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[8]

Chapter 2: Mission Indians.

Though friar and priest have left the altars of San Carlos to the owls and lizards, some of the converts whom these fathers gathered into grace are staunch.

A squad of Mexicans, armed with writs and rifles, drove out Fray Jose Maria, chief of the Carmelo friars; but neither writs nor rifles have been able to drive off “ Capitan” Carlos, patriarch of the Carmelo camp. In dealing with Fray Jose Maria, the liberators had no more to do than close his church, disperse his brethren, seize his fields and orchards; but on turning to the native chief, they could neither free his tribe, undo the teaching of his priests, nor push him from the sanctuary of his patron saint. Yielding to force, Fray Jose Maria went to Mexico, where he has learned to serve another altar, and ceased to think of his mission on Carmelo Bay. Holding to his new creed with all [9] a convert's ardour, Capitan Carlos hovers round his ancient home, knowing no second fane, and clinging to the saint whose name he bears. To him, and to such rags and tatters of his tribe as yet remain alive, San Carlos is a mighty chief, his porch an entrance to the land of souls.

This Indian patriarch claims to be a hundred and twenty-five years old. Such claims are not uncommon in this zone. In every ranch you hear of centenarians, and in many convent registers you read of folk having lived to six-score years. Such tales and records are not always false. The air is mild, the eating good, the life unvexed. No burning summers parch the skin, no freezing winters chill the blood. From month to month the seasons come and go in one soft round of spring. In winter it is May, in summer it is only June.

A native piques himself on length of days; a big chief wearing his crown of age like one of the big trees. From his appearance, no one could pretend to guess the patriarch's age; for though his eye is quick, his scalp is bare and black, his cheeks are hollowed into cups, his skin hangs down his face in flaps. Life seems to hold him only by a thread. [10] In summer time he dawdles in the woods; in winter time he hangs about the farms. Being known to every settler, he is sure of bite and sup. His hands can bait a snare and throw a hatchet; yet the poor old fellow is so much a savage, he would rather beg than steal, and rather steal than work. Aged, but not venerable, he loafs in front of whisky bars, and fawns on strangers for a drink; his thirst for ardent waters being the only appetite that seems to have outlived his six-score years and five.

You take the Indian as he is — a wreck and waste of nature, even as this altar of San Carlos is a wreck and waste of art. For twenty cents, laid out in whisky, you may hear the story of his life, and in that tale the romance of his tribe.

A youth when the first Spaniards came to Monterey, Capitan Carlos saw Fray Junipero Serra land his company of friars, Don Jose Rivera land his regiment of troops. The Spaniards had already built a Mission house at San Diego, and were creeping upward towards the Golden Gate; but no Carmelo Indian had as yet beheld a White man's face. The fathers raised a cross; the troops unfurled a flag. A psalm was sung, a cannon fired; rites, as they said, [11] which gave the people to God, the country to the King of Spain.

These strangers built a castle on the hill, above the spot on which they had raised their cross. They fenced that castle round about with walls, on which they mounted guns, and set a watch by day and night.

Like all their brethren of the Slope, the Red men were a tame and feeble folk; munching acorns as they fell, grubbing in the soil for roots, and wading in the pools for fish. Some bolder spirits chased the fox and trapped the catamount. The bucks were fond of skins, but skins were only to be got by daring deeds. No man, unless a chief, had other clothing than a wrap about his loins, a feather in his hair. Not one in twenty had so much. The squaws were all but naked; their summer suit being an apron made of tule grass, their winter suit a wrap of half-dried skin. Papooses, whether male or female, wore no dress at all. A sense of shame was no more present in a native lodge than in a colony of seals.

These timid savages lived in hutches built of straw. Herding in the woods like deer, they seldom washed, I I [12] and never combed. A little paint was all the unguent they desired. A squaw tattooed her chin, her neck, her breast; a buck put on his face a dab of paint. They fed on grubs and worms, on roots and berries, living from hand to mouth, not caring for the morrow's meal. All things were held by them in common, like the grass and water in a sheep-run, but the sweetest morsels and the warmest skins were taken by the seers and chiefs. They saved no roots, they dug no wells. Old legends told them of a time when their fathers lived in towns, and they had still a village system, with a show of ancient rule and right. They chose a chief and made him pope and king. This chief had a first choice of squaws; and took as many as his hutch would hold. Catching them when he liked, he flung them from him when he liked. An Indian female had no rights. Poor souls, they knew no better in those pagan days, before San Carlos sent his message to their tribe!

Capitan Carlos saw a band of friars come over the ridge from Monterey, and plant a cross in ground belonging to his tribe.

A cross appeared to be the White man's totem; for beside a great cross borne aloft, each father wore [13] a small cross at his belt; which he raised and pressed to his lips whenever he either stopped to sing or knelt to pray. The fathers built an altar, spread a cloth, and, though the sun was burning, lit some candles. They unfurled the banner of a beautiful white squaw, whom they described as the mother of a mighty prince; a prince, who, in a land beyond the sea, had suffered on the cross and thereby saved the souls of men. They sang a psalm which sounded to these children of the forest like a strain of music from the spirit land.

