Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

Tuesday, May 2, 2017


Mission San Jose in 1830

1830 – The East Side of San Francisco Bay

How did Don José find the way through these hills?”

According to father, they traveled north along the coast until they could go no further. They returned to the mission site and followed this river north into the hills. It was either that or return all the way to Soledad.”

Well, it is certainly beautiful here. The trees seem to touch the sky and the valleys filled with oaks provided food for the Gentiles.”

Even then, they could not help but notice small signs of neglect here and there, spots where bridges needed repair and small mud and stone slides had not been cleared away.

Stately willows brushed the long grasses with their flowing branches and squirrels chittered in the trees. Birds sang their trilling songs and bees fluttered from wildflower to wildflower.

They stopped at noon for a light repast beside a stream, its numbing cold refreshing on the tongue. Cold tortillas and chicken joined day-old frijoles to sate their hunger. Smiles upon their lips displayed their pleasure at hearing the animals blow and then inhale as they nuzzled the lush grasses.

They crossed the top of the pass, enabling them to see the far-away expanse of the Valley of the Guadalupe River. The air was so clear the gathering of buildings of el Pueblo San José appeared before them and, to the north, the compound of la Misión Santa Clara de Thamien shone in the midst of green fields and orchards, white stucco walls and red tiled roofs contrasting with its surroundings.

Several rancherias sited along the valley floor provided shelter for vaqueros y pastores that tended herds of horses and cattle and flocks of sheep.

As the mission was closer, they stopped there first. Padre Viader was instantly recognizable by the very large crucifix on the prayer beads circling his waist. “Welcome, my children. What brings you to our place of God.” His mouth formed a small sign as the surprise of their identities sank in. “Ah, the famous First Borns. I have heard of you and am please to meet you. At last.”

The friar introduced them to Gabriel Peralta, a sergeant retired as an invalid several years before who acted as the mission mayordomo.

We have met, reverend father,” James replied. He then introduced Peralta to Teresa.

Another friar joined them and Padre Viader introduced him as Padre Catalá. Both bowed their heads as he blessed them, earning smiles from Padre Viader and Gabriel.

I see you too believe I somehow have miraculous powers.” The friar said it with a combination of humility and consternation. When neither responded, he chuckled and indicated he and Padre Viader should be preparing for Vespers.

At their request, Peralta led them through the large compound to the spacious stables. As large as they were, only a few stalls contained animals. “We keep most of the animals at outlying ranchos. They are only brought in when a member of the escolta has need of them. The padres only ride donkeys and they graze nearby.”

The hay was fresh and the straw still had the sunny smell of the fields. They had just enough time to rub down the animals until the bell rang for evening prayers.

The tall ceilings of the chapel were highly decorated with an equally brilliant reredos towering over the altar. Large chandeliers hung from the ceiling and they saw the lines leading to davits on the wall allowing them to be raised and lowered for lighting and snuffing the candles.

Padre Viader recited the prayers, his hearty voice echoing from the back wall of the chapel, almost louder than the voices of the choir in the loft.

A soft breeze brought the smell of poultry turning on a spit over a fire of apple wood as they neared Gabriel's home after prayers. Maria Antonia greeted them, embracing Teresa and pointing to the masa so she could hand shape the tortillas.

Padre Viader has an interesting reputation,” James said as they ate.

Gabriel chuckled and his wife lowered her eyes. “Yes he does, James. He sometimes fails to heed the governor's rules about trading with ships anchoring at the mouth of the river. He always does what he thinks is best for the mission. And the disciples.”

Are you not responsible for notifying someone of any breaches of the law?”

Gabriel almost choked on the chicken leg he was eating. More from humor than concern. “It is sometimes best to find important things to pay heed to. El Padre also goes out of his way to see to the needs of my fellow soldiers and our families.”

Stories of his journeys far to the east, crossing the hills into the large valley beyond, had reached the ears of The Family, interesting due to the elders having joined an expedition to the Valley of San Joaquin many years earlier. He supposedly was in search of sites for future missions but the general thought was that he sought more Gentiles to bring to The Word of God.

