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

Winning His Ends in Mexico

Fortunately for Junipero the transport San Carlos had unloaded the cargo of supplies and was ready to return to San Blas. It was decided that the friar should sail on this vessel and from San Blas make his way as best he could to the City of Mexico. It was the twentieth of October, 1772, when he embarked. Amid the threshing of heavy sprays, the pleasant cries of the seamen at their work, and the thundering of the sails, the San Carlos swept out into the broad Pacific and steered swiftly southward. Fifteen days later, with flowing sheets, she entered the bustling port of San Blas, and Fray Junipero once again set foot on what he termed "Christian land "after an absence of four long years. As he passed the shipyard where an unfinished transport, the Santiago, was lying in the stocks, he boarded her and made a careful examination of the carrying capacity of her hold. He calculated with great satisfaction the quantity of freight the frigate, when completed, could carry to the California missions. He urged the leisurely workmen to hasten their labors on the vessel, telling them he expected to return on her to San Diego.

They laughed incredulously, for already they had heard of the viceroy's determination to abolish the naval station, and knew that in all probability the last supply ship had sailed to California. Junipero's confidence was great, however, that his representation would suffice to retain the old order of things. That he was doubtful of his ability, of his physical strength, to endure the difficult overland journey to the City of Mexico is apparent from the fact that at Tepic, where he arrived some days later, he prepared with the utmost care a long paper detailing the requests he considered expedient to lay before the viceroy. This paper he dispatched to the guardian of San Fernando College to be acted upon in the event of his own death occurring before he reached his destination. At Tepic he was relieved of one of his anxieties. Here he learned that the demands of the Dominicans had been settled by ceding to them the missions of the Peninsula, while the Franciscans were to confine their interests entirely to Alta California. It was an arrangement that satisfied both orders and left each undisturbed by the other in their management of spiritual and temporal affairs.

Junipero was not so pleased however with an order which recalled all the Franciscans in the peninsula to Mexico, allowing but four of the entire number to volunteer for duty in Alta California. He promptly entered a protest, and set forth his reasons for soliciting at least eight or ten additional missionaries for the new province. He wrote to Palou, expressing the hope that his friend would be one of those who would volunteer to serve in Alta California.

If you decide that there we will live and die together, it will give me much consolation, but I can only say that you must do as God inspires you and that I will conform to the divine will. [Palou, Vida, p. 149]

Palou's love for his old professor is shown in the fact that he ignored a permission, which was almost a request, to return to the college in Mexico, where his friend, Fray Rafael Verges, had been promoted to the important post of Guardian. Palou was a man of parts, a scholar, cultured and refined; it may well be supposed that the prospect of returning to the capital, where he had influential friends anxious to welcome him back, and where the chances of rapid advancement were most favorable to him, would offer strong incentives for leaving the Californian wilderness. But it is pleasant to note that he remained faithful to Junipero and was during the latter's lifetime his most enthusiastic, efficient co-laborer. Such friendship throws an illuminating light on the human side of Junipero's character. He appears to have possessed the faculty of attaching to himself men who unfalteringly followed his lead, undeterred by any obstacle but death. A similar friendship was that of Fray Juan Crespi and Fray Antonio Paterna, as well as other friars of the California missions. Junipero's influence over the minds of men like Galvez, keen, alert, of brilliant intellect, of indomitable will; of men like de Croix, fond of the pleasures of the table, fonder of the contents of the wine bottle, and none too fond of celibate orders, whether the members thereof wore the Jesuit or Franciscan garb, shows him to have been a man of extraordinary character.

