1828 – Calls for Secularization
The biggest problem with holding the territorial council was finding an adequate place for the attendees. Showing a great deal of foresight, Hartnell had prepared for that by converting one of his warehouses into a well-furnished meeting room. The main item was a huge redwood table around which the ten members and the governor could deliberate. Additional writing tables were provided for the council and the governor's secretaries. The room was closed to the public. The only provision was a stand where any witnesses might address questions or concerns of the members. Hartnell had even gone to the point of providing sanitary accommodations as well as a small kitchen to prepare refreshments as requested.
Rumors spread through the community and the surrounding areas. This was the first council and nobody knew what the agenda was or even why it was called.
“Felipe tells me no outsiders are permitted anywhere near the meeting hall. He is one of the three alférez' assigned to supervise the sentries ensuring nobody enters without being called. Not even Hartnell's kitchen staff is allowed in – the secretaries order the food and take it into the room.”
“Well, they certainly do not work themselves into exhaustion. They start at the ninth hour, take an hour for the midday meal, follow that with siestas in the rooms provided, and then end their day's session at the fifth hour after noon.”
That brought a few snickers on the veranda.
“We have received communications from the archbishop that one item on the agenda is secularizing the missions.”
Everyone groaned, having discussed the futility of such a move in the California territory many times before.
“Why does he continue this futile quest”? James asked.
Mateo hastily replied, “Nobody will discuss this but I have received several letters from teachers in Mexico who tell me it is politically motivated. It was part of the promises made to the tens of thousands of Indios who left their villages to fight in the war to gain independence. They were to, at last, have their own lands to work and live upon.”
“And those in power now feel that if they do not keep their promises, it could result in a revolution?”
Mateo nodded at the wisdom of Timothy's question. “And word has just reached us that Vincente Guerrero has led a military coup to take over the presidency after losing the latest elections.” He then explained that Guadalupe Victoria retired from public life to live on and oversee his hacienda in Vera Cruz.
“There must be other things they are discussing.”
Mateo nodded. “Yes, Don Timoteo. They are, of certainty talking of ways of raising the funds to run the government here and in Mexico. Increasing taxes without angering Californians.”
All were surprised when a familiar rider came up to the gate at a full gallop. Felipe threw the reins to one of the children who raced to open the gates for him and strode up to the veranda. He was going to join the others on a rocker but Juanita Maria hurried outside and, after lightly kissing his cheek, led him inside. “You will eat before you join the pipe smoking, gossiping men of this family.”
He looked over his shoulder with the helpless look of a man who knows he can never overcome the strong will of his woman and disappeared inside the house.
He soon joined them and, after lighting a pipe, deeply sighed. “It has been a most difficult time, my friends. If it is not the demands of the councilors or the governor and his aides, it is the offensiveness of The Ape who continually berates us.” He explained how Captain Gonzalez had arrested Lieutenant Estrada over differences in dealing with the presidial district out of Monte Rey and how Governor Echeandia had ordered his release. “It may be the final act of disrespect the captain is able to perform. I was told that someone overheard the governor give direct orders to Gonzalez to be prepared for a march to Santa Bárbara.”
“Those may be his words but we all know the governor is less than a decisive man. The orders will be delayed and probably never carried out.”
James puffed on his pipe, savoring the warm, acrid smoke filling his lungs. He gazed out over the compound and the ocean beyond. How much longer will our small piece of paradise remain ours?he silently asked himself.
The business of the council finished towards the end of November and the various members returned to their pueblos and ranchos. The only record of the meetings went south when the governor departed to return to San Diego. And the two members from Monte Rey had been sworn to secrecy and could not tell anyone what had transpired. The only public results were some directives from the governor calling for taxes upon those vessels seeking to trade in California.
“Señor Arnel is in a great deal of trouble.”
“Why is that, father?”
“His partner, as you know, returned to Peru and he has operated the business himself. He has done well in spite of Governor Echeandia's revoking his port usage rights. He no longer drinks heavily as before and his wife, Doña Maria Teresa, has done what she could to help. But, he just received a letter from his sister in far away England informing of his uncle's death. He was the founder of the company and, with his passing, the company had to declare bancarrota. That has forced Señor Arnel to pay off all the debts.”
