Mission San Carlos Borromeo, Carmel, California
1840 – A Most Disturbing Decade
Today is Tuesday, the eighth day of December in the Year of the Lord eighteen hundred and forty at the village of Carmel in the Mexican territory of California. I find it difficult to realize I was born nearby in the towering tule reeds on the bank of the Carmel River.
James set the quill pen in its holder and carefully blotted the wet ink on the thick piece of paper.
“How can you sit here in this dim candle light when the sun shines brightly outside?” Without giving him a chance to respond, Teresa Marta swung open the wooden shutters on the room's windows, filling it with bright sunlight.
The opened windows also showed the sad ruins of what had once been the beautiful Misión San Carlos Borromeo. That view was the main reason James kept the shutters closed. The sight clutched at his heart and increased his frustration at not having been able to stop it.
Aware of his distress, his wife of more than half of a century, laid a hand upon his shoulder and said, “Why do you not let Jorge or Santiago make the entries?”
“Because this is our personal journal that I have failed to keep current. It is my duty.”
“It is also your duty to keep yourself in good shape, mi marido.”
A young girl entered the room carrying a tray with two cups and a pitcher in the beautiful blue and white once produced by the mission. She either did not notice or had seen the many memorabilia lining the walls so many times that she did not think of them.
“Here, hija, place it on this table.”
“May I pour and serve you both, bisabuela?”
Teresa smiled at her great granddaughter and gave her permission to do so.”
Lips puckered in concentration, the little girl of ten years carefully set the tray down on the table and lifted the pitcher to pour steaming hot coffee into both ceramic mugs. She then carefully added one teaspoonful of brown sugar into each cup, along with a dash of thick cream. Once carefully stirred, she placed one cup at James' right hand and the other on the desk in front of the chair Teresa had settled into. When the adults thanked her, she curtsied and skipped from the room.
“How well I remember the days when we thought hot, bitter chocolate was the most delicious drink in the world.” James mused as he sipped from the cup. “Reverend Father Serra cared very much for his chocolate caliente.”
“And he always punished himself twice as severely after savoring it,” Teresa responded.
After sipping from her cup, she said, “So, my dear husband, what brings you to this room and desk? What is so important that others cannot do it?”
“My father instructed me to keep close records of the events in my lifetime as he did in his. I fill my small journal and then transcribe the contents to these large ones.”
“So those who follow will understand who we were and what we did.”
Teresa's comment was more a statement than a question.
A young man knocked on the sill and asked permission to enter. George Stanley Beadle had both his mother's and father's features. The startling blue eyes and sandy colored hair of his father and the dusky skin hue free of the freckles that covered his father's body announced his heritage. He also possessed the broad face and hooked nose of his mother.
“Why do you not permit me to do that, father? Is it not part of my responsibilities?”
“I cannot ask you to do what is my duty to perform, my son.”
“Well then, why do you not speak the words and I will write them down? That way you will not tire yourself.”
“And the writing will be legible for others to read and not all squiggly from an old man's hand,” James responded with a smile and sparkle in his eyes.
Teresa Marta gave James little chance to further complain, helping him to his feet and seating him in the chair she had just risen from. In turn, she pulled up a chair next to him so she could continue sipping her cup of coffee.
“I was preparing to summarize the events since your mother and I returned from the journey from one end of the territory at the behest of the father prefect.”
“Ah yes, father. I have read your notes and journal entries from that event. It appears the various worries and negatives expressed by the friars came to pass and nobody could or seemed to want to stop them.”
George, or Jorge as everyone called him, took a second to sharpen the point of the pen before dipping it into the ink.
Seeing his son ready, James, with Teresa interjecting points here and there, began to talk about the events starting in 1831.
“We learned of the new governor sent to replace Echeandía via a letter arriving at the presidio from Don Carlos Carrillo, our diputado to the Mexican congress. Governor Victoria had been at Loreto for some time as the comandante principal of Baja California. Although appointed in March of that year, he did not reach San Diego until October or November when Don José Maria was here in Monte Rey trying to clean up the Solis Revolt.”
“Ah yes. The rising of the convicts with their leader they called a general.”
“Solis was a general, my son. He led many troops in the battles for independence from Spain. The reason he was stripped of his rank and made a prisoner was due to the many atrocities he personally committed and allowed his troops to commit.”
“At least they did little harm here.”
“That was due to vigilance upon the part of your father and other members of The Family that let it be known they would not hesitate to defend themselves and theirs with weapons far better than those possessed by the rabble,” Teresa Marta forcefully commented. It was clear she had little patience with the unprincipled men who had been foisted upon the territory by those in far away Mexico City.
Jorge then asked about the Battle of Cahuenga Pass.
James explained how Governor Victoria's demeanor and brusque manner immediate made him unpopular with the Californios who demand respect for their standing in the community. The starting point came when the rancheros called upon José Carrillo and Abel Stearns to petition the governor for democratic reforms in the selection of local and territorial governments.
“We heard that Governor Victoria flew into a rage, throwing things about and demanding the immediate execution of the men he called traitors. He later changed his mind and stayed the execution order, demanding they be exiled forever from California.”
