Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

Saturday, April 29, 2017


Mission Santa Cruz

1830 – The Journey Continues

It was not easy to depart for the remainder of the journey. James spent two days doing very little beyond going out with the Carlita, letting Little Bear act as captain. He could not shake off the thought that if he had been there, his father would not have gone out and would still live.

Did your father, my brother, always complete every task he started?”

The question from Jaime caught him by surprise. James thought the old man slept in the rocker.

Yes, honored uncle. It he something he repeatedly told me to do.”

Then, namesake mine, why not do as he told you?”

James told Teresa of the question and his determination to continue the journey.

We can depart whenever you wish, marido. Everything is prepared.”

James shook his head in wonderment, holding his wife closer. She always seemed to read his mind. Just as father told me mother did to him.

They rode directly to Rancho Bolsa Nueva y Moro Cojo, New Pocket and Lame Moor in English. The mayordomo took them directly to the main building where Doña Maria Antonia Pico de Castro welcomed them, giving Teresa a warm embrace when she dismounted. She then turned to James, expressing her deep sorrow at the passing of his father. “Don Timoteo was a great man and we all owe he and your uncle a great deal.”

She knew both of them from when her deceased husband had been alcalde and then juez at Monte Rey.

The ranch was not large, most of the land made up of swamps and tidal basins. Both knew that part of the name came from her husband's favorite black horse that became lame and had to be put to sleep.

In spite of Doña Maria's insistence, they departed for their next goal, el Rancho Bolsa de San Cayetano, or Saint Cayetano's Pocket as it was a piece of land with el Bahia de Monte Rey on one side and a huge slough on the other. They did not expect to see the owner, Don José de Jesús Vallejo, as he spent most of his time at Pueblo San José. The grant was not profitable as there was little space to raise more than a few head of horses and cattle.

Their third stop was at Rancho Vega del Rio del Pajaro, or Meadow Along the Bird River. Again, the owner, Don Antonio Maria Castro, was not present, being in Monte Rey at his small hacienda. However, his daughter, Maria Antonia was there as she never liked the town and preferred the solitude of the ranch. Teresa had told James she had many suitors, most of them seeking to gain the lands they knew her father would pass to her. The smallest of the three, it was little more than a place to pasture her father's horses.

Traveling due east through the Gavilan Mountains took them to the valley where el Misión San Juan Bautista spread out. They knew that Corporal Juan Ballesteros and five private soldiers had built the original chapel and simple jacals for themselves and the friars they knew would soon arrive. Many Mutsun and Yokuts were there to help, looking forward to the arrival of the padres. From a distance, they saw the chapel to be much larger than any of the others they had visited. Padre de la Cuesta came out to greet them, the years and worries wearing heavily upon his shoulders. He blessed them and, at their request, had a disciple take them to the stables.

When they responded to the Vesper bells, both James and Teresa gazed around at the interior, surprised it was so big that it contained three rows of pews. The reredos behind the altar contained the statues of Saint John the Baptist and five others. Both knew that the American who had jumped ship in Monte Rey, John Doak, had pained them in exchange for room and board. Two small altars at both sides were for those seeking the intervention of The Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph. At the back was a choir loft already filled with disciples who had learned the hymnal responses from Reverend Father Tápis who was buried under the floor of the sacristy. Their perfect harmony brought smiles to the faces of James and Teresa as they always loved to hear the perfect harmony of disciples' voices who had no idea what written music was about.

Padre de la Cuesta beckoned them to join him in the friar's garden, so they made their way there, surprised at the number of cats curled up or pruning themselves.

Mice, rats, moles, and rabbits have become a serious problem, my children. They came from those Padre Uria raised and are most effective in keeping the pests away.”

James wondered if they might also roam into the chaparral and woodlands, there breeding more of their kind. They had seen several during their journey from Monte Rey.

They then made their way to the communal dining area, amazed at how huge it was. James mentally counted the tables multiplying by the number seated at each. “There must be nearly a thousand disciples here, mi esposa.”

Teresa nodded, having come to the same conclusion.

Having seen the small pueblo where the disciple families lived, the communal gathering surprised them. They had seen more than twenty adobe structures, along with many more jacals and several smaller rancherias not far away. The absence of Corporal Ballesteros surprised them. The soldier who had, in effect, founded the mission along with five of his fellow leatherjacket soldiers, had retired in the area. They also wondered where John Doak was. Juan, as he was baptized, had married a local Ohlone girl and had a small plot of land. His not being there was explained by the mayordomo.

Don Juan is often called away to the other missions to help. I think this time he has gone to Misión San José.

