Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

Sunday, April 9, 2017


1830 – Misión San Gabriel – A Glorious Success

They followed Riachuelo San Juan to where the canyon split, turning to following the King's Highway up the left-hand arm. Trees grew in profusion along the bottom land, huge live oaks of both kinds, along with laurels and others. The hillsides showed signs of recent brush fires, nature's way of cleaning up and healing the land.

Moving at a gentle lope, they carefully scanned the land around them. The hillsides provided a number of places where unwanted people could hide and the corporal at the mission had warned them that solitary travelers had been attacked in the past.

Some of the bridges and arroyos lacked regular maintenance, many of them washed out by past rains.

They did not stop for the midday meal, eating in the saddle from food Teresa had put into their saddlebags. Water from their cantinas washed it down.

To pass this way you must pay a toll.”

Teresa had noted the group on the hillside ahead sitting in the shade of a huge live oak tree. As they neared, one of them went to his horse and mounted, riding at a walk down to the highway. The others stayed where they were, but all picked up pistols and muskets.

And why would that be, amigo? This is the highway of the government of Mexico and you do not appear to be soldiers in its service.”

The highwayman scowled and then glared. “You will pay as you are but two and we are more than you.”

And if we do not pay?”

Why then we shall take your animals and weapons and leave you here to make your way on foot.”

I am afraid, amigo, that will not happen. We will go on our way and perhaps some other unwary travelers will fall to your unjust demands.”

A shot suddenly rang out and the highwayman who had been drawing his pistol from its holster froze. The pistol fell to the ground as he clutched at his chest with the other hand, eyes wide in amazement.

James drew both of his pistols without hesitation and turned to search out the others under the tree. Two of them grabbed up muskets and seemed to be prepared to rush down the hill at them. Aiming quickly, James cocked and pulled the trigger on one of the pistols, sending the rifled ball directly at the two going for their guns. At that distance, there was no chance of hitting anything, but it gave Teresa time to holster her pistol and withdraw and cock the rifle.

The leader could no longer sit his horse and toppled to the ground, his big sombrero falling beside him. As the reins dropped to the ground, the horse simply moved to the side of the road to munch on the grass growing there.

Kneeing their animals, the two rode past, quickly resuming their lope.

I could not let him shoot you, marido.”

You did right, my sweet. It is easier to stop such an attack before it started instead of trying to get out of it when the shooting started.” He then reminded her to reload her pistol, while he did the same to his.

They reached the top of a rise and stopped, turning back to see what the other robbers were doing. They had gathered around the dead body of their leader and, while one led his horse away, the others squabbled over his sombrero, boots, and weapons.

The hills dotted with rocks and huge boulders surrounded them but it did not take long until they reached a pass giving them a view of low hills and expanses of tall grass where livestock as well as some deer and antelope grazed. It was also when they saw the first rancheria since leaving the mission.

How much further do we need to travel to reach the mission, Señor​?”

The emissary from the village grinned at the salutation, something Europos rarely gave him. “But a hands' width of the sun, honored Don y Doña.” He paused and added, “You are much closer to rancheros where the honored ones will gladly shelter you for the night.”

Both examined the gathering of what appeared to be five or six Tongva families. As usual, the structures were made of wattle-and-daub, generally open sides to take advantage of cool breezes and thatch roofs to keep out the rare rain. While the children ran around naked, the adults wore blue cotton blouses, pants, and skirts. Three corrals held a few mules but mainly donkeys. Hobbled goats, ever popular garbage eaters, roamed at will and squealing piglets surrounded several large sows The few head of cattle nearby wore the brand of Misión San Gabriel.

James and Teresa thanked the man for his offer of food, indicating they wished to continue.

Mountains towered far to the north, white caps indicating snow had not yet melted from the peaks. Some hills rose to the east and west but the land generally rolled in gentle hills in front of them. As they continued, more cattle appeared, these having two different brands they assumed to belong to the families owning the ranches.

They soon came in sight of a large river and saw a small cluster of adobe buildings surrounded by gardens, vineyards and sections of tilled fields. Adobe walls surrounded the houses but live willow brush fences kept out the livestock roaming the area. Most of the workers appeared to be ending the day, walking toward a small rancheria downstream from the buildings.

Welcome to Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana. My name is José Antonio Yorba. What you see belongs to my families.”

You are the son of Don José Antonio Yorba who was a Catalonian Volunteer during the Portolá expedition?”

You know of my father?”

Teresa chuckled. “Yes. In fact we traveled with him when he served under Don Pedro Fages and when he served at The Presidio del Monte Rey.”

Please forgive me for making you sit out here, It is growing late and you are most sincerely welcome to my home and to rest from your journey. Please follow me.”

The gates opened and several ranch workers rushed to take their animals.

