prey. This must be the one that has attacked our livestock in the hills away from the mission. Once they gain the taste of a cow or a mule, they no longer seek out deer and antelope.”
While pumas lived around the Carmel Valley, they never came near the herds. James guessed it was due to the many deer that thrived in the forests to the south.
However, above all, it was the fearsome giant bears that caused them alarm. They were within an hour or so of Misión San Juan when an old sow ambled out of the hills, heading directly for the far end of the mule train. Drawing too near caused one of the soldiers to unlimber and fire his musket. To no one's surprise, the sow lifted on her rear legs and roared, then dropped to the ground, lumbering closer.
Without thought, James leapt from his saddle and dropped to one knee, using it to steady his aim. The bear was at least four hundred paces away, moving at a fast gait. James cocked the flint, then gently squeezed the trigger, aiming just slightly ahead of the creature.
As the sound echoed back from the hills and smoke drifted away, the huge sow took two more steps to within a paw's swipe of a mule. She then collapsed, burying her nose into the earth, rolling within two hand spans of the last mule in line.
James remounted and, joined by the corporal, rode back to where the surprised soldier knelt over the carcass.
“She is dead, Señor.”
All were stunned. They had no idea a gun could fire such a distance and James' aim had been uncannily true. Just behind the foreleg and directly into the heart.
He was no longer just the son of the famed el Marinero, but a marksman in his own right. El Tirador de Primera, or The Sharpshooter.
As they crossed a hill, they stopped to stare. The once beautiful stone chapel of Misión San Juan Capistrano was no more. A pile of carefully hewn stone lay where it once had been. Dazed neophytes and disciples cleared away the rubble, removing bodies of the dead while others dug graves nearby. The adobe walls of the compound had not been completely destroyed, but it was clear a great deal of work would be needed to repair them. Herds of cattle grazed in the hills, unguarded as no hands could be spared to tend to them. Only a few horses could be seen, most of them run off. Only mules, donkeys, and three pair of oxen remained, all of them used to help haul things away.
Padres Calzada and Sanchez stopped working to wait for the arrival of the column, showing the muleteers where to take them while the disciples greeted the father president.
They both knew of James, but had never met him, blessing him as he dismounted. And older disciple stepped forward and was introduced as Joaquin Rochín, the mayordomo. His wife led James to their shelter and one of her four children took charge of his horses. She was most pleased with the haunch of the bear sow he presented her.
Corporal Carabanas, the mission's corporal, was many years beyond retirement age, explaining that he had nowhere else to go. He had been given a land grant near the mission with two Juaneño families now tending the fields and gardens as well as herding his livestock. “My wife keeps me warm at night and my children gladden my day, Señor. My soldiers show me respect and perform their duty well. What more may I ask?”
James smiled. For as long as he could remember, very few of the common soldiers serving in California ever asked to return to Mexico at the end of their enlistments.
They spent two days at the mission and James turned his back to helping with repairs.
The highway to Misión San Gabriel had been affected by the temblors in several places, but was still passable.
James had heard of the mission and knew it to be the most successful with huge livestock herds and grain fields. It was there the first fruit orchards had produced their harvests. And, he had heard the story of the way the local Gentiles had fallen to the ground when shown the picture of the Virgin Mary upon the arrival of the first missionaries.
Now, the results of the earthquakes of The Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin caught him by surprise. The three-bell campanario located next to the chapel collapsed, although the chapel remained standing in spite of some cracks in the walls. The friars led the disciples into rebuilding a larger six-bell structure.
Padres Estevan and Nuez met them. James dismounted and a neophyte ran to take his horses to the stables and Corporal de los Pozos led him into the chapel. They knelt at the foot of the altar and the corporal whispered, “His Catholic Majesty, King Carlos the Third sent the baptismal font as a gift. It has seen many, many baptisms.” He also explained the six stunning altar statues had come via ship all the way from Spain.
“And the stations of the cross and those statues in the nooks? They were carved here?”
The corporal smiled, knowing that the artisans had learned their trade from James' famous uncle.
They strolled between endless rows of fragrant roses and flowers of all hues in the gardens. Grape vines entwined the arch supports and trees provided shade on warm days. Several elderly Tongva women knelt in the gardens where vegetables and herbs grew in profusion.
“It is said the chapel design is from a big church in Cordoba, Spain,” the corporal said. “I find it hard to understand why it did not fall during the quakes. All here believe it to be a miracle.”
Upon leaving the compound, an individual holding a rod approached. The rod was the sign of office of the mission mayordomo. “I am Ignacio Ortega, Señor Beadle. I am the son of Lieutenant Ortega. I believe you knew my father?”
