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A Halt Called

 
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 14, 2008 2:22 pm    Post subject: A Halt Called Reply with quote

SO TRAGIC had the condition of the Missions become—and Carmel suffered the heaviest thus far from the defection of the "freed" Indians—that the Mexican authorities decided to recall Echeandia.

President Bustamante, newly elected, made two important changes: the separation of Baja from Alta California, and a new governor for the latter province. By the narrowest margin, however, Echeandia's chief aid, Lieutenant Jose Maria Padres, was blocked from succeeding his master at Monterey. That would have been a situation.

But President Bustamante moved too quickly. With Padres at the helm, the secularization plan would have gone through on ball-bearings. The newly appointed governor, Col. Manuel Victoria, a tall, erect, dark-skinned Mexican soldier, arrived late in November or early in December, in San Diego, expecting to meet Echeandia there. Instead, a message awaited him that the surrender of office would take place at Monterey; then another, that it would be staged at Santa Barbara. Sparring for time.

On Victoria's arrival at Santa Barbara, the moves of Echeandia became apparent. Hastening on to Monterey, Victoria took the oath of office, January 31, 1831.

But Echeandia had already issued a proclamation "that the Missions of California were secularized," dated January 6, 1831— over a month after he had received official notification to turn his office over to Victoria, who was already in the country. And two years before the Mexican Congress had passed the Secularization Act. Obviously illegal, but the tactics of the Secularists were not based upon law or justice.

The interesting document came to Victoria's notice first in Santa Barbara, so he lost no time in reaching Monterey, to balk the high-handed proceeding.

The deposed Echeandia remained at San Diego (from which he had administered the territory), the better to pull the wires that his aide-de-camp, Jose Maria Padres, serving as territorial inspector, would find necessary. The plan must not be permitted to fail at this juncture, with success—wealth for all—in sight.

As an exhibition of the deposed governor's haste to put the project over, on January 10th—six days after his posthumous proclamation was issued—he ordered his ally, Padres, to convert Mission San Carlos into a pueblo at once, and to supervise the distribution of the lots and shares. The fate of the Carmel Indians—their inability to walk alone—was apparent to all, most of all to the friars, who had guarded them as parents protecting their children. They protested to the uttermost of their strength against the dismemberment of the Indians' lands.

But the cards were stacked against them.

Padres, a presentable person, with a fine eloquence, discoursed upon the "slavery of the Indians under the friars” the rights of man to liberty, and the nobility of the act he was about to put into execution. And we soon find him the center of a group of young Californians, who, never out of the territory for observation, and with limited educational advantages within, were eagerly allying. Had not the wise Echeandia awarded to Adventurer Padres the plum of puebloizing San Carlos? A good one to tie to.

Of the Echeandia proclamation, Bancroft says: "It was wholly illegal, uncalled-for, and unwise. It was simply a trick, and an unwise one. The opponents of Victoria were wrong in the beginning of the quarrel."

But on the strength of this illegal scrap of paper, the ayuntamiento of Monterey took it upon itself to choose the comisionados for the seven Missions of the district. By what shadow of right the council exercised the privilege does not appear.

Now the plums were ready to fall. The supporters of the plan were ready and waiting beneath the trees.

To Juan Bautista Alvarado of Monterey, in his early twenties, later to be the Echeandia party candidate for governor, fell Mission San Luis Obispo. To Jose Castro, later to become "General Castro," was awarded Mission San Miguel, not a bad berth with its fine cattle and sheep. Antonio Castro was given San Antonio de Padua. Tiburcio Castro was placed over Mission Soledad. Juan Higuera took over Mission San Juan Bautista, and Sebastian Crespo was selected to dismember Serra's Mission at San Carlos. Mariano Vallejo seemed to have been left out in that particular deal; but such was not the case. He went later to Mission Sonoma, and his brother Salvador to Mission San Jose. The Vallejos were thus well provided for in the plan for spoils.

Victoria's first official act was to issue a proclamation suspending the execution of Echeandia's decree. That was a blow. He based his act upon the fact that the whole proceeding was not in accordance with the will of the Supreme Government. He forthwith reported the whole situation to the home government, including the fact that the majority of the dipurados had been illegally elected, for which reason he would refrain from calling the assembly together until instructions had been received from Mexico.

