Chapter 27 Secularization


The Charter-Hemphill Story



Chapter 27

The chief reform of Mexican independence was secularization of the missions. Secularization cut the last cord still linking California to its Spansih “mother.” It upset class relations, altered ideology, and shifted the ownership of enormous wealth. It totally destroyed a fiefdom that in its heyday had included twenty-one mission establishments extending from Sonoma to San Diego, enjoying usufructuary title to millions of acres of the richest pasture and tillable land in the territory, possessing flocks and herds almost without number, exercising jurisdiction over thousands of Indian neophytes, and proceeds from a lucrative foreign trade. The Franciscan foundations, in 1823, were the most flourishing institutions in California.That revolutionary social and economic transformation was California’s most important event before the discovery of gold; indeeed, nothing in the experience of the Californios compares with it, except possibly the dissolution of the ranchos in the 1880s.

1st Governor of Mexican California, José Maria Echeandia, orderes the arrest of Father Luis Antonio Martinez in front of Misión San Luis Obispo on Feb. 3, 1830 for treason, sedition and smuggling. (See full story)

It did not happen overnigt; chaos and confusion reigned during the process. A visiting Frenchman wrote in 1837: “The old monastic order is destroyed and nothing seems yet to have replaced it, except anarchy.”

Secularization of the Alta Calfiornia missions had been a goal of civil authorities as far back as the latter years of Spanish rule. According to the plan, missionaries were to be replaced by parish-supported, or “secular” clergy, and the mission Indians would become parishioners and tax-paying citizens, integrated into Hispanci society. The mission lands — owned by the Indians but held in trust by the missionaries — would be transfered back to the Indians and any surplus would enter the public domain.

For better or for worse, they are gone.

By the 1820s, the declining population of the missions and the growing non-Indian (gente de razon) population of the presidios and towns put increased pressure on the Mexican government to redistribute lands to Spanish California residents and their families. The arguments for mission secularization were couched in terms of greater liberty for the Indians, but the effective result of the land grant program was to take away property that was to have been held in trust for the Mission Indians under the old system. A few Mission Indians were granted release from missionary authority during the administration of Governor Jose Maria Echeandia from 1825 to 1830, who intended that an Indian pueblo be established near Mission San Fernando for former neophytes from all the missions of the Santa Barbara presidial district.

Full secularization of the missions did not occur until the administration of Jose Figueroa, who served as governor of California between 1832 and 1835. Tbe temporal affairs of the missions were removed from missionary control and placed in the hands of commissioners appointed by the governor. Indian neophytes were not automatically freed but could become licenciados — graduates — based on the recommendations of the commissioners and missionaries according to their ability to support themselves. Indian pueblos were to be established with lots for houses and gardens provided to each family. Annually an alcalde, two regidores, and a collector were to be selected for economic government within these Indian communities. Freed Indians were still obligated to assist in sowing and harvesting mission crops and in providing personal service for the missionaries. Each family was to receive fields for sowing crops. Pastureland for community livestock was also to be provided.

Not a few people were casting an anxious eye on the property of Misión San Fernando for under the direction of Father Francisco Ibarra the mission had prospered considerably in spite of the adverse circumstances of the times. Shortly after the arrival of Antonio del Valle, whose duty it was to carry out the secularization decree, Father Ibarra left San Fernando and returned to Mexico. So quickly did the establishment fall into chaos after his departure that the governor had to send troops to halt stealing and other despoliations by the natives. A series of civil mayordomos administered the mission in the years after 1835. An attempt was made by Governor José Echeandía to convert San Fernando into a parish in 1838 but that action proved as practically unsuccessful as it was canonically illicit.

Depiction of Indians leaving San Louis Rey Mission

Even liberals conceded that the California Indians “do not possess the qualifications” for freedom and needed protection “against themselves.” Echeandía gingely asked the friars to limit their floggings to fifteen lashes weekly and to allow married couples immediate freedom. He also made a tentative promise of citizenship to the Indians.

The Franciscans held nearly absolute sway over their communicants and threatened to resign en masse, should the government take more strenuous measures. A missionary strike would have brought a crippling work stoppage throughout the territory. Fortunately, this threat never came to pass, since the friars settled for token resistance by refusing to swear allegiance to the Mexican constitution and sermonizing against republicans. They castigated the “radicals” who went among the Indians “preaching and dogmatizing that there was no hell.” Father Narciso Durán, head of the mission system, easily parried every thrust of the civil officials who were, in his words, “ but yesterday savages” and are skilled at no greater art than horsemanship, yet presume to “teach the way to civilize men.” The fact that the Franciscans tried to prevent the emancipados from becoming slaves or savages and yet bowed graciously to the inevitability of secularizaion partly accounts for the absence of bloodletting provoked elsewhere in Mexico by religous strife.