Please just loosen their cinches. We will unburden and groom them.”

The animals were led to the stables and Don Tomas led them up onto the porch where a woman waited. “This is my wife, Maria Cataina.” When he explained who their visitors were, she smiled. “We have never met but you must know my father, José Maria Verdugo. He came with Captain Rivera.”

She led them into a large sala and told them dinner would soon be ready. “We must certainly talk during the meal. But, if you will excuse me, I must see to the preparation of the food.”

Don José walked with them back to the stables and chatted while they cared for their animals. He was taken aback when they indicated their determination to sleep in the stables with their animals. “Please, Don José, do not be insulted. We have become accustomed to the comfort of fresh straw under our sleeping blankets and the animals rest easy with our presence.”

Discussion was lively during the meal about the brief time they lived in Monte Rey. The Yorbas intently listened as James and Teresa told them of their voyage to date.

It pains me greatly to see that nothing has been done to repair the damage to Misión San Juan Capistrano, “Don José said. “The reverend father is too infirm and no effort has been made to give him an assistant. The escolta has been replaced but the new corporal does little to keep the disciples in their place.”

They finished dinner and Don José led James out onto the porch. They both watched as riders came at a gallop to the gate and then reined to a stop in front of them. Three men and their women leaped from their mounts

Don José, we have been informed that you have most important guests.”

José Antonio introduced them to Pablo, Pedro, and Antonio Peralta as those who shared the rancho with him. He quickly explained that their father had come to California with Governor de Anza and grew up at the Presidio del San Francisco. Their wives quickly excused themselves to go inside to meet Teresa Marta.

If James and Teresa planned on sleeping that night, their plans came to an abrupt end. The ranchers were not about to let a chance for a celebration go by. A big fire was lit in a stone pit and the hind quarter of a steer soon turned on a spit over it. Barrels of beer were brought from a store room along with several small kegs of wine.

Antonio brought a guitar and soon led four of the ranch hands in gay music.

A pale half moon sailed through the velvet black sky studded with sparkling diamonds. Only when la estrella de la mañana appeared brightly in the sky aglow with the rising sun did the celebrants decide to depart, returning to their nearby ranches. James and Teresa found their bedrolls in the stables, quickly dropping off to sleep.


José Antonio gave them a tour of the huge ranch after they had partaken of a midday light meal. That the Californios shared their land with Gentiles was somewhat of a surprise. “They watch over our livestock and their small rancherias are not burdensome. They have lived here for beyond memory and often warn us when heavy rains are due.”

One of their elders often tells when the turtle that supports the world is going to move,” Cataina explained. “There is nothing we can do, of course.” She then added that the same elder had twice foretold periods when no rain would fall and the streams and rivers come close to drying up.

This is indeed a blessed land.”

Yes, my husband,” Teresa said as the sat tight against Jame's side atop a hill overlooking the ranchos and the land spreading out before them. “It is good to see our fellow nonativos living peacefully with los indios.”

Will that be the case when the government's plan of secularizing the missions comes to pass?”

Teresa had no more of an answer than her husband.

They left early the next morning and soon came in sight of Misión San Gabriel Arcángel, the fourth mission founded by the reverend Father Serra. Even from several miles away they saw the forbidding hedge of prickly pear cactus protecting the gardens and vineyards from Gentiles and roaming herds of livestock. They drew nearer and smiled at the abundance in the gardens; trees of oranges, figs, pomegranates, peaches, apples, limes, pears and citrons. The vineyards covered several hectares of sloping hillside near the massive stone structure of the church.

Welcome to La Misión del Santo Príncipe El Arcángel, San Gabriel de Los Temblores,” the friar with a stern mien said to them. “You have traveled far.”

No, Reverend Father Zalvidea. Only from the Yorba rancho this morning.”

You know me, Señor?

Yes, reverend father. We met before when I last came here several years ago. I am James Beadle, the son of Timothy Beadle and this is my wife, Teresa Marta, the daughter of Jaimenacho, The Carpenter.”

The friar's face broke into an almost-smile, something that the disciples of the mission would be surprised to see. Padre Zalvidea was renowned as being a stern disciplinarian.

Welcome, my children. Come. I will show you where to stable your animals and then a cell where you may rest from your journey.” He did not appear surprised when they explained their desire to bed down with the animals.

They passed a series of adobe dwellings in the inner courtyard and Padre Zalvidea told them they were housing for the soldiers of the escolta. He explained that the biggest one belonged to the sergeant of the guard, José Maria Pico and his wife, Maria Estaquia, who had come to California with the de Anza expedition. Several children played in the area and they saw two young soldiers the friar told them were sons of the sergeant who had enlisted in the guard. “They were given dispensation to remain here as our lands and herds are so extensive that we need more than just the normal five soldiers.”

