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

Missions in Lower California

There can be little doubt that the Franciscans had information of the royal decree expelling the Jesuits, even before the society itself knew of its downfall. The feeling between the two orders was not a friendly one. The Franciscans had been the first to accuse the Jesuits of obtaining partial immunity from taxation by false representations and had carried their accusation to Madrid. When the scheme of destruction of the society was being formulated, the Franciscans in New Spain quietly made arrangements to fill the places of the Jesuits, and before Portola and his soldiers had embarked to cross the gulf to California, they were fully prepared to administer the missions there. Therefore as soon as they were officially invited to take charge of the peninsular establishments, they accepted, and promptly appointed sixteen friars from the San Fernando college to proceed to Loreto. Junipero was at this time holding a mission in the province of Mesquital, some thirty leagues from the capital. The Guardian summoned him to return. It was not until his arrival in the college that he learned of his appointment as president of the California missions. The coaches were in readiness for the long journey to the coast. To his great joy, he found that his two friends, Francisco Palou and Juan Crespi, had volunteered to serve with him in the distant mission field. After receiving the benediction of the Guardian and bidding farewell to all their brother friars, the travelers entered the coaches. A great crowd had assembled to see them off. In those days it was almost as much of an undertaking to go to California from Mexico as it was to go from Mexico to Spain.

After thirty-nine days of difficult traveling, part of the way under sweltering skies, through an unhealthful country, the friars arrived at Tepic. Here Junipero was told that the vessel on which they were to embark was not in readiness. Having ascertained that the delay would be a matter of months, he immediately determined that the interlude should not be passed in idleness by himself or his friars. He organized a series of missions to be held in the neighboring districts. This work occupied them until the following March, when they finally embarked from San Blas on a small transport with a long name, la Purisima Concepcion de Maria Santisima. It was night when the friars went on board, and it was night—the night of Good Friday—when they arrived in the road-stead off Loreto. It had taken them twenty days to cross the gulf.

Loreto in 1768 was a wretched, half-ruined little place, distinguished mainly for the poverty of its soil and the scarcity of water, and this in a country where soil and water were seldom found good and never abundant.

The presence of the new governor, Gaspar de Portola, and the commander of the presidio, Captain Fernando Javier Rivera y Moncada, and his company of soldiers alone showed that Loreto was the capital of the peninsula.

The governor came alongside the Purisima  in his boat, to take the friars ashore. Only Junipero and Palou availed themselves of this courtesy. Their companions remained on board to await the first faint streak of dawn, then with their modest personal possessions neatly packed, their beds rolled up and securely tied, they went ashore. As they trudged through the sands towards the white-washed adobe structure and the mud huts, called the capital of this bare, greenless, and almost treeless land, they were followed by a crowd of curious-eyed Indians. They had gathered on the beach to see the strangers who had come to take the place of their Jesuit rulers.

Since the expulsion of the fathers there had not been so much bustle and excitement in the sleepy little town. The next day was Easter Sunday. The entire population of Loreto flocked to the mission to participate in the services. There were the affable Governor Portola and Capt. Rivera y Moncada, who commanded the small garrison. The latter was a man of middle age, conscientious in the discharge of his duties and a favorite with his soldiers; there was also, it may be, his wife, Dona Teresa de' Davalos, who, it would appear, had passed eleven years of her life in the dreary California peninsula, where she had given her husband three sturdy sons, the last one yet a babe; there were the few colonists, all mechanics, or vaqueros;  the blustering, rough-tempered soldiery, and lastly, the mission Indians, outnumbering them all. After a Thanksgiving mass, Junipero preached to this mixed gathering. He told them that he and his brethren would take up the work left by the Jesuits and continue it to the best of their abilities.

The Easter ceremonies lasted three days. When they were finally concluded, Junipero read to the assembled friars the order of their distribution. Inasmuch as no two men were assigned to the same mission, even to those most remote and lonely, it is interesting to note Palou's brave assertion that they were "all very contented and gave thanks to God for the fate which had befallen us." Then, after deriving what comfort they could from Junipero's promise that if any one of them died at his post, the others would say twenty masses for his soul, the friars left Loreto to journey to their various missions. There was nothing that could properly be designated a road in the entire peninsula, the nearest approach to "the king's highways," were rough trails which led through thick, scrubby chaparral, thorny plants, or over rocky mountains.

The missionaries journeyed together as far as San Xavier, the mission Palou was to administer, then separated, eight friars traveling to the north and five to the south, each cheerfully seeking his lonely, desolate station.

Crespi was assigned to the mission Purisima, about a day's journey beyond San Xavier, while Junipero, as president of the establishments, remained in Loreto.

