June 13 is the anniversary of the founding of Mission San Luis Rey, one of California's several famous missions founded by the Franciscans. The mission (which is now home to a large, modern Catholic congregation and a popular retreat center, as well as a point of historic interest) is celebrating the day with wine tasting in the mission's rose garden.
With the anniversary in mind, as well as a thought that the history of San Diego County as a whole is worth reviewing while the Court of Appeals takes what may be the last careful look at whether a 50-year old cross can remain a part of the Mt. Soledad War Memorial (a memorial for those who died in the Korean War), I am going to do some posts over the next few days or weeks with an eye to the history of Catholics and Anglicans in north San Diego County, as well as some information about San Diego and a contrast between our county's history and that of the rest of our state.
If you plan a trip to San Diego, I would suggest you avoid our notorious grey weather known as "May Grey" and "June Gloom." Despite a sunny Memorial Day week-end, most of this past week we have lived in fog that would remind you of London's worst weather. July through October are ideal, and winter can be quite lovely although too cool for a swim suit on the beat. With that much caution, here begins the history of our missions and our little corner of the world (nothing particularly academic, but hopefully interesting anyway):
In 1769, Spanish explorers came from Mexico into Alta California to claim it for the King of Spain. Led by Don Gaspar de Portola, they traveled in the company of Roman Catholic missionary Fray Juan Crespi. As they journeyed north, it is said that they stopped to rest by a lagoon the troops called “Agua Hedionda,” which means “stinking water.” The name is still the name of one of Carlsbad’s lagoons, and it became the name of a Spanish rancho, but why the name would have lasted is a mystery. The water doesn’t stink.
It was not until June 13, 1798 that Spanish Franciscan missionaries established the Mission San Luis Rey de Francia (St. Louis, King of France), named for King Louis IX. It lies near what is now the intersection of Mission Road and El Camino Real in Oceanside. It was called the “King of Missions,” the largest of twenty-one Catholic missions in California. The construction of the Mission San Luis Rey was directed by one Fray Antonio Peyri, who was there, at the mission, when it began and remained for more than thirty years.
In his 1911 book on California history (an old source, by California standards), John S. McCroarty described the mission’s origins:
"On September 8, 1797 [Fr. Fermin Francisco de] Lasuen came down from Santa Barbara and founded the Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana . . . . One month following the founding of San Fernando another important step toward the closing of the gap was taken by the establishment of the famous Mission San Luis Rey de Francia. Although it was upon the date mentioned that this Mission was decided upon, it seems that its erection was not really begun until June of 1798. San Luis Rey began very auspiciously, fifty-four Indian children having been baptized on the spot the day of its foundation. The church that was later built was wonderfully spared from the vandalism of time and in later days of the nineteenth century experienced a thrilling restoration."
Not all Spanish missions are remembered as so successful in their work. In San Luis Rey, the missionaries seemed to have an easy time of it, and they were accepted by the Indians. Fr. Peyri took his vow of poverty seriously, and he stayed with them more than 30 years.
While Fray Peyri was good with people, he did not keep very good records. We don’t know how many people lived at the Mission San Luis Rey in those days, since most of the records are missing. Estimates of the number of Indians baptized during his 30 years there range from a total of 3,000 to as many as 5,000 people. They were called “neophytes,” as new Christians. They were called “Luisenos,” as Indians living at the Mission San Luis Rey.
While the records do not provide a clear picture of how many of the Indians became Christians, they do confirm that the mission grew. In 1810, the mission built a granary in “Rancho de Paula.” By 1816, a village had formed there, and the Franciscans built the Mission San Antonio de Pala, named for St. Antonio of Padua, 30 miles east of the primary Mission San Luis Rey.
Although the Pala mission was among the smallest in California and was operated under the Mission San Luis Rey, it is the only one of the missions that is still serving its original purpose. As of 2004, the Mission San Antonio de Pala is still an active Roman Catholic parish on the Pala Mission Indian reservation. (The present day “Pala Indians” were formed later by a merger of a group of Luisenos near the Pala mission, with a smaller group of Cupa Indians who joined them in 1902.)
