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Chapter 12: Catholic missions.

“with fifty thousand dollars,” the bandit said at San Jose, “ I could have raised an army, driven out the English settlers, and cleared the southern counties of California from Santa Clara to San Diego.”

Men less heated than the prisoner think that if Vasquez had been cursed with as much genius for affairs as Castro and Alvaredo, he might have caused a civil war and cost the State much blood and coin.

These persons judge by what is going on in Mexico, a country very much like California, being occupied by half-breeds, with a sprinkle here and there of such dons and caballeros as we .find in the streets and billiard-rooms of Monterey. Over the border, nothing is easier than for a man like Vasquez to provoke a riot, desecrate a church, expel a governor; but a rise of rustics, at the call of men devoid of [111] character and position, is not easy in a land of settled farms, wedded by railway lines and telegraph wires to strong and populous towns. In California such rustics would be trampled in the dust and scattered to the winds. A fire will lick up straw hutches that would hardly leave a mark on granite walls.

No rising of these Half-breeds, as they now begin to see, can shake the solid structure of American rule. If the Mexicans, either pure or mixed, are to keep alive their name and faith in presence of the British races, they must seek support in Catholic colleges like Santa Clara, not in brigand camps near San Benito Peak.

Two miles north of San Jose peep out the capulas and spires of Santa Clara; once a seat of the Franciscan friars, a centre of the Catholic missions; now, according to the change of times, the site of a Jesuit college, and a source of Catholic teaching for the whole Pacific slope.

Lying in the midst of oak and cedar, glancing over sparkling waves, sheltered in the arms of lofty hills, Santa Clara has a charm of scenery and situation to attract the eyes of any one who, having made [112] his fortune, wants to build himself a poetic home. A hundred villas nestle in the woods, a hundred chalets climb the hills. A railway belts the town. Schools, churches, banks, hotels, and hospitals abound. Here stands a court-house, there a university. Santa Clara is an English town, alive with English fire and hope; and yet, one turns from all these signs of a new order to the old Franciscan cloister, in the cells of which the city of Santa Clara had her birth.

Slouching at the college gate, stands an old Indian, called Marcello, dressed in tags and beads, like a Mexican. He is waiting for his daily dole.

Marcello is a double of the patriarch of Carmelo Bay. A child when Fray Tomas de la Peina built this cloister, and laid out these walks, the old chief has lived through many histories. Within his fivescore years the Spaniards have come and gone, the Mexicans have risen and fallen. Living under many flags, he has been a thrall of Spain, a citizen of Mexico, a vassal of California, an outcast of the United States. To him these changes have been like an evil dream, of which the sense escaped his mind, while the pang remained in his flesh. [113] One day his neck was under foot of king and friar, next day under that of judge and general; and of these four tyrants, he found the judge and general far less mindful of his rights than priest and king. As one of the converts of St. Francis, he was lodged and fed; but since his year of freedom, he has been a beggar and an outcast in the land of which he was once a prince.

At Santa Clara lay the camp and refuge of a band of brethren, who in pious zeal, without an eye to their own profit, lived among a herd of savages for more than sixty years, making the one great effort that has ever yet been made to save the natives of this coast. Ten or twelve missions were engaged in carrying on the work; missions at San Diego and Santa Barbara, at San Luis Obisco and San Carlos, at Soledad and San Juan, at San Jose and San Francisco; but the heart and brain, the rule and method, of this great Christian experiment, were at Santa Clara. Here the provincial had his seat. Here strangers in the country were received. Hither came every one who wished to make a fortune, or to thrive at court. Reports were sent from other missions to Santa Clara; every [114] rescript and command was issued from Santa Clara. Santa Clara was the court and capital of this Franciscan Commonwealth.

The brethren of St. Francis failed to establish a sacred Commonwealth in Upper California, and their work has passed into other and stronger hands. They failed, as the English church failed in Ireland, as the Sept-Insular Republic failed in Greece, from lack of nationality. Even at the best their rule was alien, and supported from without. They had no root in the soil. Yet who can say, with justice. of the Franciscan brethren, that they failed so signally as to deserve no record of their work, no pity in their fall. Some of the brethren may have been imperfect in their lives. Being flesh and blood, they must have caught some virus from the soil. They were not always meek. A bad friar may have loved strong waters, and indulged in pleasures contrary to his vows. Too many were puffed out with pride. At times their rule was so heavy as to lead a stranger, like Vancouver, to declare that he could see no difference between the treatment of a Franciscan's convert and a planter's slave.

No doubt, again, their method laid them open to [115] some censures of a general kind. They took possession of the soil, and held their prize with an unyielding hand. They woke no sense of property in the Indian mind. They were inclined to keep all tribal usages and customs. Caring little for freedom, they retained in thrall a people who had always lived in thrall. They seldom interfered with family life. Tley let the sale of girls go on; and visited hutches where the bucks had several squaws. They left the ancient superstitions in the lodge, content with giving them new names.

