Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

Thursday, March 30, 2017


1830 – A Long Journey Begins

Time. It has no meaning here, James mused as he rocked on the veranda. The setting sun cast a golden glow on the two men wrapped in brilliant-hued serapes rocking nearby. James noticed the walking stick propped against the wall next to his father and it caused him to realize how many years lay upon those shoulders. And of his Uncle Jaime's as well.

The thought of their age brought him up short. Not as heavily, but he found the morning rising a bit more difficult with each day and his back ached a little more as he hauled in the fishing nets. We live by the rising and setting of the sun, the sound of the mission bells, and the passing of sand through the hour glass. However, one day melts into another and we think little of it.

The man working in the garden below stood erect and called out to the children helping him that it was time to clean up and find their beds.

Not just any man, James thought, but my son.

Something bothers you, my brother. Would you care to share it with me?”

James turned to his longtime friend and smiled. “It is nothing of value, my brother. I was but thinking of time and its passage.”

David, the Esselen Indio smiled indulgently. To he and his people, time had no meaning other than a time of birth and of death with incidental events in between. “Something we have no control over. Only The Good Lord and our dear Jesus know what time will bring.”

No words came to James' mind to refute the statement.

Hiding his unease from one person was impossible.

Tell me what it is, husband.”

James snuggled a bit tighter against Teresa Marta, savoring his warmth. Unbelievable strength lay beneath her curves and always comforted him. “I am just thinking upon the years. Those that passed and those to come.”

Why waste your thoughts upon that? It we awake in the morning, we thank The Lord and go about our business.”

James chucked. “You are as pragmatic as your mother and father.” She said nothing so he said, “I often think about how much of this California of ours we have not seen. I know we have been to the north and into the valley of the San Joaquin but not to the south. I have a great desire to see beyond the shores and into the hills and mountains along the King's Highway.”

If that is your desire, marido, than we should do so.”

So spake the only woman James had ever known or loved. Calmly. Pragmatically. It was something he wished to do so they would do it.

The timing was right. A ship lay in the harbor of Monte Rey that would soon be sailing south and James was certain he could find passage aboard her. When he told Teresa Marta, she simply replied, “You and I, four of our best horses, and a pack mule.”

James chuckled.

The brig Maria Ester lay alongside the pier as they sailed into the bay to deliver the presidio's share of the day's catch. While the others unloaded, James walked to the gangplank and called out, “Permission to come aboard?”

Captain Davis called from the quarter deck, “Permission granted.” He came down to the main deck to shake Jame's hand as he came aboard. “Welcome to my ship, captain.”

James chuckled at the honorific. Sailing a fishing boat was far different from commanding a brig with its many masts, spars, and sails.

Before James could say anything, Henry Virmond, the owner, came out of the cabin and walked over to shake his hand. “How may we be of service this day, Señor Beadle?”

That brought James up short. The only Señor in the family was his father. He shook it off and explained that he and his wife would like to book passage on the ship for the voyage south. “We would like to find a port just south of San Diego so we may visit the full length of California. I have only seen the coastline and would like to see more.”

The captain and owner happily indicated how welcomed James and his wife would be. They simply nodded when James explained he would like to bring four of his best horses and a mule. “My wife thinks we cannot make such a journey without being well prepared.”

Both men being married understood just who made the decisions.

We will be sailing on the morning tide tomorrow. Can you be ready so quickly?”

I am certain that my dear Marta Teresa already has most of the things prepared she deems important.”

Henry Virmond, the owner, indicated his pleasure at their sailing with them. “We seldom have such distinguished passengers.”

James blushed, not considering himself any more important than anyone else.

You have saved more than a few by the nets filled with fish your boats have brought in. I have also been informed that you are the first born Californians, which indeed makes you special. I would love to hear your memories of those early days here in the territory.”

James tried to raise the matter of fare but it was waved away.

Shaking hands sealed the arrangement and James quickly returned to the boat.


Teresa Marta left the selection of the horses and mule to James. The small family herd had the best of the best animals bred over the years. The younger horses had all been foaled by the pinto mare that had brought his father north with the Portolá expedition. The mule was a sturdy beast that responded well to a lead rope.

The saddles and bridles were those received as gifts from a saddler at Misión Santa Cruz with silver embossing and intricate carvings. The two saddle blankets came from the mission's weavers with thick wool pads for both. Although they expected to ride the traveled roads, both saddles also had breastplates in the event they had to ride through brush. Knowing that his wife would not stint on what they would take, he took down a pack saddle and two canastas to hold everything she wished to take.

