Junipero Serra—the Man and his Work - A. H. Fitch

Adventures of Captain Anza

During the president's absence, the missions had suffered from lack of food. Although the viceroy, at Junipero's insistence, had, as we have seen, sent orders that a transport should be promptly dispatched with supplies to California, stormy weather and continued hard winds had driven the vessel up the gulf instead of out to sea, and the captain had found himself obliged to put in at Loreto, where the cargo was unloaded. The absence of adequate means of conveyance rendered it impossible to forward the provisions overland to the remote settlements in Alta California. During the eight months in which no succor reached them, soldiers and friars had suffered many privations. One is however inclined to smile over Palou's mournful statement that he was even compelled to drink coffee in lieu of chocolate. But that he was reduced to a fare distressingly frugal is apparent from the fact that for thirty-seven days he had subsisted on a few ground peas and beans mixed with a little milk, unrelieved by either a tortilla or a morsel of bread.

Palou had gone to Alta California as soon as the Dominicans had taken charge of the missions in the peninsula and the business of the transfer had been completed. When within a league of Monterey, he was joyfully greeted by Crespi, who, impatient to see his old schoolfellow, had set out to meet him. Palou was enthusiastic over the natural beauties of Monterey and Carmel, places which he had longed to visit ever since reading Torquemada's description of the country when that friar accompanied Vizcaino's expedition in 1603.

Pending Junipero's return, Palou acted as president of the Alta California missions, with headquarters at San Carlos.

There is little to record of internal affairs in the province during this period. Everything was at a standstill, while both commandants, soldiers, and friars waited with varying degrees of interest and anxiety for the results of Junipero's visit to Mexico. These results began to manifest themselves early in the following year. Don Pedro Fages had for some time entertained doubts as to the expediency of his former open and puerile hostility towards the friars, but he was probably far from anticipating the full effects of this hostility upon himself. He felt secure in the favor of the powerful Galvez. When therefore, rumors reached him that Captain Rivera y Moncada had orders to supersede him in his command, and that extensive plans were on foot for increasing the importance of the province, he was filled with chagrin. The soldiers, on the contrary, were delighted at the prospect of being rid of an officer whose harsh treatment and petty tyranny made him universally disliked and earned for him the soubriquet of el Oso  (the bear). The friars diplomatically refrained from any expression on the subject and contented themselves with awaiting the return of their president.

At the very time that Junipero was embarking at San Blas on a transport laden with supplies for California, Captain Rivera y Moncada, with fifty soldiers, was marching northward to the same destination to assume command, and Captain Anza, in the distant presidio  of Tubac, in Sonora, was engaged in exploring the overland route. Let us turn our attention for a time to this last journey. It will be remembered that in Junipero's representacion  he strongly advocated an exploration from Sonora to Alta California for the purpose of opening a route which would establish land communications between the new province and the central government; and he recommended Captain Juan Bautista Anza as an eminently suitable person to take command of the enterprise.

Anza was as brave and gallant an officer as his father had been before him; he was a man of action, a splendid patriot, as liberal with his money as he was ready with his life to serve his country. When Galvez was preparing his great expedition of 1769, Captain Anza offered to fit out at his own expense a land party and meet the explorers in Alta California. His offer was declined by the Visitador General, who considered the enterprise unnecessary.

It was not until after Junipero's argument in favor of this exploration that the viceroy dispatched orders to Anza to make the journey at the government's expense.

So it happened that while the president hastening back to California, Captain Anza was marching by way of Caborca and Sonoita to the junction of the Gila and the Colorado, bound for the same goal. He did not start, however, without first encountering serious difficulties. He had obtained his complement of men, collected his horses and cattle, and was resolved on a speedy departure, when his old enemies, the Apaches, swooped down upon the presidio  on one of their characteristic raids, killed some of his men and relieved him of a fair portion of his the livestock.

Anza was unable to supplement the loss of his soldiers by further reinforcements, and was compelled to start with a reduced force, numbering in all not more than twenty-four men, including the muleteers and Indian servants, who were in charge of the animals.

In a measure he was compensated for the delay entailed by his loss by the unexpected appearance of an Indian guide. This man was a Baja Californian neophyte named Sebastian Tarabal, who had escaped from the San Gabriel mission, traversed the desert, crossed the Colorado River and finally turned up at Tubac. He had therefore successfully made the very journey upon which Anza was about to engage.

The captain was not slow to see the advantage such a man would be to him and promptly availed himself of his services. It is said that Sebastian was accompanied in his flight from the mission by his wife and another neophyte, both of whom perished miserably, unable to endure the hardships encountered in their wanderings.