When Junipero sailed for San Bias, he brought with him a young Indian convert from Monterey. Through him the friar hoped to stimulate the authorities to renewed interest in the spiritual conquest of California. The two left Tepic after a short sojourn. The roads from the coast to the City of Mexico were little more than trails, always bad and often dangerous. The nerves and endurance of even the best traveler were taxed to the uttermost on this journey. There were no stage lines in Fray Junipero's days, they were not introduced till 1791; until that time travelers had to depend entirely upon their own resources and precaution in crossing difficult mountains and bridgeless rivers, rivers which were frequently high, swollen, and turbulent from the rains; and to these difficulties were added the sharp stings of innumerable mosquitoes and gnats. It does not surprise us therefore to learn that both Junipero and the young neophyte fell dangerously ill. They had reached Guadalajara, eighty leagues from the coast, when they succumbed to a malignant fever and were so near to dying that the last sacrament was administered to them both. Junipero was greatly distressed by the thought that he had brought the young Californian so far from his home to die. He was filled with anxious forebodings lest the friends and relatives of the Indian should refuse to attribute his death to natural causes and seek to avenge it. He prayed ceaselessly as he lay on his fever bed, that the life of his companion be spared. In time the fevers abated and they both recovered. As soon as their strength permitted, they resumed their journey.

When within forty leagues of the capitol, and in the city of Queretaro, the old friar's strength gave out and from sheer exhaustion he again fell dangerously ill. He was housed in the Franciscan college at Queretaro, where the physician in charge attended him. After the third visit to his patient, the doctor announced that the end was near. Once again Fray Junipero prepared to take the last sacrament. It happened that a visiting physician, who had just arrived in the college, heard of the old man's illness. Curiosity to see the friar, of whose reputation he had heard, prompted him to ask permission to visit the sick room. He appears to have been a man of greater skill or penetration than the attending doctor, for having exchanged a few words with Junipero, he cried cheerfully, "Is this the father to whom you intend to give the last sacrament? You may as well give it to me, in that case! You can rise, father, you are well, nothing is the matter with you."

To those in attendance he said, "Tell the Father Guardian we will have no last sacrament," and again turning to Junipero, he added, "If it were not so late in the day already, I would let you rise now. But tomorrow you can leave your couch and when you are thoroughly rested and a little stronger, you can continue your journey."

It needed but this encouragement to summon back the tired old man's belief in his own strength. A few days later he set forth again, arriving in Mexico February 6, 1773, "very tired, disfigured and thin," (muy cansado, disfigurado, y flaco).

While we leave Junipero to recuperate in the San Fernando College, we will anticipate him in making the acquaintance of the new viceroy. Antonio Maria Bucareli was related to the highest nobility, of Spain and Italy. His family could boast of having given to the church of Rome three popes and a goodly number of cardinals, as well as high officials in the state and royal army. Bucareli himself was the recipient of special kingly favors. These favors, like many kingly ones, were not bestowed on a man without merit. Bucareli possessed energy, resoluteness, an honest desire to manage wisely and economically the royal treasury in New Spain, to keep well replenished the king's coffers and not overburden the people with taxation. When he came to Mexico he did not comprehend the movement in California, nor its importance to Spain. He had ordered the abandonment of San Blas as a naval station from economical motives. The expense of retaining this station was great, and its necessity not apparent to the viceroy. He knew the policy of the king was to occupy and control all the northwest coast, thereby excluding foreign powers from the northern country and from encroaching on his southern possessions. That the expensive San Blas establishment was imperative to the continuance of this policy he did not believe. The supplies for the Alta California, settlements could, he had been assured, be sent by small boats across the gulf and hence overland by mule trains at a far less cost to the government. Whether the guardian of San Fernando College attempted to disprove these assertions is not apparent, but in any case, when Fray Junipero arrived in Mexico the viceroy had already determined upon the new method of forwarding supplies to California. To convince Bucareli not only of the impracticability of this plan but that its adoption would infallibly result in the abandonment of the new province, became the first task which Junipero set himself.

The reception the viceroy accorded the humble Majorcan, when he presented himself, was a friendly one; yet the friar's anxiety must have been great lest his mission fail. He did not waste words, but immediately explained the object of his coming. With all his humility, Junipero knew how to speak out boldly when occasion required. No awe of superior power, of aristocratic lineage, would keep the peasant-born priest silent when the great spiritual conquest of California was endangered. He expressed his opinion with a simplicity and frankness which did not fail to produce a strong impression.

