Mission San Francisco Solano
June 1830 – The Last Outpost and Home Again
“How do we reach Misión San Francisco Solano from here?”
“You will need a guide,” Padre Amoros told James early the next morning. “The father prefects were not pleased about establishing it so none of the governors ever assigned soldiers and sappers to build a highway.”
He also explained that most travelers reached it by water.
One of Sergeant Pacheco's missions was to find an overland route between the two so they gladly accepted the services of an Inland Miwok who was from the valley his people called Nappan.
The trail showed some signs of use, widened and cleared by the passage of hooves. The streams had to be forded. Luckily most were slow-flowing and shallow. The biggest obstacles were the salt marshes and la cíenagas. The trail often wended through reeds towering higher than the tip of Pacheco's lance. Birds broke from hidden nests at their approach, often darkening the sky.
A vast body of water barred their way by mid-morning and their guide explained it was impossible to cross with their animals. He pointed northward, the direction the trail appeared to be taking.
“He says we Spaniards – we are still not Mexicans to him – call the river Petaluma from the words péta lúuma, the local words for this area.”
They found a ford and easily crossed the slow flowing river, riding almost due east toward some low hills. The trail led through a small pass, revealing a large valley with another snaking river lush with grasses. They could see small herds of livestock grazing from a distance, guessing they belonged to the mission. The white stucco walls and red tile roof of the mission provided stark contrast to the greens and browns on the surrounding land, especially the thick trees growing along the river.
As they were in view of their goal, the disciple simply spun on his heels and loped back the way he had come.
“It is clear this mission was not planned by the friars under the direction of the father prefect.”
James nodded. “There was a great deal of scandal about this,” James told Romaldo. Padre Altamira went ahead with it without the approval of the father prefect. Or the governor. By the time he was told not to do so, it had already been started.”
“And nobody ever provided assistance to the padre while he worked on it,” Teresa added. “It was only after he had baptized a number of Gentiles that it was decided to go ahead with it as an Asistencia.”
“The father prefect relented and sent Padre Fortuny to assist and take religious supplies to fully stock the chapel. He and Padre Altamira finished the chapel and, with the help of the escolta that accompanied Padre Fortuny, built the quadrangle.”
“Is that is why it it so small?”
James shrugged. “I was not told. I have heard they were quite successful in gathering a goodly number of Gentiles.” He then lifted his sombrero and wiped his brow, not due to the heat or the sun but to find the right words. “There came a time when Padre Altamira's temper was so bad that the disciples could no longer accept his cruel treatment. They attacked the mission, looted the chapel, burning the buildings and supplies before forcing the friar to flee to Misión San Rafael.”
“What happened to Padre Fortuny?” Romaldo asked.
“The disciples, knowing of the planned attack, told him of a very sick child in a distant rancheria so that he would not be present. After the attack, they sheltered him until soldiers arrived from San Rafael.”
They reached the mission gates and the sentry saluted Sergeant Pacheco, calling out to the corporal of the guard. Within a few moments, the thin figure of a man clad in the gray robe of a Franciscan friar walked towards them. The years wore heavily upon his shoulders and the visitors wondered how he was able to go about the strenuous missionary duties of his calling.
“So you are the First Borns,” he said after blessing them and introducing himself as Padre Fortuny. “What brings you to this far northern outpost of the church?”
He listened as they explained their mission, also introducing Sergeant Pacheco and his orders. “Well, I had my hopes up that my next visitors would be another brother to replace me. I will not stay here much longer.”
“Why is that, reverend father?' Romaldo asked.
The friar's eyes twinkled in amusement although his words were serious. “When the order came to swear allegiance to the new government of Mexico, I refused to do so as my oath of loyalty is, first and foremost, to the church and then His Catholic Majesty, the king of Spain.”
“Well, reverend father, it may be some time until someone comes to replace you. The apostolic college is being called upon to replace those in Mexico like you who were forced to depart eight years ago. It is not an easy task.”
The friar sighed. “Well, The Lord in His wisdom sees fit to move in His mysterious ways. I must learn to be patient and accept His will.”
As the friar led them into the chapel, James noticed something strange about its construction. Instead of the usual thick walls of sun-dried bricks, they were thin.
“We rebuilt this out of wood as we do not produce a lot of adobe. What we had has gone to building padizadas for the escolta. One was also built to hold we friars.”
They had already seen the vineyards, orchards, and fields for the Three Sisters.
They retired to the plaza after evening prayers and a meal in the communal area. The local Gentiles proved to be quite adept at the music taught them by Padre Fortuny, to include several playing Spanish – now Mexican – instruments.