At the head of his little cavalcade, which included two Franciscan friars (one of them the adventurous explorer, Padre Garces), Anza set out from the presidio  one morning in early January.

A month's uneventful travel brought him to the Gila, at its junction with the Colorado. Here the Spaniards were received with great friendliness by Palma, the celebrated Yuma chief, who entertained them hospitably in his rancheria. There were many rancherias  on the banks of the Colorado, and many cultivated fields of maize, wheat, beans, gourds, and watermelons. The Indians were well formed and to a certain extent civilized. They had an abundance of horses and mares which they obtained from Sonora; every Indian rode, the women as well as the men, using pieces of skin in lieu of saddles. These savages bore slight resemblance, if any, to the lazy, filthy, and brutish Californians.

After a short rest, Anza and his party crossed the Colorado. Palma accompanied them several leagues upon their way. To cement the friendship of this powerful chieftain of the fierce and warlike Yumas, Anza decorated him with a badge of office under the King of Spain. This meaningless bauble greatly impressed the Indian; he swore eternal fidelity to his royal master, and gratitude to the donor of the trinket. Anza, though pleased with the good effect produced both by his gift and his fair treatment of the Indians, was far from realizing the importance of Palma's pledge, until the following year when the Yumas refused to join the Dieguenos in a general uprising against the Spaniards in California.

After separating from Palma, the travelers journeyed on, trusting to their guide, Sebastian. But whether by design or accident, the neophyte led them too far southward, and they found themselves in the upper part of Baja California, in a desolate region without grass or water. They wandered aimlessly about for six days, then finally made their way back again to the friendly Yuma chieftain. From here a fresh start was made to cross the great desert, but not before Anza disencumbered his expedition of a large part of the cattle, which he left with Palma, together with nine of his own men. Thus in lighter marching order, he set out again, following a route which lies south of the present Santa Fe railroad, but which was practically the same before he reached the gloomy San Gorgonio Pass.

After twenty days of marching and more than eight weeks from the day he left the Tubac presidio  Anza and his party passed through the palisade gates of the San Gabriel mission. Their rations were exhausted, and they had looked forward to a feast of plenty at San Gabriel. In this, however they were disappointed, for destitution almost equal to their own reigned in the mission. Nevertheless friars and soldiers gave them a hearty greeting, and a cow was slaughtered in their honor. But before the hungry explorers and equally hungry San Gabrielites feasted, they listened dutifully to a mass, Te Deum, and sermon of welcome.

Anza rested a few days, then hurried on to Monterey, hoping to meet Junipero there. He took with him an escort of six men, leaving the other members of his expedition to recuperate at San Gabriel. But Fray Junipero had not yet arrived at Monterey. When he had stepped ashore at San Diego, and learned of the distress existing in all the settlements because of lack of food, he had promptly decided to continue the journey to Monterey overland, in order to visit the missions on the way and himself bring the succor they so greatly needed. Junipero possessed in an eminent degree the faculty of cheering and stimulating those with whom he came in contact. Of this he was undoubtedly sensible, and realizing that among the missionaries were some who, discouraged, desired to be relieved from the prolonged and lonely struggle in California and return to Mexico, he started forth to see them, to equip them anew with cheerful energy for their work, and to help them forget the inevitable hardships accompanying life in a wilderness, in the glad hope of a future reward. The Santiago  therefore sailed up the coast to Monterey without him, while he trudged on foot, bound for the same destination. He was one month making the journey. On the road he met Captain Anza, who, failing to find the president at Monterey, had remained there but three days, then turned south again to join his company at San Gabriel. Both officer and friar were delighted at this encounter. Junipero asked to hear the details of Anza's journey from Sonora across the Colorado desert. He listened with the keenest interest and gratification, as the officer recounted the successful issue of his exploration. They discussed the general practicableness of this overland route, the report Anza would make to the viceroy regarding it, and the various advantages the opening of the new road would bring to Alta California. Anza is one of the most picturesque and gallant figures in early California history. His achievement in making a successful journey of a thousand miles, the greater part of it over the untried Arizona desert was as extraordinary as it was brave.

