Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Chapter Twelve - The Missions Wither

Early 1821 – Dark News from Mexico

Oxen steadily plodded in their yokes as plows turned the soil. Disciples followed behind to drop seeds covered over by those following. Weeds were hoed from around rows of trees in the orchards. Limbs and branches were cut back to allow fresh growth when the sap flowed stronger.

Mares foaled, their newborns gazing on the world on trembling legs, their greatest interest that spot beneath their mothers' hindquarters from when came the warm, nourishing milk. Calves romped in the fields, eagerly butting their dam's udders for milk. Kids leapt and gamboled, staying close to their mothers, watched over by their fathers. Sows lay down to allow piglets access to their bulging udders.

After long hours of work and when the evening prayers ended, men gathered in the plazas to savor a warm tankard of cervesa or an occasional nip of stronger spirits, listening to music and discussing the dark rumors. Wives and daughters finished their chores and sat together sewing or mending items, also sharing their fears of what they too had heard.

Couriers arrived from the south carrying dark news of events in Mexico and far away Spain.

Common soldiers went about their tasks of caring for their mounts and repairing their equipment, careful as they knew replacements were impossible to come by. They cared little about who their officers would be, only thinking of when they might finally receive their long-due pay. Some wondered if they might be able to receive land grants in appreciation of their service to Crown and Country – whatever country that might be.

The governor and president guardian frequently huddled together at the mission to discuss the events described in documents in the courier packets.

The officers felt no need to worry. They would simply swear allegiance to whichever side won the battles.

The rebellion will never succeed. We owe everything to the Crown.”

Felipe snickered, drawing stares from all but Jaime.

You do not agree, my son?”

Reverend father, I do not wish to ever disagree with you. But this is a time when I feel you are in error.”

Padre Suria frowned. “Well then, please tell us of my error.”

Felipe thought for several moments before responding. “Up to this time, the rebels have lacked organization and military skills. As you know, none of His Majesty's soldiers have joined their cause.”

In spite of the fact His Catholic Majesty appears to feel you all can live without stipend,” Jaime muttered softly.

Felipe could not argue. No supply ships had arrived for almost a year and no funds had come via the courier system. If it were not for the productivity of the missions, the military would be without clothing and sustenance. “It is that no soldier would put themselves in the hands of such unprofessional and cruel leaders like Morelo and Guerrero. What those two have done in the areas they control is beyond what any of my fellow officers could possibly accept.”

But, this time, there is a difference,” he continued. “King Ferdinand is facing a rebellion of his officers for the ravages of all those who sided with Napoleon. The officers no longer stand by and watch some of their own imprisoned and ousted from their lands and homes.”

And that makes a difference?” Mateo asked. “How?”

Some in Mexico see it as a weakness that opens the door for them.”

So, who will now lead the rebels in Mexico? The same who have been unable to defeat royal forces for more than ten years?”

Felipe chuckled. “Viceroy Apodaca proved brilliant when he offered amnesty to all rebels who would lay down their arms. Only Guerrero, Victoria, and Bravo would not accept the offer. He has shown the same brilliance in appointing Colonel Augustín de Iturbide to defeat Guerrero's army in Oaxaca.”

Is he not the same one who persecuted Hildalgo's and Morelo's rebels early on?”

Yes, Mateo, that he is. He has been rewarded with rapid promotion from lieutenant to colonel in about fifteen years.”

Almost like our beloved Governor Rivera,” Timothy said with a grin. “Does he have the same church backing?”

Yes, my son, he does. Don Augustín is the personification of conservative Criollo values, is most devout, and committed to the defense of property rights and social privileges.”

Although some information I have received indicates he is also most disgruntled at his lack of promotion and wealth,” Felipe responded. “Had he been a Peninsulare, he would be a general by now with many rich rancheros and haciendas.

So, tell us what you think the future holds,” James asked.

Felipe shook his head, indicating his lack of ideas.

Mateo, however, opined, “Iturbide is a competent officer leading professional troops. He will find the rebels and defeat them. As the viceroy wishes, he will offer amnesty to all those willing to lay down their arms and go home. As for Morelo, he will be hanged in a public place.”

To show others not to lead a revolt against Spain,” Felipe said.


The arrival of the schooner Guadalupe caused a stir. Her captain was a Mestizo from Loreto, but the sailing master was Antonio, one of Timothy's original crew. He had been personally selected by José Chapman and taught the basic differences between the larger vessel and The Queen.

It is so good to see you, mi capitán.”

James smiled and embraced his and his father's old crew member.