Franciscan Friars at the Santa Barbara Misión. All that are left in California of the order which founded the missions. Date of photo unknown.

When the Californios took over the helm of provincial government in 1836, matters moved swiftly. Doubtless, high ideals impelled them; but whether a ranchero professed liberalismo and signed his letters “For God and Liberty!” or had no political persuassion at all, he knew that secularization might bring him wealth — he stood to gain whatever the the padres and Indians lost. The program thus proceeded apace in Alverado’s governorship, from 1836 to 1842. He sold or leased mission lands and assets to private individuals for the supposed benefit of the creditors of the government (which would collect a tax on the transaction), of the Indians (who would obtain land grants), and of the missionaries (who would be guaranteed subsistnce).

The new owners and lessees began a rapid slaughter of mission livestock, for which the Franciscans and neophytes had recieved practically none of the their rightful compensation. The governor, a better rebel than adminstrator, was guilty of favortism and laxness, although not of lining his own pockets. He failed to recognize the dwindling rate of mission inventories. By 1845, the origianl herds of 150,000 had dwindled to 50,000.

Remi Nadeau, great, great grandson of famed teamster Remi Nadeau, who hauled ore through the San Fernando Pass, wrote that the Native Cahuilla Indians, “found employment in the vineyards and orchards near the city. The invading white man, both Spanish and American, had long since brought them to a state of degradation marked by debauchery and disease. They spent every weekend in drunken carnival, were regularly arrested and put to work in chain gangs, and were then released when their employers advnced them their jail fines against the next week’s work.”

In the same vain, another author wrote: “Drunkenness was the special curse of the domesticated Indians of Southern California, and in Los Angeles, especially, the unrestrained sale of adulterated, and often poisoned, liquor resulted in an appalleing amount amount of misery, viciousness, and crime. Every Saturday night the meaner streets of the city were filled with intoxicate mobs; the next morning’s sun rose on scores of sodden wretches lying in alleyways and gutters; and when the police made their mornoing rounds it was taken for granted that they would find a few stabbed or bullet-ridden corpsus among the victims of the night’s debauch.

As early as 1850 the ayuntamiento — town council — confronted the problem of feeding the multitude of Indian prisoners arrested every week — none of whom had enough money to pay even a nominal fine, hit upon the happy expedient of farming out the services of such prisoners to the highest bidders. Landowners, especially those who had large large vineyards, quickly took advantage of the opportunity, and soon the use of enforced Indian labor on the ranchos became a matter of common practice.

“I wish you would deputize someone to attend the auction that usually takes place on Mondays and buy me five or six Indians” wrote the mayordomo of the Rancho Alamitos to Abel Sterns in 1851; and as late as 1869 the Semi-weekly Los Angeles News referred to farming out the Indian prisoners as still a regualsr weekly occurrance. The News condemed the system, not on humanitarian grounds, but because degraded and inefficient “beings brought into competition with that class of labor that would prove most beneficial to the country, checks immigration, and retards the prosperity of the country.” Large landowners, the aricle went on to say, had used the county jail for nearely twenty years as an “intelligence office” from which to recruit their inferior peon labor.

“Los Angeles had its slave mart,” wrote Horace Bell,

as well as New Orleans and Constantinople—only the slave at Los Angeles was sold fifty-two times a year as long as he lived, which generally did not exceed one, two, or three years under the new dispensation. They would be sold for a week, and brought up by the vineyard men and others at prices ranging from one to three dollars, one-third of which was to be paid to the peon at the end of the week, which debt for well performed labor would invariably be paid to aguardiente, and the Indian passed through another Saturday night and Sunday’s saturnalia of debauchery and bestiality.

Branding irons used at rodeo — what Anglos call round-up. At rodeo, vaqueros — cowboys — would show off their riding and roping skill.

If the California landowner was blind to the inefficient use of Indian labor, he was equally blind to the inferior longhorn cattle that for twenty years stocked the California ranges. Large landowners sometimes bought a few thorouhgbred bulls, and the Mormans who settled in San Bernardino sold some of their Utah cattle for breeding purpoese, otherwise there was no syetematic effort to improve the stock of the open range.

The open range, supported by the Trespass Act, hindered the developement agriculture. Free ranging cattle on large acreage was as necessity in the semiarid lands of Southern California. If a farmer wanted to prevent cattle from ranging on his crops, it was his responsiblity to fence off his crop, which, in the pre-barb wire days, was prohibitively expensive. Barbed wire or barb wire patented in 1867 but it was not until 1874, when Joseph Glidden of De Kalb, Ill., invented a practical machine for its manufacture, that the innovation became widespread. The high cost of lumber in southern California virtually precluded the use of board fencing.

