A Chumash Village
1830 – Return to The Sea
El Camino Real passed directly in front of the mission and they entered it, riding west at a gentle gait. Two couriers had departed on their way to Misión San Buenaventura just ahead of them and were already far out of sight, the dust from their animals' hooves not yet settled.
A grassy plain stretched south beyond their vision with just a thin line of hills in the distance. More rugged hills rose to the right with hints of mountains behind them. Lush grass provided grazing for European and local animals although cattle and animals far outnumbered the local ones. Encinos y robles grew everywhere, massive oaks clearly there since the beginning of time. Great wings soared far overhead, the ever-present cóndores seeking dead animals – or even very young ones – to feed upon. While Chumash told tales of their viciousness, James and Teresa looked upon them as creatures that kept the balance of nature. Not far from where they rode, a bandada de cuervos chattered and nervously perched on tree limbs, a clear sign of their anger at the huge condors overhead. The ravens too were part of nature and they often saw los Indios wearing their feathers – even though those of the condors were more highly prized.
Teresa's horse nickered, her hide anxiously shivering. “To the left,” she alerted her husband.
A huge grizzled bear sow proved the source of the animal's concern,; she and her two cubs hungrily tearing at a steer carcass. She looked up, her jaws covered in blood, and uttered a low, fearsome growl. Seeing the creatures presented no danger to she or her cubs, she returned to her feast.
James and Teresa returned their rifles to their sheaths. Some Californios killed such beasts on sight, often torturing the cubs for the humor they received from their squeals and sounds of agony. Only when they tired would the torturers turn to leave the dying creatures to the condors and other scavengers.
The road led them to hills and gently wound upwards to a wide opening leading into a small valley. Oaks of both kinds covered the hills and flowers carpeted the ground on both sides of them.
“There is happiness in the air, mi marido.”
“I sense it too, mi amor. It is peaceful here as if some find spirits to ease their souls.”
Both crossed themselves, shamed for thinking such unchristian-like thoughts. As part of their upbringing, their parents had told them stories and myths of their Indian ancestors and told them to listen to those of the people they came to knew. More than a few hours had been spent sitting in front of a fire hearing the Esselen elders telling the stories they had heard from their elders. They often looked at one another, wondering how some of those stories seemed to come from the Holy Bible. How many told of a small group of forefathers finding succor from floods by building a large boat to ride it out?
The valley widened as a stream flowed in from the hills to the north and wound its way west. Once again, they saw slight signs of neglect as certain bridges washed out by heavy rains had only hastily been prepared.
Pillars of smoke rose into the calm sky to the south, a sign of an Indian rancheria. They knew it was Chumash territory but had seen few signs of them up to that point. Then, Teresa pointed to the top of a hill to their left.
Three men stood there. Wearing nothing but tattoos and paint, with feathers in their hair. They carried bows and arrows and presented no danger at that distance.
“Wild Chumash,” James opined. “Living far from the missions and our presence.”
“I wonder how long they will stay so, my husband. Surely they hunt the cattle roaming this area. If so, that means they will come in conflict with the vaqueros.”
A small stream provided a convenient spot to share their midday meal. Teresa drew water while James gathered dry wood for a small fire. Their small iron pot was soon filled with boiling stew made from foods they had brought in the packs.
“We have a visitor.”
James struggled not to react. He reddened at not noticing the arrival of the Indian dressed in a mixture of mission clothes and heavy paint. The visitor only held a slender shaft with a sharpened end, hardened in fire.
“You travel far, strangers. And are not of the soldiers who ride by apace on their important duties.”
“No. We travel to view this land and visit those places important to our king.”
“You are well prepared to fend off bandidos,” the Indian said.
“Are we going to be in need of them in the near future?”
The Indian's stoic features barely changed, just offering a faint smile. “That will be determined by your vigilance, Señor. There may be those not far from here who would take from strangers what they wish.”
James pointed to the pot and told the man he was welcome to join them for their repast.
“I thank you Señor y Señora, but my woman waits not far away with a meal for me and my family. I just came to warn you of what you might encounter not far from here.”
