Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

Thursday, April 20, 2017


Mission San Luis Obispo

1830 – Discord, Ruin, and Beauty

They awakened to disorder in the mission compound. When they asked, they learned that soldiers in the compound had received an order from Lieutenant Carrillo to prepare themselves to fend off an Indian attack.

Both stared at each other, then shrugged. Not all the soldiers they had seen to date were armed or prepared to fend off raids by a large band of Gentiles. Besides, which tribes would possibly rise up? All depended heavily upon the missions.

It is of no concern, my children,” Padre Jimeno told them. “The couriers from the north told of some raids against Misión San José from Gentiles called Yokut who live in another large valley to the east.”

That is not surprising, reverend father. People of that name have lived around la Bahia del San Francisco forever and they have cousins to the north and east. As the mission herds grow, they find it easier to steal and eat them than the animals that used to thrive in the area.”

Did anyone say why the soldiers are on alert?” Teresa asked.

Padre Jimeno shook his head.

There is no way the governor will send soldiers from here as there are already enough at Monte Rey and San Francisco.” James let out a deep breath and led Teresa back to the stables where they prepared for the day's trip.

Gentle, rolling hills covered with grasses, chaparral, and trees came down to an often wide shore with rivulets, streams, and some good-sized creeks creating places where Chumash built their small rancherias. Every one of them had at least one large tomol, often two. Nets once made by strands of kelp were now constructed of ropes provided by the missions and traders. Each had many fish hanging on racks to dry.

When the highway reached a large stream coming from inland, the highway followed, going through a continually narrower canyon with steep cliffs cut out by endless ages of wind and water. A lot of work had once been done to create the highway with many bridges and places cut from hillsides to afford the passage of animals and other animals. However, the road now had signs of neglect and they often had to take a detour around bridges that appeared incapable of carrying the weights of their animals.

They knew the distance from Misión Santa Barbára to Misión Santa Inés to be eight leagues and they easily reached it by early afternoon, even with a brief stop for a light meal alongside a stream. The Chumash village of Alajlapu appeared to one side of the mission. A great deal of effort had been undertaken by the 450 men, women, and children to rebuild it after the great earthquake twenty years earlier.

And, from the smiles on the faces of the disciples, the uprising of six years earlier had been forgotten – or wiped from their memories.

Padre Bias Ordaz greeted them with blessings and directed the mayordomo to show them the stables. He beamed when informed of their plans for sleeping.

They had time before Vespers for a brief tour, sharing the friar's pride in the large reservoir and irrigation system. They knew the mission to be among the smallest and were also impressed by the bustling industries spaced inside the compound. Even though the work day had long passed, teachers showed their apprentices the various skills that not only made the mission self-sufficient but provided some supplies to the presidio. The friar also took them to the fulling mill constructed by Chapman nine years after the earthquake. “Juan José made a big impact here and we missed him greatly when he departed. We know, however, that he is quite happy with Doña Maria Guadalupe and all of their children.”

The two had hoped to meet Chapman when they were in Los Angeles, but that worthy was away somewhere sharing his amazing skills at another place.

The missions itself was impressive, disciples from both Santa Barbára y la Purisima having helped in its construction and rebuilding after the earthquakes. Heavily buttressed walls with long arched colonnades provided relief from strong summer heat and chill of winter.

As everywhere else they had visited to that point, the friars and all senior disciples were strongly against the plan to secularize the mission. One thing that did surprise them was the friar's hopes that one day the mission would serve as a Franciscan seminary.

A seminary, reverend father?” James asked.

A place where the youth of California can study the teaching of the church to not only further their educations but perhaps train some to becomes friars.”

That sounds like a very good goal, reverend father,” Teresa responded. “But, do you think the sons of the soldiers and ranchers wish to go beyond the most basic of learning? If it does not deal directly with their chosen lots in life, they do not appear to have a great desire.”

Padre Ordaz lowered his eyes and hurriedly worked his prayer beads while trying to formulate a response. At last, he looked directly a both of them and sadly said, “I am afraid you are right, my children. Many efforts have been made to teach the youth and most simply walk away.” He knew that both of them had studied hard at the school in Carmel. Rarest of all, Teresa knew not only how to read, write, and do sums, but some of the history of the world.

They returned to el Camino Real the next morning, following the Santa Rosa river west until they saw the vast salt marshes at its mouth,

When last I was here, the mission was down there,” James said, pointing to one side of the marsh. “It was so badly damaged that they had no choice but to move it further inland. The Gentiles call if the place of watercresses and that is what it remains named today.”

They have performed a great deal of labor on the mission.”