The tower holding six bells, one of them the biggest they had ever seen, was not the original, that having been felled by the great earthquake of 1812. Padre Zalvidea led them inside the chapel as the bell rang the call to midday prayers. The massive altar dominated the wall, five big figures surrounding Christ on His Cross. They had learned that the mission had been built in the form of a cathedral in Cordoba, Spain.

Padre Boscana conducted the rite while Padres Boscana and Zalvidea scourged themselves at the altar dedicated to la Virgin de Guadalupe. The one missing friar was Father Prefect Sanchez and nothing had been said about his whereabouts.

They later learned he was supervising work at an Asistencia being built to the east in an area called San Bernardino. The Gentiles there had begged for one and the prefect was doing what he could to provide it for them.

There was no doubt about their next destination, la Puebla de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles. Only nine miles from the mission, they rode into the central plaza well before the tenth hour of the day. La Iglesia de la Placita dominated the west side of the town square, surrounded by a combination of adobe and wattle-and-daub buildings. They had been told there were now nearly seven hundred residents, making it one of the largest in the territory.

They had barely dismounted in front of the church when a robustly built man rushed up to them, removing his sombrero to wipe the sweat of his exercise from his face dominated with a large mustache. “May I welcome you to los Angeles. I am Fernando Buelna, el Alcalde.”

They introduced themselves and the mayor led them to a small street on the northeast corner of the square. Several cantinas offered food and drink and Buelna led them to one directly across from a structure he proudly pointed out as being the palacio del pueblo. He touted the quality of the beer, indicated the proprietor was his cousin. “Don Teodoro Arellanes comes here quite frequently to enjoy a pint when visiting.”

They both knew the son of Captain Manuel, an artillery office of note who had served at San Francisco as well as Monte Rey. It was also clear that Buelna was a fawning civil servant with little skill beyond his literacy. To put him in his place, Teresa picked up a pamphlet from a nearby table and scanned it, telling James some of the tidbits it contained of local import. The mayor gaped at her in disbelief. A woman who could read? Impossible.

They knew several ranchos were located not far from the village and the mayor quickly drew a map of the area showing each. After studying it, they decided to visit in a circle, going south and then up the coast before turning inland along the hills to where the river flowed south from the valley of Misión San Fernando.

Their first stop was at Rancho San Antonio which belonged to Corporal Antonio Maria Lugo the son of Francisco Salvador who had escorted pobladores for the founding of Los Angeles. As he had at one time been assigned to el Presidio del Monte Rey, he was well acquainted the James and Teresa, asking after the welfare of their parents.

Their next stop was Rancho los Nietos – The Grandchildren – which has been granted to Sergeant Manuel Nieto, a retired leatherjacket soldier. He only knew of them and their parents but welcomed them warmly, freely sharing his views of the Mexican government, the governor, and what he saw as the future of the territory.

They next visited el Rancho Rincon de los Bueyes – The Corner of Oxen – granted to Bernardo Higuera and Cornelio Lopez by Governor de Sola for their father's service as alcalde of los Angeles in 1800. They readily noted that Higuera and Lopez did not see eye-to-eye and wondered how much longer their partnership would endure. Don Bernardo and his wife, Maria del Rosario Palomares, greeted them warmly and openly told of their views of the current government. “A deep rift is forming between the north and south,” Don Bernardo told them. “Many here feel that los Angeles should be the capitol of the territory and some have even written to Don Carlos Carrillo begging that Governor Echeandia be replaced by someone more suited to govern.” He also expressed the strong belief that the missions had outlived their usefulness. “The ranchos provide everything our society needs. It is time for the friars to step aside and let los Indios fend for themselves.”

Rancho San Pedro was one of the oldest land grants, given by Governor Fages to Sergeant Juan José Dominguez, a leatherjacket soldier under Captain Rivera who was with the Portolá Expedition. As he had always served in the south, Manuel Dominguez had never met James or their parents. But, like all Californios, he knew who they were.

James and Teresa spent an entire afternoon visiting the harbor of San Pedro. There were no piers but the depth of el Rio Porculina allowed brigs and schooners to drop anchor and take on supplies and goods by boats from the banks. In many cases, bales of hides off the cliffs to be gathered together for the next trading vessel.

A very crude pueblo had formed, a few adobe buildings but most constructed of wattle-and-daub. The most substantial structure turned out to be a large cantina to serve spirits to visiting sailors. Much to James shame, a number of ladies served the food and drink, wearing most suggestive clothing to advertise their willingness to serve something else for a fee.

Teresa laughed it out, adding, “It is the same all over the world, according to Mateo. I am certain the friars are outraged but the authorities turn the other way as the owner of the establishment certainly shares his gains with them.”