After a short rest the two plucky travelers wished one another Godspeed and parted in the wilderness, the soldier on horseback, the friar on foot. A short distance below Monterey Junipero was met by his two old friends the Padres Crespi and Palou. They had hastened out to welcome him home again. Says Palou:

His safe return was for us all a great happiness not only because of the excellent measures he had so successfully obtained for the advancement of the conquest, but principally to see him more robust in health and stronger after so many illnesses and the fatigue of his long journey. [Palou's Noticias, III p. 149]

The road the three friends traveled together that day from Monterey to Carmel is still pointed out to visitors as the old padres' road. It leads over oak-clad hills and through thick forests of pine and cypresses, where the waves dashing against the great rocks can be heard and often seen, and the salt flavor of the ocean clings to the lips, and odors of rosemary and sweet lavender scent the air. Junipero's mission was at the head of a small canon. The aspect of the surrounding country has changed but little since the good friar's day. In the near distance lie the long-sweeping slopes of the Santa Lucia range, its serrated lines sharply profiled against the sky, its base girdled by fertile fields of wild flowers, and cool stretches of forest of live oaks and cypresses. Not a few of these trees are over six feet in diameter, and close to two hundred feet in height. Great festoons of gray moss hang from the branches, adding strikingly to their antiquated appearance. In places where the soft summer fogs have caressed the giant hills, an emerald tint is seen, mingling with the parched browns and yellows that predominate in the dry seasons. Back of the mission throbs the great Pacific, tossing the spray of its waves high, to fall again on sand of such dazzling whiteness, its equal is scarce to be found in the world. To the present-day visitor there is something memorable in the sense of restfulness, of pleasant peace that breathes from this scene, as if it were the blessing of Fray Junipero himself on those who tarry near his favorite mission. Perhaps San Carlos more than any other mission in California produces on us the strong impression of one man's character and endeavor. When Junipero trod painfully, haltingly, long stretches of wilderness, and established the line of missions on the shores of the Pacific, he trod a vast amount of history into the soil of California. And when he lay down to rest in his well-loved San Carlos church he closed his tired eyes on a world in which he had labored zealously and effected extraordinary things. It is in the San Carlos mission that one seems to be brought in closer sympathy with the personality of this remarkable friar.

It was the first time the three friends were assigned to the same mission since their arrival in America. Their reunion in San Carlos therefore was to them a particularly joyful one.

Though so dissimilar in character, these Majorcan friars represented the finest type of missionary. Palou was the youngest of the three. He had probably already begun to write his Noticias, which, together with his Vida del V. Padre Fr. Junipero Serra, constitutes the standard history of early California days. His pure Castilian style, at once simple and elegant, has been commented upon even by present-day critics. A refined scholar himself, he entertained the highest regard for the scholarship of others. He was noble-minded, generous, and practical. If it is permissible to draw inferences of an author's personality from his writings, one is tempted to apply to Palou the greatly abused term, "cultured gentleman."

Juan Crespi possessed less intellectual force than Francisco Palou, but in piety and loyal discharge of his duties was not a whit inferior to his old schoolmate. He was something of a dreamer, in character, gentle, lovable, and unselfish. There was a certain charming ingenuousness in Padre Juan that remained with him to the end of his days.

Junipero Serra was the oldest of the friends. It is scarcely necessary to sketch again the portrait of this remarkable monk, the master-spirit of the California conquest. The moral grandeur of the man, his indomitable spirit, his energy, his capacity, his keen-sightedness meet us at every turn. Nature had given him the intellect of a profound scholar coupled with the practical abilities of a man of affairs.

Seated in their rude dwelling at the close of day, the friars discussed the subjects nearest their hearts, the conversions of gentiles, the prosperity of the missions, Junipero asking and answering questions and listening to the accounts his friends gave of the events in California during his long absence. It may well be supposed that there were not wanting instances to be related of arbitrary rulings on the part of Captain Fages, and tales of discontented, discouraged friars who wished to return to Mexico.

But one of Fray Junipero's most pronounced characteristics was a strong aversion to personalities in conversation, unless they were of a friendly nature. Harsh criticisms of absent ones he would not tolerate; he quietly changed the conversation or said plainly: "Let us not talk about that. It causes me pain."

Palou compares Junipero to the tree of his name, which scared away all serpents and poisonous animals:

It is the same with our Junipero, for in his presence no one heard or could speak but what was edifying. Juniperus arbor est crescens in desertis, cujus umbram serpentes fugiunt, ideo in umbra ejus homines secure dormiunt. [Palou, Vida, p. 301]

Junipero had been in his mission little more than a week when Captain Rivera y Moncada arrived in Monterey to supersede Don Pedro Fages as military ruler of Alta California.

The new commandant had not been Junipero choice. A keen observer of men, quick to judge of their capabilities, he had in the matter of Rivera's fitness to govern the province very much the same opinion as Galvez. For this reason he had urged the selection of Sergeant Ortega—(since promoted to his lieutenancy) for commandant. Rivera's appointment, however, was by no means entirely displeasing to the president. The captain's popularity with his soldiers and his sound morality might well weigh in Junipero's opinion against a certain lack of force and competency.

