Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

Tuesday, February 7, 2017


1818 – Unwanted Visitors

With storehouses half filled from the previous harvest, the people of el Pueblo del Carmelo broke the soil for spring planting. The melodious sound of their voices lilted the crisp air.

Timothy, now sixty-five years of age, was no longer able to help bring the catches aboard The Queen. Determined not to be a burden, he did what he could, often spending hours working on the dock mending nets and working ropes.

Apolonia begged him to rest and savor what his hands had wrought.

I am not so old, wife, that I must sit and spin tales to the little ones.” He referred to the custom of the elders teaching the very young. That was, in fact, what he did. He showed the little ones the skills of the sea he had learned over so many years, all the while telling them of their land and their heritage. He loved to tell of that time so many years before when he had traveled with The Most Reverend Father President Serra.

Jaime, he too with gray at his temples, did what he could in the carpenter shop. But, fingers no longer nimble, often gnarled in pain of so many years working the wood, could but supervise the apprentices sent to him from the other missions.

Nothing could keep Yellow Butterfly from performing her duties as matron of the family. She had lost most of her teeth and subsisted on atole – as did Timothy and Jaime. She too was the teacher, not only to the youth of The Family, but those living in the pueblo.

They grow no younger, mi hombre.”

James nodded, holding Teresa Marta a bit closer, arms around each other in the European manner. Timothy, Jaime, and Butterfly sat on benches near the large bonfire in the corner of the compound, taking in the heat to fend off the late afternoon's chill. Younger members of The Family prepared the evening meal. Felipe, Rubio, and George sat with the elders on the veranda.

Teresa Marta kissed her husband's cheek and went inside to check on preparations for the evening meal. The gathering had grown so much that meals were now held in a special room built into the compound with the kitchen attached. They would have a pig roasting over the flames of the bonfire, along with several red snappers wrapped in kelp leaves.

We just received word that all the neophyte's and disciples' houses at Misión La Purísima burned to the ground. Someone upset a bowl of lard into a cooking fire and it quickly spread throughout the jacals.” Felipe then added, “Reverend Father Payeras was most upset. Several of the neophytes were severely burned and he spent two days doing everything he knew to ease their pains.”

Why did he not use the juice of a nopal?” Joaquin, the son of Jame's daughter Carlita Barbara asked. “Does that not ease the pain of burns?”

James smiled. Joaquin, like his uncle George, loved working in the fields and gardens.

I do not know, Jorge. We know the reverend father is a most capable friar so I am certain he used all the balms and salves he has.”

And word has reached us that the new chapel at Misión San Miguel is ready for tiling the roof.”

All realized what effort had gone into that project. “Padres Martin and Cabot have worked for many years with the disciples in preparing for those. I remember seeing the stacks and stacks of tiles drying in the sun when I visited there,” James said. “And, I know how hard they toiled to fell and haul timbers from more than forty miles away in the mountains.”

And some claim how lazy the Gentiles are,” Rubio grumbled.

Several young Alférez' from the presidio had been overheard to make such comments.

They only see those Indios who live and work at the garrison. They do not work with the fervor of those who toil beside the friars,” Felipe semi-apologized.

The year proved to be one of fair days and chilly nights as had many others before them. Planting had gone well and the harvests proved rich and plentiful. For several missions, large numbers of tanned hides and cow stomachs filled with tallow proved a good source of income from American, English, and even Russian trading ships. All, of course, sought the rich furs from sea otters, but the Californians did not wish to capture and slay the creatures they felt brought them good luck – even the Europeans shared the belief.

Timothy and Jaime often spent their days in the fields, savoring the smells and sights of the livestock. Their studs had brought forth a line of horses favored by the leatherjacket soldiers, young colts and foals gathering around them for the tidbits they carried. Sheep grazed in the hills, their wool sought after by the traders for their rich oils. Milch cows' udders swelled with rich milk, much of it now taken to the missions where cheese was made, the whey providing good nutrition for all, including pigs that flourished. Goats kept the streets of the pueblos free of the offal that caused such miasma found in the City of Mexico and other large gatherings of people. Chickens scurried everywhere, providing eggs for breaking fast and flesh for evening meals.

The fishing fleet departed well before dawn six days a week, providing parts of their catches to Misión Santa Cruz and Villa de Branciforte, along with Willow Place, the presidio, and Pueblo de Carmelo. James had become the unofficial captain of the fleet, many new boats added by the yard run by José Antonio, his brother-in-law.

We have a good life here, my friend.”

David nodded, his fingers busy mending a net. “The Lord Jesus and The Holy Father have blessed us. It is why I always say a Rosary before slipping beneath the covers.”