The original floor and bell tower are standing, and the adobe walls are still in Fr. Peyri’s architectural design. It still has the rustic flavor of a California mission, although it is now only about one-quarter of a mile from one of the finest desert resorts and casinos in the United States. Before the casino was built, unemployment among the Pala Indians was estimated at 40%.
The mission days began to end in the early 1830’s, when a revolutionary Mexican government “secularized” the missions and made the land available to settlers. Almost all of the missions eventually closed, including the Mission San Luis Rey. The secularization of the missions included a series of government decrees which appeared to release Indians from the missionaries’ control, but with the effect of transferring mission property into private hands. Some of the government’s administrators obtained official government grants on the mission lands and gathered the livestock as their own. Fr. Peyri began to see the pattern by January 1832, and he asked the church to transfer him back to Mexico.
Some of the mission padres fled the country, feeling humiliated by the administrators. Fr. Jose Maria Zalvidea remained at the Mission, and it continued to function until 1846.
On January 13, 1832, Fr. Peyri left the mission that had been his home for so long, never to return. He slipped out during the night, headed to the old City of San Diego and a ship bound for Mexico. In the morning, when the Indians saw that he was missing, they guessed the reason why. Other priests had also fled the country. As many as 500 Luisenos followed Fr. Peyri on horseback, and some of them jumped into the bay to try to catch up with his ship.
At least two young Luiseno boys actually reached the ship, and Fr. Peyri took them with him to Mexico, where they remained two years. He then sailed home to Spain together with the two young Luisenos, and sent the boys on to school in Rome. One of the two became sick and died. The other completed his studies and took vows to prepare for the mission field, but suffered from smallpox and died not long before his twentieth birthday. Neither of the boys ever returned to California.
Before his death, the boy who finished his education, whose name was Pablo Tac, wrote the story of Indian life as it had been at the mission. He described some of their traditional Indian dances and games they played. He described the Indians’ lives before the mission as lives of conflict with the Indians who lived to the south (later known as the Dieguenos).
Pablo Tac described how Fr. Peyri had quickly become a good friend of the Luisenos’ Indian “captain”, and how the Indians had shown mercy and had acted admirably when the Spanish arrived in allowing the Spaniards to live among them when the Indians were always fighting with each other. At the mission, Pablo said, the Indians had known a few English and Anglo-American traders who bought the Luisenos’ goods, as he remembered them:
"The Fernandino Father drinks little, and as almost all the gardens produce wine, he who knows the customs of the neophytes well will not wish to give any wine to any of them, but sells it to the English or Anglo-Americans, not for money but for clothing for the neophytes, linen for the church, hats, muskets, plates, coffee, tea, sugar, and other things. The products of the Mission are butter, tallow, hides, chamois, leather, bear skins, wine, white wine, brandy, oil, maze, wheat, beans, and also bull horns which the English take by the thousands to Boston."
The two Luiseno boys’ deaths from European diseases were not unusual for Native Americans brought into a European environment. European settlers brought with them to North America a host of diseases not previously known in North America, and the toll was high for Indians who had no acquired immunities to them. In the American colonies on the eastern seaboard, settled in the seventeenth century when those diseases abounded in Europe, half or more than half of the Indians are thought to have died of diseases like bubonic plague, smallpox, influenza, typhoid, dysentery, malaria, and other diseases previously unknown to the Indians. While Fr. Peyri had shown so much love and respect for the boys by arranging for their education in Rome, he and the other Europeans were unaware of the high risk the European diseases posed for Indians.
While the Luisenos had been blessed with perhaps the finest of the Spanish padres, they were not fortunate in the assignment of a Mexican administrator, a man named Pio Pico. Pio Pico arrived at the Mission San Luis Rey late in 1835 and began to treat the Indians' property as if it were his own. He and his brother moved into one of the mission ranchos and took several Luiseno girls as their private Serrallo. The Luisenos complained, and Pio Pico was replaced by Jose Antonio Estudillo, who then took possession of the mission rancho just as Pio Pico had done.