Much to their surprise, the San Carlos was not moored at the mouth of Petaluma Creek. A stone cairn signaled a message that explained that the yawl captained by the American Robinson had come with a summons for them to return to Misión San Francisco Asis. It indicated the sloop would return as soon as possible.
That provided an opportunity for them to join Sergeant Pacheco search for a site suitable for a garrison. It did not take long to determine that a site next to the mission was the only suitable place for it. It had the mission's irrigation system for water needed by soldiers and their animals and the mission would provide food and the services to support a garrison.
Although Sergeant Pacheco was semi-literate, able only to read the military-related documents his position required, he proved to be exceptionally good at diagrams and land features.
“The main problem will be improving the road between here and the mouth of the creek where boats must land.”
A Miwok came running into the mission compound three days later, passing the news without showing a bit of exertion from his run from the mouth of Petaluma Creek. “A big log with clouds and people riding on it is at the mouth of the creek. They say I come here tell you.”
They thanked him and one of the disciples took him away to eat and refresh himself.
James, Teresa, and the sergeant quickly prepared their animals to depart, gladly accepting Padre Fortuny's blessings. Romaldo took the opportunity to note places during their ride that would need improvements if, in fact, the presidio was to be built in the area of the mission.
The ship lying at the mouth of the creek appeared as they rode over the pass. All three boats were ashore and they made out the figure of a friar wearing his gray robes and traditional flat-brimmed hat.
“Padre Fortuny will be most pleased to see another friar. Perhaps now he can retire as he wishes.”
James nodded at Teresa's words, all the while wondering how a friar was being assigned to the mission that had never received a great deal of official backing.
James quickly withdrew the rifle from the holster next to the saddle, his movement copied by Teresa. Sergeant Pacheco also drew his inferior musket, hoping he would no need to use it as he had almost no powder or ball.
“Do not fire, husband. She is just trying to defend her cubs. If we halt, she and they will go on their way.”
The huge grizzled bear grunted her displeasure and made demanding noises to her two cubs, leading them into the marshland to the south.
Pedro warmly welcomed them, explaining he had returned to Misión Dolores to take supplies to Misión San Rafael and bring the new friar to Solano. The crew had also unloaded two bags of supplies. “We have no way to board your animals, mi capitan. So, my thought is to let the reverend father take them back to the mission. We can easily board your saddles and packs. You, of course, have plenty of animals back home.”
They readily agreed, even Sergeant Pacheco indicating he had no problem turning his mounts over to the mission.
“And how am I to lead five animals?” the friar grumbled. “My vows tell me I must walk or only ride a donkey.”
“Pedro Gutierrez, the Gentile over there will gladly lead the mounts. He can also show you the way to the mission.”
The friar was not all that pleased but had no other choice.
Later, aboard the San Carlos, James asked, “What know you of the friar? He does not appear to be a very cheerful individual.”
“He is another of the new friars schooled in Mexico. He grumbles about the pure blood of his family and made it clear he had no respect for me or the crew as we are Esselen.”
“He will certainly not last long at Solano,” Teresa responded. “I wonder why the father prefect sent him and not another he knows could do the job.”
That left them silent. The father prefect probably had reason for his choice that they were not and probably never would be privy to.
Sergeant Pacheco left the sloop at the quay fronting the presidio. The sun stood high in the sky and would not set for at least six hours so Pedro decided to sail for Carmel. “It will be a full moon tonight and I see no reason why we cannot sail with its light.”
James agreed so the lines were loosed and the crew quickly set the sails.
Once the burnished orb sank beneath the gentle waves, silver light flashed upon the undulation of the sea. Dark silhouettes told of hills and flats to the east, an occasional faint light indicating human habitations. Frequent flashes of flying fish caught their eyes and they smiled at the pod of dolphins riding their bow waves.
“Land ho, captain. The lights indicate it to be Monte Rey”
Pedro and James both agreed, the separation between the town and the fort an identifying mark. They reached the outer buoy and Pedro expertly turned the sloop landward, followed the familiar markers to the long wooden quay leading to their mooring spot. Anchors fore and aft dropped into the sand, securing the sloop.
Happy helping hands greeted their arrival, children and grand children grabbing up saddles and packs, running ahead to the compound.
“It is so good to be home, mi marido.”
James could not agree more. Their land was beautiful and they had seen and encountered many interesting things. Even the dark prophecies of the future could not dampen their pleasure at their home, the territory of California.