Teresa Marta was ready when he brought the canastas into the bedroom. She smiled at their size. “I hope they are big enough,” she cheerfully said.

Booking passage on the Mexican brig was no problem. Captain Davis told James they had almost emptied the holds delivering supplies on the northward voyage and could easily accommodate their four horses. “We even have a stateroom for you and your lovely wife.”

Everyone examined them the next morning after breakfast. Both wore typical vaquero garb with flat-brimmed gaucho hats almost similar to those worn by the friars. Theirs were black felt with a silver and turquoise band and a single quail feather. Jame's tight tan riding breeches had an embossed leather seam with silver roundels. He wore a bright red sash over which an embossed pistol belt rode containing two percussion cap pistols. He also had a sheath holding a wicked blade two hand-widths in length.

Teresa Marta wore a brightly colored pleated skirt with a hem showing half of her silver-tipped riding boots, similar to James'. Her belt also held a brace of pistols and a hunting knife in an ornate sheath. They both wore brightly colored bandanas to keep the dust of the roads out of their mouths and nostrils.

Everyone followed them to the stables, two of the children hauling the heavy canastas. They helped load them on the pack saddle of the black mule.

The roan gelding and pinto mare almost pranced as their tack was put on, sensing something special was going to happen. Both animals carried large saddle bags and several goatskins filled with fresh water to be on the safe side. The next items were most important; two ornate leather holsters for the long percussion cap rifles both had received from the captain of a visiting American trading vessel. They knew them to be accurate far beyond anything in the Mexican arsenal and much easier to reload.

Sergeant Castro supervised the unloading of the Carlita when James and Teresa Marta rode onto the pier where the Maria Ester was moored. “Welcome Don Jaime and Doña Teresa. We have been told you are preparing to depart on a most adventuresome journey.”

The two had known José for many years and found him to be a most agreeable soldier. He had suffered under the previous commander but had always tried to be his best for the men under his command.

Captain Davis was waiting for them and had his crew lead the horses and mule up the gangplank to where straps were placed under their bellies so they could be lowered into the hold. James and Teresa Marta took the ladder down into the hold and were pleased to find that four stalls had been built, the floor thick with fresh straw. There were canvas buckets for the animals to drink from and even some fresh hay in a trough.

Come. I will lead you to your stateroom.”

James hastily thanked the captain for his generous offer but said, “We wish to bed down here with the animals. There is plenty of straw and we have our bedrolls.” Seeing the disappointment in the captain's eyes, James hastily added, “But, we will be most thankful for sharing your table.”

After removing the saddles and other gear, they ensured the animals were secure and went up on deck for the departure. Captain Davis invited them up onto the quarterdeck where Virmond waited.

A seasoned sailor, James watched the ship prepare for departure with a critical eye. He was impressed how the crew – mostly Mestizos – went about the complicated tasks of raising the anchor, loosing mooring lines, and setting sail. The vessel quickly picked up speed as the morning breeze filled the sails and heeled her slightly.

Not quite what you are accustomed to, captain?”

James appreciated the use of the title. “Not captain on this trip, captain. I am going to be quite happy enjoying this at leisure with my lady.” He took Teresa Marta's hand and moved to the aft rail where they could get a good view of the ship and the sea around them.

James soon learned that there would be little unused time during the voyage. When not ensuring the animals were okay, they found themselves answering all sorts of questions from the owner, captain, and crew.

What was California like in the early years?

Was Reverend Father Serra really like everyone says?

Did they remember Governors Portolá or Rivera?

Was Governor Fages as difficult as they way?

Endless questions that they had some difficulties with as they were only children at the time. James had a small advantage as he had read as much of his father's journals as he was allowed. In some ways, Teresa Marta had a better memory than James and often told stories that delighted their listeners.

Dinner was an interesting experience for them. The ship's cook was an ex-American slave and served up friend chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, along with some interesting vegetables he simply called “greens”. The owner also provided several bottles of a sherry wine they found quite tasty.

In exchange for their stories, Virmond and Captain Davis told them of their experiences with serving as an official vessel of the Mexican government. When asked about the San Carlos and San Antonio, the ships that had supplied California during the Spanish period, they learned both ships had fallen during the war for independence.

They failed to sail from San Blas when an independence force reach San Blas and they were torched. The new government tried to rebuild them but the damage was too much. The unburnt wood was salvaged and made into small fishing boats.”

And we hear San Blas is still a major port?”

Not as much as it once was but still very busy.”

