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The Tragic Idle Forties

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 14, 2008 2:18 pm    Post subject: The Tragic Idle Forties Reply with quote

POLITICAL opposition swept away, and the honest, high-minded Micheltorena out of the way, Pio Pico became provisional governor of the province in January, 1845. The blackest period in the history of Early California.

Micheltorena's decree that the property of the Missions be accounted for, and returned to the friars and the Indians, except that occupied by settlers (whose titles would be determined later by the Supreme Government), came too late to benefit the legitimate owners. And deterioration, waste, and wanton vandalism brought the Missions, for some years in the hands of the comisionados, to a state of complete desolation.

At San Carlos, not more than one hundred and fifty Indians remained. They were living wretchedly under the politicians. system, most of them now homeless on their own lands. Others were rented out to labor by the comisionados, while others, the most intelligent among the Missions vaqueros and housekeepers, were hired by the rancheros, for a pittance. Forsooth, the Indians were "freed."

The crowning crime was perpetrated by Pio Pico, October 28, 1845, when he issued a proclamation ordering the sale at public auction of designated Missions, and portions of others, San Carlos among them. Ostensibly for debt. The truth was, as has been seen, the country was heavily in debt to the Missions. (It was in 1820 that Governor Sola estimated the debt of the country for supplies to the Missions as exceeding $500,000. Even Hittell admits that not a cent was ever paid.)

San Carlos was knocked down under the hammer, for approximately $6,500—its lands, cattle, horses, sheep, corrals, and its buildings, including the fine library that had been assembled at the Capital Mission ever since 1770.

It will be recalled that the official inventory made a year before by the comisionado and the resident-friar totaled over $46,000. A very conservative sum.

Now the total accumulation of the labors of the friars since Serra's time, working with the Indians, building, sowing, herding, and manufacturing—minus the graft in the interval of the comisionados. regime—went under the hammer for a song. The "Crime of the Nineteenth Century" at Carmel was complete.

In passing, the itemized valuation placed upon the Mission properties in the inventory were, in part: Church, $10,000; furniture, vestments and library, $10,217; leaving $22,000 for lands and what cattle, sheep, horses, and equipment remained from former raids.

Eviction of those Indians fortunate enough to have received small plots of land, as a gesture of conciliation, now was certain. Proclamations were posted, announcing that unless the Indians returned by a definite date, to claim the lands allotted them, they would be confiscated. What was a posted proclamation to an Indian?

Needless to remark, few of the Indians either saw or heard about the pronanciamento. Not many could read so verbose a document. Those who were advised by kindly rancheros or pobladores of the decree returned to their little patches of land, and saved them. The rest were broken up, and rapidly fell into the hands of the land-grabbers—"The crime of the century," as Helen Hunt Jackson expressed it, as she stood on the ground of the tragedy a few years later, heavy of heart at the perfidy of her white brother,

The Rancho Nacional in the Salinas Valley, owned by the government and stocked from the flocks and herds from five nearest Missions, was soon to experience the fate of the Mission properties. It had been established for the relief of the soldiery and settlers generally, but what of it? It, too, fell into the hands of the land-grabbers.

An indication of the rapidity with which Carmel Mission was disintegrating is reflected in a report made by Edmund Roberts, special agent of the United States, in the fall of 1836, on his way home from the Orient. The Indians, having been "freed," could no longer be led to build, repair, sow or cultivate. And the rancheros everywhere were stealing tiles and adobes to build houses and corrals on their newly acquired ranchos. In fact, the practice is not unknown in our day.

"At this time there are twenty-one Missions in upper California” writes the agent, "all of which are in a state of decay. I visited that at Carmelo, which I found in ruins, and almost abandoned. It is four miles from Monte-Rey. The road to it is easy, and agreeably varied by hill and dale, everywhere covered by pine and other forest trees, and free from undergrowth.

"The Mission building is, perhaps, a hundred yards square, one story high, and roofed with tiles. We rode through the gate, which was just ready to fall from its hinges, into the great central court, around which it is built, where we found eight or ten Indians repairing the roof. [Voluntary.] They informed us that the Padre was at the Presidio, or garrison [Monterey], and that there was no one to show us the Church, which, exteriorly, was in a dilapidated state. All of the windows opened in upon the court, and were heavily barred with iron with the design of preventing the escape of the Christian neophytes, who were locked up at night in apartments to which these windows gave light and air. Some of these were open. They were strewn with rubbish and filth, and altogether in a worse condition than the commonest stable should be." (Barred windows were the custom of the country, not only at the Mission—not for restraint, but for protection from without.)