Coiled around fence posts, lying in junk piles and ditches, strands of farm and ranch history tell a story of the past. Barbed wire, with more designs than most people could imagine, shows great ingenuity and commercial competition from the 19th century.

For a brief period in 1843 the San Fernando Misión was restored to the Church but later that year Governor Pío Pico directed the San Fernando Misión and its lands to be rented at the option of the government, then rented it to his brother. The Indians were freed to work for the tenants if they so desired. Andrés Pico and Jean Manso took control in December of 1845 and signed an agreement to pay an annual rent of $1,120 for nine years. In June of 1846 Eulogio de Celis bought the mission rancho, an area consisting of 121,000 acres, for $14,000 from Governor Pio Pico.

The San Fernando Misión was left to deteriorate after it was in the hands of private interests. A report written in 1852 by D.B. Wilson to the Department of Interior had this to say about the secularization process:

In the fall of the Missions, accomplished by private cupidity and political ambition, philanthropy laments the failure of one of the grandest experiments ever made for the elevation of this unfortunate race. By the 1850s the neophytes remained a demoralized class, alternatively a prey to disease, liquor, violence, submission, and exploitation.

Conversely, Kevin Starr, in California:A History, says:

It is difficult…to see the mission system as resulting in anything other than wholesale anthropoligical devastation, whatever the sincerely felt evangelical intent of the missionaries and the civilizing goals of the [Spaniards].

Even as the mission system declined after Mexican independence in 1821 and with secularization after 1833, many Native Americans (some historians estimate as many as 10,000) served the wealthier Californio families as servants. While prosperous Californios might have looked upon this time as the height of Mexican California, “rancho society” had cruel and barbaric aspects to it, as Native Americans continued to endure harsh treatment. One historian drew camparisons to the racial hierarchy of the United States. Renowned California writer Carey McWilliams paraphrased the historian's observation: “The Indians were the slaves, the gente de razon were the plantation owners or ‘whites‘ and the Mexicans were the ‘poor whites.’” The gente de razon, peninsulares, and Californios “looked down upon the Mexicans and Indians as a different breed of people — darker, illiterate, churlish, incapable of progress or understanding.” Novels such as Helen Hunt Jackson's Ramona cast the Franciscans (and after them, the Californios) as benevolent employers despite the fact, as McWilliams argued, such “fine old Spanish families…were among the most flagrant exploiters of the Indian in Southern California.”

While the San Fernando Misión did not deteriorate as rapidly as some others, without the dedication of the Franciscans, some twenty-five years later, the flocks and herds were replaced by weeds and the buildings broken, neglected and abandoned.

The following photographs show the deterioration of San Fernando Misión and its restoration made in the 1940s.