With the arrival of his successor and the near approach of his own departure, Fages' attitude towards Junipero underwent a marked change. As was often the case when the young officer found himself in difficulties, he appealed for assistance to the very men whom on other occasions he habitually treated with haughty insolence. He had become suddenly apprehensive of the reception the viceroy would accord him on his return to Mexico. He might be received not merely with coldness, but with reproaches for having neglected so fair an opportunity of promoting the prosperity of the province and of having followed too much the whims of his own prejudices. It was necessary to convince Bucareli that he—Don Pedro Fages—was not as black as he had been painted, that, in point of fact, he was a very fine fellow, indeed, and adapted to fill creditably any desirable post the viceroy might happen to have vacant. In such a matter, whose influence would count more with the viceroy than Fray Junipero's? No scruples of pride deterred Don Pedro where his own interests were at stake. Yet he hesitated to approach Junipero himself, remembering perhaps somewhat too vividly, even for his complacency, the many affronts he had put upon the old man. Accordingly, he made occasion to meet one of the friars—probably the good-natured Crespi—whom he knew to be highly esteemed by Junipero, and besought him to prevail upon the president to write a letter of "recommendation to the Seņor Virey." The friar promised to do his best.

What Junipero thought of this extraordinary request is not apparent. He was, however, essentially a kind-hearted man and not one to bear malice towards anyone, least of all towards a fallen foe. His reply was, therefore, such as one might expect. "I will write with pleasure," he said.

The letter of "recommendation" could not have been an easy one to indite. While Fages' achievements in California had been few—he had hunted bear to some good purpose—his mistakes had been many, his temper troublesome, and his disposition quarrelsome. Junipero, however, made the most of the young officer's good qualities and wrote a letter so friendly in tone and spirit that it served well the purpose which Fages had desired. [The reply which Junipero received to this letter reached him the following year. The viceroy in his answer showed an appreciative understanding of the motives which had prompted Junipero to write his letter of recommendation]

In the meantime, Captain Rivera was busy taking over Fages' command. The account which has come down to us of this transfer of authority does not show either officer in an enviable light. The conduct of Fages was childish and undignified; that of Rivera y Moncada pompous and petty. The two men had never been friendly; from the time when Captain Rivera, the ranking officer, found himself superseded in command by the young lieutenant of the Catalan Volunteers in 1769, he had felt himself aggrieved and slighted, and like many weak men cherishing a grievance, allowed it to expand into a deep dislike of his more fortunate brother officer. He returned to California clothed in his new authority, with a feeling perilously near to vulgar spite for his former rival, and with a determination to show him the least possible consideration. Don Pedro however appears to have planned carefully to demonstrate his disregard and contempt of Rivera's authority. The following account of this childish incident between the first rulers of California is given by a well-known historian:

Without any expenditure of courteous phrases, he [Rivera] ordered Fages to prepare his accounts and get ready to sail on the San Antonio, taking with him all his men, except ten who were to be retained until the new force arrived from the peninsula. Fages, though of course obliged to obey the viceroy's orders, was not the man to quit the country without making a show of independence and an effort for the last word. A caustic correspondence followed, little of which is extant, but in which Rivera, with the vantage ground of his superior authority, by no means carried off all the honors. Fages claimed the right to embark at San Diego, wishing to obtain certain receipts from padres and corporals at the several missions. Rivera replies: "The viceroy does not order me to allow the volunteers and you to embark at San Diego, but simply by the First vessel. His excellency knows very well that this presidio  is the capital where you reside; therefore this is the place he speaks of and from this place you must sail." Whereupon Don Pedro, as he might have done before, shows a permit from the viceroy to sail from San Diego, of later date than the commander's instructions, and Rivera was forced to yield. Again Fages announced that he had some animals set apart for his own use which he proposed to take away with him to San Diego, and after Rivera's prompt refusal to allow any such outrageous use of the king's property, proceeded to prove that the mules were his own. Then he pleaded for more time to arrange his accounts, which could not be completed before the sailing of the San Antonio;  but after getting an insolent permission to wait for the Santiago, he decided to start at once, and leave the accounts to a clerk. Having gathered this much from Rivera's letters, it is hard to resist the conclusion that if Fages' letters were extant, they would show the writer with perfect sangfroid, if not always with dignity, engaged in a deliberate epistolary effort to annoy his exultant and pompous rival. [Bancroft, History of California, I. p. 226]

Fages, with a suitable escort, went overland to San Diego, and from there took a transport to San Blas. Before he reached the City of Mexico he was robbed by his servant of a box containing a large sum of money. Besides this misfortune he was seized with an illness and arrived in the capital very much broken in health. We will add here, that the viceroy, influenced thereto by Junipero's letter, gave him the command of a troop and that later he was ordered to the Sonora frontier, where he served in the wars against the Apaches, where for the present we will leave him.