Bucareli recognized immediately the superior intelligence abiding in the pale, emaciated old man, who spoke with the conviction of absolute knowledge of his subject. He listened attentively while Junipero proved point by point the impracticableness of the viceroy's plans. The great expense of the San Blas station, he said, had been due to the building of new transports and warehouses. This outlay would no longer be necessary. The ware-houses were completed and the vessels already in commission. On the other hand, if the supplies were sent overland, the cost to the government would be enormous. Not less than fifteen hundred mules would be required for transportation, besides a guard of one hundred men and as many horses. All this would require so long a time in the preparation that famine would again threaten California and the province would probably be abandoned. Junipero also pointed out that the constant passage of caravans, of rough, immoral men, indifferent to the great object of the conquest, would unavoidably have a disastrous effect upon the natives who lived along the route between Velicata and Monterey.

Viceroy Bucareli was unable to answer these arguments, had he desired to do so. He was deeply impressed by the clear, concise statement, as well as by the keen enthusiasm of a man who, lame, weak, and old had nevertheless taken so long and perilous a journey by land and sea to present his cause. He saw that Junipero was not a mere zealot, that though a perfect priest, he was more than that, he was a man of resolution, vigorous action, cultivated mind, and penetrating observation, that in his old age he had as much unconquerable vitality as when a young monk he determined to devote his life to converting the savage hordes inhabiting New Spain. Bucareli suddenly felt a keen desire to extend all possible assistance to this champion of the California cause. He told Junipero to prepare in writing a categorical statement of the suggestions he wished to make on the subject of the California settlements. He then dismissed him, promising speedily and favorably if possible to consider his plans.

But Junipero was not ready to be dismissed. With quiet persistency he reminded Bucareli of the necessity of immediately forwarding orders to San Blas that vessels should continue to carry the usual supplies to California, or those in the province would be in danger of starving while the transportation problem was being discussed in Mexico. The viceroy may well have been surprised at the fearless and obstinate stand of this lowly friar. Nevertheless he recognized the force of Junipero's argument and promised to dispatch couriers to the coast without delay. He then again dismissed the visitor, whose words and bearing had so deeply impressed him.

Junipero returned to the college where he spent the following two days busily preparing his representation. When it was completed, he again sought the viceroy, and handing him the document said:

I hope your Excellency will read this, and that you will decide that all I have asked is just and expedient and act upon my suggestions as soon as possible, in which case I will return to California contentedly, and if not I must return sorrowfully though always resigned to the will of God. [Palou, Vida, p. 154]

Junipero's representation contained thirty-two suggestions. In this extensive statement he again demonstrated his practical intelligence, his ability as a man of business, as a pioneer, as a framer of rules and regulations, and as a missionary. He showed his perfect knowledge of conditions necessary to the prosperity of the country, and a judicious choice of measures to insure the stability of these conditions.

He headed his long list of recommendations with the request for a master and mate to assist Juan Perez in the transport service, and asked that greater dispatch be made towards completing the large new vessel in course of construction at San Blas.

A voyage with her [he said], together with the two pack boats would relieve the affliction and misery in the presidios  and missions and keep the people happy and contented, which, as we all know, is highly important for the advancement of the conquest. [Palou's Noticias, III, p. 88]

He advised the exploration of overland routes to California by way of Sonora and New Mexico and the assignment of the command of the expedition to Captain Anza of Tubac, who had already volunteered for this service. He also dwelt on the expediency of continuing the explorations of the northern coast and suggested that the vessel which was to sail to Monterey with supplies be put into commission for this purpose. He asked for the establishment of more presidios, an increase of too soldiers, a physician to replace Doctor Pratt, who died demented, and a storehouse at Monterey. He advocated the sending of settlers to California, and that young men with knowledge of farming and capable of teaching agricultural pursuits be enlisted and distributed among the missions, that they should not be removed or interfered with by the commandant and should receive sailors' pay and rations, and be permitted to return after one year if they so desired. He also asked for two blacksmiths with forges, and two carpenters, that the Indians might be taught these trades. He advised a more careful and honest inspection of the supplies shipped from San Blas to California, as the goods often arrived in bad condition and under weight. He dwelt upon the troubles between the Franciscans and the military authorities and advised that the fathers be permitted to manage mission Indians without the interference of the commandant, and that neither officers nor soldiers should be allowed to punish the converts. He asked that soldiers of bad conduct be transferred from the mission to the presidio  at a padre's request without requiring the latter to name and prove the offense to the commandant. He advised the removal of Don Pedro Fages as commandant of California, stating sufficient reasons why his continuance in office was not conducive to spiritual or temporal progress in the new province, and suggested that the next officer in command should be of los senores de tropa arreglad  (of the regular service), as being more competent to command. He recommended Jose Francisco Ortega as a successor to Fages, giving lengthy and detailed reasons for his preference, dwelling particularly upon his services in the overland journey to California in 1769.