They started to thank him, but as quickly as he had come, he disappeared into the chaparral.
Before dousing the smokeless fire, they carefully checked their weapons, ensuring the pistols and rifles had fresh percussion caps and ball. Their knives and other bladed weapons were honed to fine points and all sheaths and holsters had been lightly oiled to permit quick withdrawal.
If bandits had awaited them, they did not appear during the remainder of that day’s journey.
They barely reached the western end of the valley when a large group of adobe buildings appeared before them. “That must be Rancho Simi,” Teresa said.
They had learned of its presence from the friars at Misión San Fernando. That had included the full name of Rancho San José de Nuestra Senora de Altagarcia y Simi, the latter word from the Chumash name of the village, Shimiji, where they had lived for unknown time before the arrival of the Europos.
An older man came out to greet them, a woman standing in the doorway of the substantial main house. “I am Francisco Javier Pico,” he proudly stated.
“And I am James Gaspar Beadle. This is my wife, Teresa Marta. We travel to become re-acquainted with the state where we were born.”
The man's eyes widened. “You are the children of el Marinero y el Carpintero?” He called out for a servant to come for their animals and did not seem nonplussed when James informed him they preferred to care for the animals themselves. They dropped the reins, knowing the animals would go no further than the watering trough and grazing on the grass nearby.
They spent an interesting evening at the rancho where they were joined by Patricio and Miguel and their wives for the evening meal. Most of the talk was of how rich the land was and how perfect it was for grazing livestock.
“It is such a shame that los Indios waste it. We all know that without the stern hands of the fathers, they would return to their old days of grubbing for gophers and moles.”
James felt Teresa tighten up in anger and gritted his teeth, waiting for an outburst. Instead, she sweetly said, “And we all know how well you take care of this land and allow the ignorant savages to subsist on your generosity.”
None of their hosts seemed to be aware of her sarcasm as the talk continued in the same theme.
As quickly as possible without insulting their hosts, James and Teresa made their way to the stables where they ensured the animals had feed and water and settled into their bedrolls. She understood the hug and kiss he gave her, snuggling closer.
They were well aware of another land grant, Rancho el Conejo, to the south of the highway, but decided to bypass it. They knew that Governor Argüello had granted it to José Polanco and Ygnacio Rodriguez, two soldiers of el Presidio del Santa Bárbara. While Rodriguez did his best to care for the land, Polanco wasted his time and let the land go to ruin. For that reason, Governor de Solá in 1805, granted Polanco's claim to Captain José de la Guerra y Noriega. They did not remember Rodriguez and were told the captain would be at the presidio.
Breezes brought them the salty smell of ocean long before it appeared before them. The highway followed the base of the hills and they soon came in sight of Misión San Buenaventura. A sizable Chumash village stood nearby and they knew it to be called Mitsquanaqa'n by those who lived there. Their parents had also told them of the story of the chieftain of old who supervised the building of wooden boats 24 lengths of a foot long. They had also heard of how numerous the Chumash in the area were and how friendly they had been to the expedition.
“The river provides excellent irrigation, mi carida.”
Teresa smiled. She pointed out the gardens and orchards alongside the river which provided fruits and vegetables that grew nowhere else in the territory.
The padre had clearly been informed by one of the soldiers of their nearing the mission entrance as he came out to greet them. “James! Teresa Marta! It is so good to see you once again. How are your dear parents?”
Both dismounted and dropped to their knees in front of Padre Francisco Suner who they had known at Misión San Carlos. “They are doing quite well, honored father.”
Another friar came out to join them and Padre Suner introduced him as Padre Francisco Uria.
“Ah, the mischievous imps Padre Francisco has told me about.” The stout friar's face had broken into a wide grin and the two knew he was being jocular, something he was well-known for.
“And what is it we hear that you place three small piglets in a bag of fruits you traded a ship's captain for. And they got loose aboard the ship and caused some degree of disharmony.”
The friar laughed, his belly shaking in time with his mirth.
