1830 – Tour of the Ranchos Begins
Dampness filled his nostrils as James rose from the depths of sleep. The warmth and familiar softness of Teresa Marta against his side comforted him. He opened his eyes to see the world covered in the thick gray of fog.
Teresa Marta awakened like a cat, one moment asleep, the next alert and nimbly rising from their sleeping blankets. He smiled as she lifted her shift to reveal shapely legs before slipped on her skirt. She similarly donned her blouse and retied her hair into a roll at the back of her head.
“Up, lazy one! We have things to do and a long way to travel this day.”
James slipped on his tight breeches and stockings, carefully checking his boots to ensure no creatures had sought comfort in them from the morning chill.
The fog almost obscured the shelters of the Kumeyaay on the other side of the stream. James knelt and bathed his face in the coolness, rinsing the remnants of sleep from his eyes. He filled the water skin and carried it to their camp where Teresa Marta had stirred up the fire and placed a small iron pot on a tripod over it. She took the skin and poured a bit into the pot to add to the mixtures of gruel, fruits and fish left over from the previous evening's meal. A rich aroma of coffee soon filled their nostrils.
They quickly broke camp and prepared the animals for travel.
“You do not have far to travel, First Son and Daughter. The way is well marked and you will come to the new rancho soon after midday.” Seeing their questioning looks, Pedro explain that those from the north had come and built their strange lodgings with areas to keep horses, mules and donkeys. “Their cattle roam the hills freely and grow in numbers every day.”
The highway was clearly marked and they began to climb, exiting the thick fog within a league. Rolling hills covered with thick grasses surrounded them. Towering saguaro rose several leagues to the east out of the reach of moisture-laden fogs. Small herds of cattle with long horns grazed here and there and they saw the animals bore a brand new to them. It certainly did not belong to a mission with a stylized motif of intertwined letters A and S.
As Pedro had indicated, well before the sun stood directly overhead, they reached a crest and looked down upon a medium sized river etching a valley from the east. The highway switched gently back and forth to give animals an easier downhill trek. Upon reaching the bottom, they noted a trail leading up-canyon with a stone cairn topped by a pole with the same brand etched into it.
“The rancho is in that direction. I supposed we should go and visit it.”
Teresa Marta did not wait, turning her horse and starting up the trail. James quickly rode up beside her and they let their animals walk, keeping a close eye on the hills above and the reeds mixed with underbrush next to the river.
A bend in the river provided a large, flat plateau upon which sat some buildings made of odd pieces of wood as regular tall trees grew nowhere near. A corral held a half dozen horses along with five mules and two donkeys. Men and women in white cotton clothes toiled at various tasks, one of them appearing to be a supervisor. Seeing the newcomers, he sent one peon running to the main building while he doffed his sombrero to bid welcome to them. “We are honored to have visitors at Rancho Tia Juana. You have come far?”
James doffed his hat and replied they had spent the previous night at Arroyo Barbarossa. “And your dueño? Is he or she here?”
“Why yes I am.” That came from a tall, hefty man in clothing similar to theirs walking from the main building. He stopped in his tracks and did a double-take. Breaking into a huge grin, he blurted out, “Don Jaime! Doña Teresa! Is that you?”
Quickly dismounting, James stepped forward and greeted his old friend Santiago Argüello, the son of Don José, the ex-governor of California. Teresa Marta stepped forward and accepted the gentlemanly kiss on her hand.
A woman stepped from the house onto the porch surrounded by three children. Her face lit up as she recognized the visitors, running to grab Teresa Marta up in a hug. Maria del Pilar Ortega knew them well and held them in high regard having traveled with and knowing her grandfather, Don José. “Come! We must get inside out of the sun.”
They hastily apologized, indicated they must care for their animals first. Both nodded their understanding although neither took such care of their own horses. Like most Californios, they rode their steeds at full gallop until they tired, finding another mount and leaving theirs behind to recover – or die. Horses, like the rest of the livestock, roamed freely and in large numbers.
James and Teresa Marta examined the area while currying their animals, noting a large stack of dried adobe bricks and the start of a large building overlooking the river. Further away, several peones trod the mud a large clay pit, mixing in sand and straw to make the bricks as proven by a number of forms already laying in the sun.
“You must forgive us for having such primitive facilities. Governor Echeandia just granted me this rancho last year. The Good Lord has smiled down upon us giving us excellent weather for curing the bricks.”
“I did not know you had skills at building things. You have always been an excellent soldier – just like your father.”
“Enrique, my jefe de trabajadores learned from the padres at Misión San Diego. He is quite skilled and deals fairly with the workers.”