Accompanied by but one soldier he explored in advance the road we would have to travel. This he did for more than a month, during which our journey lasted, thereby traveling three times the road which the rest of us traveled but once. . . . . The soldier who accompanied him was frequently relieved, but the sergeant never. [Palou's Noticias, III, p. 44]

Junipero also referred to Ortega's explorations of San Francisco, hinting that he displayed greater skill as an explorer than those in command of the expedition. In dealing with the troops he was, added the friar "firm, prudent, and wise without being unduly severe." Junipero made certain wise and practical suggestions for improving the system then in use of paying California soldiers. His method, if adopted, would, he thought, render the men more contented and induce others to volunteer for service in the new province. He considered that the time had come when the Spaniards should establish families in the new settlements; that from conquerors they should become colonists and for the success of this stage of the occupation, women were a necessity. Their presence would, he said, have a good effect upon the savages, who had expressed the greatest astonishment at not seeing any women among so many men, and who therefore doubted whether marriages were customary among Christians. He suggested that a reward in live stock be bestowed upon all soldiers who married Indian women, as this would encourage them to settle in California and to plant and harvest for themselves.

From the year 1769—the date of the occupation of Alta California—to the year of Junipero's plucky journey to Mexico, these new possessions of the Spanish crown had been regarded merely as necessary points of protection to Baja California, and as furnishing relief stations to the Manila galleons, stations unprofitable in themselves and troublesome to maintain, and even the farseeing wisdom of Galvez, the diplomacy of de Croix, and the personal observation of Governor Portola, failed to grasp their value as colonies. It remained for Junipero to arouse the viceroy to a due sense of the importance of colonizing the new province.

In the midst of his projects for the maintenance of the missions and presidios, Junipero did not forget the homesick soldiers who were stationed in California. He begged that all those who had families in New Spain and had long been separated from them be allowed to return home; that all deserters be pardoned, and that soldiers who were; in ill health be granted leave of absence. Nor did he forget to make some earnest pleas for the needy missionaries.

He asked that their meager salaries be increased from 300 pesos a year to 350 pesos and that they be awarded the same privilege as the military in California in the matter of franking their letters. In making this request, he adds, somewhat pertinently:

If the seņors, officers and soldiers are allowed to dispense with the law, why not the missionaries also; who, then are more military than we who are always in the campaign and as near to the arrows of Indians as any soldier? [ Palou's Noticias, III p. 59]

He then asks that the same seņors officials  be prohibiendo rigorosamente  from opening or turning aside the padres' letters.

It was one of the many curious traits of Junipero's character that in the midst of recommendations of vital importance to the progress and welfare of the province, he should insert long-winded requests for additional supplies for his churches in the missions. Moreover, of these supplies he was satisfied with none but the best. In Article 21 of his representacion  he reminded the viceroy that his Majesty was accustomed to give sacred vessels and vestments to the new missions, and that many of these donations, having been taken from the Jesuit establishments in Baja California, and passed on to the Franciscans, were found to be for the most part, in the matter of vestments, very ragged, soiled, and unserviceable; he therefore begged for a better assortment, in order that the missionaries might "celebrate with some decency" their church ceremonies. He also asked for four large and small bells for missions.

