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Plot To Wreck Missions

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 14, 2008 2:23 pm    Post subject: Plot To Wreck Missions Reply with quote

DON Jose Maria Echeandia, first governor to be sent from Mexico under the Mexican regime, took office February 1, 1825, making his first headquarters at Loreto, the former capital.

Before leaving for Alta California, he convened a territorial legislature, where he carefully laid the foundations for the "secularization" of the Missions of Alta California—in other words, for the confiscation of the properties of the Indians, for the personal, private uses of the conspirator and his friends.

Thus, when the ruin of the Missions finally came about through "freeing the Indians from the slavery of the Padres” it was Echeandia who stood forth as the inspiration of the plan. Here was the first instance in California of official graft on a magnificent scale. The first political racketeer in California.

To fortify himself, he now revived the inoperative decision of the Spanish Cortez of 1813, providing that foreign Missions be secularized—that is, that missionaries should, at the end of ten years, turn over their religious work to parish priests, the temporalities to the most advanced Indians, and move on to other fields—or become themselves parish priests. Under it, Governor Echeandia began to "free" the neophytes in Baja California.

If honestly executed, and conditions warranted the change—without disaster to the neophytes—the plan of the Cortez was thoroughly in accord with missionary ideals, both of the Dominicans in Baja California and the Franciscans in Alta California. The time limit of ten years, however, was debatable—whether in ten years barbarians could be Christianized and civilized, which was the aim of the government. Psychologists are agreed that they could not, even in the loosest sense,

The governor's reglamento provided, now, for the appointment of salaried comisionados to administer the temporal properties, instead of the Dominican friars, who had taken over the old Jesuit Missions from the Franciscans, It was now a pay job—that and nothing more. The effect upon the Indians, almost from the start, was their refusal to work. They were "free." Demoralization naturally followed, spiritual and material.

The reglamento read well. It provided that a "sufficient proportion of Mission lands will be allotted to the Indians as community property, under major-domos to be elected from among themselves, the term to cover a number of years. The Indians will receive the necessary grain and implements for establishing farms, and half of the livestock, the other half to remain for the support of the churches and missionaries." The latter, thus, were to become parish priests, if they chose to remain—subject to the authority of the Indian alcaldes and major-domos. Shorn of their authority, the friars would thus become powerless to protect the Indians from the rapacity of the politicians and other acquisitive land-grabbers. However, the reglamento, if adhered to, would have carried out the plans of the Cortez whereby the Indians would have been protected in the ownership of their lands,

The major coup took place with the passing of the Decree of Secularization for the Californias by the Mexican Congress, August 17, 1833.

On that autumn day the death knell of the Missions was rung—the "freeing of the Indians" to starve or steal, to become homeless wanderers in the lands they owned, tilled and had made fruitful.

Already in vogue in Baja California for some years, the results of Governor Echeandia's plan there are thus described by Bancroft: "The unhappy natives gradually deserted the now inhospitable Missions, and wandered about the hills and beaches looking for food. Occasionally they would work for the recompense of a little watered atole twice a day, and a breech-cloth and blanket every two years, being withal badly treated everywhere. Epidemics and local diseases, moreover, combined to ravage their enfeebled ranks. As for their property, it was to be absorbed partly by settlers, partly by favored individuals, who obtained it as grants, or against nominal purchase money. The secularization decree had already declared such unoccupied lands national, and open to rental." And no informed person will accuse the great California historian of partisanship toward the work of religious orders. But he was frank and honest in his findings as to the result in Baja California of Echeandia's reglamento. To be sure, the comisionados and their friends told a different story. Their defense was one of abuse and calumny of the friars—the backfire resort of wrong-doers since the world began.