Both were surprised one day when, passing the house of the curanderas, Bluebird stepped out and summoned them into her abode. The structure was divided into two parts, one open on the side facing the sea and the other where the two elderly women kept their herbs, potions, and many other mysterious things.

Please sit, Señores. I have things I wish to tell you.”

Neither could think of a time when the medicine woman had not been around or not been there to heal the sick and wounded. They revered her almost as much as the friars – but in a different way, of course. They could not help but notice how the friars came to them when in need of guidance or for medications.

Stooped slightly from age, Bluebird returned from the fireplace with a metal pan, steam and a strong aroma rising from it. She poured the contents into two blue and white cups baked in the mission's kilns.

Drink, Señores, it is good for you.” She waited as both sipped, smiling, watching their faces light up from the sweetness derived from sugar cane grown along the river. Turning to James, she said, “I do not think you believe there are those of us who the spirits speak to.” She clearly knew that David believed such things.

I was taught to always keep an open mind, Doña.

The curandera sighed and heavily lowered herself into a chair at the table. “I do not fully understand the dreams that have come to me in recent days. They show me two very large canoes like those that often visit here. Only these come with black clouds upon their trees. They are sailed by men with dark hearts out to take what belongs to others. I know not from whence they come. Only that they bring danger to us.”

Both men patiently waited for the old woman to continue.

I know the reverend fathers would not believe me as is true with the men from far away who carry the long spears and reeds of fire. But, I hope you will keep your eyes open for such dangers and, if you find it possible, to tell the men of the big camp to also be alert.”

James had no doubt that the men of Spain would laugh off what was, to them, the babbling of an old Indian woman. Maybe the friars would give some credence to her words, but would certainly never pass them on to the governor or the commander of the presidio.

Maybe Padre Juncosa would believe her, but certainly not Captain de Vega.” Uncle Jaime shook his head and pursed his lips. “It is a shame, young James, as, in my many years, I have learned to heed the words of those whose skills bring them close to the arts of healing.”

Felipe listened, trying to hide his disbelief in the words of an old spinster steeped in mysterious arts. But, he had lived in the land for many years and understood he was very far from where he had grown up on his father's rancho in Mexico. “I will tell those who stand sentry at el Castillo to be especially alert in the days and weeks to come.”

And what about those of us here in Carmel? What would we do if such black boats descend upon us?”

All looked at Apolonia, surprised by her concern at the matter.

Why should I not worry? The Family is large and we care much for those who live in this valley. What would we do if such bad men landed here and attacked us and the mission?”

Those were questions they had no answer to.


Father! Father! Two ships of strange forms sail north far out to sea.”

James spring to his feet and followed George out onto the veranda. He spun and took up a telescope kept next to the door. He felt a presence and knew it to be his father. “I recognize both as being men of war. The larger one is a frigate similar to the one that came years ago with that admiral. But, I am uncertain of the smaller one.”

Timothy took the glass and stared at the ships for several moments. “It is a corvette, a relatively new bottom from the Americans. It is built for speed.” He continued to stare and added, “I know not what the flag is. It is white with a blue band in the middle. I have never heard of such a flag.”

They were therefore not surprised to hear the sound of a cannon from el Castillo. As the ships were nearly two leagues from shore, there was no doubt it was but a warning shot to alert the garrison to announce the arrival of the two vessels.

Much to Marta Teresa's displeasure, James sped to the stables and mounted his favorite horse. He carried two pistols and his long rifle. With a wave, he turned and sped through the towering pines heading for the Point of Pines. He slowed as he neared the gun emplacement where he waited until one of the artillerymen saw and recognized him. He rode forward and dismounted, hitching his horse to a pole before walking to join the lieutenant, staring at the smaller ship through a glass.

She is going to enter the harbor.”

James nodded. “He must have a chart to be so brave. Know you the flag she flies?”

Lieutenant Gonzales shook his head. “I have not even heard rumors of such. Those are the colors of the French, although it is no flag of France we have heard of.”

The frigate hove to well offshore and appeared to be of no interest. The smaller ship came within five hundred paces of the gun mounts at the presidio and hove to, dropping anchor. She made no effort to hail the garrison or make herself known to them.

James was not surprised to see Felipe and three presidials ride toward them at a good pace. After leaping from his horse, he asked if they knew the ship.

She bears the name Santa Rosa,” Lieutenant Gonzales said. “But I recognize not her standard.”

Felipe turned to James. “Any idea, suegro, of her origin.”

No, yerno, not a single one. She is of an American keel, but that certainly is not an American vessel.” Seeing their look of askance, he responded, “The set of her sails. She is not clewed up as an American would do. The lines are different.”

And she makes no sign of her intentions.”

Nobody argued with the lieutenant.