In this connection I will add [he said] that having seen the four bells cast in San Blas foundry and comparing their cost with those cast in Mexico, I found the expense of the latter including the transportation charges not much greater. And in truth the bells of the San Blas foundry were very clumsy and ugly, although I am unable to pronounce on opinion as to the quality of their tone, for they were not suspended and I could not test them. [Palou's Noticias, III p. 57]

He also petitioned that the expenses incurred by his journey from California to Mexico be refunded to him. Junipero habitually spent his entire salary for the benefit of the Indians; whatever decreased or interfered with these expenditures was a matter of moment to him. In concluding his lengthy representacion, he begged the viceroy to decide as quickly as possible on its merits, in order that he could return "to that poor vineyard of the Savior, for broken in health as I find myself it is necessary that 'I take my road very slowly."

When the viceroy read Junipero's document, he realized that the suggestions it embodied were of too great importance to be either summarily dismissed or to be acted upon without due consideration. He accordingly laid the whole matter before the junta de guerra y real hacienda. This board occupied six months in deciding upon the various recommendations. The points pertaining to the military establishments were referred by the junta  to Juan Jose Echeveste, formerly an officer in the San Blas department, and deemed thoroughly conversant with this part of the subject. It may well be supposed that Junipero did not wait idly in his convent while his suggestions were being passed upon, but that he brought all his powers of eloquence and argument to bear upon the board members who had the matter under consideration.

His single-hearted enthusiasm for the cause in which he was engaged, an enthusiasm which had so deeply impressed the viceroy, must here also have had its effect. Practically all his suggestions were adopted and all his requests conceded, with the exception of a few minor ones, which included a refusal to refund to him the expenses of his journey to Mexico.

The board's action was a distinct triumph for Junipero. His representacions  were now to constitute the new code for Alta California.

The viceroy moreover considered his arguments against the abolishment of the naval station at San Blas so well advanced, that he ordered Junipero to draw up another document dealing with this subject alone, and had it forwarded to Madrid, to be laid before the king, with the result that Carlos III. promptly commanded that the naval station should not only be retained, but that extensive improvements and additions should be made therein.

In the meanwhile Echeveste had formulated a plan dealing with the military requirements of the new province. Junipero had asked for one hundred men; this number Echeveste reduced to eighty-two, including a captain and a lieutenant. He then assigned twenty-five men to each of the presidios  and five men to each of the six missions. This distribution however did not satisfy Junipero. He pointed out that if fifteen soldiers were assigned to the presidios, the missions which were far apart and surrounded by hordes of gentiles could each have a guard of ten soldiers and thus be more adequately protected. He was permitted to make these changes, which were considered not to embody greater importance than appeared on the surface. But the diplomatic friar had in view another object quite apart from that of protecting existing establishments. By doubling the guard of the missions, he would be able to found new missions without first gaining the consent of the commandant, a consent which Junipero's experience taught him was not easily obtained. Satisfied with the success of his mission, he prepared to return to California at once.

He succeeded in obtaining from the viceroy a generous limosna  in the shape of clothing, provisions and other supplies to the value of twelve thousand dollars, and five packages of blue cloth to be made into garments for the little Indian maids. Junipero was delighted, and full of hope departed for his adopted land. He had galvanized into life the dying interests of California. He bade farewell to the brethren in the college, kissed their feet, begged their forgiveness for any bad example he might unwittingly have set them and asked their blessing. All had learned to sincerely love the humble, kind-hearted old man. They feared the effects of the long and difficult journey upon his enfeebled health. He had not entirely recuperated from his past illness, and it was apparent that his constitution was greatly impaired by the protracted fatigues he had already endured. As he tottered feebly from the doors of San Fernando, the eyes of the watching friars filled with tears. Not one among them doubted but that he would die upon the road. They were somewhat consoled by the knowledge that Junipero would have the companionship of one of their order, as Fray Pablo Mugartegui had volunteered to join the missionary band in Alta California. It was the month of September, 1773, when the two friars started forth to travel two hundred leagues to the coast. They arrived at Tepic without mishap. Here they were obliged to wait until January before an opportunity offered for sailing to California. Finally they embarked at San Blas on the Santiago, the very vessel Junipero had so carefully inspected on his arrival at that port eighteen months before. As he was going on board a workman accosted him.