Maria had the staff prepare a light midday meal which they ate upon the wide porch overlooking the river. A light wine went well with roasted chicken, frijoles and beans with corn tortillas.
“Is that not the river the Gentiles called Ti Wan?”
Santiago chuckled. “I should know you would be aware of such things. You told me how you do your best to read your father's daily journals.” After sipping some wine, he added, “And yes, I asked the governor to name the grant Tia Juana to make it Spanish instead of the pagan name.”
James and Teresa Marta exchanged glances. Both had forgotten just how prejudiced Santiago and other families were. That surprised him as Maria had Indian blood from her grandmother. Perhaps just because her family were so highly looked upon that he forgot or simply overlooked it.
“And the governor's grant was generous?”
“One hundred kilometers,” Santiago responded.
James quickly calculated, releasing a whistle when he realized just how many hundreds of thousands of acres that represented. “Does the governor realize what he granted you?”
“I do not believe so,” Santiago replied with a wink. “He also does not realize what places I have available to deliver hides to passing ships, along with other things they might wish without having to pay extraordinary fees.”
After a filling meal, while the two women exchanged gossip, James and Santiago walked off the meal. Housing had been provided for the workers and, unlike some of his fellow Californios, Santiago seemed to treat them reasonably, providing clothing, sufficient food, and housing. Most were married and all wore the Tau Cross showing they had been baptized by the friars at the mission.
The usual siesta followed with a ride – the two rancheros obviously upset by the slow lope of their guests – to the top of the hills to be shown the broad expanse of the grant. Santiago also pointed across the valley to a trail zigzagging upward. “That leads to Rancho Jamal which was granted to José Antonio Estudillo.
“The son of Captain José Maria of the presidio?”
Santiago grinned. “We try to keep things in the family, James my friend. You will also find Rancho Otay was given to Magdalena.”
“His sister?” Teresa asked.
“Yes,” Maria replied. “They actually work the two together but hold them as separate grants. They will be most pleased to have you visit.”
Over dinner, James asked, “I thought you were still commandant of the presidio, Santiago.”
“I am,” he replied with a smile. “But as the governor spends all of his time in San Diego and likes to take charge of things himself, I have devoted my time and efforts to this ranch. I am eligible for retirement next year and Captain Portilla is happy with letting the governor perform his duties.”
While the two ladies found womanly things to do, the two men retired to the porch to smoke cheroots. James had brought his pipe but did not wish to snub his host. They exchanged news of the territory and Santiago gave James a clearer picture of the governor and his habits.
“There is an undercurrent that he will perhaps soon be replaced by another. Mexico has heard a number of complaints about his failure to carry through with many policies established by the central government, secularization of the missions being one of them.”
“Do you truly believe that would be an advantage to the disciples, my friend? Everyone I talk to tells me they are not ready and unable to operate them for themselves.”
“If they are not after all these many years, they never will be,” Santiago grumbled.
Does he forget my mother was Indian as was Teresa's. “I fear you are correct. And there are many Californios who eagerly await a chance to obtain the mission lands.”
In spite of their host's invitation to sleep in their bed, the two visitors insisted in sleeping in the stables with their mounts. A thick layer of fresh straw had been laid out in the stall next to where their animals were and, after ensuring the animals had fresh water and grain, they changed into their sleeping shifts and quickly dropped to sleep.
It was but a short half-day ride to Rancho Jamal and José Estudillo greeted them effusively. He had attended Mateo's school to gain his commission as alférez and became friends with The Family. A rider sped off and soon returned with Doña Magdalena who, along with Jose’s wife, Maria Victoria the daughter of Sergeant Cristóbal Dominguez and Maria de los Reyes, took Teresa off to catch up on local gossip.
Over the noon meal, James told Maria Victoria, “My father and uncle have been collaborating to write a journal of their memories of their adventures. I remember reading in it about your father, Sergeant Cristóbal being part of the brave soldados de cuera under Don Fernando with Reverend Father Serra and Governor Portolá. He had some truly nice things to say about him.”
Maria Victoria's eyes clouded and she held back a sniffle. “My father passed about eight years ago. I remember many evening when he told us of his adventures in those days long ago.” She then brightened. “And he told us of the strange pair of civilians who were close to Reverend Father Serra. A young inglés, his Indian brother, and their Indian wives.” She reached across the table to touch Teresa’s hand. “And of the children they had while on that long, difficult journey.”
The five of them strolled around the ranch after lunch and the visitors were most impressed by the solid adobe buildings with tiled roofs. The barns and stables were sturdily build and had a full time ranch foreman, a man come to them from Sonora.