Padre Viader can sometimes be most difficult. He has no fear and often slips away, not letting two of us escort him as regulations require.”

They listened as Gabriel told the story of how, one night while going to a distant rancheria to attend to a dying disciple, three Gentiles attacked him. “He simply ignored their crude weapons and banged their heads together. They were so awed by his great strength that they threw their weapons away and followed him back to the mission.”

Are they the ones who always seem close to him?” Teresa asked,

All smiled when Gabriel told him they were.


They knew that el Pueblo de San José de Guadalupe had been founded by Captain de Anza shortly after the founding of Misión Santa Clara. They were surprised by the orderliness of the village, much cleaner and well-kept than Branciforte. Many of the original settlers still lived and they knew many of their sons and daughters who had come to Monte Rey.

Entering the main plaza, they pulled up in front of a cantina with the name Sunol over the door. After draping the reins over the rail, they found a rough-hewn table and ordered something cool from the young girl who came out to serve them.

Do you wish something to eat?” she asked after bringing them two large wooden cups of beer. She explained what was available and they asked for bowls of lamb stew.

Three old men sat at a table in one corner of the porch, unshaded so they could savor the sun's warmth.

Where from come ye, strangers?” asked one.

We are from Carmel, Señor.

That is where I know you from. You are the eldest son of Don Timoteo, el Marinero?”

James nodded and introduced Teresa.

The old man broke into a smile. “I know well your father, Doña. He built a special table for me several years ago. How fare they?

All three of them expressed their sorrow at learning of Timothy's death. And then, they smiled when James explained he had died doing what he loved best.

I am remiss, Don Jaime. My name is Claudio Alvires. I came with Captain de Anza and had the honor of being selected alcalde here in eighty-five.”

The other two introduced themselves as José Maria Alviso, the current mayor, and Miguel Flores, a long-time resident of the pueblo. They returned to their beers to permit James and Teresa to partake of their meal.

How is your meal, honored visitors?”

The proprietor wiped his hands on his apron, beaming when they congratulated him on the savory tang of the stew. He also chuckled when they asked what he had added to the tortillas to give them an unusual taste. “I cannot tell you that as it is a closely held secret of mine. It brings people back time and time again to try to determine what it is.”

They knew who he was, a Spanish sailor from a French naval vessel who had deserted in eighteen hundred and eighteen. He had married a local girl and his establishment also served as a post office. The young girl who served them was one of his daughters.

Wishing to reach Misión San José before nightfall, they departed as soon as they had finished their meal, paying with two copper coins they carried for that purpose.

They bypassed el Rancho los Tularcitos, planning to stop there on the return leg of their journey.

It is so good to see you once again, my children,” said Padre Prefecto Durán. When they tried to present him with the letter from Father Prefect Sarria, he smiled and waved it away. “We discussed it at great length before asking you to take the journey.” He also said that he would wait to read their report. “We plan on preparing a letter to the archbishop including your comments. We deeply hope he will be able to convince whoever is leading the republic at that time to curb the plan to secularize.”

Padres Amador and Barcenilla had joined them, along with Corporal Lugo.

What is this we hear that you have been seeking disciples in the big valley to the east?”

The friars smiled. “Not actively, my children,” Father Prefect Durán said. “We sent Corporal Lugo here into that area when we discovered some of our cattle and sheep had been taken.”

They find it easier to steal and eat our animals than it does hunting their usual fare,” Corporal Lugo responded. “When we find them, instead of slaying them as some propose, we follow the padres wishes and bring them back here to learn that the animals are not theirs to take as they please.”

They do not have the same sense of ownership as we,” Padre Amador said, not realizing James and Teresa already knew that.

While the father prefect and Padre Barcenilla prepared for the evening prayers, Padre Amador showed them the mission compound, going with them to stable their animals, asking a disciple to bring them fresh hay and straw.

We have been extremely blessed in our efforts here. We have never had as many disciples as others but they have worked diligently. Our latest roundup tells us that we have more than twelve thousand head of cattle, thirteen thousand horses, and twelve thousand sheep. We keep them in ranchos north, south, and east of here.”