1st known photo of the San Fernando Valley with the mission in the background
Same view of the mission close-up.
The convento building at San Fernando, Rey de Espana Misión as it existed in 1897. Timber roof supports are visible. This mission building took was thirteen years in construction.
Ruins of the mission, 1870s
Mission Indians 1880
Ruins of the San Fernando Misión, 1895
This panoramic view of Misión San Fernando photographed by Carlton Watkins around 1880, captures the vast expanse of the valley and highlights the two orchards, each containing amidst the verdure about 300 olive trees, which according to Henry Chapman Ford, were the largest such trees in California, some having trunks two feet in diameter.
The view of the church interior with part of the alter still visible, taken around 1875, reveals the abandoned sanctuary where the final Mass had been celebrated in 1874. Long since removed were the crucifixes, paintings, mirrors, and statues of St. Joseph and La Purisima Conception clad in red damask, which had been noted in the final mission inventory in 1849.
This photograph taken from the doorway of the sala of the convento into the refectory was taken around 1926, before restoration was undertaken under the direction of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
Antonio Bandini is seated between two ranch hands at the sala entrance to the convento. The screen door was added during the period when the building was used as a dormitory, warehouse and stables.
In 1827 eight thousand sheep grazed on mission lands. A later herd is captured in this photograph taken sometime after the installation of a temporary roof for the church in 1897, but before the reconstruction of the walls in 1938.
Edward Vischer's 1875 photograph of the collapsed bell tower and the deteriorating walls of the Mission church and workshops inspired the observation that the mission had "fought a losing battle" with the wind and rain. At the hour of "her defeat and death San Fernando Rey is left alone."
The soldiers' belfry was constructed over the soldiers quarters at the west end of the convento. From 1857 to 1861 the rooms served as waiting station for the Butterfield Stage.
The view of the captain's or majordomo's home, restored under the direction of Dr. Mark Harrington in the early 1940s, and the workshops, restored with the assistance of the Hearst Foundation grant beginning in 1949. The convento is in the background.
Another view of the ruins of the mayordomo and adjacent buildings.
The church in 1932 as seen looking north from the arched doorway of convento or priests house. Photograph was taken by H.P. Webb who reproduced many of his photos as commercial postcards.
By 1923 the walls of the church had been eroded by wind and rain, coming through the roof where the tiles had been romoved to be used in the construction of other buildings. Some interior beams had collapsed and the sanctuary railing in place in 1874, had been removed. In the words of one, it was a "broken and shattered building."
(Above and below) The centennial celebration of Misión San Fernando September 9, 1897, brought new hope to the "long-outraged mission." With $1,000 raised and the promise of another thousand, the Landmarks Club Of Southern California had already begun to repair the mission.
Tourists pause at the entrance to the church choir loft in the summer of 1912.
A view of the sala at the conclusion of one phase of restoration efforts in 1944, which recreated the bright Indian designs outlining niches, doors and windowpanes. It had been observed in 1922 the amidst the mass ruins "not a trace of ornamental work remained except the faint mottling on the two columns and cornices near the alter."
Motorists shortly after World War I opposite the west end of the convento.
Under the direction of Mark Harrington, curator of the Southwest Museum, workers replace supports in an effort to shore up the church's walls.
Under the direction of P. Rosales, and "adobe man" employed by Fr. Charles Burns, bricks are shaped from clay, sand and straw, chaff and water, then dried in the sun in preparation for the reconstruction of the south wall of the church.
In 1922, H. P. Webb photographed the arches in the convento building looking toward the w3ell head. The entrance to the sala is to the left.
An 1853 visitor admired the imposing appearance formed by the colonnade with its twenty-one arches. Note the bell marker, on of a series designating El Camino Real originally sent in place by California club women under the leadership of the "bell lady," Mrs. Armitage Forbes.
The replica chapel, the fourth mission church, and the rebuilt convento were formally dedicated by Timothy Cardinal Manning on November 4, 1974.
The restored west facade of the church (upper left) and the missions shop arcade.
As it looks today after restoration
Fountain at restored mission
Restored Colonnade
Restored San Fernando Church interior

By the turn of the 19th century, Indians once affiliated with Mission San Fernando were distributed throughout a wide area. A number were living in the valley itself, quite a few were residents of the Tejon rancheria, some lived in Ventura, and others in the upper Santa Clara River Valley. The oldest members of the remaining San Fernando Indian families were sought out by anthropologists like C. H. Merriam, A L. Kroeber, and J. P. Harrington. Altamirano Badillo, who lived at Tejon, provided Merriam with Cahuenga (Fernandeño) and Kitanemuk vocabularies in 190. Juan Jose Fustero at Piru provided Kroeber and Harrington the first word lists known for the Tataviam language. Valley residents Setimo Lopez (aka Setimo Moraga), Juan Menendez, and Martin Feliz all provided J.P. Harrington with Fernandeño lore. At Tejon in 1916-17 and 1922, Eugenia Mendez, Magdalena Olivas, and Jose Juan Olivas provided Harrington with further information regarding San Fernando Indian history. According to Harrington's notes, Antonio Maria Ortega was probably the last individual to speak the Fernandeño dialect of Gabrielino/Tongva language. He had been born at Rancho El Encino in 1857, the son of Fernando Ortega from the Yaqui River in Sonora and Maria Rita, whose father and grandfather were the original Indian applicants for El Encino. To his own children, Antonio Maria Ortega later recounted how his family was forced to move from their rancho after it was acquired by Vicente de la Ossa. They moved to the mission at first, but later he was taken into the Geronimo and Catalina Lopez household where he was raised, as were a number of other Indian children. While living and working at the Lopez Station, Antonio Maria Ortega met his future wife Isidora Leyva, who was housekeeper for the Lopez family.They were married and raised a large family in San Fernando, indeed many of their descendants remain active in Indian affairs there today.

In California, the most important type of family was that of the ranchero. All lines of dependency radiated outward from his casa and embraced his children, his in-laws, other relatives, orphans, a bevy of Indian servants, sometimes also the residents of the nearest village. The ranchero “provided a home for a host of poor relations, entertained strangers, as well as friends, with unwearying hospitality…and begat as many sons and daughters as the Hebrew partiarchs of old.”

Of the great ranches, except for a few luxuries obtained from trading vessels on the coast, each estate was virtually self-sustaining. In return for simple but abundant food, primitive shelter, and a scant supply of clothing, scores of Indians, recruited chiefly from the fast-decaying mission communities, served as vaqueros — cowboys). Many of these native families lived in the Indiada, a cluster of primitive huts built around the main adobe casa, while others dwelt in samll villages, called rancherieas, widely scattered over the estate.

