Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

Friday, May 19, 2017


This has been, by far, the most difficult novel I have ever written.

It's not the hours and hours of research and more research I've put into it. It's not the characters telling the story. In fact, I purposely moved from Timothy and Jaime as the main characters in the first three novels to James and Teresa Marta, Timothy's son and Jaime's daughter.

I think the difficulty lies in my hesitation to present the absolute disaster of taking the missions away from the friars.

By the tine Mexicans were fighting for independence, the missions in far away California had tens of thousands of Indians living and depending upon them. The thirty in Baja California were limited by the available of water for irrigation as the entire peninsula is desert. However, most of those that remained open in 1822 were self-sufficient and supported a reasonable population.

However, the twenty-one in Alta [or Upper] California had become self-sufficient, not only supporting themselves but the soldiers and civilians living in the area. Huge herds of cattle, horses and mules. Fields ripe with grains, gardens filled with vegetables, orchards growing an amazing variety of fruits from apples to bananas and figs, and vineyards covering hillsides. Flocks of sheep provided wool for looms that produced beautiful cloth for all sorts of purposes. Fields of cotton turned into thread for making clothes. Suet from slaughtered cattle providing tallow for immense numbers of candles and hides tanned into exceptional leather. The disciples made sun-dried bricks for construction, tiles for roofs, and hewed stones for construction. They cut down trees to produce excellent lumber.

And then comes the part of the story that hurt me to the quick – secularization.

Tens of thousands of los Indios fought in the Mexican war for independence under their white officers, being promised freedom and lands if they won. And the Mexican government held true to its promise. What was left over from granting lands to the officers was turned over to los Indios who were able to successfully turn mission industries and lands to their own use without needed guidance of a friar or priest.

That was because they had a proven agrarian society before the arrival of Europeans. They were Stone Age peoples, but with records of amazing construction and intellectual advancement.

But, Mexico tried to do the same for the Californian Indians. It just couldn't work – and it didn't.

California Indians lived in a somewhat paradise and never needed to travel more than one day from where they were born. They had little or no clothing, wearing mostly paint and tattoos. They lived off the wild, foraging for roots and eating what meat they could gather with their wooden spears and crude nets. Rats, mice, gophers, moles, snakes, rabbits, insects, an occasional antelope or deer or whatever carcass they might find. They lived in crude huts of brush and mud. When there came disease – many natural to California and North America – or drought, or floods, or earthquakes, they buried their dead and went on with their life.

The most advanced were the Coastal Chumash who built beautiful canoes and fished with crude spears and nets. They routinely sailed out to the Channel Islands.

Even then, never having needed it, they lacked the discipline necessary for a successful agrarian society, which the friars brought them.

I could write a dozen chapters about the variety of Mexican governors assigned to the Territory of California, each one either inept, corrupt, or egotistical. The soldiers who had retired and received land grants along with settlers who made special friends with particular governors were given land on which they established Ranchos. With little education, they concerned themselves only with their own life as lords of the lands and los Indios suffered under their tyranny. Petty spats became common as those Californios of the north feuded with those of the south.

Los Angeles should be the capitol.”

No! Monte Rey should.”

In any case, I had to make a decision. There had to be a place to stop. It had been eighty years from the date of the Portolá Expedition when James and Teresa Marta were born. Would they still be alive in 1840? We know of a few rare cases where un Indio was still alive from the time and even into the 1860s. But, would James and Teresa Marta survive that long?

I decided no and turned to AndrewJames’ daughter’s husband, and Santiago Mateo to tell the final chapter.

I have tried to personalize and bring to life events in the dust of history, hidden on bookshelves nobody visits. To bring to life the men in their gray robes who left all they knew behind to live a frugal life with one goal; to bring The Word of God to the Indians they looked upon as their children. And to erase the lies of men like Howard Howe Bancroft who painted them as cruel slave masters who cared little about the welfare of the Indians forced to live at the missions.