They could see for themselves that crops were planted as far as the eye could see, Behind the mission to the east, rows upon rows of grapevines crossed the hills and they saw a number of orchards.

We do not produce as many fruits as some of the missions further south but our vineyards do extremely well,” the friar told them.

From the outside, the chapel did not impress them. As tall as most and with red tiles on the roof, it possessed a fresh coat of white stucco but otherwise was plain. It was only when they stepped inside did the see the loving efforts by Father Prefect Durán and the other friars.

The first thing they noticed were unusual chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.

They are crystal,” Padre Amador told them. Seeing they did not understand what that meant, he explained that they were natural stones usually found in large caves. “Corporal Lugo discovered the Yokuts to the east possessed rocks they claimed come from caves they know of in the snow-capped mountains we named los Sierra Nevada. He made an arrangements to trade cattle and sheep for as many of the stones as they could bring us.”

He went on to explain the mission had been most fortunate in that one of the British deserters who had sought sanctuary there was an amateur jeweler. “He immediately saw the value of the stones and set to work polishing and shaping them in a most cunning fashion. Brother Roberto spent many hours toiling at the polishing wheel and then making the beautiful items you see hanging there above us. He claimed it was his gift to God for giving him a new life in this land.”

In response to the question of where the Englishman had gone, Padre Amador explained he was actually Irish and still lived at the mission. “At the moment, Brother Roberto is away, searching for more gems to add to the altar and the statues.”

Sitting in the front pew waiting for Vespers to start, the studied the beauty of the chapel. The reredos behind the altar had a painting of Jesus Christ, a statue of Saint Joseph, a dove representing The Holy Spirit, and God the Father at the very top surrounded by golden rays. At one side was another statue of Jesus clad in a scarlet robe, crowned with thorns with a statue of Saint Bonaventure on the other. There was, of course, another statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The baptismal font had been fashioned of hammered bronze.

As always, the sweet voices of the choir resounded from the walls, pleasing to the ears. And, they had no problem hearing the voice of Father Prefect Durán as he recited the prayers.

Corporal Lugo invited them to join he and his family for the evening meal, but they declined, explaining that the father prefect had expressed his desire they eat with him in the communal kitchen.

They retreated to the friar's garden after eating and talked, music from the plaza in front of the chapel providing a soft background. The three friars had lots of questions and listening intently as James and Teresa took turns relating their experiences. All were saddened by the state of affairs at Misión San Luis Obispo. And none were surprised at hearing of the overwhelming opposition to secularization.


A light breeze from the north created waves across the tops of the reeds flourishing in las cíenagas, the endless salt marshes at the southern end of the great Bahia del San Francisco. Huge flocks of wild fowl lifted in clouds, only to settle back into the water at a different location. Deer grazed alongside cattle while foxes and coyotes slunk nearby, seeking a morsel for their young.

They reached el Rancho los Tularcitos within a couple of hours of leaving the mission. The foreman showed them where to let their animals graze while a worker ran to the main house to fetch the owner.

Don José Loreto Higuera, warily greeted them, unused to having unannounced visitors. He did not recognize their name and only brightened when told they had been on the same expedition that had brought his leatherjacket soldier father to the area.

You knew my father?”

Both had to admit they were far too young at the time to remember any of the lesser members of the expedition.

In turn, Don José told them his father had often told stories of those times, referring once or twice to the Englishman and his Indian blood brother who had been there. He seemed sincere in expressing his sorrow at the passing of James' father.

The rancho was not large and arable land limited by the thickets of tule. It only extended from the confluence of the Calera and Pennitencia streams to a massive Roble at what they were told was the land belonging to Pueblo San José.

They stayed but a short time, begging their departure due to their desire to continue on to Misión San Francisco before nightfall. They explained that was why they had no traveled north from Misión San José to Rancho San Antonio Peralta, the much larger land grant much further north. They explained that they had known and well remembered Don Luis Maria Peralta as a sergeant in the same group in which Don José's father had served.