The deference shown to a California ranchero by members of his own family, as well as by his retainers, was like the homage rendered by his vassels to a feudal lord. In the more traditional households of Santa Barbara, youngsters solemly kneeled and kissed papa’s hand before filing off the bed at night, and no son, not even one in his sixties, dared smoke, sit, or wear his hat in his father’s presence without asking permission. Family feeling and respect for age thus produced powerful sentiments whose weakening the Californians would later find especially painful.

On large estates an army of Indian women was required for domestic service. “Each child (of whom there were sixteen) has a personal attendant,” said Señora Vallejo of her household staff, “while I have two for my own needs; four or five are occupied in grinding corn for tortillas, for so many visitors come here that three grinders so not suffice; six or seven serve in the kitchen, and five or six are always washing clothes for the children and other servants; and, finally, nearly a dozen are employed at sewing and spinning.”

The entire economy depended on the production of cattle for the hide and tallow trade. Most rancheros also grazed sheep and horses, or raised grain crops or wine grapes. With the exception of soap, wine, and cloth, however, they rarely made finished products. The chronic dearth of money, characteristic of the entire Spanish-Mexican period, forced the Californians to resort to barter in virtually all of their domestic business dealings, and trade between the ranchers and foreign vessels depended almost exclusively on this method of exchange. Contracts and promissary notes were usually made payable in cattle, hides, or tallow; judges levied fines and judgements in the same commodities; and even the smallest amount of merchandiser — a few yards of cloth, a pound of sugar, a box of raisins, a handful of cigars — was purchsed with the standard currency of the territory, the ubiquitous cattle hide, known from Alaska to Peru as the “California bank note.”

Free from the pressure of economic competition, ignorant of the wretchedness and poverty indigenous to other lands , amply supplied with the means of satisfying their simple wants, devoted to “the grand and primary business of the enjoyment of life,” the Californians enjoyed a pastoral, patriarchial, almost Arcadian existence, until a more complicated and efficient civilizaiton invaded their “demiparadise.” One who knew by experience the simplicity and contentment of California ranch life then drew, for less unfortuanate generatlions, the following pictue of its serentiy and charm:

Alfilerilla, (uncountable). Alternative form of alfilaria.

The rancho lay beyond the mountain range and extended over rolling hills and little valleys. A creek flowied through it, and on the banks were many sycamores. Shaded by oaks was the long, low adobe house, with its red tiled roof and wide veranda. Behind the fence of chaparral was the orchard and the melon patch, and beyond the orchard was the meadow, golden with buttercups in the early spring. In the open fields, dotted with oaks, the rich alfilerilla grew, and on the hillsides were the wild grasses which waved like billows as the breezes from the distanc ocean brew across them. The sameness of recurring events of each succeeding year never seemed monotonous but brought repose, contentment and peace. When the dew was still on the grass, we would mount our horses and herd the cattle if any had strayed beyond the pasture. In the wooded cañons where the cool brooks flowed, and where the wild blackberries grew, we ate our noon day meal and rested. And as the hill began to glow with the light of the setting sun we journeyed homeward. When the long dry days of summer came, we ate our evening meal beneath the oaks, and in the twilight we listened to the guitar and the songs of our poeple. In the autumn we harvested the corn and gathered the olives and the grapes.

from the The Early Days of Santa Barbara, California. 1920

An orientation toward the present, not the past or the future, permeated the value system of the Californios. The “old mañana habit,” implied a satisfaction with what one had today. Men did not prepare for the future, as such. They did do hard work when it was necessary and did take pride in it, but more in anticipation of the fun that came right at the end of it, rather than for any anticipated need. Owning a happy combination of good climate, ample land, and cheap Indian labor, the rancho order worked smoothly on the basis of this value system. Once these conditions worseened, however, the Californios had neither the necessary psychological nor the economic reserves to fall back upon. The future, in short, would come as a shock to them, and the Anglo-Saxon’s preoccupation with labor, profit, and savings for the future always remained something of a mystery to them.

Thomas Larkin, United States' first and only consul to Mexican Alta California

Halcyon Days They Were

Thomas Larkin, an early American businessman in Alta California and a signer of the origianl California Constitution, confided to Able Stearns in 1846: “The times and the country are well enough for me." A decade later he still confessed a yearning for “the times prior to July 1846 and all their honest pleasures, and the fleshpots of those days. Halcyon days they were. We shall not see their likes again.” Coming from Larkin, a levelheaded Yankee never given to flights of fancy, the phrase “halcyon days” amounts to the highest possible compliment for Mexican California.