I seldom am able to enjoy the sea in the evening hours.”

Teresa Marta hugged his arm as she snuggled close. “It is beautiful, is it not? All those stars and the silence.”

James hugged her closer and smiled. “And a bit chilly. We should have worn our serapes.”

When the chill got too much, they grabbed up a lantern and went into the hold. The horses nickered their welcome and whipped their tails in pleasure of their humans arriving. They shivered their hides at the feel of stiff bristles on manes, tails, and withers.

The big bedroll filled with capoc provided a soft bed atop the straw and, with the rocking of the ship, they quickly fell asleep.


Do you recognize the shape of the shoreline, husband?”

James shook his head. “I only know that we are well south of the tall red wood trees. From the ship's speed, I would estimate we are somewhere near San Pedro.”

That is indeed los Palos Verdes and we will shortly see the harbor of San Pedro,” Captain Davis said.

He was true to his word and they saw the port not yet built up to equal Monte Rey but enough for trading ships to draw close enough to gather up bales of rawhides tossed from atop the cliffs. There were, however, no ships in the port and they continued to sail south.

Where do you plan on making landfall, captain?”

I think we will easily make landfall at the ensenada in Baja California. The Preachers always have fresh water and livestock for us for our further journey.”

The two passengers exchanged pleased looks as that was exactly where they wished to land.

Upon hearing that, Captain Davis ordered more sail laid on and the ship noticeably picked up speed, healing more to port.

Two ships were moored in Bahia San Miguel and James easily identified one as an American brig and the other a schooner out of Hawaii. He could even see, through the glass the captain handed him, how poorly maintained the presidio appeared to be.

They made landfall two hours before nightfall and the animals, minus their tack, were hoisted overboard into the sea. James and Teresa Marta awaited them in a boat and gathered up the reins. As the crewmen rowed, the animals readily kept up, soon wading ashore on the beach. Loosing their reins, they let the animals fend for themselves, laughing as they rolled in the sand and then shook the grains from their hides.

A figure in a black vestment with a white front, came down the trail signing the cross. “Welcome, my children. I am Father Caballero of Misión San Miguel Arcángel de la Frontera. We seldom have visitors disembark from ships here. May I ask …?”

James handed the priest the scroll from Prefect Sarria, introducing him and Teresa Marta.”

The priest smiled and welcomed them heartily. “We are honored to have the firstborn of Alta California visiting us.” He then turned to welcome Virmond and Captain Davis, indicating barrels of fresh water and several cages of chickens and pigs, along with three steers. In return, the ship's owner pointed to several packages that were quickly gathered up by disciples wearing the usual white shirts and pants, with wide-brimmed sombreros.

The priest patiently waited while the visitors bridled and saddled their animals, hoisting the Castaños on he back of the mule.

You appear to be prepared for a long journey, my children.” He then listened as they told him of their plans to travel from that place all the way to the northern-most mission of San Francisco Solano. “You plan to go directly?”

Oh no, reverend father. We plan to visit ranchos as well as the presidios and missions. We felt it was time to view once again where were have been as children. And our parents want to complete their journals with comments on the changes.”

How are your parents?”

The priest listened intently while they related how things were at home and how their parents were doing. “That have indeed lived a full life. We still hear stories about The Sailor and The Carpenter.” He then grinned. “When you join us for evening prayers, I think we have something you will enjoy.”

As aboard ship, they indicated their preference to sleep in the stables with their animals and Father Caballero indicated that would certainly be more comfortable than the poor cots in the visitors' cells.

The chapel was less than half the size of the one at Misión San Carlos and nowhere as ornate. The stations of the cross were crudely formed by non-expert hands and the murals had clearly been painted by those who poured their souls but not with great skill. Only the altar items and the crucifix showed they came from another place.

The evening meal was exactly the same as back in Carmel with the same atole, frijoles, y tortillas. A rich chicken soup was also served with corn and other vegetables. And, the evening musica was equally melodious, although many of the songs and tunes were unfamiliar.

The road between here and San Diego is clear and you will find some places to make a rough camp, if you so desire. A good place might be the Arroyo Barrabas. However, I strongly urge you to be aware of your surroundings.”

Gentiles, father?”

No. Sadly, you may encounter bandidos. Some deserters are in the hills and have attacked small convoys in the past. In fact, I would strongly urge you to wait here until a large convoy escorted by soldiers comes this way. And, as you can see, I cannot give up any members of the mission escolta to accompany you.”

The mission's corporal nodded, indicating they simply were unable to leave the mission.