Reverting a bit, let us look at the fairly progressive condition of the Indians in the south, before Echeandia's decree "freed them from the friars." Writing from Monterey to the viceroy, Governor Pedro Fages says, under date of October 18, 1786: "The Indians of the last Missions [Velicata and Santa Maria] live among the mountains in this manner. They have a certain district allotted to them where a certain number reside in settlements called rancherias. These elect a chief [capitano] and one sub-chief who are instructed and directed by the missionary. At sunset, those of the rancheria assemble to recite the Rosary or to listen to Doctrine. On certain specified days they go to hear Mass. In nearly all the Missions, owing to various causes, there is only one missionary. The Padre Presidente removes them as he sees fit, but he notifies the government. The missionaries preach in Spanish, for the majority of the Indians understand it. [The padres had first to learn the dialect of the Indians in the locality of each Mission; then to teach them Spanish.]

"The sinodo [stipend] of the missionaries, which is annually paid in Mexico, amounts to $350 to each. The churches are nicely decorated and well kept. All have been created by the Jesuits, except the magnificent temple at San Ignacio, built through seven years of continuous labor by Fr. Juan Cristomo Gomez. [During the Dominican regime, which followed the political expulsion of the Jesuits. The Dominicans took over the Missions later from the Franciscans, when they in turn moved on into Alta California.]

"The Indians of every Mission recognize one of their number as gobernador, who is elected when all are assembled on January 1st. The missionary proposes the candidate, and when he is chosen, his election is announced to the commander at the Presidio of Loreto, who approves him in the name of His Majesty. This gobernador only attends to minor matters, with the counsel of the missionaries. No town organization is possible on account of the backwardness of the natives.

"The revenues or funds of the Missions consist of the products of the field and of the stock. The property is held in common, and the missionary manages it for all. The missionaries keep the accounts; the superior makes yearly visits and inspects everything, and at the close of the year a report of the state of the Missions is sent to the governor of the territory.

"All the Indians of California are alike lazy, incapable and stupid. Their only aspiration is to rove about the country. The women do some weaving and knitting, but under the supervision of the missionaries. Diving for pearls is the principal source of wealth, but it does not prosper for want of soldiers. If the Indian had the land to himself, he would not be capable of cultivating it, so lazy is he."

That the Indians were incapable of directing their own industrial activities, but were like children needing parental guidance, was well known to all those who had the welfare of the Indians at heart. That once ''free from the slavery of the Padres" they would neglect their lands and revert to their old status, or worse—having acquired the white man's vices and his worst resultant scourges. Above all, they would not work without leadership.

The tragedy that followed in Baja California is related by Lassepas in 1857, who tells us, "The greater number of the Missions are veritable skeletons, some in ruins, scarcely indicating the spot where formerly stood the houses of worship and other buildings. The animals have disappeared from the fields, the native population has died, silence reigns where formerly was heard the “humming of a mill, the bells of the chapel, and the lowing of herds. One of the principal causes of this decadence was without doubt the application of the Pious Fund of California to purposes other than those for which they were designed.” (The confiscation of the Pious Fund by Mexico.)

The bold act of Santa Ana in seizing the Pious Fund was a major part in the plan of plunder. Also the fact that only one missionary was stationed at each Mission must be borne in mind to appreciate the validity of the claims of the secularization specialists—that the Indians were enslaved. Picture the plight of the Indians "enslaved" by one solitary missionary, most often old in service. Hundreds of natives at a Mission, often well over a thousand, and most of them armed with arrows and clubs. True, an escolta, or guard, was theoretically stationed at the Missions for the protection of the Padre, but in practice a myth. Never more than four or five. Usually fewer.

You may say: "There were revolts at the Missions, from time to time, both in Baja and Alta California." True. And in every instance of record, investigation has proved the cause to have been the conduct of the soldiery, or of settlers, toward Indian women—not resentment against the friars' treatment of the neophytes, as Echeandia and his followers would have the world believe. Another cause was the bitter warfare of the medicine men against the friars, seeing their power waning. Many disaffections have been definitely traced to these fellows who saw their tribal power threatened.

With the results of secularization in Baja California in mind, the scene of the major political coup is now shifted to Alta California. If the plan had failed in the older Missions, how could it succeed in the newer?