On November 16, 1835, a group of the Catholic Luisenos who had had homes in some portion of the Mission San Luis Rey left the mission and headed for an appanage of the mission in the San Pasqual valley. In 1883, Helen Jackson described their departure in her book Glimpses of California and Its Missions:
On Nov. 16, 1835, eighty-one “desafiliados” --as the ex-neophytes of missions were called--of the San Luis Rey Mission settled themselves in the San Pasqual valley, which was an appanage of that mission. These Indian communities appear to have had no documents to show their right, either as communities or individuals, to the land on which they had settled. At any rate, they had nothing which amounted to a protection, or stood in the way of settlers who coveted their lands. It is years since the last trace of the pueblos Las Flores and San Dieguito disappeared; and the San Pasqual valley is entirely taken up by white settlers, chiefly on pre-emption claims. San Juan Capistrano is the only one of the four where are to be found any Indians' homes. If those who had banded themselves together and had been set off into pueblos had no recognizable or defensible title, how much more helpless and defenceless were individuals, or small communities without any such semblance of pueblo organization!
In 1842, a land grant of 13,311 acres was given to Don Juan Maria Marron from land in the southern part of what is now Carlsbad. The land grant was called “Rancho Agua Hedionda,” the name that the first Spanish expedition to the region gave to the lagoon that lay within Marron’s land. Some of the original ranch houses were incorporated into modern buildings. On such a large rancho, there was no need to force the Luisenos out of the area if they did not want to go. In fact, the ranchos existed quite compatibly with the Indians, described again by Helen Jackson:
Most of the original Mexican grants included tracts of land on which Indians were living, sometimes large villages of them. In many of these grants, in accordance with the old Spanish law or custom, was incorporated a clause protecting the Indians. They were to be left undisturbed in their homes: the portion of the grant occupied by them did not belong to the grantee in any such sense as to entitle him to eject them. The land on which they were living, and the land they were cultivating at the time of the grant, belonged to them as long as they pleased to occupy it. In many of the grants the boundaries of the Indians' reserved portion of the property were carefully marked off; and the instances were rare in which Mexican grantees disturbed or in any way interfered with Indians living on their estates. There was no reason why they should. There was plenty of land and to spare, and it was simply a convenience and an advantage to have the skilled and docile Indian laborer on the ground.
By 1844, only about 400 Luisenos still lived at the Mission San Luis Rey and its ranchos. Many of the skilled workers were assimilated into the general population, as the ranchos needed their construction and agricultural skills. The Mexicans considered the Luisenos to be the most skillful of the southern California Indians. Moreover, they had been trading their products for Anglo-American clothing at the mission, and had grown accustomed to Catholic values. Such people scarcely had to tolerate slave conditions for long. Those left behind at the mission were the old, the sick, the very young, and people who did not want to join a more competitive society.
In 1846, United States troops arrived to find the mission abandoned, and the nearby Luiseno village had only a few dozen people remaining. Commodore Stockton and Gen. Kearny camped at the mission on January 2, 1847. An unpublished journal of Dr. John S. Griffin described the mission as it was at that time:
This Mission is situated in a large valley, with handsome grounds. It is an extensive building, the front being five hundred feet, including the Church which is said to be beautifully ornamented. It was locked up and we did not see the inside, though some of the sailors did break In at the back window, and, I am sorry to say, removed articles, fortunately of little value. Every effort was made to discover the sacrilegious scamp, without avail.
The rooms in the Mission are very commodious, many of them adorned with rude paintings, some of saints, others of birds, marvelously resembling a goose, (the refrectory). The chairs are of oak of the most capacious dimensions and covered with dressed skins; the sofas also are of oak of like capacity.
There is the finest and most extensive vineyard, olive garden, pear orchard, a great deal of land enclosed for gardens; the fences made of adobes and covered with tiles; the lands well irrigated, with beautiful reservoirs for water.
The internal face of the building is a square about 300 feet on a side, with the corrals and what I took to be the quarters of the laborers on the right flank. Colonnades all around the four sides of the square. The whole front of the Church to the right is a long row of colonnades. The whole building presents a most grand appearance. It is all of brick about eight inches broad and some two inches thick. It is roofed first with reeds, then with some composition; over that brick and earth, tiles covering the whole. These tiles present very much the appearance of a flower pot split vertically and the bottom broken out.
(To be continued)