Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

Friday, May 5, 2017


Misión San Rafael Arcángel

1830 – The Trip Almost Complete

They followed the creek to the King's Highway and turned north, entering the boundaries of Rancho de las Pulgas belonging to the heirs of Don José Dario Argüello, the esteemed ex-governor of California who had passed away.

Do we know who oversees the rancho now?” James asked.

I was told Doña Maria Soledad Ortega de Argüello widow of Don José does.”

The buildings were not impressive, made of thatch and wattle. Thick brush encircled the interior courtyard with crossed logs fencing in the corral.

A Mestizo greeted them, announcing he was Pedro, el capataz. “La Señora is not present. She has gone to San Francisco to look into family business. You are aware that his excellency, the governor, has passed away.”

Yes, Pedro, we were told at Misión Santa Clara. He will be greatly missed as he was a man of superior standards.”

Have you been here very long, Pedro?”

The foreman nodded. “I was here before Governor de Borica gave the land to Don José to graze animals and cattle for the presidio. Now that his excellency has passed, I think the land will go to Don Gervasio.”

How is that? Is not Don Gervasio serving in Mexico as habilitado general for the territory?”

Pedro shrugged. He then brought his hands up and sputtered, “The Doña would be very angry for making you stay out in the sun like this. You will care to water your animals. Yes?”

They led the animals to the trough where they slurped up water.

Pedro explained that Señora Argüello had, for several years, supervised the rancho. “Don José was quite busy attending to his many duties at the presidio. He did not have time to care for the land, leaving it to his wife – I mean widow.”

James did not know whether Pedro had the answer but needed to pose the question. “Do you know why they named this las Pulgas? Is that not the name of a place on the other side of those hills, along the coast?”

Pedro looked round as if worried about giving them the wrong information. James was about to change the subject when he spoke. “As you know, Don José was on the great trek to explore this new land with Governor Portolá and Reverend Father Serra. He often told us the story of finding a vacated rancheria and rushing to the jacals to get out of the rain. And...”

...they rushed out again, finding them infested with fleas.” James said the words with a big grin on his face.

Pedro stepped back, eyes wide in awe. “You know the story of the great expedition?” His surprise grew as he learned who they were and their connection with the history of the state.

With the animals' thirst – and theirs – quenched, they remounted and bade the ranch foreman farewell.

Cattle grazed in small clumps, some standing in small raised areas to graze on lush grasses. A huge variety of wild fowl lived in the waters, sometime lifting into the air at the approach of a fox or coyote. Tule reeds towered above their heads and they saw several small Gentile family groups living next to fresh water sources. Like other they had seen, the Miwok had learned from the friars and tended small gardens and cared for a variety of livestock. Chickens pecked at the ground for seeds and insects. Almost all had one or more goats and a big old sow with a litter of piglets was not unusual. And, instead of being near-naked as their ancestors, they wore shirts and pants of blue cotton, the women wearing blouses and wide pleated skirts. However, they did eschew sandals, preferring to go about bare footed.

They reached Misión San Francisco de Asis, or Misión Dolores as everyone but the friars called it, by early evening. The first thing they noticed was the lack of a separate bell tower. Three bells hung high above with a walkway conspicuous on the outside above the large doorway. Two pillars on either side of the door appeared to be purely for decoration.

A disciple stepped forward and welcomed them, showing the way into the center yard and the stables. Two others quickly brought hay and straw and watched as the clearly distinguished visitors cared for their animals.

I was advised of your arrival, my children. I am Padre Esténaga. And you are?”

I do not know what to say, reverend father. You do not recognize me?”

The friar looked closer, dark eyes widening in recognition. “Captain James! It is you. You must forgive me for being so old and senile.”

You are used to seeing me in my sailing clothes, reverend father.” Jame quickly introduced Teresa, who bowed to kiss the friar's hand and happily accepted his blessings.

The friar led them to the cemetery at James' request and they stood in front of the newly covered grave of Captain Governor Don Luis Antonio Argüello, a soldado de cuera and son of a member of the original exploration of California. A woman knelt beside the grave fingering her prayer beads. They knew her to be Señora Maria Soledad Ortega de Argüello, widow of Don Luis and daughter of Captain José Ortega, a great man who had been present at both their births. They read the inscription on the large head stone.