Padre Presidente, the prophecy you made to us when you arrived from Monterey that you would return there on the Santiago  is about to be fulfilled. At the time we only laughed at you, for we knew of the order to abandon the naval station; but now we see that your prediction has been verified and that you are going on this frigate. God bless you and give you a happy voyage. [Palou, Vida, p. 158]

Junipero smiled at this frank confidence in his prophetic powers, but the candid simplicity of his character made him promptly disabuse the man's credulity:

What I said was due only to my great desire to see completed such a fine large vessel, capable of carrying many supplies to the poor people in California, but I suppose that God permitted my wish to be realized; to Him I give thanks, and to you also as well as to all those who worked with you so laboriously for their benefit. [Palou, Vida, p. 158]

The Santiago  sailed January 24, 1774. She was commanded by honest Juan Perez, the Majorcan whom Junipero had recommended as the most skillful and capable navigator for the proposed northern explorations. The passengers, besides Junipero and Padre Mugartegui, and the new surgeon, Jose Davelo and his family, were three blacksmiths with their families and three carpenters. The frigate was well laden with supplies for the missions and presidios. After a voyage of forty-nine days she arrived in San Diego Bay. His heart throbbing with joy, Junipero stepped ashore and heartily embraced the friends who had gathered on the beach to give him welcome. There are few things so conducive to happiness as work successfully accomplished, and there is nothing so quickening to health as happiness. This, therefore, was the reason why Fray Junipero, in spite of the hardships endured in many long leagues of rough land journeying and a wearisome sea voyage, returned to the home of his adoption stronger in health than when he left it, nearly two years previous.

Before concluding this chapter let us pause a moment and ponder the consequences had Junipero failed in his mission to Mexico. The San Blas naval station would have been abolished; the transports would have ceased to carry supplies to California; and attempts would have been made to forward provisions by mule trains over long, sandy plains and rough mountain passes. These trains, requiring a large guard, because of the hordes of savages through whose country they must travel, would have proved an enormous expense to the government, and, combined with the difficulty and uncertainty of this mode of transfer, a more or less useless one. Such attempts therefore would soon have been abandoned. California, in the meanwhile, would have remained in a condition of semi-starvation. Fages, the unpopular and incompetent, would have continued in command, his soldiers to desert, to commit lawless acts, antagonizing the savages and eventually arousing their deadly enmity against all Spaniards; the friars would have been powerless to remedy these evils. No new missions would have been founded, no pueblos  established, no settlers sent out. The missions already in existence would one by one have fallen into decay and finally been abandoned. Unsupported by an apathetic government, Alta California would soon have ceased to exist as a Spanish colony. In view of the proximity of Russia's possessions on the northwest coast, it is idle to suppose that Russia had not by this time become fully cognizant of the Spaniards' occupation of Alta California, and was not watching the progress of affairs there with deep interest. From the day when Czar Peter the Great after long war and much bloodshed, sat himself down in content in "his window looking on Europe," as he called St. Petersburgh, Russia's chief aim in all her wars, explorations, and diplomacies, has been to acquire the seaports she needed for her pent-in nation; to this end her numerous struggles with the Turk to the south, and to this end her slow, weary progress over the frozen steppes of Siberia to the distant shores of the Pacific.

Catherine II., "the half glorious and wholly wicked," was never too engrossed in her love affairs, manifold though they were, to neglect the affairs of her empire. During her reign she enlarged her vast dominions by a quarter of a million of square miles. She took the deepest interest in, and encouraged by promises of special rewards, any explorations on the Pacific. She sent out expeditions to the northwest coast, taking pains at the same time to mislead the world as to the real object of these expeditions. Upon the abandonment of Alta California by the Spaniards, it cannot be doubted that Catherine would have hastened to swoop down upon this delectable land, where she would have acquired one of the most magnificent harbors, if not the most magnificent, in the world. Whether Russia would have been willing to yield to us so fair a portion of the Pacific coast as she was to yield the barren shores of Alaska—then regarded only as a land of arctic cold and short mosquito-ridden summers, a land of countless sphagnous swamps, vast moors, and bleak mountains—may be considered an open question. It is at least fair to assume that she would have clung tenaciously to a country whose future commercial importance the harbor of San Francisco would have foretold; and the consequences to the United States of having a great foreign power between herself and the Pacific Ocean would surely have been so far reaching as to alter the trend of history.