Timothy arrived just then and also embraced Antonio, then followed to be introduced to Captain Enrique who gave them a thorough tour of the schooner.

She is a most impressive vessel,” Timothy said. “Chapman is indeed a skilled boat wright.”

José Antonio had arrived during the tour and shared Timothy's assessment of the vessel.

We come bearing some foods and goods for the presidio,” Captain Enrique explained. “Padre Dumetz feels that, as we are not receiving supplies from San Blas, it is up to us to sustain one another. We took some of the wheat, barley, and corn to the fathers at Misión San Miguel la Nueva in the south and the fathers there said they would distribute shares to other missions further south.

He then turned to one of the sailors holding a bolt of woolen cloth. “This comes from the new fulling mill José Chapman supervised the building of at Misión Santa Inés. It is much stronger and more waterproof than what we did previously,”

Everyone inspected the cloth, marveling at how superior it was to what was turned out at Misión San Carlos.

I notice the ship, like ours here, does not have copper hull plating.”

The captain turned to James and nodded. “Señor Chapman wished to find enough copper to plate the hull, but there is barely enough as it is. He even went to the point of exploring the area to try to find deposits of copper ore.”

Did not the Tongva have some rocks of copper ore?”

All turned to Timothy with questioning looks.

When we first met them during Governor Portolá's expedition, I remember several of the elders wearing necklaces with small discs of copper they had hammered flat with stones. We asked where it had come from and they pointed to the foothills of the mountains. We had other things to worry about and let the matter lie.”

I will certainly pass that on to Señor Chapman,” the captain said. “Perhaps he will find the time to explore for the place where the Tongva found it. It certainly would not hurt to have a local source of copper.”

Padre Suria arrived and the captain turned over a packet of documents to him, adding, “I am carrying more for the governor from the Presidios San Diego y Santa Bárbara.” The friar thanked him and hurried off to the mission.

I am afraid the packets carry dark news from Mexico,” the captain said.

Timothy, Jaime, and James exchanged glances. They had been hearing such news for several years and were not all that certain this would be any different. However, knowing the captain and his crew had undergone a strenuous voyage north, they left their questions for later and invited Captain Enrique and Antonio to join them for dinner in the family compound. “As you can see, there is now a cantina here near the pier and I am certain your crew will savor shore food and cervesa.”

The ladies of The Family were most pleased when Antonio presented them with two bolts of the wool produced at the new fulling mill. They also listened raptly as Antonio told them of his own family, now including two married sons and three married daughters.

None were surprised to see soldiers riding towards the mission. The man in the lead was clearly Governor Solá, with Felipe leading his escort of four. When the governor went inside, Felipe told the escort to stand down and they went into the mission compound to care for their mounts and await the governor.

Felipe dismounted outside the main gate to the family compound and two of the young boys quickly took the horse into the stables to feed and curry it.

Antonio, it is most pleasing to see you again.”

The two men grasped each other's forearms, a sign of respect and great liking. Felipe also greeted the captain and joined the others sitting in rockers on the veranda. To no one's surprise, Padre Suria soon joined them.

The gathering gained yet another member when Mateo arrived, his wife going inside to help prepare for the evening meal. Jaime and his apprentices had fashioned benches that could be folded and stored away. These were brought out on a grassy area in the quadrangle, with most of the children doing all the work under the supervision of Guadalupe and Carlita.

Talk remained light with Padre Suria asking for news from the south.

The first harvest at Misión San Diego was most promising,” Captain Enrique reported.

Yes, we received word from Padre Pedro to that effect,” Padre Suria responded. “He feels there may well be twenty-one thousand bushels of wheat, barley, and corn there this year.”

That was very good news as all knew that mission had the least favorable land for planting of the missions. All smiled at hearing the efforts of the friars and their disciples to improve the irrigation and finding way to enrich the soil. Most important was learning that the Kumeyaay in the hills to the east were no longer threatening the mission.

It is not for their fear of the soldiers,” Felipe explained, “but seeing the benefits the mission provides them. In fact, Corporal Ontiveros has reported that many of the clans in the hills are planting corn and even keeping some livestock. They are also finding things to trade with the soldiers for cloth and other minor goods.”

Padre Pedro has indicated he is often called out to provide minor medical care for families living in the foothills. His biggest problem is the escort of two soldiers he is required to have by the regulations.”

All knew what the friar referred to. In spite of having no fears of the “wild” Gentiles, the regulations required that friars be escorted whenever they left the mission compound. The presidents guardians and governors were constantly astir by reports of some friars who managed to slip away and evade their escorts. What was left unsaid were reports of one or two friars who did more than minister to the sick, one in particular that nobody wanted to point out. He was one of the later graduates of the seminary and not close to the other friar that presided over his mission.