Aqui yacen los restos del Capitan Don Luis Antonio Argüello, Primer Gobanador del Alta California, Bajo el Gobierno Mejicano. Nació en San Francisco el 21 de Junio, 1774, y murió en el mismo lugar el 27 de Marzo, 1830."

Here lie the remains of Captain Don Luis Antonio Argüello, first Governor of Upper California under the Mexican Government. He was born in San Francisco on June 21, 1774, and died in the same place on 27 March, 1830.”

So little to say about a man who dedicated his life to the welfare of his soldier, his family, and this land,” James softly said.

Doña Maria raised her eyes to stare at the man who had spoken of her husband. She rose to her feet and turned to Teresa. “Teresa! It is you?” When Teresa nodded, the two women embraced, the widow breaking into heart rending sobs.

The bell for evening prayers rang and Teresa led Maria to the chapel behind her husband and the friar. They took their place in the front pew reserved for the elite of California. Padre Esténaga, a tall, slender man of fair complexion and light brown hair, made his way to the sacristy, moving carefully as if in pain. James and Teresa knew him to be in ill health, but always doing his utmost to fulfill his duties.

James had the opportunity to examine the chapel again. The tall ceiling's redwood beams reminded him of Uncle Jaime's assistance in constructing the first chapel and two of the statues against the reredos were created by his skilled hands. The two large side altars had been added later, the statues brought from Spain on a supply ship.

Padre Martinez knelt at the alcove dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe, punishing himself for perceived sins.

No matter how many times he saw it, James could not bring himself to accept that any human being, no matter how devout, could whip his bare back bloody to repent for anything – especially those sins imagined and not real.

Doña Maria softly cried during the ceremony and, when it ended, rose to be escorted by a soldier from the chapel and into a carriage. She was taken to her hacienda near the presidio.

They were joined by Sergeant Romaldo Pacheco they knew to lead the escolta, having been appointed due to what was felt to be the importance of the mission. “You have not been here for some time, Don Jaime. Fortunately, your faithful crew still brings us fish on a regular basis. It definitely improves our diet.”

James explained the mission he and Teresa were on and the sergeant's curiosity piqued. “You will join my family for the evening meal? We would be most honored.”

The mission kitchen was quite expert in the preparation of good food but there was no way either James or Teresa could turn down the invitation.

Pacheco’s wife and children warmly welcomed the visitors and hung onto every word as they briefly told of their journey.

And where go you next, good sir and madam?”

Teresa responded, telling the sergeant's oldest son, “We will visit el Presidio and from there cross to visit Misión San Rafael and from there to Misión San Francisco Solano.”

I will probably join you then, Don y Doña. I have been instructed to go to the area of Solano in the valley the Gentiles call Napa to seek a place suitable for constructing a presidio.”

Something in the sergeant's manner caused James to straighten and to pay closer attention. “Another presidio? Why would that be?”

Sergeant Pacheco sighed. “I must admit that our garrison here will not pass the muster of a dedicated commandant. We only have three defensive walls and those have been greatly eroded by rains. The same holds true with the various structures inside the walls. The dry moat is almost filled in and plays no role in defense.”

When asked why manpower would be assigned to build another garrison, Pacheco sighed. “They fear the Russians. They have established Fort Ross north of Bodega Bay and American fur trappers have been seen nearby. Some have even come to the mission to trade for food.”

It is not for me to question the will of my superiors, Señor. I simply must do my duty.”

As the sun had disappeared behind the hills, James and Teresa thanked their hosts and made their way to the mission stables, settling comfortably into their bedroll, sharing their bodily warmth against the growing chill of the night.


It is as the sergeant says, mi vida.”

Teresa nodded as they rode over the hill to see the presidio. “Those haciendas are far more substantial and maintained than the garrison.”

She referred to a gathering of buildings near the stream to the west of the presidio. The tile roofs reflected the sun's heat and the white walls shimmered in the early morning light. Workers already toiled in the fields or tended the livestock.

The flag of Mexico hung limp on the pole in front of what appeared to be the commandant's quarters and chickens pecked the ground in front of the barracks and quarters for married privates, corporals, and sergeant. They also saw the artillery emplacement further towards the sea, not a single soldier to be seen – not even a sentry.