Thomas Larkin's house in Monterey. Monterey was named for the Viceroy of New Spain, Count de Monte Rey. On orders from King Philip III of Spain to make new discoveries, regardless of cost, the Viceroy authorized Vizcaino to make a second coastal survey of Alta California, leading to their discovery of a large port near the “Punta de Pinos,” which they named in honor of the Viceroy, Monte Rey.

In addition to Thomas Larkin, Harrison Rogers found much about Mexican California to complement, but for quite different reasons.Rogers was the clerk to trapper Jedediah Smith, the first man to reach California by traveling overland. After losing ten of his party of eighteen to an ambush by Mohave Indians after crossing the Colorado River he was summoned to San Deigo to explain his presence, while the rest of his party stayed at Misión San Gabriel. His clerk, Harrison Rogers, decribed each day of his sojourn at there where 1,000 Indians were needed to tend to the harvest, was in its era of greatest prosperity. Rogers felt it the most desirable part of the world he had ever seen. “All peace and friendship” — he described each day of his San Gabriel stay. The pastor, Padre José Bernardo Sánchez, whom Rogers esteemed as the greateest friend that I ever met with in all my travels,” treated the Smith party with exuberant friendliness, “as gentlemen,” says Rogers, “in every sense of the word.” He treated the Americans to dinner, whiskey, wine, brandy, and cigars on the night of their arrival and many merry nights after. He invited them to a wedding festival, begging them not to be embarrassed about their travel stained clothes. He provided them with supplies and materials of repair. As they waited for Smith to return, the trappers found themselves falling into easy rhythms of California life: the lack of physcial hardships, the plenitude of good company and food, the genial climate, the Indian women who “think it an honor to ask a white man to sleep with them.”

Jedediah Smith and men in the Mojave Desert in 1826, ca. 1905 by Frederic Remington

As belieiving Protestants, Smith and Rogers were glad the padres said nothing about religion. Smith and his chief clerk attended services at the Mission, and Roger’s journal is devoid of the disparaging remarks Americans usually make on such occasions. Although he confessed himself aa little scandalized at Padre Sánchez’s propensity to play cards on the Sabbath, Rogers found the old priest a worthy Christian. Not until two weeks into Rogers’s stay do any religious tensions appear in his journal — and this is merely a polite debate between Rogers and Sánchez regarding the sacramental forgiveness of sin.

Nonetheless, Larkin here expressed what definitley was a minority opinion: those aspects of California life which pleased him the most would have revolted a majority of his countrymen. With rare exceptions, they were not content merely to describe or to criticize California but wished to stand in moral judgement over it. They expressed a deep-seated clash of values between the Anglo-American and the Latin-American culture. “Judgmental” is the word for the Anglo-Spirit in California in that period, and examples of it are legion. Richard Henry Dana, Jr’s, Two Years Before the Mast, probably the most popular book ever written about California, is of course prime evidence.

Every aspect of life in California came up for their scrutiny. What the Californianns regarded as a high degree of family unity, those observers interpreted it as parental neglect. The men, Robinson explained coolly, are “generally indolent, and addicted to many vices, caring little for the welfare of their children, who like themselves, grow up unworthy members of society.”

Before Dana’s departure he wittnessed the wedding of his employer’s agent in California, Alfred Robinson, and described it in the following excerpt:

Ana María “Anita” de la Guerra

Great preparations were making on shore for the marriage of our agent, who was to marry Dońa Anita de la Guerra y Corillo, youngest daughter of Don Antonio Noriega, the grandee of the place, and the head of the first family of California. Our steward was ashore three days, making pastry and cake, and some of the best of our stores were sent off with him. On the day appointed for the wedding, we took the captain ashore in the gig, and had orders to come for him at night, with leave to go up to the house and see the fandango. Returning on board, we found preparations making for a salute. Our guns were loaded and run out, men appointed to each, cartridges served out, matches lighted, and all the flags ready to be run up. I took my place at the starboard after gun, and we all waited for the signal from shore. At ten o’clock the bride went up with her sister to the confessional, dressed in deep black. Nearly an hour intervened, when the great doors of the mission church opened, the bells rang out a loud, discordant peal, the private signal for us was run up by the captain ashore, the bride, dressed in complete white, came out of the church with the bridegroom, followed by a long procession. Just as she stepped from the church door, a small white cloud issued from the bows of our ship, which was in full sight, the load report echoed among the surrounding hills and over the bay, and instantly the ship was dressed in flags and pennants from stem to stern. Twenty-three guns followed in regular succession, with an interval of fifteen seconds between each, when the cloud blew off, and our ship lay dressed in her colors all day. At sundown another salute of the same number of guns was fired, and all our flags run down. This we thought was pretty well — a gun every fifteen seconds — for a merchantman with only four guns and a dozen or twenty men.