From the outset, the Franciscans found themselves hampered in their spiritual work. They did not hold the missions on the same basis as their predecessors. The temporalities had been intrusted by the government to military comisarios, upon whom the Franciscans were dependent even for their board.

While it was eminently desirable that missionary power should be curtailed, the reforms introduced were too drastic and were of a nature to seriously interfere with the work of conversion. The friars protested in vain. They were told that their work must be strictly confined to ministering to the heathen's spiritual welfare; his soul, not his stomach, was their charge. Junipero was disheartened. He argued that without the power of attracting Indians by means of food, clothing, and gifts, the padres would scarce see a savage, much less reach his soul. Moreover, their loss of power would cause the neophytes to respect the Franciscans less than the Jesuits, and the padres' influence over them would in consequence be lessened. The missions, declared Junipero, in his complaint to Portola, would rapidly decline, unless the temporal and spiritual control were again united. The good-natured governor, however, had not the power to alter the regulations, and although Junipero's predictions came true, and the missions rapidly deteriorated under the mismanagement and dishonesty of the comisarios, Portola could only offer the disappointed president the hope of a return to the old system. With this hope, vague though it was, Junipero was forced to be contented. But the man who possessed the authority to effect the desired change was soon to appear. Jose de Galvez had been appointed visitador general  by the crown, to administer the royal revenues in New Spain. His powers exceeded even those of the viceroy. He was now on his way to California, ostensibly to inspect the state of affairs there, but in verity on a matter of vastly greater importance.

Spain's fear of Russian encroachment on the Pacific coast had increased materially since 1765. She had become cognizant of certain Slavonic explorations on the Alaska coast. She had reasons to fear that these explorations would extend farther south and encroach on her own domain. This fear determined her finally to take steps for the protection of the peninsula; her precautions to consist, in part, in the establishment of two fortification in Alta California, namely at San Diego and at Monterey. A general knowledge of these ports Spain had long possessed from former explorations of the northwest coast, though no attempt had ever been made to occupy and fortify them. For more than a century and a half she had sent no exploring fleet up the California coast. She was more interested in obtaining money from the colonies she already possessed than in making expenditures for augmenting their number. More lucre, not more territory, was her cry. But the time had arrived when she recognized the necessity of abandoning this pleasant policy, in order to protect the very colonies from which she had so long replenished her exchequer. The order was given to occupy San Diego and Monterey. The latter port was to serve also as a relief station for the Manila galleon, which year after year,

Coming from the west by the northern route, sadly in need of a refitting and relief station, had borne her strained timbers and oriental treasure and scurvy-stricken crew down past the California ports. [Bancroft, History of California, Vol. I, p. 112]

These plans were left to Jose de Galvez. He was a man fertile in expedients, prompt in action and of indomitable will.

He set sail from San Blas, the government naval station, the latter part of May. Owing to contrary winds he did not arrive in Baja California before the sixth of July. He took up his headquarters at Santa Ana, in the house of a wealthy pearl speculator. There was a flutter of excitement in the peninsula over the arrival of the great man. In the bosoms of the comisarios  this flutter could scarcely have been an agreeable one. Galvez's first act on arriving was to inspect the condition of mission affairs under the new regulations. He subjected the comisarios  to a rigid examination and discovered both their inefficiency and cupidity. All this was a source of extreme vexation to him, necessitating the giving of time and attention which he was desirous of applying to the furtherance of his great Californian plan. He promptly ordered them to make an inventory of their possessions, to turn the papers over to be signed by the padres, who from this time on were to control the temporalities of their missions. In writing to Palou of this matter he said:

It has vexed me much to see the destruction that has taken place before my arrival in the cattle and properties of the poor missions—for all this has given me more work, but I have cut the root which caused the damage. [Palou's Noticias, I. p. 28]

The mission at Loreto however was, for a reason difficult to understand, permitted to remain under the same management as before the visitador's  advent.

However ignorant the general public may have been regarding the main object of Galvez's visit, it is unlikely that Fray Junipero was not fully instructed by the Guardian of San Fernando, inasmuch as the spiritual charge of the Alta California enterprise was, by royal command, to be confided to the Franciscans. Junipero however gave no sign of being better informed than were others in the peninsula. But when the visitador  finally wrote to him, communicating his instructions, the president replied with characteristic ardor that he would accompany the expedition in person. He also stated the number of missionaries he considered necessary for the new conquest. After dispatching this letter he set forth to visit the southern establishments.