His refusal to convoke the assembly greatly incensed the plotters, who hoped to put the seal of approval upon the last hour work of their chief. Moreover, they hoped to repeal certain Spanish laws that, if still on the statute books, might militate against the comfortable completion of their plans. They might at least prove embarrassing.

Thus, for a time, their schemes were held up. With so much at stake, however, we find Padres and his compatriots going about among the Indians, the rancheros, the soldiers and the pobladortes, condemning Victoria as a monster, guilty of unspeakable cruelties. They illustrated their point by his military severity and rigid discipline. It had been Victoria's boast that "he would soon make it safe for a man to leave his handkerchief or his watch in the plaza of Monterey until he might choose to come for it." Rather a big contract for the old capital, to which the whole country gravitated, good and bad. But Victoria was above all a soldier and a disciplinarian, rigid in his bearing, and stern in his social and political life. He apparently made good his boast about the Plaza.

Alfred Robinson, one of the early Americanos to marry into a Spanish-California family of prominence —his bride the beautiful Dona Anita de la Guerra of Santa Barbara.—was one of the many foreign witnesses of the political situation. Of the new governor, Robinson says: "As soon as he [Victoria] received the command from Echeandia, his first step was to counteract the ruinous effects of the imprudence of his predecessor, and to restore the Missions to their former state."

But Hittell finds Victoria cruel and harsh, the lawyer-historian definitely taking sides with the Echeanderos—though his access to contemporary records must have made his deduction morally difficult. However, as attorney for Alvarado, it was necessary that his client's face be saved. And if Alvarado's reputation was to be saved, then Vallejo, Pio Pico, Bandini, Castro, Osio and their associates must also be saved. Besides, Hittell was in his early life personally opposed to the Church and to all its works and pomps. So it was easy to defend the plotters in their patriotic work of "freeing the Indians from the slavery of the Padres" with one hand, while grabbing their property with the other.

Thus it is that a ponderous mass of misinformation and distortion of truth was put forth, though the truth was always available. At hand were the official records in the U. S. Sub-Treasury Department in San Francisco (much destroyed in the fire of 1906, though fortunately copied in large part by both Engelhardt and Bancroft, and now in the Bancroft library in the University of California and in the Santa Barbara Mission Archives).

But the truth was not sought. Only the winning of a case. Hittell was first of all a lawyer. And the then prevailing bigotry against the Church and against all things Latin, among a large part of the American occupants of the territory—against all things not Anglo-Saxon—gave currency to the Hittell version of the Echeandia-Pio Pico-Vallejo-Alvarado plot against the Missions, for their own aggrandizement. Others copied him.

His and their assertion that all the available land in California belonged to the Missions, and that it was thus necessary to follow their ruthless course for settlers to obtain land is groundless, as a casual examination of the Expedientes and other records gathered by the United States Government during the Land Commission's examination of titles in 1851-6 will reveal. But the truth is that the Californians, as they now began to call themselves, could see no point in taking over uncleared, uncultivated, and therefore unprofitable land, when highly cultivated lands belonging to the Missions were to be had for the taking, with the cattle and livestock that roamed over them.

The Californians had inherited the Spanish ideals of the Old World soldier class—that all labor was degrading, and unbecoming a gentleman. Therefore, as a class, they despised labor in any guise, as fit only for Indians. For, above all things, the California paisano was a "gentleman"'— at least in its outer aspects. Not even would the idle soldiers at the Presidio work with their hands, even to cultivate the ground about their quarters for food during the lean years, when their pay was no longer forthcoming from Mexico; and the Missions—that is, the Indians thereof—were forced to support them, even to keeping them shod and clothed. Curious how, in spite of their vocal resentment at their neglect by Mexico in the elemental matters of food and clothing, the soldiers would not "stoop" to work.

This resentment did crystallize, however, in the revolt of November, 1829, when the soldiers at the Monterey Presidio, led by Joaquin Jose Solis, imprisoned the officers and territorial officials, and took possession of the Presidio. Thereafter, the rebels marched to the San Francisco Presidio, gathered up a considerable number of troops, right-about-faced, and marched to Santa Barbara. Here they met opposition. Solis escaped, only to be captured later at Monterey and sent in irons to Mexico.
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