San Carlos and San Gabriel Missions were the first to be hit by the decree. They were declared to be pueblos, the neophytes thereof becoming citizens of the Republic of Mexico.

At first, even the laziest and most pleasure-loving were unmoved by the new order of things, and continued to remain in the only home they had known since embracing the Christian faith. (The radical difference in plan between the Baja California and the Alta California Missions must be noted. In the latter, the neophyte forsook the pagan rancherias, to live at the Mission, where all their activities were under the direction of the missionaries. This was the Serra plan, later to be adopted by the United States Government for its Indian policy.)

The coterie clinging to Echeandia was soon out in the open. The elections for delegates to the Mexican Congress during 1831 and 1832 revealed some of the ring-leaders. Carlos Antonio Carrillo, Los Angeles, was elected, with Juan Bandini, San Diego, a substitute. Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, Joaquin Ortega and Antonio Maria Osio were elected to replace three retiring members, Vallejo and Osio hailing from Monterey.

Don Jose de la Guerra of Santa Barbara had been unanimously elected to represent California in the Mexican Congress, but being a Spaniard, he was rejected after his arrival in Mexico City. Captain Luis Arguello took his place.

Attending the convention in Monterey during the secularization muddle were many representatives of outstanding colonial families—some of them paisanos. Among them were Mariano Estrada, Tiburcio Tapia, Ignacio Martinez, Antonio Ortega, Juan Bandini, Jose Joaquin Estudillo, Romualdo Pacheco, Nicolas Alviso, Antonio Buelna and Anastasio Carrillo. At one of the dipuracions, Estrada and Buelna, the only two residing in Monterey, were forced to call upon the town council to enable them to elect five provisional members—this time, only those who lived in or near the capital. Among these were Francisco Pacheco, Estevan Munras, Juan Jose Roca, Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, and Jose Castro. Juan Bautista Alvarado, clever young nephew of Vallejo, was elected secretary of one of the most interesting of these dipuracions, where the proposal was made to change the name of California to Montezuma. The fact that the name is still California indicates that the recommendation was not taken too seriously in Mexico. (All proposals by the territorial conventions had to be ratified in Mexico.) Others who were soon to figure prominently in the shifting affairs of state were Pio Pico, his brother, Andres Pico, Vicente Sanchez, Manuel Dominguez, Carlos Castro, Manuel Crespo, and Rafael Gomez, the latter sent to Monterey as legal adviser to the government, there being no lawyers yet in the country. Another group of Monterenos, however, vigorously repudiated the Echeandian policy, protesting the proposed banishment of the Spanish friars, as well as the obvious plan of plunder. Among them were Jose Tiburcio Castro, Feliciano Soberanes, Francisco Soria, Santiago Moreno, and Jose Antonio Gajiol, the latter, secretary of the group.

It might be of interest to report the naive paragraph of their petition to the Mexican government, as given in Engelhardt's Missions and Missionaries in California. After setting forth the work of the Spanish friars in tending the pueblo, the ranchos and the Presidio, as well as serving the Indians at the Mission, they continue: "There also dwell among us a small number of married Spaniards, honorable neighbors, good husbands and kind fathers who have merited consideration through their peaceful conduct. It would be very painful to this ayuntamiento to see their innocent and larger families abandoned to misery, and subjected to hardships on account of the misdeeds which some wayward Spaniards in different parts of the republic have committed. Port of Monterey, September 22, 1829." The matter of banishment languished, but plans for the division of spoils grew more definite and exciting.

Death finally executed the delayed order of banish-ment of the paisano patriots—undoubtedly a welcome relief to the lonely friars, who, since the Mexican revolution, had known nothing but frustration of their plans for the Indians, and a hopeless fight imposed upon them by the land-grabbers. Meantime, Echeandia maintained his headquarters in San Diego, But as the official records remained at Monterey, there was no change in the status of Monterey as the capital.

From the foregoing, it will be noted that the ease and tranquility that had so captivated foreigners in Early California were fast disappearing; and that there was only one lawyer in the country—Don Rafael Gomez. It may prove something—or nothing.
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