Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

Saturday, March 11, 2017


How many ranchos have been granted, father?”

Timothy looked up from his journal. “Well, if I remember correctly, twenty-one were granted during the time of Spanish rule.” He stopped to think. “And I believe Governor Argüello granted six more.”

And of the twenty-two granted under the king's authority, all have become quite productive for the grantees.”

Timothy nodded. “Yes, my son, they have. And, I have a feeling that the owners of these vast leagues of soil will become the lords of this land.”

James did not have to ask the meaning of his father's comment. Don José of Rancho Buena Vista was already looked upon as a leading member of the Monte Rey community, as was Don Antonio at Rancho Vega del Rio del Pajaro just north of el Rio San Elizario. He thought for several moments and added, “And do not forget the ranchos Llano de Buena Vista, Bolsa de San Cayetano, and Bolsa Nueva y Moro Cojo.”

But, we know of one who will become a leading figure.”

Timothy knew exactly who James referred to, Doña Cristina, a Baja India who had moved to the mission sheep ranch of Las Salinas. Her husband, Gaspar Talatis, an Esselen at the mission, had recently died, leaving the house they had built together to her. She continued to maintain the flocks for the padres and there were no doubts but that they would do everything possible to ensure she was able to keep her home. “Perhaps she will someday receive a grant to the land.”

That will truly be a miracle, Don Timoteo. When will one of us ever receive a grant we are able to keep?”

David was not a normally negative person, but he too often had seen how those of Spanish blood treated Gentiles.

Not long after, Don Tiburcio Castro, recently elected alcalde of Monte Rey, came to visit the family. “I have heard much about your evening gatherings on this veranda and would find it most generous if you would allow me to join you this evening.”

All knew that Don Tiburcio was an up and coming member of the California community and understood he was not there as a passing humor. He had something he either wanted to learn or to pass on to those he knew to play an important role in the every day life of el pueblo Carmelo.

Muchas gracias, Doña Beadle,” he said when Apolonia handed him a cool ceramic taza of herbal tea. “It is true that these wonderful rocking chairs of yours are most comfortable.” He did not even blink upon learning they had been made by Jaime, a mere Baja Indian. In fact, he had paid well for several religious figures made by him with the approval of the friars.

Castro's presence did not stifle the usual conversation. It was Mateo who brought up the matter the visitor had clearly come to discuss.

The Mexican Congress has just passed a General Law of Expulsion that declares all persons born in Spain to be illegal immigrants. My sources tell me that many of those missionaries living in the Mexican states have already departed to return to Spain.”

Father Suria seemed somewhat shaken as he too was Spanish born, from the same island of Majorca as Blessed Father Serra and others.

Reverend Father, do not be concerned,” Don Tiburcio quickly said. “While the law appears to be harsh, certain members of the congress realized there are many members of the clergy who simply cannot be replaced. This is particularly true here in California. Even our new governor, Don José María de Echeandia, realized this and has petitioned the president to waive this requirement for those friars here who are so desperately needed to continue to make the missions productive.”

I wonder if he feels that way about Father Prefect Sarria and Father Durán,” James muttered. “He has them under arrest and this would be a perfect time to force them to depart.”

Oh no, not at all, James.”

James but could not help but note that Castro failed to give him the title of respect of Don. It could be nothing but the fact that he knew of James' mixed blood.

The governor has clearly indicated his desire that both reverend fathers continue in their current roles. Actually, it was two of my cousins and one other member of the state diputación that wanted them to be removed and the governor overrode their vote. All of us clearly understand the vital role they – and all of the friars – play here in California.”

But what of the move to secularize the missions?” Felipe asked.

That too will be held in abeyance, Señor Alférez. The regulation offering freedom to the disciples still exists but, as few of them have accepted, it appears that will not be enforced until further directives come from Mexico.”

Castro had two further items of news. Juan B. Alvarado, the grandson of one of the common soldados de cuera who had come to California with Governor Portolá and Father Serra, had been appointed as secretary to the territorial legislature. He had been born in Monte Rey and raised by the Vallejo family. James knew him when both were younger and often rode together.

He is a most accomplished horseman,” Jame commented.

And did surprisingly well with his letters and numbers,” Mateo added. “He is a most dedicated man when it comes to matters of importance. I am certain he will perform his duties well.”

Castro just harrumphed, showing a bit of disdain for his fellow Criollo. He did add another tidbit of gossip for the group. “Don Agustin Zamorano who came to California with Echeandía, just married Doña Maria Luisa, daughter of Don Santiago Argüello, this past February.”