Closer to them, uphill from the fort, several leatherjacket soldiers rode inside a large herd of animals, They clearly culled their own animals for whatever purpose they had in mind. A smaller gathering of casas made of both wattle and adobe were houses the families of the soldiers. While humble, it appeared the dwellings were better cared for than the fort itself. Goats, chickens, geese, and pigs wandered through the three streets.

They announced themselves to the sentry who called for the corporal of the guard. The corporal, in turn, told them to wait and hurried to the guardhouse.

James! Teresa Marta! How good to see you. Come. Dismount.”

Alférez Mariano Vallejo was most familiar to them as he had not only served at el Presidio del Monte Rey but had attended classes conducted by Mateo Rubio. He was a son of Don Ignacio, a member of the original expedition. His rise from enlisted to officer had not come about just due to his bloodline but his efforts to learn everything he could about being a soldier. He was also an avid reader of anything to do with the history of the territory.

They hitched their animals, loosening the girths to allow them to blow, ensuring they had water. Once their thirst was sated, they then hung feedbags.

Mariano listened as they gave him a brief rundown of their trip. He then informed them that Captains Sal and de Vega were not present in the fort, explaining both had other duties to perform. “They leave the administration of this place to Lieutenant Moraga – when he isn't busy chasing down raiding Gentiles.”

The way he spoke made it clear he wished to be doing that instead of minding the post.

Another ensign joined them and Mariano introduced him as Juan Pablo Castro, the son of another pioneering family. Turning to a corporal, Mariano said, “Castro, we are taking out honored guests to the cantina. If the Russians attack, you can find us there.”

As they passed the small chapel, Mariano told them the friars seldom came to conduct rites. “Our soldiers need the spiritual guidance of the fathers and we have complained, not only to them, but the father prefect.”

La Rosa de San Francisco took up the ground floor of a most unusual two-story structure. Adobe bricks made up the ground flood while wood had been used for the second, shake tiles covering the roof. A man wearing a cloth apron – unlike the leather ones worn by farriers and smithies – was introduced to them as Jean Luis Robaire, a Frenchman who, when his term of enlistment was over, had landed from an Argentinian sloop and, with Captain Argüello's approval, set up the establishment.

Sadly, this establishment is most certainly the cause of poor Governor Argüello's demise.”

And why is that?” Teresa asked.

Mariano looked away in embarrassment for having brought up the subject. Ensign Castro explained. “The good governor was most fond of the elixirs available here. He spent almost every hour of its opening to partake of the excellent wines, rums, and other spirits our good Jean Luis provides.”

I thought there was another lieutenant assigned here,” James said.

There is,” Mariano answered. “Lieutenant José Antonio Sanchez. He is in the north with a squad trying to determine what the Russians are up to.”

Ah yes, we were told that plans are underway to establish another fort somewhere near Misión San Francisco Solano.”

Juan Pablo nodded and grinned. “Word has it that my esteemed companion here is going to be assigned to that project.”

As if on cue, a rider appeared at the top of the hill from the direction of the mission. There was no mistaking him as he wore the distinct uniform of a soldado de cuera.

Is that not Sergeant Pacheco?” Vallejo asked.

He told us that he had been selected to seek out a suitable location for a fort near Misión Solano,” James said. “As we are going that way, he decided to join us.” There was no doubt that he was preparing for a long trip as he not only led an extra horse but a pack mule.

Reining in before the cantina, having recognized the two officers and the visitors he was to join, Sergeant Pacheco raised his arm, placing his right hand to the shaft of his long spear. “Honored sirs, I am joining Don Timoteo and his esteemed wife on their journey north.”

Dismount, sergeant. We have been told of your mission,” Mariano said.

Sergeant Pacheco showed his embarrassment at being asked to sit at the same table with his superiors, even though it had not been that long before that Vallejo had held the same rank as he. It took some urging before he finally settled back in his chair, accepting a tall wooden goblet of locally brewed beer.

James proved to be the most knowledgeable about the area to the north having been involved in transporting Padre Gil to establish San Rafael as an Asistencia “We explored the immediate area of the mission but never traveled further north to where Misión Solano is located.”

I understand that Miwok live in the area but the main tribes call themselves Patwin. There are also Pomo and Wintuns.”

Having discussed the area at length with the friars, Sergeant Pacheco nodded. “The name comes from a village the locals called nappan. It is heavily wooded and I am told the streams hold many colonies of castores.”

Ah yes,” Vallejo responded. “The animals the English and Americans call beavers. Their pelts are much sought after.”