The bell tower, smaller than others, shone brightly above the white stucco of the chapel. Unlike the other missions, la Purisima was built in a straight line. That caused them to wonder about security and how the soldiers were to protect it. They also saw flocks of sheep tended by disciples on the hillside, noting they were no different than the other four-horned churros found throughout the territory. The major difference was the additional homes for the expanded escolta in place since the infamous revolt of 1824. They also noticed fewer Chumash although, at one time, there had been more than twenty rancherias in the area.

James, my son, it is so good to see you once more.” Padre Vitoria blessed him before turning and blessing Teresa, especially pleased to meet James' wife. “It has been many years.”

The friar led them to the stables and stood by telling of what had happened at the mission since James' last visit. “It has been a trying time for us, my children. The Lord, in His wisdom, has seen to testing our faiths. We have been beset, not only by the tremors, but fire and flood. On top of that, we have faced drought, frost, an onslaught from squirrels and the biblical plague of los Grillos.”

Grasshoppers were not unknown in the Carmel Valley but so far had no wrought a great deal of damage to crops and gardens.

And through it all,” the friar continued, “our disciples have remained true to the faith.”

And those of the revolt?”

They only fled here to escape reprisals, my children. In many ways, they were justified in their actions as the soldiers had no right to treat them as slaves.” His face darkened in sorrow as he added, “Sixteen gave up their lives and many more were wounded. Those not shot by the firing squad spent many years as prisoners, fated to very hard labor at the presidio. Their wives and children yet grieve for them, spending many hours praying in the chapel.”

They could not help but notice that, unlike the other missions, the colonnades were not arched but the long roof was supported by round columns. A small bell hung in one end of the passageway and a disciple came to ring it, announcing Vespers.

Not as ornately decorated as others they had seen, the chapel had a beautiful altar with statues of The Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph. Also lower than others, the ceiling was painted white with religious decorations on the beams. A few pews provided places for the elderly to sit, the remainder of the congregation provided with kneelers.

The additional guards were not hard to miss, two corporals and a sergeant to lead them. Like all the other places they had visited, the uniforms were well-worn with lots of patches. Some attempts had been made to repair the uniforms using the under coat of wool from the Churro sheep. They dye was not exact but they allowed the soldados de cuera to wear better uniforms than many others. Sadly, the visitors had no doubts that the soldiers lacked ball and gunpowder. Did they even have enough flints for their flintlocks?

Instead of taking them to the friar's garden after the evening meal of pozole with large chunks of lamb, Padre Vitoria led them to the plaza to sit beneath a massive oak. They talked over the gay sounds of the musicians and singers. Knowing full well their mission, the friar called for senior members of the local community. One was the tradition tribal chief, another older man was introduced as the healer, and a slightly young man proved to be the elected mayor of the village.

Every single one of them opposed secularization and told of what they knew would be complete ruin of the mission and its industries.


With seventeen leagues to ride, they departed the mission well before morning prayers and meal. There was no doubt of the necessity for spending the night in a camp, most likely at el Playa del Pismo. In fact, one of the mission soldiers told them of a place called Arroyo Grande near del Playa de los Pismos where travelers stopped for the night.

Rolling hills to the east gently met the shoreline once they had crossed through the more rugged terrain just north of the mission. Faint wisps of smoke told of Chumash rancherias, most of them well away from the highway.

They spied a gathering of Chumash jacals several hours before sunset, but with three more substantial structures further on. Those had a large corral with a number of animals, plus other animals grazing in the nearby grasslands, a couple of youths watching over them.

A cloud of dust from the north heralded two figures riding from the north at full gallop. Even from a distance, they could not mistake the leatherjacket soldiers with red, white, and green pennants fluttering from the tall lances, the upturned brims of their hats allowing them easy access to their muskets. Each rider had a spare horse trailing behind.

They crossed a bridge in far better repair than they had encountered in some time and saw a woman wearing a mission-style dress standing next to a huge iron pot, ladling something into bowls held by the two soldiers. Some boys had taken their animals to the corral and was turning them loose inside.

Welcome to our humble abode, Estimable Señor y Señora. You will wish to rest here for the evening?”

Teresa dismounted and told the woman they would be most honored if they could spend the night. She learned Francesca was the wife of a soldier stationed at Misión San Luis Obispo.

He was given permission by el Comandante del Presidio del Santa Barbára to settle here. We have some animals from the mission, along with the livestock and other animals you see. In return for providing for the couriers, we make a minor living and trade with our Chumash neighbors in the village.”

From her features and accent, Teresa had no doubt the woman was Chumash, most likely the daughter of mission disciples.

The three boys were her sons and they tried to take their animals to the corral. Instead, they quickly leapt to bring fresh straw and hay and watched open-mouthed as the two cared for their animals.

A hot meal of tasty stew met the travelers and they recognized beef and lamb floating in a thick brown liquid with lots of vegetables. The expected corn tortillas were washed down by cool, fresh water slightly tinged with sumac leaves.

You have not been here for very long, Señora.