The mayordomo attached himself to them, proudly telling them about the mission. “You both know the effort it takes to make abode bricks. Our disciples care not in their desire that this House of God become a pearl for Him to smile down upon.” He pointed to the brick-walled corrals, the granary, a huge kiln for tiles, and weaving rooms. The arched walkway on the in- and outside of the mission walls provided shaded access for those days when the sun strongly beat down upon the mission.

We are most fortunate in that our sons and daughters work diligently in the gardens and fields and we produce more than enough to feed us and to send surplus to the presidios del Monte Rey y San Francisco.

That was not news to James and Teresa.

We have large herds of cattle I have heard Padre de la Cuesta indicate them as more than six thousand and five hundred. We also have five hundred breeding mares and another two hundred and fifty tame and broken stallions.” He also pointed out there were more than thirty mules, using his opened fingers to show the number. “There is a rancho there for sheep,” he said, pointing to the east. We have others there, and there, and there,” pointing northeast, north-northeast, and due north.

And our children led us to deposits of pitch and sulfur, the devil's rock.”

They had watched the friar join them.

And, as at Misión San Miguel, we found hot and cold springs heavy with sulfur.” He paused and added, “That is the extent of our land and grants were given for Rancho de las Animas y Rancho de Solis. That was said without rancor as José Castro had served well and deserved them for his service. The friar then pointed in the direction of the ranches and told them they obtained good timber from that area. “We also have another rancho for sheep about three leagues west-northwest of here. And that peak there to the south is Mount Gavilan. It is from springs there that we gain the water to irrigate and gardens, vineyards, and cornfield.”

They heard the sorrow in the friar's voice as he conducted the tour. They did not have to ask, knowing that the pending secularization weighed heavily upon his shoulders. The mayordomo was no less sad as he too sensed what little future lay ahead of him and his fellow disciples.


They visited Ranchos San Ysidro, Las Animas, y Solis the next morning after leaving the mission. Juan Ortega, the grandson of Captain Ortega, welcomed them at Rancho San Ysidro, knowing who they were and expressing his sorrow at the passing of James' illustrious father.

Don José Mariano Castro was in residence at Rancho las Animas or la Poza de Carnedero named for the large puddle of tar not far from the hacienda. While he showed them great courtesy, they had no doubt as to his feelings about a half-breed and a full-blooded Indians. They also sensed his manner of superiority that spoke of his political intrigues. And, one of Don José's sons was at Rancho Solis, simply giving them what little courtesy he could according to his personal rules of comportment.

I feel that Castro and members of his family will have a great deal to do when secularization finally comes about.”

And he will not be friendly to the needs of the disciples,” Teresa responded. “He appears as greedy for land as the Picos.”

They were riding through the steep hills westward from el Camino Real to reach Misión Santa Cruz. Although James had frequented it when delivering loads of fish, he wanted to visit it with Teresa in a different manner.

There are no loose herds of cattle here. Or signs of vaqueros.”

James had noticed the same thing. Not even a few stray horses were to be seen. “Perhaps it is the lazy cholos of Villa Branciforte who are taking them for themselves.”

They came upon Willow Place by early afternoon and could not but accept the pleas for them staying to sup with them.

You can always continue on to the mission tomorrow,” Antonio German, the grandson of the founder, told them. “You always but stop to deliver parts of your catch and never give us the opportunity to show our appreciation for that.”

Instead of a disorderly gathering of structures, el Lugar del Sauces followed the reglamentos Governor Fages had been so determined to see followed. The central plaza had a communal fountain with the small chapel facing east for visiting friars. Another brick structure was for the pueblos mayor and council, while the other two held a cantina and some shops. Streets radiated from the center, each plot of land of uniform size. James and Teresa knew that farming and other plots had been equally divided among the original settlers and those Ohlone who had come to live with the Spaniards.

It took a strenuous effort to be permitted to settle down for the night in one of the barns.


They smelled Villa Branciforte before seeing it. All gatherings of people were filled with smells of human beings and the waste they created. Following the example of the local Gentiles however, the newcomers had tried to be more sanitary, avoiding tossing their slops into the streets as in Europe. And animals were kept to dispose of much of that waste - goats, pigs, and chickens among them. And, most people took their personal waste to mulch pits for fertilizing fields and gardens.

They are not only lazy and irreverent but puercos y vagoavagas.”

Please do not insult pigs, mi marido. You know they are clean animals, preferring to bathe in water than not.”

James could not disagree.

The vast majority of the dwellings were makeshift and unfinished, little or no organization to the so-called town.