In order that he might procure the requisite number of friars he was compelled to secularize some of the missions. On his return to Loreto, having walked over one hundred leagues on this business, he found a letter from the visitador, expressing approval and pleasure that he intended to accompany the expedition and requesting him to come to Santa Ana to discuss the necessary arrangements. So once again the energetic friar set forth under the hot, southern sun, to walk, with woefully sore and swollen feet, another hundred leagues. In this lame priest, no longer young, with wan, sunken cheeks, emaciated figure, and humble bearing, Galvez was probably far from suspecting the master spirit of the great enterprise. That these two men, at once so like and unlike, both possessed of great executive ability, both full of energy and zeal, both recognizing no obstacles in the accomplishment of their desires—that such men should successfully carry out the plans they formed together, is not surprising.

Besides the occupation of San Diego and Monterey they decided to found three missions, two to be in the vicinity of these ports, the third midway between the southern and northern settlements. The missions were to be called San Diego, San Carlos and San Buenaventura. Four expeditions were to be dispatched from Baja California, two by sea, and two by land. This plan was formulated to guard the enterprise against failure, as at least one of the four expeditions could reasonably be expected to prove successful. Junipero now returned to Loreto to continue his preparations, while Galvez concluded the necessary arrangements for transportation. Two packet boats, the San Carlos  and San Antonio, were brought into requisition for the sea trip. The vessels had previously served as transports for troops ordered to and from Sonora. Galvez also commanded the immediate construction of a third boat. This was the ill-fated San Jose.

Because the peninsula could not furnish sufficient soldiers for the expedition, an order was sent to Lieut. Pedro Fages, recently arrived from Spain, to report with his twenty-five Catalan Volunteers at Loreto with the least possible delay. This is our first introduction to the bluff Catalan officer who figures so prominently in early California history, not only as one of its pioneer governors, but less pleasantly as the bitter foe of Junipero Serra. The preparation for the new conquest occupied all Galvez's time and thought. Junipero was not behind the visitador  in tireless energy and work. He visited one mission after another to procure whatever could be spared to supply the needs of the new establishments. The list of the articles he took is an interesting one, showing, as it does, what was considered indispensable to the occupation and settlement of a new country. We find included in the long catalogue, seven large church bells, two heavy copper baptismal fonts, eleven pictures of the Virgin, and many images of Jesus, Joseph, and Mary. To these were added silver phials for sacred oil, silver censers and goblets and purificadores;  innumerable brass candlesticks and nineteen complete sets of vestments. Junipero had a rich assortment of church properties to choose from. The expelled Jesuits had prided themselves on the costliness of their sacred vessels. All this church paraphernalia Junipero forwarded to La Paz, the sea-port from which the expedition was to start. It was as impossible in those days for Spain to fit out an expedition of conquests without friars, and a vast amount of church paraphernalia, as it would be nowadays to equip and send out an exploring fleet without a doctor and a well-stocked medicine chest.

Large quantities of slaughtered wild cattle were sent to La Paz, to furnish meat for the explorers. So expeditiously did everyone work that all was in readiness for the San Carlos  when that vessel arrived early in December. She was a small packet boat of not more than two hundred tons burden. She had encountered stormy weather in the gulf and was in a leaky condition when she put into port. It was found necessary to unload the supplies she already carried, careen the ship, repair her, then load her again. All this took time and caused delay. Galvez's interest in the California expedition was so great that he superintended the work himself, and more than once assisted in stowing away unwieldy packages. Palou, who appears to have been greatly amazed and edified at this display of democratic energy, declared that the great senor worked like a peon, to get the ship in readiness for a speedy departure. The same chronicler also informs us, that the haughty nobleman condescended to joke with the friars as he worked. He assured them that he was a better sacristan than Fray Junipero, because he packed more expeditiously for his mission—which he claimed was San Buenaventura—than the president, who packed for San Carlos. Implements of agriculture were not forgotten, nor utensils for house and field. Many varieties of seeds, flowers, and vines were labeled and packed; these had been brought from Spain, Galvez having conceived the new country to be very fertile, as it lay in the same latitude as Spain, a conception which proved to be correct.

Among the ample food supplies the San Carlos  carried, red peppers and garlic were conspicuously present. The garlic alone amounted to 125 pounds, a quantity quite sufficient, one might suppose, to herald on the wings of the wind the coming of the conquerors to the savages of Alta California. The red peppers were equally plentiful; these and other spices which levantan las piedras, that is, "burn the intestines," have always occupied an important place in Spanish gastronomy. A generous supply of chocolate was also shipped, to be converted into that delicious and nutritious drink "thick as juniper berries and hot enough to burn the throat," which the sons and daughters of Spain alone know how to make in its perfection.