Yet, be their errors small or great, these brethren kept the tribes alive. A race of savages was drawn by them into a semblance of Christian order, and endowed with some slight knowledge of domestic arts. A prospect of improvement for the children yet unborn was opened out. Who says the fathers left no fruits? Why, thirty years after landing on these coasts, they had cleared and settled the choicest spots from San Diego to San Francisco. They owned sixty-seven thousand horned cattle, a hundred and seven thousand sheep, three thousand horses and mules. When the Mexicans broke in, they had a colony of eighteen hundred converts in this valley of I 2 [116] Santa Clara, living on the soil, more or less settled, earning their bread by labour, with the males and females taking on themselves an equal share. They owned twelve hundred horses, thirteen thousand horned cattle, fifteen thousand sheep, hogs, and goats. The other missions were like Santa Clara; each had her colony of converts, and her wealth of kine and sheep.

Where are these converts now? Too many of them are scattered to the woods, or laid beneath the grass.

What other order or society has ever put out hand to help these people? Mexico dispersed their teachers, and divided the common lands. In five or six years those lands were gone. A free man, holding an estate, can sell it; and the only use ever made by these Indians of their freedom was to sell their lands and purchase drink.

When the United States came in, these tribes were overlooked, and down to this moment they are virtually overlooked. Within the districts covered by the old Catholic Missions, there is only one small agency; a mere farm on Tule River. The Indians have neither lands nor cows; the flocks [117] and herds which they reared under the friars have disappeared.

In northern California, beyond the mission limits, there are two more agencies; one agency in Hoopa Valley, a second in Round Valley; but from Trinidad to Carmelo, on a line three hundred miles in length, till lately peopled by a gentle though a savage race, the native tribes and families are abandoned to disease and death. Even in the two agencies, little has been done. Five years ago a trapper and a trooper were employed to rule and guard these savages. The trapper failed to mend their morals, the soldier to restrain their vagabond ways. Neither trapper nor trooper could prevent them from perishing in a country full of wild game, and in a climate favourable to length of days.

If the Franciscans failed, they only failed where everybody fails. At Eureka, in the Humboldt Valley, American soldiers are stationed, as Spanish soldiers used to be stationed at San Carlos and Santa Clara. What is the result? American officers and soldiers take to Red women, much as Spanish officers and soldiers took to Red women. Knight, a Californian [118] advocate, was sent to Humboldt Valley to report, and these are some of his unflattering words:

“ There have been in this valley from one to two hundred soldiers, and I think at least half of their pay goes in that way. There have been about ten employes, averaging sixty dollars per month each, and I believe half of this went the same way. The commissioned officers made large outlays in the same direction. This, taken altogether, more than doubled the government bounty. Its effect on the Indians has been terrible. Half breed children, disease, loss of self-respect, are only a part of the evils. It has dethroned the chief, set aside the influence of the father, husband, and head of family, and brought to the front, in all things, the goodlooking and profligate young women. They flaunt round in gaudy finery, while their elders are naked or clothed in rags.”

No fiscal from Santa Clara ever told a truer and a darker story of what he found in Santa Barbara and Soledad.

Aware how much had been done by the Franciscans under great and ever-growing difficulties, the Americans have lately paid those fathers the compliment [119] of restoring their system-so far as a Protestant people and a secular government can restore their system-by placing these agencies under the control of religious bodies, chiefly Methodists and Quakers. But these purer agents have not stopped the progress of decline, and hardly raised, as yet, the tone of such few stragglers as survive. Old bucks go naked; young bucks get drunk. Fathers still sell their daughters to the Whites. A slave trade more revolting and atrocious than the sale of Negroes is conducted under the eyes of Christian judges, as it used to be conducted under the eyes of Franciscan priors. No native either gives a vote or exercises public trust. The tribes are tied to certain spots, cooped in like kine, from which they may not stir, under penalty of being hunted down, tied up with thongs, and lashed to their old posts. Compelled to work for the White farmers, they are lucky if the master is kind enough to lend them a gun to kill their food. They can be sent from master to master, and removed from one agency to another against their wish.

A man like Vancouver would find it hard to see in what respect their freedom under the Stars and II9 [120] Stripes differs from their slavery under the red and yellow flag.

Yet the tribes and families which fell under the Franciscan Commonwealth are more advanced and better off than any other Red tribes and families. An Indian commissioner, who has no clerical bearings to betray his judgment, writes:--“ The mission Indians, having been for the past century under the Catholic missions established on the Californian coast, are tolerably well advanced in agriculture, and compare favourably with the most highly civilised tribes of the East.” He adds, in detail, that these civilised Indians “support themselves by working for White settlers, or by hunting, fishing, begging, and stealing, except a few, who go to the military post for assistance in the way of food.”

These waifs in the agencies have some support; the other waifs and strays have none. Since they lost the friars, these converts have been perishing in their tens, their fifties, nay their hundreds; yet the State does nothing for them, and the sturdy settler, in his hurry to be safe, is brushing them from his path as roughly as he stamps out wolves and bears.

What wonder, then, that old Marcello should regard [121] each step of progress as a loss? Whatever flag is up, his people perish from the soil. The chief has lived too long, having lived to see his tribe converted, liberated, and destroyed.

No government or society has known so well as the Franciscans how to rule this savage and pacific race.

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