However, beyond the slum, scalloped hills and broad flats provided the setting for Misión la exaltación de la Santa Cruz, not far from el Rio San Lorenzo, which provided plentiful water to irrigate the vineyards, orchards, gardens, and fields. They could clearly see the stony beach upturned edgewise upon which the sea roared into holes, breaking eternally, wave after wave. Living in Carmel, the sea was part of them but the particular force of those waves made them catch their breaths.

James had often visited the mission, so the small chapel and incomplete compound did not surprise him. When the inhabitants of the Villa had taken everything from the mission upon hearing of the approach of pirates, those items had been lost forever and no matter of effort had helped rebuild it.

Large herds of livestock grazed in the flats and on the hillsides and James knew flocks of sheep grazed further up the coast. Few disciples appeared.

They go into the village and trade things for alcohol. Or they work hard for the villagers, receiving nothing more than a flask of poorly brewed rum or beer.”

Having been informed of their arrival, Padre Luis Gil came out to greet them, embracing James before blessing he and Teresa. “I was only told you were away on a long voyage and your crew could not tell me when you were due to return.”

Two other friars joined them, Padres Barranza and Salazar. They warmly welcomed Teresa, telling of their respect and admiration of her husband – and both their parents.

Another arrival was Corporal Aceves who they both knew from his service at the presidio del Monte Rey. “You must join my wife and children for the evening meal after Vespers, Don Jaime. And you also, Doña.”

Although the corporal had lived on the other side of the hills from Carmel, Teresa knew his wife and family quite well. The corporal was taking classes from Mateo to prepare to become a sergeant and possibly an alférez.

They stabled their mounts and joined Josefa Aceves and her children for Vespers. They noted yet another friar and learned he was Padre José Jimeno, the brother of Padre Antonio who had left Santa Cruz for assignment at Santa Bárbara. He generally mirrored his brother, although a bit shorter. Josefa whispered, “He is not as affable as his brother, but is very zealous in his missionary duties.”

Why are there four friars here?” Teresa asked.

James shrugged. “I do not know what Father Prefect Sarria thinks of this.”

We have heard that Padre Gil is going to be transferred soon to San Luis Obispo.”

James and Teresa were not surprised as having another friar at that mission was one of the recommendations they had given the father prefect.

Over the evening meal, Pablo Aceves told them what he knew of Padre Gil. “He is, as far as I know, the only Franciscan born in Mexico, the state of Guanajuato. He is an excellent médico and has saved the lives of several women by helping them deliver using something called a Caesarean.”

The thought of someone – even a friar – cutting open their belly to deliver a baby unnerved both women.

Josefa waited until the children finished and left the room before leaning forward to speak to them in a low voice. “We all adore Padre Luis, but there are rumors...”

Josefa, we do not speak of these things!”

She ignored her husband's stern voice and angry look. “He has great nervous ability and knows many tongues. He can say the prayers and conduct the rites in many. He is a man we all love and is often to easy upon those who err.” She paused and inhaled before adding, “But, he is said to have acted unseemly with several of the young girls.”

Enough! These are just rumors woman and should never be repeated to visitors.”

But, these are not just any visitors, husband. They have the ear of the father prefect and perhaps will see fit to pass them on.”

You will speak no more, woman!” Pablo jumped to his feet and asked James and Teresa to come outside with him.

They walked some distance from the house to a spot under a huge oak not too far from one of the wells. “I must apologize for my wife. She is a good woman and I care very much for her. But, she speaks of things left unsaid.”

She speaks of things we have heard before, corporal. He is such a devoted servant of God that most turn a deaf ear to such rumors,” Teresa said. “But, there is one no one speaks of.”

Aceves lowered his eyes and hunched his shoulders. “Yes. Of course. Padre Olbes.”

They waited for Pablo to gather his thoughts.

We thought a great deal of him. At first. He seemed to truly care for the disciples and the success of the mission.” Taking in a deep breath, he continued. “And then he changed. He became angry and demanded more and more of the disciples, giving them no leeway to make mistakes. His punishment at first was what all the padres administer. But, as it continued, he ordered longer terms of imprisonment and work in the adobe pits. Instead of spanking as was expected, he sometimes used a whip and broke skin, causing blood to flow. And he slapped around women and girls who tried to complain or his treatment.”

What happened to him?”

Well, James, mi amigo, he simply departed on day on one of the ships flying the Mexican flag. We know not where he went but have heard it was not within California.”

The sun has disappeared below the sea and they thanked their host for his hospitality, hurrying to the stables to bed down for the night.

Sometimes, the new fathers they send us from the seminary are not as qualified as those we have come to love and cherish.”

James could not argue with his beloved. It had been more than six decades and most of the original friars were gone. What would any new ones be like?

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