At first the Indians held aloof. These strangers came across the sea, like birds, no one knew whence. Why had they come, unless to steal the squaws, to cut the grass, and take away the elk and antelope? Yet, when the fathers raised the image of that lovely squaw, and sang that music from the spirit land, the Red men crept beneath the fence of sundried bricks, in order to behold that face and hear that psalm. In time their fears were calmed. By offering food to the hungry, clothes to the naked, and potions to the sick, the good fathers won their way into these savage and suspicious hearts. They told the natives they had brought to them a message [14] from beyond the clouds. The Great Spirit, opening a new and nearer path into the land of souls, had given them San Carlos, one of the princes sitting in his presence, as their guide and saint.

Who could repel such teachers? The Franciscan fathers were smooth of speech and grave of life. No lie escaped their lips. No theft was traced to them. They took no squaw by force, and drove no native from his hutch. In all their actions they appeared to be the Indian's friends.

These strangers gave new names to things. They called the river Rio Carmelo, and the range Monte Carmelo. That lovely squaw was named the Lady of Carmelo. Savage, yet soft and curious, the natives watched those friars. All secrets of the land and sea were known to them. If roots were scarce, these fathers walked into a copse and dug up more. If fish ran short, they threw nets into the bay and filled their creels. They knew all qualities of bark and leaf, of herb and grass. They called the stars by name, and understood the winds and tides.

By bit and bit they taught the Indian how to till his soil, to net his stream, to snare his wood.

Instead of grubs and worms, the Indian soon began [15] to feed on hare and snipe, on duck and trout. The fathers taught him how to cook his food; so that in place of gobbling up his roots and reptiles, like a beast, he learnt to dry his seed on stones and bake his water-fowl in stoves.

The fathers built a church where they had fixed the cross, and in this church they hung their image of Our Lady of Carmelo. Fields were cleared and sown with corn. Adobe bricks were dried, and cedar trees were felled. Between the church and glen a slope was trimmed for vines. Pears, apples, nuts were planted in an orchard; and an olive ground was laid out, in memory of the Syrian Mount.

What said the Indians? While the bucks looked on, their squaws, more sensitive, brought children to the friars, who gave them lessons in the White man's creed, and marked their foreheads with the White man's sign. A convert died; the music of the spirit land was sung above his grave. What buck had ever seen and heard such funeral rites? The bucks came in, and asked to be baptised.

Fray Jose Maria lost no time in teaching creeds and articles. An Indian crept into the church, and asked to be adopted by the White man's saint. [16]

“ Kneel down,” replied the smiling friar; “ now, listen to my words, and say them after me:”

Santissima Trinidada

Dios,

Jesu Christo, Esperitu Santo!

Hardly another word was spoken by the priest. Crossing his convert, the father gave him a saintly name, and sent him home a new man; a member of the Catholic Church, a subject of the King of Spain.

Year after year the fathers ploughed and garnered in this virgin soil. A street arose outside the fence, in which the converts dwelt: poor bucks in dug-outs roofed with logs; chiefs and seers in cabins of poles, roofed and clothed with mats. They lived in peace. No hostile bands came on them in the night; their hutches were no longer burnt in war. Even in their private feuds, no squaws were stolen, no papooses killed. Their neighbours, the Tularenos, were converted like themselves, and owned a patron saint. Snug in their huts, they learned to wash their skins, and put on shirt and shawl. In time they picked up various arts, learning how to [17] tan hides, to press grapes, to boil soap, to shell and pot peas. In terror of San Carlos, some of these converts sold their extra squaws.

So things remained on the Carmelo for thirty years. Fed, clothed, and taught, the natives lodged beside the Mission-house; neither increasing much. nor mending fast; yet clinging to the soil, and shedding bit by bit their savage ways. The friars were tender towards Indian customs, especially in regard to land and squaws. Yet, doing their best, according to the field in which they worked, these fathers were content to rake and sow, and leave the vintage for a distant time.

At length two parties rose among the Whites, a clerical party and a secular party, who differed as to what was best for these poor bucks and squaws. The clerical party said the Indians were savages, and should be governed by pastors and masters, monks and priests. The secular party said the natives were members of a free commonwealth, and should be left to rule themselves. These parties came to blows, and after cutting each other's throats for several years, the secular party got the upper hand. The fathers were expelled, the converts [18] liberated from their rule. To the surprise of Alvaredo and his secular friends, the Indians began to perish from the soil the moment they were free.

So long as Fray Jose Maria lingered at San Carlos, his converts clung to him; when he was gone, they scattered to the woods. All efforts to recall them fail. Yet these poor converts have not lost all traces of a better time. San Carlos is their patron saint. Once a year they come to see the Lady of Carmelo, and to celebrate their patron's day. Poor things! They roast an ox — a stolen ox by choice. They gorge all day, and dance all night. Mixing up old and new, they keep the vigil of San Carlos, not with fast and prayer, but feast and revel; ending in such orgies as might better suit an Indian circle than a Christian church.

These rituals will not long survive. Each season the converts drop in number. Long before these sun-dried bricks have sunk into the earth, all those who helped to build them will have passed into the land of souls.

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