James explained how the landowners in the southern area, probably led by Pio Pico or another member of his family, sought out ex-Governor Echeandía, who had not yet left California, to take military action to overrule the current governor's insulting orders.
“The families Carrillo, de la Guerra, and Pico, along with others, gathered in a rag tag army, ill-armed and totally unprepared to fight, and rode into Puebla los Angeles, as they claimed, 'capturing it.' The five soldiers at Misión San Gabriel, stayed in the mission compound so the so-called army had no opposition.”
Taking the soldiers he had at San Diego and the mission escoltas, Victoria led his cavalry north, prepared to engage the traitors. The two forces met on December fifth at Cahuenga Pass.
“As they were all brothers, sons, uncles, nephews and friends of one another,” James said, “they were not, by any stretch of the imagination going to harm, let alone kill, one another.”
George listened as his father related what he had learned from those who had been there. They had fired at one another, aiming high above each other's heads.
“What came next shocked everyone,” James continued. “When Victoria gave the order to shoot again, Captain Pacheco took offense and charged the other side. Alone. With his lanza in one hand and his espada ancha in the other, Pacheco rode his black horse between the two forces, halting and no doubt feeling foolish as he was alone.”
“Captain Avila of the rebel army took offense at Captain Pacheco’s apparent fierce bravery, so Avila went out to meet Pacheco. He carried a lance, for single combat.
“The two fighters were excellent horsemen, and neither had an advantage over the other. Both armies relaxed to enjoy the show; some climbed nearby trees to get a better view of the fight. Pacheco's horse was black, and Avila's horse was white.
“They charged each other three times, and each time they managed to evade each other's lances. On the forth charge, Pacheco struck Avila's lance from hands and it fell to the ground. The loss of his lance infuriated Avila, so he drew his pistol and shot Pacheco out of the saddle. Pacheco died. Avila was shocked at his own behavior and sat his horse in a kind of horrified stupor.”
Pausing to sip his coffee, James realized relating the tale was beginning to tire him, But, for his son’s sake, he gathered himself to continue. “What happened next will go down in California history as a most black point. Victoria, in a burst of rage, drew his pistol and shot Pacheco out of the saddle, killing him. Captain Portilla, a descendant of that brave explorer and governor of California, charged across the field with his lance at the ready, putting it through Victoria's face, ripping off a chunk of flesh and throwing Victoria to the ground where he writhed in agony.”
Having come to an impasse, the two sides drew apart, Victoria's men taking him away and returning to San Diego. Feeling deep shame for what had transpired, Victoria resigned his position as governor, Echeandía immediately taking up the baton of office. Victoria, with his personal escort returned to Loreto and then onward, returning to his home in Mexico.
James also related how Echeandía held the office of governor—his greatest contribution being doing little but making noises—until January 14, 1833, when José Figueroa came from Mexico to assume the position.
“Echeandía had tried very hard to woo the daughter of one of the local ranchers with no success. So, with the arrival of Figueroa, he slipped away on the American ship Pocahontas, along with Padre Peyri from Misión San Luis Rey who took two disciples with him to attend the apostolic college of San Fernando.”
“Reverend Father Peyri had served at the mission for thirty-three years,” Teresa added, “always faithful and giving his all to the disciples he felt were his children. They wept heartily for days after his departure.”
“But, you know all of this, do you not, my son?”
“Yes, father,” Jorge responded. “But only from your writings and what little I learned when the ships brought us supplies at Sea Lion Cove. I am eager to put down every word you and mother have to say. So, please continue.”
“I am afraid not, my son. Your father is tiring and it is time for his to take a brief siesta before we go to the chapel for noon prayers.”
Jorge sighed. He loved his parents deeply but could not understand their daily treks to the hulk of what had once been an important place in the territory to hear the words of a priest tired and despondent. He too strongly believed in the Holy Mother Church and did not understand why The Lord had turned His face away from it. But, he did not see where any prayers would be answered.
Padre José Maria del Refugio Sagrado Suarez del Real, had come to Misión San Carlos in 1833 from the apostolic college in Zacatecas. Like his brother, the friar at Misión Santa Cruz, he had always struggled against the encroachment of foreigners and the tearing apart of the mission lands. Unlike previous friars at the mission, he lacked missionary zeal and love for what few disciples remained nearby. And, with so little to do, the friar had reverted to what so many of his fellow Zacatecans had, spend too much time in his cups—the polite way of calling him besotted.
Those in la Puebla Carmelo not otherwise occupied, followed the lead of members of The Family by attending prayers and mass. Even then, only about half of the pews were occupied and there were, of course, no mission guards. The friar was assisted by two deacons, young disciples who were dedicating their lives to someday become friars like the Franciscaños they had loved so much.
After Mass, James and Teresa walked down to the beach to gaze out at the ocean and the boats riding at anchor.
The Carlita, The Queen, and The San Carlos appeared no different than from the days of their launching so many years before. James sat down on an overturned barrel, his grandson beside him. The boy listened in awe as his grandfather pointed out each feature of the boats, reciting them as directed. There was no doubt that he would follow his grandfather as a sailor aboard one of them.