“We do not live here full time as I have things to do in San Diego. As I am one of the few who is well-versed in reading, writing, and figuring, I hold a number of positions with the government that do not allow us to spend as much time here as we would like.”
Without asking directly, the visitors did their best to learn the feelings toward California being a territory of Mexico and the government imposed by that body. As they had heard from Santiago, none of them thought highly of the governor, saying that he immersed himself in minor things and tended to avoid important matters.
“And, instead of governing from Monte Rey as he should, he stays here because of his infatuation with Josefa Gomez, the pretty daughter of a tradesman.”
The way Maria Victoria said it, her view of the governor and the girl was clear.
“And she wishes nothing to do with him. She actually has her eye on an American who jumped ship and is working as a carpenter on the waterfront.”
Once again, James and Teresa spent the night in the stables with their animals even though there were several extra bedrooms in the big house.
They did not travel alone the next day. Santiago and Maria Victoria joined them. While Santiago rode his proud black stallion, his wife rode in a vehicle know as a vagón, called a buckboard by the Americans. It carried several bales of hides and some other goods they wished to take to their home in San Diego.
The bell tower of the mission came in sight amid towering oaks and cypress. Shining white, it presented itself as the first of the twenty-one. A friar came out to meet them, the doughty Padre Fernando Martin who had served there for a decade. He remembered James from a previous visit and blessed Teresa Marta, inviting them into the compound. Santiago and Maria Victoria waved farewell and drove off.
When they explained they wanted to tend to their animals, adding they would like to bed down in the stable with them, Padre Martin smiled. “Of course, my children. It will be far more comfortable than one of the sparse cells we have for visitors.” He turned and walked toward his private garden, calling out to one of the disciples to assist the visitors. “We will see you at evening prayers?
They nodded and turned to follow the disciple.
The stable was large and occupied only by two mules. “They belong to the padres,” the disciple explained. Placed in the wall of the compound, the rear of the stables opened into a small corral with a water trough. They removed the gear from the animals and turned them loose into the corral, using big pitchforks to pile fresh straw into the stall they planned to sleep in, then adding several fork fulls of hay to the two stalls the animals would share.
They had just stowed their gear when a bell rang announcing the call to prayers. They joined the line of disciples moving to the chapel and went inside. Both gazed up at the high ceiling with thick beams and plain heavy planks. The main altar towered with the crucifix in the middle, clearly the work of Jaimenacho. So were the Stations of the Cross.
Padre Martin invited them to join the disciples for the evening meal, presiding over the main table. After blessing the food, he told those present who their guests were. One old man came and bowed before them.
“My Christian name is José and I was but a very young child then the soldiers first arrived here in their big boats. I clearly remember the arrival of the great man in the golden metal hat and the holy Father Serra. There were two youths with their women and I am told they were your parents?” When James and Teresa nodded, José broke into a big grin.
During the evening serenade, Padre Martin sat next to them and they softly talked about the governor's plans to secularize the missions. He, like just about every other friar in the universe knew the Gentiles were not and would never be ready to successfully take they shares of the missions. “Those in Mexico had a century and a half to learn and came from a society where farming was known. These are not and we have only had a relatively short time to teach them. It is too soon.”
Just then, a man walked across the plaza in front of the church and asked to join them.
“Certainly, Juanito. May I introduce you to James Beadle and his wife, Teresa Marta?”
“I am Juan Machado, Señor y Señora, the son of Corporal José Orchaga.”
“Your father was a soldado de cuera?”
“Yes, Don James. He came with the de Anza expedition and served at the presidio here until his retirement five years ago.” After a pause, he asked, “You are the first born of California? The son and daughter of the White Ocelot and The Carpenter?” When they nodded, Juan grinned. “The word of your presence has spread quickly in the pueblo. I am certain you will be receiving many invitations to dine and bide with outstanding members of the community.”
“We will gladly accept what our time here will permit. But, please let it be known that we will be spending our nights here at the mission until our departure.”
Machado nodded and asked if he might join them.
“Do not fear, Don James. Juanito is of a like mind with we friars. There is no way the Gentiles will be prepared to assume the duties of the missions.”
“And most of them desperately wish for the friars to continue to control the missions and help them as loving parents.”
They paid a courtesy to the presidio the next morning, sad at seeing its state of disrepair. The sentry at the gate, dressed in a heavily repaired uniform with an out-of-date musket, asked their business, sending another soldier inside to find the commandant. “Please wait here,” he told them, clearly reluctant to offend visitors so richly garbed.