So, following are some of the milestones that Jorge and Santiago would have witnessed in the next decade:

The Bartleson-Bidwell party with mules and on foot groped their way across the continent using the untested California Trail in 1841. A sign of things to come as they were followed by another exploratory party of Americans coming down the Siskiyou Trail from Oregon.

During that same year, Francisco Lopez, the mayordomo of the Mission San Fernando, was in the canyon of San Feliciano, which is about eight miles westerly from the present town of Newhall, and according to Don Abel Stearns, "with a companion, while in search of some stray horses, about midday stopped under some trees and tied their horses to feed. While resting in the shade, Lopez with his sheath knife dug up some wild onions, and in the dirt discovered a piece of gold. Searching further, he found more. On his return to town he showed these pieces to his friends, who at once declared there must be a placer of gold there."

Then the rush began. As soon as the people in Los Angeles and Santa Bárbara heard of it, they flocked to the new "gold fields" in hundreds. And the first California gold dust ever coined at the government mint at Philadelphia came from these mines. It was taken around Cape Horn in a sailing-vessel by Alfred Robinson, the translator of Boscana's Indians of California, and consisted of 18.34 ounces, and made $344.75, or over $19 to the ounce.

Davis says that in the first two years after the discovery not less than from $80,000 to $100,000 was gathered. Don Antonio Coronel, with three Indian laborers, in 1842, took out $600 worth of dust in two months.

Water being scarce, the methods of washing the gravel were both crude and wasteful. And it is interesting to note that the first gold "pans" were bateas, or bowl-shaped Indian baskets.

In 1842, The first Bishop of Alta California Francisco Garcia Diego, OFM, directed Frays José Jimeno and Juan Moreno to contact Governor Micheltorena for permission to build a seminary in the remains of the quadrangle of Mission Santa Inés. Micheltorena not only gave permission, he also donated 35,000 acres and established an annual annuity of $500 for its maintenance.

In the Seminary's constitution, there is a provision for the education of the young men of the landowners. The wealthy landowners would pay tuition and enough money was set aside for the less fortunate. One wonders at that point why the landowners would even consider educating their sons. There had been no need before, so why then?

Governor Micheltorena, on orders from Mexico, tried to return control of some missions to the friars but, by then, it was too late. Most had fallen into total ruin and there was little else to save them. Misión Santa Bárbara, the seat of the new Bishop, continued in church control but without the compound and land that had once made it so successful.

It was also in 1842 that the biggest land speculator and outright crook to become governor of California was appointed – Pio Pico. It was left to him to finalize the destruction of the missions, selling off everything he could think of to try to fill the territory's coffers. Most of his actions were later declared to be illegal, although he continued to be a powerful figure, even after the Americans turned it into one of their territories.

And then came the American-Mexican War of 1846. Governor Pico tried to prepare to fight off the invaders but had little chance to do so. After decades of neglect, the California military barely existed. Rag tag uniforms, outdated weapons, and little practice in the art of war. While still outstanding horsemen, they simply stood no chance against the well-equipped and highly trained Americans. An American fleet landed at San Diego and quickly won the day both there and at Los Angeles. Pico fled to Baja and begged Mexico to send troops, meeting with complete silence.

The next move came in January 1846, the American House of Representatives voted to stop sharing Oregon with the British. The move of Manifest Destiny came westward. The European population of California numbered no more than 10,000 with about 1,300 Americans and 500 varied Europeans ranging from Monte Rey to Sacramento.

We then come to the famous Bear Flag Revolution in June of that year. Thirty non-Mexican settlers, mostly Americans, staged a revolt and seized their under-manned presidio at Sonoma, taking General Mariano Vallejo into custody. It lasted all of one week until Captain John C. Fremont led American troops to take over the revolt. Shortly thereafter, in July, an American flotilla sailed into the Bay of Monterey and took over the town without a fight. Within a few days, the U.S. Sloop Portsmouth landed and a small body of troops took over the unmanned and ruined Presidio del San Francisco. A few holdouts in the south continued to fight into 1847 but with little chance of winning. To make matters worse, 320 soldiers with women of the Mormon Battalion arrived in San Diego.