I will return and tell the captain she may be an unfriendly vessel. You should have your guns ready for when dawn comes.”

I do not wish to tell you your business, yerno, but it would be wise to light the lamps at the dock and station sentries there in case she tries to land troops during the night.”

Felipe gazed at his father-in-law with a look of respect. Sentries had never been stationed on the dock, although lamps glowed until the middle of the night. “I will pass on your suggestion to the captain, suegro. I am certain he will do so.”

James stayed until the ship was no longer visible, except for a lamp atop her stern and another at the main mast. As he left, he heard the officers discussing what to do about the ship. From what he could gather, they would do nothing unless the vessel made a hostile move. He heard Felipe say, “We are evacuating the wives and civilians to Misión Soledad and sending a courier to Misión Santa Cruz and Villa de Branciforte.”

That is going to cause trouble, James told himself. Hopefully, the friars will hide their goods in case these are pirates.


What news, my son?”

James quickly passed on to the gathering what he had seen and heard.

The ship made no move to let the garrison know her intentions?” The answer caused Timothy to shake his head. “I am afraid she is up to no good. It was wise to send the noncombatants to Soledad.”

What should we do here, my son?” Padre Juncosa asked, Corporal Rodriguez paying close attention.

I would hide your religious things away from the mission. I would also evacuate the women and girls. That is what we will do here.”

In the dark?”

What better time, reverend father. The ships will do nothing until dawn, but we want the innocents far from here when the sun rises. What could we do if the frigate decides to inspect our bay and land crews here?”

Jaime muttered his agreement, telling Butterfly to have the children gather warm clothing and what things they would need to be away for a while.

Night fell quickly, yet the inhabitants of the pueblo and mission had little trouble moving about when it did – doing so without torches or lamps. Great care was taken to keep from showing lights. Even though the bigger ship was out of sight, nobody dared take the chance of being discovered.

The vast majority of people had not lived in the open for a great many years, the children knowing nothing but life in the mission or village. However, elders showed the way and by the tenth hour after noon, they had found haven further up the valley in the shelter of the massive trees. Deep holes were dug for bonfires and temporary shelters quickly set up. The friars soon joined them, leading mules carrying the most precious objects easily removed from the mission.

The soldiers stayed behind, refusing to give up their duty of protecting the mission.

If they come in the morning, they will find the village and the mission. What think you they might do?”

Timothy had no immediate answer. But, after several moments, he answered James' question. “They will search for loot, especially foodstuffs to take back to their ship.” He paused, then added, “However, I do not think they will come here. Anchoring the smaller ship in the harbor indicates to me their aim to attack the fort. Possibly considering it is where the valuables might be.”

They may be in search of additional powder and shot,” Mateo opined. “Either that or they have been led to believe there are riches here as it is the capitol of the province.”

That caused chuckles by some nearby Mestizos. “Riches here?” one asked. “Nothing but beans and blankets and empty beds.”

That brought nervous laughter.

The sound of cannon fire roused them from their sleep. Sharps cracks from the smaller pieces echoed throughout the valley although from several miles away. The heavy guns sounded like thunder.

James and David did not need to be told twice to mount and ride to a vantage point from which to view the battle. All was silent when they reached the top of the hill and were able to look down through the trees at the harbor.

The smaller ship has lowered its flag,” David commented.

They continued to watch, puzzled why Captain de Vega did nothing but stand upon the battlement looking at the ship through his glass.

The bigger ship had come closer to the harbor, but did not enter for fear of hidden rocks. But, boats were soon in the water, and the frigate slowly moved closer – still out of reach of the biggest guns at el Castillo.

Of course! There are no boats in the harbor so the captain cannot take troops out to capture the Santa Rosa. He cannot do anything but wait to see what the ship's captain plans to do.”

It appears they can simply sail away and there is nothing the captain can do about it.”

It seems to be a stalemate.”

Both turned, reddening at being come upon by surprise.

Uncle Jaime grinned and sat in the saddle of his horse, gazing down at the harbor. Timothy used his glass to inspect the situation. “I do not think the frigate will just sit out there and do nothing. A good captain would realize the situation. He has boats and soldiers. He will do what he can to tow the corvette into deeper water. Then, using the combined boats, he will disembark soldiers to attack the presidio from the land.”

At his father's urging, James rode down to the back side of the garrison, David riding at his side. The lone sentry on that side recognized them and called out, Sergeant Martinez coming to call down, asking their reason for being there. When he heard their response, he hurried off, telling them to wait.

Captain de Vegas and Felipe listened while James passed on his father's observations.

Your father is correct, Jaime. They have come in boats from the big ship and are towing the smaller one out of the harbor. There is nothing we can do about it.” His eyes then widened. “What about your boats? Can they be of use to us?”