I think we will do just fine, reverend father. As you can see, we are well-armed and both of us have experience with difficult situations.”

And we can sleep lightly, reverend father,” Teresa Marta added.

They departed right after break fast and rode north at a leisurely pace, savoring the strange countryside. Towering cacti with arms branching out and upward could only be the saguaro described by their parents. And the clusters of flat prickly leaves had to be nopal, the flesh of which they had enjoyed with the eggs served at the morning meal at the mission. Other slim, twisting spiny plants had to be ocotillo and they enjoyed the bright red flowers covering them.

Long horned cattle grazed among the prickly plants, finding sparse grasses. While the brand was unfamiliar, the cross included showed they belonged to the mission.

The well-traveled road followed the coastline, sometimes switch backing up a steep hill where rocks and cliffs forced them inland. Several times, it went down to the beach allowing for easy passage until, once again, it climbed up to avoid difficult terrain. The number of small streams tumbling down out of the hills surprised them, along with several rancherías occupied by Gentiles. They were warmly greeted by the natives who always invited them to partake of what little they had. Being prepared, Teresa Marta handed out little trinkets and used sign language to explain they had a long way to go before sunset. She also carried delicious chicken tamales of sweet corn they washed down with water from the creeks and streams.

The easily reached Arroyo Barrabas by early afternoon to find a rancheria with several families living there. A decent stream came down from the hills and there were even some gardens containing maize and other familiar plants. A couple of donkeys and goats told of their association with the newcomers to their lands.

They are Kumeyaay,” Teresa Marta said. “Not the same that attacked the mission and killed Padre Jaume but their more peaceful cousins.”

At their approach, the inhabitants came out of their open-sided huts with thatch roofs and stared. Two riders alone on the road were most unusual, especially as one of them was a woman.

Welcome,” one of them wearing Euro clothing said, numerous ornaments in his hair and paint on his face indicating him to be a chieftain of some kind.

The two dismounted and exchanged the salute of right hands raised in the air to show their peaceful intent. “El Padre at the mission to the south said we might find a place to spread our blankets here for the night.”

The man beamed and named himself as Pedro, indicating he well knew the priest in the black robes.

Two women stepped forward to offer help in unloading the mule and Teresa Marta thanked them, pointing to a sandy spot near the stream where she planned on making camp.

James removed his sombrero and used the bandana to remove the sweat from his brow.

An elderly man rose from the shade of his hut and made his way to James, leaning heavily on a stick. He stared closed and reached out to finger James' blond hair.

James knew better than to pull away, waiting patiently to learn what had drawn the elders' curiosity.

He then spoke something James could not make out, excitement in his voice. He then used his stick to draw something in the sand.

It took several seconds for James to realize what it was. He barely remembered something similar and only recognized it from a picture in his father's journal – a Morion helmet worn by Spanish dragoons. He explained what it was to Pedro who turned and spoke some more with the elder.

He says that when he was very young, a large group of soldiers came through, their leader a man wearing a cap that shone in the sun. There were men in gray robes and others like the soldiers who come through here on their way to other places.”

Cavalry soldiers?”

Pedro nodded.

The old man pointed again at James and spoke more.

He says there was a youth with them with hair that shone in the sun like yours. He had a brother who was one of us and two women who were their wives.”

Teresa Marta had joined them by then, the animals unburdened and grazing happily on tufts of grass beside the stream. “Can he be talking about your father and mine? And our mothers?”

He must be quite old,” James replied.

He carries eighty of your cycles of the sun. Elder Father has always lived here.”

The two visitors exchanged glances before Teresa Marta reached into a pocket of her skirt and removed a string of bright beads. She handed it to James who in turn handed it to Pedro. “Please tell Elder Father this is a gift from the son and daughter of those who passed through here so many years ago.”

The old man beamed and trembled in excitement. He eagerly joined them at their fire and ate some of the frijoles served him by his great granddaughters. The members of the rancheria gathered around and listened to the old man tell stories of the long ago visit while James and Teresa Marta ate the food offered them, a rich fish stew with plentiful tortillas.

It did not take long for the old man to wear himself out and two young woman helped him to his hut where he was laid on a cot to quickly fall asleep.

Elder Father still has a great memory, honored visitors. We are also honored that the children of those long ago travelers would visit us.”

As was their custom, the Kumeyaay retreated to their shelters, leaving the two visitors to sit and stare out to sea. Had their parents done the same thing? Only wondering what lay ahead of them in an unexplored manner?

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