The term for bankruptcy was new to everyone on the veranda so Mateo explained it. He also added, “Don José had loaned him the money to pay off his debts and remain in business.”
“Could such a thing happen to us?” James asked.
“I do not believe so,” Timothy replied. “We have a much different situation in that we own everything we have and are in debt to no one.”
That discussion lay heavily on James' mind causing him to sleep poorly. Teresa Marta could not help but notice and did her best by holding him close in the night. After the third night, she roused him and, in her night shift, led him outside and down into the garden. “Mi querido marido, what is heavy on your heart?”
James explained, wondering if she could understand the concept.
“Does that mean that someone could take away everything we have here?”
James lowered his head and responded softly, “Not for the same reason, my love. I find myself worried that the governor or one of his functionaries could claim our property and take it from us.”
“But, why do you worry, my dear husband? If we lose these things, we will just start over and rebuild. Is that not why we have our retreat in the cove?”
James turned and embraced his wife, the only woman he had ever known or loved, and laughed. “You put everything in such simple terms. That is why I love you so.”
“We have sad news from Santa Bárbara.” Padre Suria told the evening gathering. “As you all know, Padre Antonio refused to vow allegiance to the new government in Mexico.”
Everyone nodded and Timothy said, “Yes, Padre Antonio has always been a most enthusiastic missionary, well-loved by the disciples at both Misiones La Purisima y Santa Bárbara.”
“In spite of Father Prefect Sarria and Father Prefect Sánchez pleading with Governor Echeandia about not pressing the matter, the governor demanded Padre Ripoll's arrest and forced eviction.”
That caused a few raised eyebrows. To date, the governor had written to Mexico many times to explain how important the friars were and how they should be excluded from the law expelling all Spanish-born from the new nation.
“So, reverend father, what happened?”
Padre Suria replied, “An American brig, the Harbinger, dropped anchor and, in the middle of the night, Padre Ripoll stole aboard the ship and left with it.” After a pause, he added, “The disciples did not know until the next day's noon prayers. When Padre Durán told them he had left, they broke out in weeping and wailing that did not cease well into the next day. The commotion was so much that the commandant sent soldiers to the mission to learn the reason.”
“What was the reaction when it was discovered that Padre Ripoll was gone?”
Padre Suria smiled and shrugged. “What could anyone do? Padre Antonio was gone.”
The discussion then turned to Father Prefect Sánchez, recently elected to replace Padre Durán. All knew of him and greatly respected the friar who had served well and devoutly from his arrival in 1803 where he served at Misión San Diego with a brief sojourn at Misiónes la Purisima and San Gabriel. They all knew he had protested his election saying that his pursuit was to attend to the needs of the disciples and not politics.
“His position of presiding over the missions is going to be most difficult as he is most vocal against the desire to secularize the missions.”
Everybody nodded at Mateo's observation while Padre Suria lowered his head to hide his big grin. Although of advanced years, the friar was still sprightly and young in his attitudes. He was known to sleep no more than two hours per night, the rest of the time kneeling in prayer and contemplating the mysteries of his beliefs. He was nowhere the scholar of Father Prefect Sarria but was extremely well-versed in church lore and history.
As the evening was still early, talked turned to members of the community and their activities.
“It is said that after having been elected to the diputacion, Don Carlos may be in line to be a member of the national congress in Mexico City. He will most certainly take his wife with him, turning the operation of the hacienda and rancho over to his eldest son, José.”
“And more foreigners have arrived,” Mateo commented. “The Scot, Robert Arnold, Alexander Cooper, the surgeon of the British ship Blossom, and Roger Cooper all seem to be making their homes among the non-Californians.”
“The surgeon is only visiting,” James said. “He will soon be returning to San Francisco as part of the next trading convoy.”
Felipe arrived unusually late but with a huge smile on his sun-darkened face. Nobody missed the gleam in his dark brown eyes. However, before he could say a word, Doña Bauza came onto the terrace and led him inside, shushing his efforts to tell them of his news.
“It must be extremely good news.”
Nobody argued with Mateo.
“He is gone! The governor sent an order to have El Macaco arrested and relieved from his command. Lieutenant Estrada is now captain and comandante of the presidio and Lieutenant Pacheco is to conduct an investigation leading to possible charges.”
“But you said he was gone,” Timothy observed.
“He is as good as gone as he is under house arrest and no longer can give orders to anyone.”