James was horrified. None of the fishing boats had armament of any kind. And, none of the sailors had the faintest idea of what to do in a military engagement.

De Vegas apologized and thanked him for the information.

From there, James and David rode to el Castillo and talked to the lieutenant for a while, gazing out at the activity in the harbor. The damage to the smaller ship was clear but, having heard his father's stories, James guessed it would not take too long for the crews to repair the worst of the damage.

Did you manage to hit the boat?” David asked.

The lieutenant puffed out his chest and declared how his guns had done most of the damage. “Those puny things in the fort did not even dent the sides of the ship.”

David had never liked the man and bit back a comment about how, if the ships did send a landing party, they would most certainly attack and destroy the gun emplacement.

As his father had predicted, the people of Carmel were awakened before dawn the morning of November twenty-fourth by the sound of small arms fire. It lasted no more than the turn of an hourglass and silence filled the air.

Once again, James, David, Timothy, and Jaime mounted and carefully made their way through the towering pines. They watched as two hundred soldiers from the ship ravaged the fort, as well as el Castillo. Much to their surprise, the presidials were allowed to bury their dead and care for their wounded. The friars from the presidio chapel tended to the wounded of both sides.

That is the senior officer of the attackers,” Timothy said, pointing to an individual in an ornate uniform and gold-trimmed bicorn.

The attackers were not very efficient. Although they remained for six days, they did not attempt to travel far from the fort, leaving Carmel and its full storehouses untouched. Their effort seemed to be centered around taking everything they could from the fort and gathering cattle – rather crudely as they clearly had no idea how to deal with them.

At last, on the morning of November twenty-nine, smoke rose from the presidio as the scouts from Carmel watched the soldiers board their boats and row out to where the two ships prepared to depart. As the last individual boarded, he turned and saluted the blue and white banner flying where the red and gold of Spain once had.

The next few hours were nerve-wracking for the people of Misión San Carlos and the town of Carmel. They huddled in the woods as the sails moved south, so far out to sea that their hulls did not show.

They can still see us from that far away,” Timothy warned so no one would light a fire. “We must wait until we know they are far to the south.”

That did not stop James and David from taking out a fishing boat to where they could verify the pirates, as they now called them, were well away.

Juanita Maria was the first on her horse, galloping across the hills to the presidio.

James and David followed close behind, with Timothy and Jaime staying behind with the wagons carrying food and clothing. They had no idea what condition the soldiers were in. The friars came with medicines.

Captain de Vega sat on a charred stump used to moor visiting fishing boats, one of the most disheartened men either had ever seen. He held his head in his hands, furious and ashamed at the same time.

Felipe rushed to Juanita Maria, embracing their son and daughter, along with their grandchildren. She laughed with joy to find him only lightly wounded, but fussed until she removed the rough field dressing and replaced it with a better one.

While that was underway, the women went among the soldiers strewn before the earthen wall facing the sea, inspecting for wounds. Most had scrapes and bruises. Three had been killed and a half dozen lay on makeshift stretchers made by the pirates the friars immediately tended to.

Padre Carnicer knelt throughout, fingering his prayer beads and confessing his sins and weaknesses. When, at last, Padre Sarria was able to make him speak, he could only weep and declare how he had failed the men of the presidio and his oath to his Lord God.

Don Pablo Soler, the surgeon, lay upon one of the cots, his leg skewed from where it had been hit by a musket ball. He had tried using a crutch to help the wounded, only making the leg fracture worse to the point of severe bleeding. He bit down on a piece of leather as James and David pulled with all their might to reset the bone.

The Queen, the Carlita, and several other fishing boats soon arrived, carrying enough fish to allay the hunger of the soldiers. People from the pueblo had arrived and eagerly took away fish for their cook fires.

We sent riders out but I do not think they have had time to reach el Presidio del San Francisco o Santa Bárbara,” Felipe told them. “We dared not send two, so each rider took spare horses to change.”

The flag they flew was from Argentina,” Corporal Ballesteros told them, leaning on a stick. He wore a large bandage on his thigh they learned was from a musket ball. “The captain had a thick accent and I heard him called Captain Bouchard. And the captain of the smaller vessel was an Englishman, Sir Peter Corney.”

Fortunately, Governor Sola heeded rumors from San Blas and had all the valuables and two thirds of the gunpowder sent with the noncombatants to Misión Soledad.”

Felipe's words caught Timothy's attention and he closely questioned his son-in-law on the individual. “That is most curious. If that indeed was Sir Corney, he has visited us twice before and knows well Carmel. I find it most curious that he did not lead the pirates to us.”

Nobody could answer that.

The biggest question was, where had Governor Solá gone?

No comments:

Post a Comment