It took less than an hour to reach a broad basin in the steep hills covered with tall, green trees. Laurels, wild rose, wild grape, prickly pear, and a wide variety of other plants and grasses profusely grew in the basin and on hillsides.

The rancho buildings were the most insubstantial they had seen to date. However, knowing a bit of the ranch's history, they were not surprised. It had originally been part of Rancho San Pedro. After Dolores Sepúlveda had been killed in the Chumash rebellion at la Purisima, the two families quarreled over who had the rights to it. At the present time, Don Juan Capistrano Sepúlveda claimed it and had a mayordomo supervise the ranch hands looking over the herds of cattle and animals.

The mayordomo, a Mestizo was in awe of the visitors, very few nonativos ever visiting the ranch. Only when James assured him that he too was Mestizo and Teresa was full-blooded India that he opened up.

The dueño does not mistreat us, Señor. It is just that he expects much of us and gives little in return. As you see, we live as our ancestors and gain much of our food from the sea. Out gardens provide some vegetables and those few fruit trees give us sweets for our atole.” When asked his thoughts of secularizing the missions, the man's face grew dark, eyes squinting as he sought the proper words.

It will be a very big mistake, honored Señor y Señora My cousins are not ready to perform the many tasks needed to do what the fathers have shown them.” After a pause and looking around to see no one was listening, he softly added, “And the nonativos are eager to take the land and leave the disciples with nothing but having to work for them as peones.”

It was growing late, the sun nearing the horizon. They were offered a hut to sleep in but found a place where the animals could graze while they laid their bedroll on the sandy ground. They quickly started a fire of driftwood and made dinner from food carried in their saddle bags. A long-eared hare provided by the ranch hands turned on the spit along with two quail.

An elderly man started telling tales to the youth of the camp and the two visitors listened, enjoying stories from the Tongva and Chumash who lived in the area for untold ages. He even told of once, many years before, watching a big boat land on the shore of the basin, men wearing strange clothing and speaking a strange language coming ashore to gather water and trade for fresh food. He even described the colored cloth flying atop the tallest tree and James recognized it as being English from drawings in his father's journal. Was it his father's?

They traveled a great distance the next day along the shore as they saw no roads or trails. The low dunes began to turn to palisades so they climbed to the top to continue following the coast toward some rough hills. They passed several small rancherias of Chumash, many working on their tomols while others cast their nets further out to sea. Following the directions they gave, the two continued north, finding a narrow way with a lightly travel trail. They reached their goal, Rancho Topanga Malibu Sequit by the fifth hour of the afternoon.

Much to their surprise, the main building was a substantial structure of sun-baked brick with a red tiled roof. Several of the outbuildings were similarly built and the gardens had thick hedges intermixed with prickly pear cacti. A small pond provided water for the livestock and water was piped to a fountain in the inner courtyard by ceramic pipes, very much like the zanjas of the missions.

My name is José Bartomolé Tapia. My father, Alférez Felipe Santiago, was a member of the de Anza expedition. Governor Arrillaga granted me this land upon my father's death for the family to live upon.”

While they knew of Don José's father, they had never become acquainted with him. He, in turn, knew of their parents, but had never met them. While not spoken of openly, James and Teresa sensed a withdrawal on the part of their host and his wife, Juana Florina. They had little doubt that is was due to the visitor's parentage being impure unlike theirs being Criollo. They were shown all the proper courtesies to include an offer of a bedroom but seemed somewhat relieved when James and Teresa expressed their desire to bed down with the animals.

Don José joined them and talked of the ranch and his family while the visitors unburdened their animals and laid their bedrolls in the adjacent stall. He only left when they expressed their desire to clean the dust from the road before joining him for the evening meal.

Discussion was lively during the meal as they were joined by Tiburcio and his wife, Maria Antonia, the daughter of another Criollo family. Tiburcio was a member of the Junta de Fomento, the council formed to further the interests of California. He was clearly a man of political ambitions and asked many questions about the people and activities in Monte Rey.

They, in return, received confirmation of the general feelings of those living in the south that Monte Rey should no longer be the capitol of the territory and that many complaints had been sent to Mexico about Governor Echeandia and his inability to show strength in governance.

He makes decisions at will about minor things but has not the ability to come to firm conclusions about things of major import,” Tiburcio announced. “There are many in the ayuntamiento who cannot respect him.”

James sighed. “Yes, we are experiencing the same. We have become accustomed to officers with strength of will and governors who seek the best for this land. Not themselves.” He went on to mention the condition of The King's Highway and its lack of maintenance. “None of the previous governors would have ever let that happen.”

This land reeks of discontent.”

James nodded, holding Teresa tighter in their bedroll. “Will the unthinkable happen, mi carida? A rebellion?”

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