The two shook hands and while Corporal de los Pozos returned to his duties, Ortega led James to the stables. They chatted while James curried and fed his horses and then walked to the small gathering of buildings just outside the mission walls. “You will join my family for dinner, will you not?”
James could not refuse. The family listened enthralled as he told them of Monte Rey and the places he had visited to the north in his boat. While some had traveled to the mouth of the river and seen the tomols there, none had ever seen a large European type ship.
Once again, James lay upon the stiff straw mattress on the cot in a cell in the mission.
During the eighteen day journey from San Diego to Monte Rey, they met couriers riding in both directions every other day they were on the road. James had often respected those men who performed so many different duties for so little pay. In fact, most of them could not remember when they had possessed a single peso in their pouches.
Everywhere they went, the disciples gathered around the father president to kiss his hands and beg his blessings. The willing toil of men and women whose ancestors knew not the meaning of hard physical work no longer surprised James.
From Misión San Fernando, they quickly reached San Buenaventura where work continued on repairing the earthquake damage, and then on to Misión Santa Bárbara, where far less damage had occurred. The presidio had actually taken far more.
Reaching the top of the pass, they looked down into the valley at Misión Santa Inés. A corner of the chapel had been toppled and a number of adobe houses no longer stood. Hundreds of disciples toiled to repair the damage, Padres Uria and Olbés working beside them. The main resource of the mission had not been disturbed by the tremors, flocks of sheep grazing everywhere one looked. James knew of them as several of his thick, warm blankets and two serapes back home came from their wool.
“We were most fortunate, father president. Nobody was hurt when the first tremor came and caused the corner of the chapel to open up. We then moved outside and the second tremor caused no deaths or injuries.”
“We lost a great many tiles,” Padre Olbés added to his companion's report, “and there appeared an opening in a main wall. However, all remain serviceable – if we do not have further tremors.”
The friars showed them to a temporary church constructed outside the quadrangle area and the place where more adobe bricks and roof tiles were being made and set in the sun to dry.
The friars then proudly showed the father president their plans for rebuilding. “The Lord has given us a great opportunity, father president,” Padre Uria explained. He laid a parchment out on a table and explained the new church would be larger, also of adobe and bricks, but with heavily buttressed walls five feet thick. “It will be one hundred and forty feet long, twenty-five feet wide, and thirty feet high. We are already bringing heavy pine timbers from the San Rafael Mountains.”
Padre Olbés also indicated they planned to lower the height of the roof over the cells and to erect a gabled roof with tiles. “We also plan to build a new belfry.”
The father president was most pleased with the plans, along with the newly-learned skills of the disciples to make that possible.
“Are these the same Chumash who once attacked Misión San Luis Obispo?” James asked.
Padre Uria answered, “Not the same, but related to those who did. Those who did have sought our forgiveness and now live in peace with us in a rancheria further east in the hills.”
Misión la Purísima Concepción had incurred even more destruction as they had seen on their voyage south. Heeding Padres Payeras and Arroita's pleas, the father president had given his permission to move the site to El Valle de los Berros Acuáticos, The Valley of the Water Cress. On the other side of the river, it was closer to El Camino Real.
Already, thick clay pipes were drying in the sun and a ditch was being dug to bring water from Salsperde Creek.
Satisfied the friars had everything under control, they departed early the next morning, now devoid of the mule train. They only pack animals were the ones bearing items belonging to the father president and escorting soldiers.
Hundreds toiled to clear the rubble and rebuild Misión San Luis Obispo. They only stayed overnight, riding to Misión San Miguel. The first mission had been destroyed by fire but Padre Sitjar, who had moved from Misión San Antonio to found it, had the nearly eight hundred disciples working very hard to make tiles and adobe bricks for another. He and Padre Juan Martin spend endless hours teaching the disciples the numerous trades needed to one day become self-sufficient.
“We have gathered blocks of stone for the foundation,” Padre Martin told the father president. “Once we have sufficient, we will start construction. As you can see, we already have water to the gardens and fields. The zanjas were only damaged in minor ways by the earthquakes.”
The father president commented, “It appears fortunate that you had not started construction when the tremors came. Were any of the disciples harmed?” He signed the cross to find that only very minor injuries occurred, all easily treated.
They also spoke of their pleasure at the new bell recently arrived from Mexico. James learned the old, cracked bell had been sent to Misión San Gabriel where the smith had melted it down and turned the bronze into some religious items and tools.
“Have the pools of water and mud always bubbled like that, reverend father?”
Padre Payeras chuckled. “No, my son. The tremors have significantly increased the heat and activity. The Gentiles have signed that the fires deep below have come closer to the surface.”
James had heard from his father of the curative effects of the mud baths, enjoyed for time beyond memory by the local Gentiles.