An alférez hurried up and asked their names, introducing himself as Juan Salazar. He clearly did not recognize their names and asked their business.
“Captain Argüello suggested we pay a courtesy call upon Captain Portilla,” James told him.
That was all the ensign needed to hear and he quickly ordered the gates opened, one sagging from poorly repaired hinges. “You will forgive us for the state of affairs, Señor, but, not only have we not been paid for some time but have not received funds to make repairs.”
Another officer strode towards them demanding to know why civilians were being allowed entry to the fort. Salazar stuttered their names, adding that Captain Argüello had sent them. “The captain is currently disposed. I am the acting commandant here. Lieutenant Rodrigo del Pliego at your service.” He said it with a gentlemanly bow towards Teresa Marta.
“We are on a journey of memory around the territory in which we both were born,” James explained. “The last time I visited here was several years ago. Before you were assigned.”
A sergeant, somewhat familiar to James but one whose name he could not remember, came up and whispered something in the ensign's ear.
“Please forgive me, Señor y Señora, I did not recognize your name.” He hastily told the lieutenant who they were.
James turned to the sergeant. “And you are one of the sons of Don Santiago Pico?”
The sergeant grinned and nodded. “Si, Señor, my father is currently on assignment to the escolta at Los Angeles.”
“Then we will certainly give him your regards when we visit the pueblo.”
Pliego stood by as James and the sergeant talked, still uncertain of the identity of the visitors. Seeing his consternation, Pico explained that they were born during the Portolá Expedition and their fathers were considered to be among the best thought of in California. “James father is known as The Sailor or The White Ocelot and the Doña's father is The Carpenter, the one who created some of the most beautiful holy objects made of wood. The crucifix at the mission chapel is his.”
Pliego hastily explained that Portilla was truly away from the fort, most likely at his hacienda east of the puebla. He then gave the pair a tour, constantly apologizing for the state of neglect.
James could not help but note just how poorly the post was defended, four small cannon with little shot and no powder. The soldiers were not only poorly clothed and armed but appeared gaunt as if from hunger.
They rode back to the mission, going by way of the waterfront and then through the center of town. Several cantinas catered to sailors and many of the merchants dealt with their trade. They recognized the names of several as the same in Monte Rey but did not stop to see if they new the proprietors. The majority of structures were of rough-hewn pine with several of them made of adobe. The largest structures clearly were governmental, with fancy false fronts and ornamentation.
They briefly stopped at the largest where a sentry in an unfamiliar uniform stood guard. When asked, he explained that the governor had suddenly departed the previous day. “I heard them talking about being urgently needed in the north. I do not know why.”
Upon returning to the mission, they tended to their animals. The corporal of the escort entered and chatted with them, asking of their opinion of the presidio.
“It is in unforgivable condition,” James growled. “And the soldiers appear to be on the verge of starvation.”
The corporal nodded. “Si, Señor. They have not been paid and, when the padre sends food for them, it goes to the officers, sergeants, and corporal first. The private soldiers receive what is left.”
“Are the privates married, corporal?”
“Yes, Señora. And they would surely starve if it were not for their wives.”
Finished with the animals, they went into the friar's garden to find Padre Martin pruning his favorite roses. When asked, he admitted that he had heard of the thievery of food sent to the garrison. “What can I do, children? The governor turns his back on it and Captain Portilla cares little for the men who serve under him.”
“Is there food available that could go to the soldiers, reverend father?”
“Yes, daughter, there is. Do you wish to have it?”
Teresa nodded and the friar led them to a storeroom next to the community kitchen. It contained flour, masa, meats and other foodstuffs. The friar also indicated several cages for carrying chickens and pigs. A cart stood nearby and, while one of the disciples helped hitch a donkey to it, Teresa and the friar gathered foods and put them into the cart.
Two horses were quickly bridled and saddled and, taking the donkey by its rope, they rode out of the mission, following the road into town. Several people came out of their homes and shops to watch, saying nothing.
They took side streets to avoid the main gate of the garrison and went around back to where the poor structures that housed the soldiers' families were located. The women, and several off duty soldiers came out, and stared as the two richly clad riders stopped the cart.
“There is food here. Come and gather it up,” Teresa declared.
They women gathered around, tears running down their cheeks as they took what they so desperately needed – not just for their husbands, but themselves and their children.
The cart was quickly emptied and the two turned to depart.
“May we ask who our saviors are?” one of the women asked.
“Some call us the first born, Doña. But today, we are but those who wish to thank you and yours for your service to California.”