Finally, on the ninth day of February, 1769, the San Carlos  was ready to sail. She carried, besides her captain, D. Vincente Vila (who Fray Junipero assures us was "a pilot famed in the seas of Europe "), the young Lieutenant Don Pedro Fages and his twenty-five Catalan Volunteers, the engineer Constanza, the surgeon D. Pedro Pratt of the royal army, a baker, a cook, and two tortilla makers. These men, together with the crew and Padre Parron, constituted the ship's complement, numbering sixty-two persons. St. Joseph was chosen the patron saint of the expedition. All confessed, heard mass, and took communion. Galvez delivered a parting address, in which he told the men that theirs was a glorious mission, and charged them to respect their priest and to maintain peace and union among themselves. Junipero bestowed a blessing on the ship and all on board. Then the San Carlos  spread her white sails and put to sea. The visitador  embarked in a smaller packet boat to accompany the pilgrims a certain distance down the gulf. He wrote Palou that, as he could not go with the expedition to plant the holy cross in the port of Monterey, he desired at least to accompany it as far as possible.

Junipero in the meanwhile returned to Loreto to continue preparations for the second detachment. On his way he stopped at the mission San Francisco Xavier to see Palou and tell him of the successful departure of the San Carlos. "His face," said Palou, "reflected the rejoicing and content of his heart." It was not long before the transport San Antonio  arrived in port. She was to follow her flagship, the San Carlos. She also had been partially fitted out at San Blas, and like her capitana  proved leaky—apparently a chronic condition of the crude craft constructed in those days on the Pacific coast. The San Antonio  was therefore unloaded, careened, and repaired. Galvez and Junipero were on hand here also, to superintend and hasten her departure. On this ship embarked friars, Fray Juan Vizcaino and Fray Francisco Gomez, several carpenters, blacksmiths, and the crew. Juan Perez, a countryman of Junipero's who later did good service for California, was in command. The same ceremonies were performed as with the San Carlos  and on the fifteenth day of February the ship, with flowing sheets, sailed northward, before a high wind, to follow her capitana. This completed the maritime expedition. It now remained to start the land detachment. From Palou we learn that because this part of the enterprise was considered

not less arduous and dangerous than that by sea, owing to the many savages and depraved tribes through which they had to pass, it was resolved in imitation of the patriarch, Jacob, to divide it into two companies, in order that if one was unfortunate, the other might be saved. [Palou, Vida, p. 64]

Captain de Rivera y Moncada, who for twenty-five years had been in command of the presidio  at Loreto, had charge of the first land detachment. He was instructed to stop at each mission and take from each all the cattle, food supplies and beasts of burden that could be spared.

"This he did," said Junipero, "and although it was with a somewhat heavy hand, it was undergone for God and the king."

It was indeed with a heavy hand that the captain levied on the mission property. He collected 200 head of cattle, 140 horses, forty-six mules, and two asses. He laid in a supply of figs, sugar, dried meats, raisins, flour, wheat, and "two jugs and two bottles of wine." The last item shows that both Jesuits and Franciscans in California were sufficiently abstemious folk in their use of stimulants, for it is unlikely that the captain displayed a less "heavy hand" in supplying the expedition with this commodity than in other articles of provisions found in the missions. He journeyed slowly northward, increasing his escort as he went from the mission guards and neophytes. Fray Juan Crespi, the indefatigable keeper of diaries and the intimate friend of Junipero and Palou, accompanied him. The commander in chief of both the sea and land expedition was Governor Don Gaspar de Portola. He accompanied the second land division. It had been Junipero's intention to travel with this last detachment, which left the royal presidio  of Loreto on the ninth of March, but his work in the peninsula was not completed and he could only promise to follow with the utmost possible haste. Everyone doubted his ability to make the rough overland journey. Few are bold enough at the present time to undertake the trip, and in those days it was a far more difficult undertaking. Junipero was already greatly fatigued. He had worked indefatigably and he had walked many miles in the business of the expedition. His feet were in a distressingly painful condition and were scarcely able to support his slender weight. Portola endeavored to dissuade him from joining the expedition. He frankly told the enthusiastic padre that his presence would only result in retarding the travelers. Junipero's sole response was that he trusted in God to give him strength to reach San Diego an Monterey. He remained in Loreto to celebrate the Easter festivities and to preach his farewell sermon he having completed that day the ecclesiastical year of his arrival in the peninsula. Two days later he set forth, after mass, on his journey. He was accompanied by two soldiers and a boy (mozo). Thus within a period of four months, the entire little army of conquerors was on its way to the land of the "Northern Mystery." Galvez's work in the peninsula was done. He had completed his task successfully, thoroughly, and expeditiously. One historian indeed claims for him "the first place among the pioneers of California, although he never set foot in the country."