Dancing on the veranda at the wedding of José María Alfredo de Robinson and Anita de la Guerra

After supper, the gig’s crew were called, and we rowed to shore, dressed in our uniform, beached the boat, and went up to the fandango. The bride’s father’s house was the principal one in the place, with a large court in front, upon which a tent was built, capable of containing several hundred people. As we drew near, we heard the accustomed sound of violins and guitars, and saw a great motion of the people within. Going in, we found nearly all the people were in town — men, women, and children — collected and crowded together, leaving barely room for the dancers; for on these occasions no invitations are given, but everyone is expected to come, though there is always a private entertainment within the house for particular friends. The old women sat down in rows, clapping their hand to the music, and applauding the young ones. The music was lively, and among the tunes we recognized several of our popular airs, which we, without doubt, have taken from the Spanish. In the dancing I was much disappointed. The women stood upright, with their hands down by their sides, their eyes fixed upon the ground before them, and slided about without any perceptible means of motion; for their feet were invisible, the hem of their dresses forming a circle about them, reaching to the ground. They looked as grave as though they were going through some religious ceremony, their faces as little excited as their limbs; and on the whole, instead of the spirited, fascinating Spanish dances which I had expected, I found the Californian fandango, on the part of the women at least, a lifeless affair. The men did better. They danced with grace and spirit, moving in circles round their nearly stationary partners, and showing their figures to advantage.

Don Juan Bandini

A great deal was said about our friend Don Juan Bandini, and when he did appear, which was toward the close of the evening, he certainly gave us the most graceful dancing that I had ever seen. He was dressed in white pantaloons, neatly made, a short jacket of dark silk, gayly figured, white stockings and thin morocco slippers upon his very small feet. His slight and graceful figure was well adapted to dancing, and he moved about with the grace and daintiness of a young fawn. An occasional touch of the toe to the ground seemed all that was necessary to give him a long interval of motion in the air. At the same time he was not fantastic or flourishing, but appeared to be rather repressing a strong tendency to motion. He was loudly applauded, and danced frequently toward the close of the evening. After supper, the waltzing began, which was confined to a very few of the “gente de razon,” and was considered a high accomplishment, and a mark of aristocracy. Here, too, Don Juan figured greatly, waltzing with the sister of the bride (Doña Angustias, a handsome woman and a general favorite) in a variety of beautiful figures, which lasted as much as half an hour, no one else taking the floor. They were repeatedly and loudly applauded, the old men and women jumping out of their seats in admiration, and the young people waving their hats and handkerchiefs. The great amusement of the evening — owing to its being the Carnival — was the breaking of eggs filled with cologne, or other essences, upon the heads of the company. The women bring a great number of these secretly about them, and the amusement is to break on upon the head of a gentleman when his back is turned. He is bound to gallantry to find out the lady and return the compliment, though it must not be done if the person sees you. A tall, stately Don, with immense gray whiskers, and a look of great importance, was standing before me, when I felt a light hand on my shoulder, and turning round, saw Doña Angustias (whom we all knew, as she had been up to Monterey, and down again, in the Alert) with her fingers upon her lips, motioning me gently aside. I stepped back a little, when she behind the Don, and with one hand knocked off his sombrero, and at the same instant, with the other, broke the egg upon his head, and springing behind me, was out of sight in a moment. The Don turned slowly round, the cologne running down his face and over his clothes, and a loud laugh breaking out from every direction of so many laughing eyes showed him the fair offender. She was his niece, and a great favorite with him, so old Don Domingo had to join in the laugh. A great many such tricks were played, and many a war of sharp maneuvering was carried on between couples of the younger people, and at every successful exploit a general laugh was raised.

Wedding reception of José María Alfredo de Robinson and Anita de la Guerra at the de la Guerra Casa in 1836.

Another of their games I was for some time at a loss about. A pretty young girl was dancing, named — after what would appear to us an almost sacrilegious custom of the country — Esírítu Santo, when a young man went behind her and placed his hat directly upon her head, letting it fall down over her eyes, and spring back among the crowd. She danced for some time with the hat on, when she threw it off, which called forth a general shout, and the young man was obliged to go out upon the floor and pick it up. Some of the ladies, upon whose heads hats had been placed, threw them off at once, and a few kept them on throughout the dance, and took them off at the end, and held them out in their hands, when the owner stepped out, bowed, and took it from them. I soon began to suspect the meaning of the thing, and was afterwards told that it was a compliment, and an offer to become the lady’s gallant for the rest of the evening, and to wait upon her home. If the was hat was thrown off, the offer was refused, and the gentleman was obliged to pick up his hat amid a general laugh. Much amusement was caused sometimes by gentlemen putting hats on the ladies’ heads, without permitting them to see whom it was done be. This obliged them to throw them off, or keep them on at a venture, and when they came to discover the owner the laugh was turned on one or the other.

