Home -> Philopolis Press -> Chimes of Mission Bells -> Chapter VIII - Retrospection of the Work of the Spanish Missionaries, Explorers and Settlers and their place in California's Appreciation

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Chapter VIII

Retrospection of the work of the Spanish Missionaries, Explorers and Settlers and their place in California's Appreciation

We have followed the venerable band of missionaries from their homes in Spain, where fired with zeal for the conversion of the savage heathen of the New World they set out for the comparatively newly discovered land of Mexico, where Spain had already a few establishments and churches, an archbishopric in the city of Mexico, and the Franciscan Fathers a well equipped monastery and mission at San Fernando in the northern part of the country. We have seen the Spanish Franciscans' zeal in the land of the Aztec, and we have also seen the noble cooperation given them by the government and civil authorities of Catholic Spain. We have traced the missionaries' steps, followed by gallant Portolá, and his fellow officers and men, and have sympathized and rejoiced with them in their hardships and joys. We have no doubt, often marveled at the stupendous work of the Sons of Saint Francis in the conversion of the unenlightened heathen, and have seen the Indian tribes turn from the worship of idols to the altar of the one true God.

Let us now give a brief glance at the work so nobly done by the immortal heroes which Catholic Spain sent to these shores. Many a time, winter blasts of misunderstanding and wrong have been cast upon them, and many a time have noble sympathizers fought just battles with prejudice in their behalf, with the blessed result that the thickest clouds of errors and "threadbare calumnies" have almost entirely disappeared, and with them the remaining mists of wrong are fast vanishing at the powerful approach of truth's sun, so that in relating the glories of that legion of splendid characters whose names are so tenderly clasped about the fondest memories of mission times, we shall not forget their friends and champions of later years.

But first let us see what the brave Spanish pioneers did for California. We will begin with the missionaries. To them we owe the conversion of the heathen and savage Indians, which work was super-human in itself, and which contrary to the statements of libelers, the fathers accomplished with heroic patience and charity, teaching the Indians besides religion, useful trades, civilizing them, and taking such conscientious care of them that they made a nightly round of their quarters, not with whip in hand to punish imaginary misdemeanor, but to see that the spiritual and temporal welfare of their converts and neophytes, was guarded, and so great was the attachment of the Indians to the fathers that if a father was called on business from one mission to another, the Indians would follow him a long distance weeping. Very few of the Indians were taught the art of reading, not because the fathers were in any way unwilling to teach it, but because for this one art most of the Indians showed no desire or willingness to learn, yet this has given the ever ready, unscrupulous writer food for saying that "the fathers endeavored to keep the Indians in ignorance" and the healthy rule of the fathers with its hours of prayer, labor, instruction and recreation for the Indian families in the mission quarters, has been distorted by erroneous histories, and statements have been made by some writers to the effect that "the Indians were treated harshly and oppressed." Whereas under what nation were Indians or unenlightened natives christianized, allowed to remain in their lands or treated with more humanity than under Spain or her missionaries, wherever they explored and wherever they went?

"Harsh, oppressive, endeavoring to keep the Indians in ignorance," if such actions mean all that these saintly missionaries accomplished, if they mean their leaving refinement, christianity, fond home and kindred in distant Spain to brave untold hardships, nay, martyrdom, to rescue souls from paganism, and if such conduct as "harshness, oppression, endeavoring to keep the Indians in ignorance" could be compatible with the practice of heroic virtue and acts of mortification of mind and body which to the spiritual man or woman appear beyond words of admiration, to the scoffer and frivolous (but for this latter class we are not writing) foolish and impossible. The missions too, with their honest wealth and industry were California's first centers of enlightenment and refinement. The Spanish missionaries were scholars as well as religious, and their institutions were California's cradles of literature, music and learning hand in hand with religion. To these early fathers we owe the first paintings and statues brought to California, while their well equipped missions, even contained medicine chests and medical books, to them we also owe the first architecture in the building of the missions, the first agricultural implements, even the first system of irrigation, in the state; to these we may add the first stock of sheep, cattle, horses, the first fruits, vineyards and teeming grain fields, yes, even the first roses of California were brought here by them, and it was from the missions that Dr. Robert Semple borrowed the printing type, wherewith he printed the first newspaper in California, which appeared in Monterey in 1846, making the letter "w" by joining two vs as the Spanish alphabet contains twenty-five letters, "w" excepted.

And if the Spanish missionaries did so much what did the Spanish civil and military authorities and settlers do? To Spanish explorers we owe the discovery and exploration of California, as well as of South America, Mexico and other portions of the New World, including the Pacific Ocean; indeed is it not to Spain and her good Queen Isabella the Catholic, to whom we really owe the discovery of America by Columbus? But not to deviate from Spain's work in California, it was the early Spanish governors who first framed laws and drew up a constitution in California, and it was they who made the first land grants, it was by Spanish explorers too that the first maps of California were drawn, under Spanish rule were many of the present towns and cities founded, from Spain came the first dawn of refinement and civilization, the first army and navy, the first artists, musicians, physicians and skilled workmen, in fine the first white child born in California was born of Spanish parents settled in Monterey. And what was the record of Spain's dominion in California? Setting aside unfounded calumnies as absurd as the one which claims that Philip II passed a law sentencing to death any foreigner who set foot on Spain's dominions in the New World, relegating such lies to where they belong, Spain's rule in her New World possessions, including California was marked by humanity as well as energy. Cortes, Pizzaro, Vizcaino, Coronado, Menendez, Ponce de Leon, Cabeza de Vaca, Balboa, as well as the later "pathfinders" governors and viceroys of Catholic Spain, were men of honor, and sobriety to whose names no "butcheries and cruelties" may be justly attached.