That was more than just a minor item. The joining of the two families meant the establishment of important ties between the new government and the traditional families of California.

Castro did not stay long, excusing himself as having some important business to attend to. They noted the offhand way he accepted the reins of his horse from Jame's grandson.

His is a presuntuoso,” James muttered.

He is but a man of his time, my son,” Padre Suria softly chided. “He cannot but help act as he has seen his father and others. Being of pure Spanish blood is most important to the leaders of this new, independent Mexico.”

Nobody missed the soft texture of sarcasm in the friar's words.

What makes the edict just passed by the Mexican Congress most unusual is that we have just had the arrival of a friar born in Spain. Fray Juan Moreno has just been assigned to Misión Santa Bárbara to replace Padre Martinez.”

That caused a minor stir as all wanted to know the status of the friar.

Well, my children, it is not a happy story. As you all know, Father Martinez had become most capable of gaining commerce for the mission in rather unusual ways.”

Some chuckled. Everybody knew that Father Martinez was a most outspoken and independent individual, dedicated only to the welfare of his disciples and the furtherance of church doctrine. He had finally been caught in the act of loading hides and tallow aboard an English ship – which managed to raise anchor and flee before the presidio soldiers could board her – and was taken to the presidio, held in loose arrest by the comandante.

He continues to conduct Mass and all other holy rites,” Padre Suria explained, “and even gives homilies somewhat discourteous to the new governor and his 'small rules'. Capitan José de la Guerra y Noriega has always liked and admired Padre Martinez and turns a blind eye to his rants.”

The next visitor to the compound was someone not so exalted in local politics, José Amesti, a Basque who had arrived on an American ship named the Panther. Instead of jumping ship like others, he had simply walked off the ship, entered the presidio, and asked permission to settle in Monte Rey. He then went to Hartnell and obtained a position as his secretary and accountant. After a short period, he worked out an agreement to obtain a variety of items from ships anchoring in the harbor, opening a small mercantile store next to Hartnell's warehouse. He bought items from the mission and sold them to the growing population of the pueblo as well as to ships in return for items from crew members that he could in turn sell. All in all, he had become a respected member of the community. To cement his position, he had wooed and, with her father's permission, married Prudenciana Vallejo who had already provided him with a darling daughter he named Carmen.

How may we be of assistance to you, Don José?”

Please, Mister Beadle, do not use the honorific with me. You are far more a lord of this land than I will ever be.”

That brought smiles to James' and Timothy's faces.

I am in need of a goodly number of milled wood of red. The padres tell me you are the one to come to for that need.”

They did not tell you that my brother, Jaime, is actually the one to talk to?”

Amesti reddened slightly, abashed that he had not been more direct about it. “I, uh, thought that you would be the one to talk to.”

As my Uncle Jaime is a mere Indian,” James murmured angrily.

Lifting a hand defensively, Amesti hurriedly apologized. “I have spent too much time around the Californians and have taken up their disregard for the Indians, even those who came here so many years ago when this land was explored.”

One of the children ran off to fetch Jaime who had been sculpting something in the part of the barn he had made his workshop.

Watching his uncle walk from the barn to the veranda, James suddenly realized the man he loved as dearly as his father was showing his age. I know he and father were born at about the same time. Has it truly been that long? Unlike his father's hair that was now almost completely white, Jaime's had but a few streaks of gray, mostly in the long mare's tail he favored. The sun had wrinkled the skin of his face, but not as severely as Timothy's naturally pale skin. He walked with a sprightly stride, not needing the walking stick Timothy favored.

Jaime's black eyes shone with interest at listening to the visitor's needs. “Do you have the specification which you desire?” Amesti handed over a slip of paper which Jaime instantly handed to Timothy. “You will have to excuse me, Señor Amesti, but after all the efforts of the friars, I still do not recognize your European numbers.”

James marveled at the calm acceptance of the shortcoming on the part of his uncle. Why should he feel lessened by that as he is, far above all others in this land, a true artist in the working of wood.

The carpenter listened as his brother went over the list and then turned to Amesti, asking when he needed the lumber.

As soon as possible, Señor Carpintero. A Yankee ship is due to return in a few days and has offered a goodly sum for the wood he finds so beautiful.”

They haggled for several minutes as expected, finally reaching a sum both had expected in the beginning.