Francesca blushed at the honorific, something rarely given to an India. “My husband was given permission to build this humble place two years ago. He is permitted to come once every three or four weeks.”

And the people of the rancheria?” James asked.

Francesca beamed. “They are excellent friends and we share what we have. I wish to beg your forgiveness as I was planning to make of stew of the almejas but did not go down to the beach to collect some today. One of our cows gave birth and we all attended to her.”

An Indian woman walked toward them. The years of Spanish influence had caused her to wear a half apron made of seal hide, her breasts showing that a number of children had fed there.

This is Jonata, she is the chief tomol builder of the rancheria.”

James and Teresa bowed to her as her position made her the chief of the families. She listened intently as Teresa told her who they were and why they were traveling.

You are the babies of those who came with the Españolos those many years ago?” When they nodded, she replied, “I am the daughter of the chief your soldiers called el Buchon.”

They had heard their parents talking of the long ago trek to include the Chumash with a huge goiter on his neck who had been the master boat builder of the tribe. “You have carried on the tradition.” James comment was far more a statement than a question.

Yes, I make tomols like my father, And teach others do same.” Then, without hesitation, she asked, “Your chief, he give our land to others as in other places?”

James could not lie and told her that appeared to be his goal.

We no fight and no have other place to go. What do we?”

James had no answer to that either.


Exiting the hills through which el Raichuelo San Luis flowed to the sea, they saw that a clear slacking off of work to maintain the mission had occurred.

Padre Martinez is failing at his duties to the church and the Gentiles,” James said.

He is a firm supporter of the king and knows those in Mexico seek to turn it over to the disciples,” Teresa responded.

That still does not forgive him for slacking off,” James muttered.

The stucco on the walls showed cracks and places where pieces had fallen off. The large garden to one side was filled with weeds and only about a half dozen disciples sluggishly hacked weeds from the sloppy rows. The sentry by the small gate leading to the chapel slouched against the wall, his uniform sloppy and ill-kept.

Padre Gil?” James asked the soldier.

He glanced up at the visitor, sorrow filling his eyes. “The reverend father has passed from this earth,” he said. “He could no longer spend his soul here when he understood it is to be taken away from Mother Church.”

That caught both by surprise as nobody had informed them of the reverend father's death.

Padre Martinez is alone here now ever since Padre Gil died.” He sighed and added, “And he will not be here much longer as he openly supports the king and disdains those he calls rebels.” As if the wind had spilled from his sails, the soldier looked back down at the ground, slouching against the wall.

They rode around to the bigger gate left unattended and rode inside the main quadrangle, searching for the stables. Several men sat against the walls on wooden benches, their broad-brimmed sombreros covering their faces. None of them stirred at the arrival of the visitors.

The stables were not difficult to locate and they found all the stalls empty. Selecting two closest to the corral, they unburdened and cared for their animals, searching and finally finding some stale hay not yet spoiled by time. It took a bit more to find enough straw to lay down for bedding and used their own canvas buckets to bring water from the fountain.

The smallest bell in the belfry halfheartedly tolled.

At least someone is showing responsibility for announcing Vespers.”

James nodded and they made their way to the chapel, noting the absence of a mador or fiscales. Only about thirty disciples entered, all but two elders female. Padre Martinez' robes appeared worn and he performed the evening prayers lacklusterly. Almost as if he no longer cared what he was doing.

He did not even appear to recognize the two visitors.

They both smiled at the huge crucifix dominating the wall behind the altar, knowing that Teresa's father was responsible for it and the two statues of Santa Maria y San José on each side of it.

The lack of cooking in the communal kitchen did not surprise them. Each Gentile family cooked its own meals with one elderly woman taking a bowl of gruel to the friar in his sanctuary. Following suit, they made their own campfire next to the creek.

You must forgive me for not coming to you sooner, honored Señor y Señora but I was in the hills trying to retrieve some of the churros that strayed. Our shepherds often fall asleep and the few dogs we have are not well-trained.”

They assumed the man was the mayordomo from the faded sash he wore. His eyes widened when they introduced themselves, telling them he had been a youth when the fearful grizzled bears roamed the valley. “I heard my father and uncle tell of the time the metal warriors came and used their sticks of thunder to slay many of the creatures. Your fathers were there at that time?”

Receiving a yes reply, he sincerely apologized for the lack of hospitality. “Reverend Father knows the mission is going to be taken away and that he well may be taken into custody for his open support of the king. I find it almost impossible to control my fellow disciples without his guidance.”

As they ate their meal, José excused himself and went inside the stables, exiting pushing a small barrow, going to a pile of straw in a nearby field to fill it and return to the stables. They later learned he had laid down fresh straw where they were going to spread out their bedrolls.

No musical tones came from the plaza that evening. And not once did Padre Martinez seek them out.

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