You dine well, Señor Timoteo,” the captain opined. A pig roasted on a spit, along with a dozen chickens. Large bowls of frijoles, vegetables, and squash at each table provided flavors to the meats. Each table also held a large tureen of soup made from fish, onions, and other herbs and spices. There were, of course, huge piles of corn and wheat tortillas.

This wine is most excellent. Do you have your own vineyard?”

James explained that several inhabitants of the pueblo had, under the guidance of Padre Usson, planted grape vines and had even learned how to graft other varieties to make new flavors. All had mixtures of the native grapes from the province. He also indicated that another member of the village had learned how to brew beer, the source of the cervesa.

All serious talk waited until after the meal when the males returned to the veranda for a pipe and discussion. The ladies and children cleaned up, also ensuring each male had a goblet of wine or a mug of beer.

Well now, good captain, tell us the latest news from the south.” Timothy turned and looked to both Felipe and Mateo as if he knew they already had that information.

Well, Viceroy Apodaca's selection of Colonel Iturbide may not have been wise,” the captain said. “While he is a very good soldier and quite devout, it appears he has other ideas that do not favor the current system.”

They listened as the captain told of Iturbide's wins over scattered and undisciplined rebels. In every case, in accordance with the viceroy's orders, pardons were granted to those who laid down their arms. Those who failed to do so were publicly executed.

However, after a battle near a town called Iguala, the colonel proclaimed three principles upon which he believes the future of Mexico are to be based.”

They listened to the guarantee that Mexico would be independent from Spain, but governed by King Ferdinand who was in serious trouble in Spain, another Bourbon prince, or some other conservative royal.

He guarantees that Criollos will have equal rights and privileges as Peninsulares. He also guarantees the holy Roman Catholic Church will retain its privileges and position as the official religion of the land.”

Well, that seems most reasonable,” Mateo said. “Especially the equal part. The difference of where one is born has always been a thorn in the side of Mexico.”

Timothy grunted. “Well, we certainly have had some examples of that here in California. Fages and Rivera the most obvious.”

All were silent for a moment in tribute that that brave Soldado de Cuera who had given his life while carrying out orders to provide manpower and livestock for the founding of El Pueblo Los Angeles.

It is most comforting that Colonel Iturbide does not believe, as the Americans do, that there should be no official religion in the land. I believe he will receive the support of the Archbishop and other senior church leaders,” Padre Suria said.

Yes, reverend father,” Timothy said, “that indeed makes sense. It is the church that unites us.”

The proclamation came on the twenty-fourth day of February,” the captain continued. “I think what has shocked all is that General Guerrero agreed to join Iturbide to form a new army, Ejército de las Tres Garantías.”

The Army of the Three Guarantees. That sounds encouraging,” Mateo said.

The captain nodded. “It appears that rebel forces from all across Mexico are joining Iturbide. The viceroy has alerted all his royalist forces to be prepared for war, but he does not appear to be certain of his position.”

What is all that going to mean for us here?”

That is a most interesting question, Jorge. I do not think any of us know.”

Nobody could argue with Padre Suria.

To date, none of this has affected us here in California,” Timothy said. “Other than the lack of supplies from San Blas.”

That we do not truly need,” Jaime softly said, but still loud enough for all to hear. “We produce almost everything we need and our only lack is gunpowder for the weapons of the soldiers.”

Felipe grimaced. “If we encounter pirates again, we are almost defenseless against them. If it were not for the occasional American ship we trade with, we would have no gunpowder whatsoever.”

That is why the governor turns a blind eye to such trade,” Mateo said. “Are not all the commandants told to obtain all shot and powder they can?”

Felipe grinned and nodded.

Antonio, the captain, and Padre Suria departed, giving time for Timothy, Jaime, and James to discuss what was on their minds.

What do we do if Iturbide's claim for independence comes to pass?”

I do not know, my son. Perhaps nothing will come of it here other than having to vow loyalty to the new government.”

I doubt it, brother. There will be changes. For one, Governor Solá will be replaced by someone loyal to Iturbide seeking to gather riches to fill his coffers.”

What riches, uncle? We have no riches here.”

Those in Mexico do not know that. They only hear of the great harvests and vast herds here. The new governor will come with heavy demands for treasure for himself and to send to Mexico City.”

Well, we must prepare ourselves for any possible future. We must have a place to go to protect ourselves and the family if it appears we might be in danger.”

Jaime grunted his approval.

James was bewildered, having no idea where such a haven might exist.

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