Misión San Antonio appeared unharmed. The late afternoon sun reflected from the white stucco and highlighted the red roof tiles. Many adobe structures stood outside the mission walls, homes for well over one thousand disciples.
Padres Cabot and Sancho came out to greet them. James had never met either man. Padre Sitjar, who had been at the mission since its foundation, had passed away and his remains lay under the stone floor of the chapel.
As they walked inside the chapel, James overheard the friars discussing the problems they were having raising crops. The land simply was not fertile enough and, in spite of the outstanding system of bringing water from the stream, it was becoming more and more difficult.
“At least wheat grows well,” Padre Cabot said. “We have many canvas bags filled with flower for you to take north with you.”
James had heard of the friar's great knowledge of milling flour, the mill alongside the stream grinding out some of the finest of all the missions. He could also not help but note the large herds of horses, some of the best he had seen so far. And, when he led his own mounts into the stables to curry and feed them, he could not fail but notice one of the finest stallions in his memory.
The campana for the bells was quite tall and peace swept over James as they tolled for evening prayer. The disciples had learned to ring the bells to make them sing.
Windows high in the wall allowed the late afternoon sun inside and James stared at the ceiling where an arched support was painted blue sprinkled with silvery stars. He could not miss the beautiful altar figures, especially Lord Jesus hanging so cruelly on the cross, Mother Virgin Mary to one side, with Saint Joseph on the other. The paintings impressed him and he knelt in the alcove before The Virgin of Guadalupe. He fingered his Rosary made for him by Uncle Jaime and closed his eyes as the small band of disciples sang glorious tunes in the appropriate time during the rite. They have such beautiful voices, he thought, no matter what mission we stop at.
James joined the disciples for the evening meal, roast chicken with vegetables, the usual frijoles, and plenty of maize tortillas. Afterward, he walked around the compound to help the plentiful meal settle. He had not failed to notice that the friars, as was their custom, ate only gruel.
James found a seat on a bench under one of the massive oaks the valley was named for to watch the evening paseo and listen to the music. The mission corporal seem to be the leader, playing his guitar with some astounding fingering. A second guitar played by a Mestizo from Sinaloa kept up by strumming, yet another playing one of the big-bellied guitarones, keeping a toe-tapping beat. James also noted another playing very well on an acordeón. My friend David plays a guitar and he is an Indian, James thought. I cannot make music of any kind. My voice is raspy and I do not seem able to even sing prayer responses correctly.
And all of that in spite of his love of music. At least we chant when we raise and lower the sails and nets, he told himself.
Father President Señán led them from the mission directly after breaking their fast, crossing the hills to the northeast and back into the valley of the Rio Elizario. The well-maintained road had suffered little damage from the recent earthquakes, as had Misión San Antonio.
“The Lord was good to the mission. Their only problem appears to be land that is difficult to coax crops from.”
James nodded. “Well, reverend father president, they seem to be doing quite well. It appears prosperous and the fathers have brought many into the bosom of God.”
They reached the Pueblo de Salinas by noon. The Esselen farmers knelt to welcome the father president and James could not help but smell the acrid aromas of the large fields of wild onions under cultivation. He also smiled at the blue flowers interspersed in the large fields of alfalfa.
A number of adobe structures had been constructed, along with a small chapel James knew to be a visita where one of the padres from Monte Rey came to celebrate Mass on selected feast days.
He was most surprised when the noon meal was served at the unusual and quite pleasing taste of the frijoles. When he asked, Juan Manuel Casillas, the unofficial alcalde explained that the women cooked the beans along with onions and tiny bits of tocino. “The pork strips add the special flavor, Señor Marinero.”
James was not surprised that the Salinan knew his identity.
Father President Señán stopped at the presidio to report on his journey, sending James home. Teresa Marta rushed from the house, throwing her arms around her husband, something unheard of among the Gentiles. She was soon joined by the children, all except George who hung back.
“What is wrong, Goyo? You are not happy with my return?” James asked, tousling his youngest son's hair.
The boy stammered, staring at his feet.
James suspected the boy had done something he should not have and worried about the punishment he would receive when his mother reported it.
Out of the corner of his eye, James saw his father come out onto the veranda. His father's appearance brought him up short. His hair is gray and he no longer stands as erect as before. James then realized that his father appeared no different than before his departure, but absence made him see him in a different manner.
“So, my son. What think you of what you have seen?”
Before James could answer, Apolonia Ignacia came out and chastised him. “Timoteo, give your son a chance to clean up. I am certain he is famished from his very long journey and wishes no more than rest before dinner.”
His father's second wife, a Mestizo born fifteen years after he, seemed much younger than his father. James did not feel jealousy of her replacing his beloved mother. It was necessary for a man to have a woman to share his bed and watch over him. That was why he was so very glad to be home with Teresa Marta.