“There will be much trouble over this,” Jaime muttered. “A man like that never gives up power easily.”
Jaime's words proved prophetic.
“Get your rifle and pistols! Now. Hurry.” Timothy rushed into the house calling out for all to hear. He rushed into the room where weapons were kept and was in the process of strapping on a pistol belt when the others joined him. James was calm but Alberto showed the excitement of a younger man.
Nobody asked questions, just followed the older man down to the stables where horses were quickly saddled and bridled. Jaime soon joined them, carrying his powerful bow and a quiver of arrows. He also had two pistols but preferred the weapon he felt most comfortable with. Nobody argued as Butterfly, Apolonia, and Teresa Marta joined them, all carrying weapons. They were not about to let their men go in harm's way alone.
Timothy led the way, calling out to one of the girls to close and secure the gates to the compound. They galloped up the hill to the mission where Corporal Samosa waited with the four members of the escolta armed and ready behind him. “We will guard the misión, Señor. Please just do what you can to protect the chapel.”
Touching the brim of his sombrero, Timothy turned and spurred his horse into a gallop, the others following.
The reached the chapel just in time. Eight of Gonzalez' artillerymen were on a rampage, angered at what they saw to be the mistreatment of their captain. They had already set flame to three buildings outside the presidio walls and were stalking toward the chapel carrying fiery torches.
Padres Juncosa and Sanchez stood before the closed gates of the chapel armed only with the processional cross and a copy of the holy bible. They were clearly prepared to give their lives to defend their charges, the disciples cowering inside the chapel. The burning houses were theirs.
The newcomers leaped from their horses and quickly formed up in front of the friars. They knew the horses would not skitter as the reins were grounded.
“Get out of our way!” one of the soldiers yelled.
Timothy and the others noted the unruly soldiers bore pistols but nothing else other than the required knives in their belts and boots.
Timothy leveled his rifle and cocked the hammer, an action followed by the others. “We outnumber and out arm you. I strongly suggest you throw those torches away and return to your barracks to let the alcoholic rage leave your bodies.”
“They are responsible for the outrage to our captain,” one of the artillerymen screamed. He started to take a step forward and froze at the sound of a musket shot.
“You will immediately drop your weapons and douse those torches or we will shoot you where you stand.”
They dazedly turned to stare at Captain Estrada leading a full squad of soldados de cuera led by a corporal they all knew had been badly treated by Gonzalez.
“You have but ten heartbeats to obey my command before you are shot where you stand.”
The soldiers sullenly obeyed, grumbling while the leatherjacket soldiers quickly and tightly bound their hands behind their backs, leading them away to the garrison.
“I most humbly beg your pardon, reverend fathers, for letting those men get out of control and threaten you and this holy place.”
Father Juncosa stepped forward and signed the cross on the captain's forehead followed by kissing his cheeks. He then turned and called out for the disciples to open the chapel doors. “And we will never forget your readiness to protect us, Don Timoteo. You and your family will always be in your debt.”
“How did you learn of this, Señor? I was notified but a few moments ago.”
“One of the disciples ran to our compound and told us of the events. We came as soon as we could.”
Estrada looked at the weapons held by Timothy and the others and sadly shook his head. “If only we had weapons like that, Señor. We would be invincible.”
“I strongly suggest you talk to either Señor Arnel or Señor Cooper. I am certain they can make arrangements for you to obtain similar rifles.”
Estrada looked at the ground and said, “If only Comisario Herrera would provide us with the funds to purchase them.”
Timothy stepped forward and placed a hand on the shoulder of the newly promoted officer. “I am certain that either man will do whatever they can if you request their aid. Payment can be made in a wide variety of methods. Perhaps you can offer to provide additional security for their warehouses.”
Estrada clasped Timothy's arm in thanks and turned to stride back to the presidio, saluting all the others before doing so.
“We have made some enemies this night, father.”
“Yes, James, we have. For that reason, we must always be prepared for whatever may come our way.”
The major cause of the problem left Monte Rey in October, riding south with his artillerymen staying behind to man the cannon at el Castillo. An escort of five leatherjacket soldiers lead by a corporal ensured he would reach his destination of San Diego where Governor Echeandia awaited him.
Word spread quickly throughout California of the confrontation between The Family and the artillerymen.