The Indians discovered working on the roof were probably working under an agreement to lend help to the Mission when required, “if not prejudicial to their own interest." An agreement soon to lose its moral force, as their old habits of idleness and indifference settled over the neophytes under the new conditions.

The French traveler, Abel du Petit-Thouars, dropping in on Monterey a year later, gives much the same impression of the Mission over the hill. He says:

"Upon our arrival at the Mission San Carlos, we were struck by the solitude of the place and by the state of ruin in which the buildings were found. The grounds surrounding this establishment, formerly covered with rich crops, did not offer more to the eye than a picture of complete sterility. Through a little door, we entered a large court shaped like a parallelogram; this court is enclosed on three sides by the dwellings of the neophytes; the fourth is occupied by the storerooms for the reserve food supply. In one of the corners of the court is the church, the principal door of which opens on the field outside of the Mission, but one is able to communicate with the establishment by means of a small lateral chapel.

"We saw no one entering upon the court of the Mission. It was deserted! The lodgings were without doors or windows, and the roofs, broken in many places, were already giving way under their own weight.

"On visiting the part at the north of the Mission, we entered a large room, dark and without furniture, where we met Father Jose-Maria del Real, the sole surviving ecclesiastic at the Mission. That religious was one of those that had been sent out by the college of Zacatecas. [After the Mexican revolution, Franciscans of another family than that of Serra, who belonged to the oldest Franciscan community—the Order of Friars Minor—were sent to carry on.]

"Two or three families of Indians, fixed by habit, still lived in the ruins which surrounded the Mission.” Where else to go!

"The garden of the Mission, situated on the plain which stretches out in a gentle slope from the Mission to the edge of the river Carmelo, offers scarcely any signs of cultivation. Formerly very fertile, the garden produced in abundance all the vegetables and fruits not only necessary at the establishment, but also for the town of Monterey, and for the ships in port. At present, it is entirely abandoned, the fence no longer remains, and the few fruit trees still to be seen here, yield scarcely any produce.

"Afterwards we went to visit the church, entering through the lateral chapel which gives access to the church through the court of the Mission. Upon entering the chapel, I noticed several paintings on wood representing subjects delineated in Holy Scripture. Until recently, there could be seen in the church a picture representing La Perouse arriving at the Mission of San Carlos, and the brilliant reception which was tended him by all at the Mission, This picture disappeared at the time of the departure of the Spanish missionaries." (None of the missionaries departed from Carmel, save those who went to God, And they carried no pictures with them.)

The Mission despoilers, in all probability, appropriated it, and charged its loss, as usual, to the Spanish friars, who had brought it to Carmel.

When Duflot de Mofras, a credulous Frenchman, visited Monterey in 1841, he found the Mission deserted, even by the last old padre. The roofs had fallen in parts of the residential quarters, and conditions had generally become so bad that removal was necessary to Monterey, Alvarado was the current governor, so the condition was familiar to the first Montereno to serve as governor. Difficult to explain to visitors.

De Mofras writes: "The Mission of Mount Carmel [mistaking the origin of the name] situated in the northern extremity of the Sierra de Santa Lucia. and hemmed in by the mountains. is no longer a flourishing institution. In 1834 it still assembled five hundred neophytes; it had three thousand horned cattle. seven hundred horses. seven thousand sheep. and harvested fifteen hundred fanegas of grain.

"Today all is gone, under the pretext of forming a pueblo in the vicinity, the Mission was allowed to fall in ruins. The Indian population is composed of not more than thirty individuals. The establishment, as also the one at Soledad, lying nearest the seat of government, was one of the first to be despoiled. The missionary in charge of Carmel now lives in Monterey."

The Mission had now become the undisputed home of beasts and birds, and of cattle from the nearby ranchos. The roof fell in 1852.

Occasionally the padre from Monterey rode over the hill to say Mass for the handful of Indians from the rancherias on the river, nearly all of whom would present themselves, neat and clean, when the bells in the towers announced the coming of the priest.

It is insisted by living descendants of Monterey's early settlers that when the Mission bells would ring an hour before Mass, they could be distinctly heard in Monterey; whereat those who retained a love for the old place would start over Calvary hill, some afoot, others horseback, and arrive there in time to assist at the service. The Indians still sang the music for the Mass, to which they had been trained through three generations, most of them possessing mellifluous voices, full of pathos and tenderness. They still played the violins, bass viols, a triangle of old, and sometimes a 'cello'— as in nearly all the Missions. Membership in the orchestras, as well as possession of the instruments, seems to have been passed on from generation to generation in the same families.

A fair picture of the Capital Mission at the time the Americans took possession of California, at the Port of Monterey, serving notice thereby to the world that the United States had laid claim to the delectable Land of Promise.
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