Many stories circulated throughout the missions about the friar, indicating his language at times was somewhat coarse but that he was kind-hearted and the disciples adored him. He was also known to have a quick temper although it never caused him to lay a hand upon anyone.
The friars followed them to the stables and asked questions of their trip to that point whole the two disencumbered the animals, curried them, and ensured they had food and water. Padre Suner read the missive from the father prefect and his face turned sad. “Ah yes, the governor's plan to secularize the missions. It will be a disaster. The end to all we have toiled for these many years.”
“And those to suffer most will be the disciples,” Padre Uria added.
The tour of the mission showed the visitors just how much had been accomplished Every shop was busy turning out goods for the mission, the presidio, and visiting ships. Some of the finest leather they had seen to that point hung on beams and the leathercrafter's handiwork was breathtaking. Some pieces had the most beautiful carvings they had seen.
“Only your father's carvings are superior to this, Teresa Marta. Fernando has studied every piece your father did for us and struggles to match their perfection. I am certain he will be most honored to meet you.”
The friar learned from the mayordomo that the leathercrafter had gone to his home village for several days to attend an important family ritual.
The gardens and orchards outdid anything they had seen up to that point in their journey. Apples, pears, plums, figs, oranges, grapes, peaches, pomegranates, plantain, bananas, coconuts, sugar cane, indigo as well as all sorts of vegetables and herbs were grown. Padre Uria urged them try some figs and beamed as they savored the taste new to them. Teresa recognized most of the herbs, gladly accepting Padre Uria's offer to pick some for their traveling packs. She also noted some onions that appeared to be a combination of those that grew wild all throughout the territory and mixed with European varieties. They golden ones were quite large and Padre Uria proudly told them of how he had grafted several species to bring them forth.
And flowers. Flowers grew everywhere. Not just in the friar's garden, the central plaza of the mission, but in the outer gardens and even in the rancheria. Reds, golds, whites, blues, purples, and lilac. More colors than they had ever seen in one place.
Bells rang for Vespers and the friars excused themselves to prepare while one of the disciples named Pedro led them to a pew at the front of the church. Those already there stared in awe at the visitors, word having spread quickly of who they were. That James was a Mestizo and Teresa an India was known to all. And, that they were considered to be important persons was a matter of great pride to every one of them.
Pedro led them to the community dining area after Vespers where they enjoyed a filling meal, telling the friars and others nearby of their trip to date. Once they filled themselves, while everyone else went to the plaza to enjoy the evening's musica, Padre Uria led them to the friar's garden, biding them be seated on a wooden bench. At that point, three disciples entered, all clearly Chumash.
The eldest named Antonio was introduced as a senior boat maker who had been there when the Portolá expedition came through.
The woman's name was Josefa Maria and was introduced as a tribal judge for her knowledge of their customs, history, and lore.
Francisco Jesus had recently been elected as alcalde of Mitsquanaqa'n, the Chumash pueblo.
“It is a very bad idea what the big chief wants to do,” Antonio said in a voice almost too low to hear. “He cannot take our fathers from us. They heal our spirits and give us the words of wisdom we must have to live by.”
“My of your sun cycles ago,” Josefa Maria added, “one of our most powerful healers spoke of a day when those would come to show us a new, better way of life. He told us that as long as they were there to guide us, we would prosper and be happy.”
Nobody said anything for several minutes. James and Teresa listened to song birds in the trees and amidst the grape vines. Music from the plaza came to them.
“Padre Uria write letter for me as I not understand your writings where I told your governor my people not ready and cannot do things the fathers show us without their leading. There be no manner which we return to our lives of old.” Francisco Jesus looked at his feet before adding, “We no live good without fathers.”
“And, we know governor seek give more land to Califorños, that belong to mission,” Josefa Maria added with a furrowed brow. “They not same as padres and no care for we Ineseño.”
That was the first time James and Teresa knew what the Chumash called themselves.
The three were very detailed in explaining their opposition to the plan to give them control of the missions and only when a disciple came to light the lamps in the garden did they realize the hour.