We do our best to remain in touch,” Don José told them. “Don Luis has become an important man in Pueblo San José and it would not surprise me to see he and his family play a greater role in the territory in years to come.”

Instead of traveling well out of their way to follow el Camino Real all the way to Pueblo San José, they rode lesser trails edging the endless marshes. Their main obstacle was el Rio Guadalupe. Fortunately, the confluence with the bay slowed it, making it not difficult for the animals to swim across.

As nobody was near, they removed their boots, holsters, belts and other leather items, sealing them in an oilskin cloth brought for just that purpose. The animals readily entered the water and swam across, James and Teresa hanging onto the pommels of the saddles. Both were good swimmers but preferred letting the animals do the work.

They found a thicket not far from the other bank of the river and removed their damp outer clothing.

Teresa had a twinkle in her hazel eyes as she noticed the way James looked at her. Without hesitation, she went to one of the pack saddles and removed their sleeping roll, spreading it out on a soft mound overlooking the marshes.

Even after forty-five years together, I find you the most desirable woman in all of the world.”

She happily returned his kiss, showing her desire to equal his.

The animals contentedly grazed, ignoring the actions of their humans. Even a gaggle of wild gray, black, and white geese from the far north continued feeding, ignoring the intruders on their land.

The interlude provided an opportunity for Father Sun to remove the dampness from their clothes hanging on some bushes and they quickly dressed, not caring about the time taken from their effort to reach the mission by nightfall.

We can always make camp wherever we desire.”

Teresa chuckled with happy amusement, the sound James always found delightful.

They rode the rich and fertile land, soon returning to the King's Highway for ease of travel. The clouds cloaking the wooded hills to the west reminded them of the thick banks of fog shrouding the coast that time of year. Little rain would fall where they were but the moisture-laden clouds provided ample water to fill the many creeks and streams making their way to the bay and creating the marshes.

While not as many in other areas they had ridden across, there were few Miwok rancherias. Those they came across had small gardens, along with a few goats, pigs, and chickens. Their Spanish often mixed with Miwok words but were easy to understand. The young boys examined the riding gear and weapons with deep interest and the girls gazed upon the important lady and her beautiful apparel.

It did not surprise them to fall far short of the goal when the sun tipped the crest of the now clear hills to the west. Instead of pushing on to the next rancho, they found a spot away from the road under a huge, old oak tree with willows, laurels, and a few pine growing nearby. As they made camp, three squirrels chattered at them from the branches of the tree, scolding them for being in their territory. Several crows in a nearby árbol de algodón, clouded in the little white seed pods that gave it its name, also scolded them for no reason other than it was their fashion.

Foraging for dinner was easy. James went to the nearby stream and knelt upon a large rock. He gazed into the clear water until he spouted the brown speckled form hiding under a root and reached slowly down, slipping his fingers quickly into the gills, lifting it from the water. It flopped wildly on the rock while James gather in three more.

They had almost forgotten Dog until the animal came to nose the fish in curiosity. He always seemed to stay just of the fringes of their awareness. That he came so close meant he was hungry.

Teresa took care of that. A large-eared rabbit had appeared not far from where she was establishing a good cooking fire, so she gathered up the bow and arrows always kept at hand. With a smooth draw and aim, she loosed the arrow that found its way directly into the rabbit's side.

Much to her surprise, Dog ran to the animal and carefully lifted it in his fangs, bringing it near and laying it on the ground not far from the human woman. His tail wagged slowly as she removed the arrow, tossing the rabbit to the ground in front of Dog. Taking it as a signal it was his, he carried it to a spot about twenty feet away and crouched belly to the ground as he ate his due.

Some wild onions and sage went into the small traveling iron pot along with corn and squash from the packs. A bit of salt and cilantro were added for seasoning. Masa carried in a wicker basket was expertly flattened into tortillas and set on a hot rock next to the fire.

Later, after reciting their evening prayers, they slipped into the bedroll and lay close together staring up through the leaves of the oak at a moon so large they could almost see the rabbit the Esselen believed lived in Tomanisaci, their word for the silvery orb.

They quickly dropped off to sleep, secure in knowing Dog was watching over them.

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