The nail in the coffin of Mexican chances in California came in January of 1848 when gold was discovered in large amounts at John Sutter's Mill in Sacramento. Remember, this was not the first discovery as the friars knew about the presence of the precious metal for at least thirty years. The Mexican-American war was concluded in February but, by then, thousands of gold-hungry men from all over the world were descending upon California, turning the sleeping village of San Francisco into a major seaport.

In 1847–49, California was run by the U.S. military; local government continued to be run by alcaldes (mayors) in most places; but now some were Americans. Bennett C. Riley, the last military governor, called a constitutional convention to meet in Monterey in September 1849. Its 48 delegates were mostly pre-1846 American settlers; 8 were Califorños. They unanimously outlawed slavery and set up a state government that operated for 10 months before California was given official statehood by Congress on September 9, 1850 as part of the Compromise of 1850. After Monterey, the state capital was variously San José (1850 – 1851), Vallejo (1852–1853) and Benicia (1853–1854) until Sacramento was finally selected in 1854.

Californios (dissatisfied with inequitable taxes and land laws) and pro slavery Southerners in lightly populated, rural Southern California attempted three times in the 1850s to achieve a separate statehood or territorial status separate from Northern California. The last attempt, the Pico Act of 1859, was passed by the California State Legislature, signed by the State governor, approved overwhelmingly by voters in the proposed Territory of Colorado and sent to Washington D. C. with a strong advocate in Senator Milton Latham. However the secession crisis in 1860 led to the proposal never coming to a vote.

At last, President Abraham Lincoln signed an Act declaring that all of the 21 missions in the California mission chain would become the property of the Catholic Church. However, it would not be until many years later than efforts would be made to restore the chapels to their original beauty, almost every one of them shrift of their once vast estates.

Now, what we find in our school systems are a series of misrepresentations of what life was truly like during the period of Spanish Occupation. Most of it comes from a series of books written about California History by Hubert Howe Bancroft, an editor and compiler of documents in San Francisco after the boom of the Gold Rush had faded. He had employees gather documents and letters and journals from a wide variety of sources and employed others to translate them. While his books are filled with footnotes and references often outnumbering the exact text of the missives, there is still no doubt as to his bias again the friars and Mexicans in general.

Bancroft was a slightly educated Midwesterner of Protestant background who showed a clear bias against the Catholic church and its priests in general. In spite of many, many visitors lauding the friars for their devotion to and caring for the Indian disciples, he still managed to taint their efforts with wild stories of slavery and brutal punishment—almost every bit of it unfounded. True, as related in this novel, some friars were cruel and uncaring, but it has to be noted all were later arrivals, many of them of Mexican birth.

In summary, while I did not include footnotes and references in these novels, the various works available in the public domain show a widely different view of the friars than espoused by Bancroft.

My sincerest hope is that readers of this series takes away several things:

In spite of immense hardships, the pioneers who explored and settled a small portion of California were honest, hard-working men who lived up to their oats of loyalty to their king and church.

Devout men of the cloth gave up everything they had known to cross an ocean in difficult times to then go to the furthest edges of the New World to preach the Word of God to those who had no inkling of such a thing. They did so by showing love and caring instead of the cruelty of the whip or lash. They gave everything, suffering untold self-punishment and denial in order to set an example for their disciples.

It was only when the strengthening influence of the friars was dissipated that California fell into chaos, leaving it open to invasion from afar. As some Americans were reported to have said, “California is too beautiful and rich to leave in the hands of worthless Mexicans who have no idea how to make it productive.”

God bless all who read these novels and I sincerely hope you continue to read more on your own.


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