And that means we will soon see more than Russians in the area,” Pacheco added. “We have already heard of the rough fir traders haunting the snowy mountains to the east and north.”

As if by a miracle, sails appeared in the bay – most familiar sails of the San Carlos.

We have our transport to San Rafael,” James exclaimed, his words and demeanor light and happy.

The figure at the helm peered at them through a telescope and returned James' wave, motioning their destination as the mission.

James, Teresa, and the sergeant excused themselves. Pacheco patiently waited while James and Teresa rushed into the compound, unhitches their animals, and tightened their girths. In short order, the three waved farewell to the ensigns and rode back toward he mission.


Captain boarding!”

Belay that, Pedro. I am here as a passenger. The ship is yours.”

Pedro, born Pelicano, smiled and called the crew to help stow the gear of James and Teresa. He had another show Sergeant Pacheco to his quarters and then turned to the task of boarding the animals. The expert sailors quickly dealt with that, leading the animals up the gangplank and then lowering them in slings into the hold.

Ensigns Vallejo and Castro had followed, Mariano grinning at the familiarity of the San Carlos. “Do you not feel strange at this not being the Queen or the Carlita?”

I do not feel strange boarding any of the boats in our fleet. They are all a second home to me and I know every board and line on all.”

I often feel he loves these boats more than me.”

All laughed at Teresa's remark, knowing it was said in jest.

Padre Esténaga came to the sloop with five stretchers containing Miwok disciples suffering from a variety of breathing maladies. They were laid on the deck to take in the fresh air during the short voyage. He also took back to the missions some items the San Carlos had brought from Carmel.

James, Teresa, and Pacheco stood at the aft rail of the quarterdeck watching the crew loose the lines and turn her into the bay. The light offshore breeze was just enough to get her underway and they were soon well out into the bay where the full force of the wind filled the sails.

They sailed north beyond Yerba Buena Island, passing Angel Island on the port side. It took but a short while to reach the small inlet where the creek provided water to Misión San Rafael Arcángel. As the water was quite shallow, they had to load the gear into the sloop's two longboats while the animals were lowered into the water to swim ashore. Disciples waited for the animals, along with James, Teresa, and Sergeant Pacheco who had been rowed ashore in the captain's gig.

While the animals were bridled and saddled, the long boats returned to bring the invalids ashore.

Padre Amoros walked down the trail beside the creek leading a dozen disciples to take their cousins to the healing house at the mission. “It is good to see you, James,” he softly said. He almost never raised his voice with the exception of conducting religious rites and praising the Lord. He blessed Teresa and Pacheco, thanking Pedro for the two barrels of salted fish he had brought.

James and Pedro had discussed, at length, what to do after dropping them at the mission. It was decided that the sloop would continue north into the bay to anchor just off Black Point, the only spot a ship the size of the San Carlos could safely lay to in that area.

We will await you there for as long as it takes, Don Timoteo.”

James thanked Pedro and mounted his horse, the reins of which Teresa had held out for him.

The mission chapel was a simple adobe structure with a tall bell tower for a single large bell and cross. Unlike every other mission they had visited, there was no quadrangle, the shops and living quarters for the soldiers and single girls in a separate building. The most impressive part were the structures made of tall poles with thatched roofs and open sides. The stretchers were taken to one of the healing area where women gathered around to assist the newcomers. Having seen so many suffering the same, they knew exactly what to do.

Padre Amoros had the mayordomo take them to the stables to care for their animals, Sergeant Pacheco did not think twice about currying his animals, having done so from the first day of signing on as a cavalry soldier. He also selected an empty stall to bed down just as James and Teresa.

As simple as the outside, the interior of the chapel impressed the visitors. The reredos was dominated by a statue of San Rafael above the crucifix. Hand-crafted Stations of the Cross dominated the wall and the visitors smiled, knowing they were the product of Jaime's skilled hands.

Afterward, on their way to the communal dining area, they passed Padre Gil's famous water clock. Both men stopped to try to determine how it worked while Teresa continued on, eager to sate her hunger.

The surrounding hills were covered by scrub, some flowering manzanita, and lots of pine trees. They could see the towering trees of red wood further into the hills. Massive old live oaks spread their branches here and there on the hills and in the valley of the creek.

Night birds sang them to sleep, along with the soft snorting of the animals.

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