The captain sent for us about ten o’clock, and we went aboard in high spirits, having enjoyed the new scene much, and were of great importance among the crew, from having so much to tell, and from the prospect of going every night until it was over; for these fandangos generally last three days. The next day, two of us were sent up to the town, and took care to come back by the way of Señor Noriego’s, and take a look into the booth. The musicians were again there, upon their platform, scraping and twanging away, and a few people, apparently of the lower classes, were dancing. The dancing is kept up, at intervals, throughout the day, but he crowd, the spirit, and the élite come in at night. The next night, which was the last, we went ashore in the same manner, until we got almost tired of the monotonous twang of the instruments, the drawling sounds which the women kept up, as an accompaniment, and the slapping of the hands in time with the music, in place of castanets, we found ourselves as great objects of attention as any persons or anything in the place. Our sailor dresses — and we took great pains to have them neat and ship-shape — were much admired, and we were invited, from every quarter, to give them an American dance; but after the ridiculous figure some of our countrymen cut in dancing after the Mexicans, we thought it best to leave it to their imaginations. Our agent, with a tight, black, swallow-tailed coat just imported from Boston, a high stiff cravat, looking as if he had been pinned and skewered, with only his feet and hands left free, took the floor just after Bandini, and we thought they had had enough of Yankee grace.

The last night they kept it up in great style, and were getting into a high-go, when the captain called us off to go aboard, for being southeaster season, he was afraid to remain on shore long; and it was well he did not, for that night we slipped our cables, as a crowner to the fun ashore, and stood off before a southeaster, which lasted twelve hours, and returned to our anchorage the next day.

Alfred Robinson

Taken to the East Coast the following year, Anita diligently pursued her education and she acculturated while retaining her own priorities, including a patriotic position on Mexican California opposed to her husband’s espousal of “American colonization.” She also facilitated East Coast educations for her children and several nephews that would enhance their opportunities in the new U.S. state of California. In 1852 she was finally able to reunite with her family and fit back into Californio society. Elena did not see her mother for four years, and Anita was dutifully stranded in Boston and New York for 13 years. Upon her return, she only spent about three years in her beloved Santa Barbara, before an untimely death. After her loss, Alfred never married again.

Before the dissolution of the San Fernando Misión was complete, however, much was to happen in and around the Valley. The newly established state of Alta California in the newly formed nation of Mexico was ethnically and culturally diverse with Indians, American settlers, and Spanish-speakers, many of whom wanted more independence than the Mexican authorities allowed. Among this latter group were several would-be governors who sought to assert their control over Alta California.

Fig. 26.5. Juan Bautista Alvarado, Governor 1836-1842
Fig. 26.6. Manuel Micheltorena

One such man was Juan B. Alvarado, who marched south from Monterey in 1837 to take Los Angeles and everything in between. Choosing not to fight, those at the mission and the nearby rancheros promptly surrendered as did pueblo Los Angeles a few days later. Eight years later the Valley became the site of another north-south battle. The new claimant to the governorship of California, Manuel Micheltorena, arrived from the north in 1845 to challenge the forces of Alvarado. Awaiting Micheltorena on the opposite side of the Los Angeles River near Encino were partisans of Alvarado, including Pio Pico. Setting up their cannon at long range, the opponents began firing at each other without either side inflicting casualties, except to a horse and a mule.

Fig. 26.7. Pio Pico, later in life.

Out of this comic-opera came a treaty at Campo San Fernando in which Pio Pico was declared governor of California and allowed Micheltorena to retire with his honor (and skin) intact. Governor Pico liquidated the last mission property in 1845. The dethronement of the padres elevated the rancheros and introducedl an new social order based on their authority. More than eight hundred of them shared in the carving up of 8 million prime acres. So swift was the division that, between 1841 and 1845, thirty new ranchos appeared in the Los Angeles district alone. Land in parcels of up to 11 leagues could be had practically for the asking by those with the right connections or with a record of civil or military service. Some families obtained several great adjoining parcels and thus prevailed over 300,000 acres or more. By 1846, according to a list compiled by Thomas Larkin, forty-six men of substance, influence, or political power ruled California. They were largely self-made men, the arriviste corps of the recent past who had inherited little wealth from their fathers and mostly were landowners.

And although the 1840s in Alta California were marked by a period of growth in population and prosperity from the cattle-based economy, those years were clouded by the United States desire to acquire the land on the Pacific claimed by Mexcio. Furthermore, because of its internal economic, political, and social contradictions, the Mexican government was unable to protect its most distant territories in Alta California, thereby establishing the conditions for military invasion by the United States.

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