The sun kissed the horizon, setting the waves aglow.
“The years become so blurred. It is difficult to remember what happened in what order.”
Santiago Mateo nodded. With his father retired and operating a bookshop in Monte Rey, Santi, as he was called, worked for The Family as well as conducting classes for the youth of the village and family. It was the third day of James and Teresa reciting their memories of events and he had happily taken over from Jorge who was on his way to visit Sea Lion Cove.
“The governors changed so often, it is difficult to remember who they were.” Teresa giggled and held her husband's hands. “I think it was Echeandia, then Victoria, then our esteemed Pio Pico, who did everything they could to force secularization upon us.”
“He did not last very long in the position, did he, Señora?”
“I seem to remember it was but twenty days until Echeandía took over in the south and Zamorano here in the north.” James clicked his tongue in disgust. “A governor's secretary acting as governor. What did our territory come to?”
“Remember, husband, Zamorano came into power because of Don Luis' son, Mariano.”
“And then there arrived our beloved General Figueroa.”
Santi could not miss the disgust in James' voice. “He was the one who forced the expulsion of many padres?”
“Yes, and he brought the Zacatecans with him.”
Santi shook his head, sadness darkening his face. “In spite of being stripped of everything, the Franciscan friars loved us with all their hearts and I saw the terrible sorrow in their faces when the disciples were reduced to mere beggars and peones.”
“Well, Figueroa lasted but two years to be replaced by Don José Antonio Castro of the well-connected Castro family.”
“And the Pico clan was most displeased by that,” Teresa muttered.
“Well, Don José became quite powerful when Don Mariano was elevated to the rank of general and comandante of the northern region.”
“I think I learned that Don José is currently transporting foreigners to San Blas as part of the government's efforts to reduce their presence in the territory,” Santi opined.
“He will have an important role in California politics, as we have already seen,” James said.
“The biggest tragedy of the removal of the friars from control of the missions was that men who could neither read nor write nor do sums were in charge of it. I do not understand how that was permitted to happen.” Teresa, a person of normal sunny disposition, surprised them by the cloud of anger covering her features.
James sighed. “The hardest was watching what happened to the disciples. Some took to the woods while others had no choice but to seek shelter at the ranches.”
Teresa stamped her foot. “Not shelter. Slavery! They work for nothing. Are not fed or clothed properly. And are not even taught the prayers or have access to holy rights and the Eucharist. It is criminal and all who are responsible for it should be in prison.”
“Please be calm, mi carida. There is nothing that can be done now. All are well-to-do ranchers with great influence with Governor Alvarado. One cannot turn back time.”
“I pray every day that they will suffer in the fires of Hades,” Teresa said, grit in her voice.
“We need to return to the journal,” James said to ease the tension in the room. “A milestone came in 1836 when Generalisimo Santa Ana sought to punish the Americans in Texas for not abiding by his laws. It had no direct effect here in California other than to make the foreigners most nervous. Especially whether or not Governor Alvarado would impost similar sanctions upon them.”
Santiago had to pause briefly to blot the page, whittle a new tip on the pen, and dip it into the inkwell.
“The members of the cabal had, by then, determined their fate in California hinged upon supporting whichever side was in power at that time. I feel, however, that the most important foreigner of all is going to be that Swiss man, Sutter, in that compound he calls New Helvetia over on the river Sacramento.”
“Has he not recently arrived in the area?”
Teresa spoke, “Don Mariano's wife, Francisca Benicia, says that he feels the man will play an important part in the future of California.”
When Santi looked askance, James grinned. “Do not ask me how she knows such things, my young friend. If you have not yet learned, you will come to realize that women have a far better news spreading service than was ever formed by either the government of Spain or Mexico.”
“I think the event that made me feel saddest was having Father Prefect Durán leave this area to go south to Misión Santa Barbára as administrator of that place. I do not sense that Father Prefect Diego has the same fervor and devotion to the disciples.”
“None of the Zacatecans do,” Teresa grumbled. “Especially that sot upon the hill.” She pointed to the near ruins of Misión San Carlos.
Both she and James stared out the window, near tears at the sight of fallow fields, neglected orchards, overgrown vineyards, and the ruins of the mission. The few men and women in the fields moved sluggishly, despondent over what they had lost. They did not have to turn to look out the other windows to note the shops along the waterfront and the smaller fishing fleet tied up there. The Queen, the Carlita, and San Carlos were now moored at the larger wharf in Monte Rey, now inhabited by more foreigners.
“They will not retain control of this land much longer.”
Teresa knew exactly what James referred to, the increasing presence of men from Europe and their aggressive Americans to the east and north. Almost no support came from Mexico and supply ships from San Blas had long ago stopped arriving in the territory. The presidios were in near ruin, the once proud soldiers in rags, struggling to find the least morsels to feed their families.
“Perhaps the Americans are correct.”
“In what way, honored sir?”
“In that we Californios are wasting a most productive and rich land in ignorance and laziness. Many deign education that does not deal directly with their ranches.”
Santiago could not argue, carefully writing the words of those who had been there from the beginning.