As the Basque rode off, both elders shared laughter of accomplishment. Seeing James' puzzlement, his father placed his hand on his shoulder and explained, “We have long believed the wood from the towering trees would some day be in demand. Many see the beams in the chapel at the mission and the presidio and find them most pleasing. The wood also weathers very well and makes most beautiful furnishings. I believe both the Vallejo and Castro families have paid goodly sums to the mission for such items.”

James did not need to be told as almost all of the furnishings in the compound were made of the red wood.

The order for lumber was easily filled. Over the years, Esselen and members of The Family took note of when any of the giant trees fell in the forest. Jaime or one of the boys he had taught the rudiments of woodworking would go to the site and prepare the tree for further use. First, all branches were trimmed and set aside so they could be cut for firewood or other use as Jaime directed. Then, after careful measuring, two brawny boys used a crosscut saw to section the main trunk. Often the girth of the tree was so large that it had to be hewed from several directions in order to cut completely through. A team of oxen or six mules would haul each sectioned piece out of the forest and down to a water powered mill at the upper end of the valley. Quartering the trunk left room for timber shafts and even the bark was carefully preserved as the Indians had known for eons that it was fire retardant. The main roots were always a favorite of Jaime and his students as the wood was excellent for carving figures.

It took but one day for Jaime to set aside the timber Amesti had asked for. A runner went into Monte Rey and Amesti came back with three wagons drawn by mules. He assisted in loading the lumber and the Basque turned over the agreed to copper coins. He left quite pleased and called out that he would be back for more when needed.

As Jaime had no need for money, after giving a tenth to the mission, he handed over the rest to Timothy who would then hide them with the rest of their “treasure.” In certain instances, when English ships moored in the big harbor, Timothy would arrange to have certain coins locked in small chests transported back to England to be deposited in his bank. In return, the captain received a small stipend. As several returned on a regular basis, Timothy often received letters from the banker bringing him up to date on his funds – and investments.

The idea of investing funds had come from one of the captains along with a recommendation of an agent in London.

With one of the letters came sad news. Timothy's father had been killed in a freak accident and, as all of his brothers and sisters had moved away, his mother was left to try to manage the farm. Upon learning this, Timothy sent a letter to his agent asking him to investigate the status of the farm and perhaps even make an offer to buy it – without telling his mother who was seeking to buy it. Only when she agreed to a price – a fair one according to the agent – did Timothy reveal his identity, ensuring she could continue to live in the house and hiring a neighbor to farm the land, paying an equitable rent for doing so.

You are now a land lord,” Jaime told his brother after he listened to Timothy read the letter to them during the evening gathering.

I guess we must now call you Laird Timothy,” Mateo said with a grin. “Is that not what the English call land owners?”

Well, at least you have a place to go in the event things become difficult here.”

Timothy turned to Padre Suria, a strange look on his face. “I did not buy it for me, good father. I bought it for James and his children. It will always be there for them if they wish to go there to live.”

That surprised James. Live in England? Live anywhere but here? How could I do that?

Timothy reassured his oldest that it was but an option. “What we have here will be divided among all of you when the time comes.”

James knew that the Gentiles had a preoccupation with death. He had never suspected his father of having similar feelings. As for him, he knew the day would someday come and had prepared a last will and testament witnessed by Padre Suria. He had even discussed it with Apolonia. What would I do if father dies? What would all of us do? He struggled with those thoughts for several days.

Do not preoccupy yourself, marido. The Lord will come for us when it is our time. It is the way of life. Your father and uncle have lived long and full lives. Their exploits will be talked of for many generations.”

Thinking about it, one day James approached Antonio Martinez, a Mulato from Guadalajara who had come to Monte Rey in 1800 as a servant. He had married a Baja Indian who had given him six children. His skill at painting had caught the attention of the friars as well as the commandants of the presidio. While he specialized in murals, he frequently painted portraits of the important people of the pueblo. “Do I need to ask my father to pose for a painting?” James asked.

No, Señor. I can do several sketches during Mass or when he comes here. Then, when I am ready, I can do a portrait from that. Is there anything special you wish to include?”

Well, he is known as being a sailor first and foremost so I think something along that line would be appropriate.”

Very well, Señor, I will gather what I need and will provide you with several sketches to choose from.”

James knew better than to try to turn the conversation to money. Antonio would feel insulted. But, there was no doubt that an exchange of value would be made when James was satisfied with the final result.

And what of your uncle? You do not wish a portrait of him?”

That surprised James and he wondered why he had not thought of that. He then suggested that perhaps a painting of Jaime and Butterfly together would be good, and to include his stepmother with his father. And even maybe individual paintings of each.

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