Perhaps one of the best proofs of Catholic Spanish humanity is the fact of the preservation of the aborigines of the land wherever Spanish conquests were made. Take for example, the statistics of the last census of Mexico which reveal that of a population of 15,000,000 souls 7,000,000 are pure Indian 5,000,000 mestizos or of mixed Indian and foreign extraction and only 3,000,000 foreigners or of Mexican birth but of purely foreign extraction. Take, California, Arizona, New Mexico and other former Spanish possessions of whom the same may be said in proportion. In these places no Indian reservations are seen as where the Puritans held sway. If Spain were guilty of the cruelties so falsely imputed to her, Mexico in particular would be a Spanish or Latin-American Republic, as it is, she may hardly be termed as such. But Catholic Spain acted as explorer, civilizer and with her venerable missionaries sponsor to the conversion of the heathen tribes of her New World colonies, leaving in them the traces of her enlightenment and christianity, yes, leaving them monuments of her humanity!

On the absurd and ludicrous application of the term "Spanish" in our midst to many persons who have no claim to it by either birth or descent we will not dwell, as we would not cheapen our sketch by stooping to discuss such ignorance or insult our intelligent readers by writing on such foolishness, we will only ask their permission to say that many so-called intelligent people have no conception of the Spanish type, race or character, but these we will leave "a la luna de Valencia" as an ancient Spanish saying would express such cases. The California families of Spanish descent are comparatively few, this being noted especially by Spanish visitors to California.

But what of Spanish generosity at home, when the missionaries were toiling for souls in the New World? Many a pious Spaniard in Spain and in Mexico subscribed immense sums for the missions of California, both for the Jesuit and the Franciscan missions. Thus we find the pious Marquis de Villa Puente subscribing $200,000 for "missions, vessels and other necessities of California." The Duchess of Gandía subscribed $60,000 for the same purpose in 1767 and many others followed the same example until the "Pius Fund of the Missions of California" amounted to over two million dollars. At the time of the Secularization of the Missions, the Mexican Government confiscated a large remaining portion of this "Pious Fund." In 1853 the Spanish Archbishop Alemany, then Bishop of Monterey and successor of Bishop Diego from whom the "Pious Fund" had been taken, started a litigation which was continued in turn by his worthy successor Archbishop Patrick Riordan of the archdiocese of San Francisco, with the good result that Mexico was made to pay the sum of $43,050 in Mexican currency annually as the interest at six per cent on the sum of $1,460,682 of the "Pious Fund" which the national treasury of Mexico had appropriated on the promise of Mexico to act as trustee of the fund and pay an interest of six per cent which it had failed to pay since its appropriation at the time of the Mexican regime in California. Moreover, Mexico had agreed to pay this interest to the object intended by the donors of the fund, namely, "to the church, for the conversion of the natives of California, for the establishment, maintenance and extension of the Catholic Church, her faith and worship, in said country of Upper and Lower California." The litigation was won through the intervention of the United States Government which Archbishop Riordan invoked through his counsel, and decided by arbitrators under the Hague Convention in 1899. The first payment was made on February 2, 1903.

Perhaps it is not amiss to quote here a small portion of the speech delivered in Washington, D. C. by Hon. Joseph Scott of Los Angeles on the occasion of a banquet following the unveiling ceremonies of the memorial erected in honor of Christopher Columbus by Act of Congress. Among the speakers present at the banquet were Ex-President William Taft (then president), Cardinal Gibbons, Speaker Champ Clark, Ex-speaker Joseph Cannon, Congressman Underwood, Judge Victor Dowling of the Supreme Court of New York and many other notable men of the nation.

"It affords me unbounded pleasure to have an opportunity to deliver an expression, feeble though it be, of the sentiments of the Knights of Columbus of the great West, and particularly of California, regarding the significance of this great day. Mr. John Barrett of the Pan-American Union has already given you food for sober thought in the parallel he has drawn of the marvelous activity and resourcefulness of the Latin-American republics. Possibly I may be permitted at this time to inject a suggestion that, despite the remarks of the previous speaker about Boston as the modern Athens and the seat of universal learning, "Modern Athens" has nothing in common with the memories aroused by contemplation of the events which we celebrate today. It may be well to tell our friends from New England that before the so-called Anglo-Saxon had set foot as a colonist upon the American soil, the followers of Columbus had penetrated into the heart of Kansas and gone down as far as Buenos Ayres. I want to lay stress upon the fact that we have not noted too emphatically today that it was the great Spanish race, with its strong and sterling faith, which accomplished this wonderful mission of civilization. Too long have we endured the stress of so-called history written by Prescott and others, some of whom ought to have been put in the Ananias club before they were born. For nearly three centuries the Spanish race, with its indomitable faith, pursued almost alone its mission of civilization and evangelization of the aborigines of America. Before the Pilgrim Fathers had landed on Plymouth Rock, the Catholic Spaniard had acquired a knowledge of the Indian language sufficient to enable him to translate the Bible into the Aztec Indian language, so that the new Indian neophyte could read the story of "God's greatest Book" in his mother tongue.

The Courage of Catholic Spain

I wish to advise those of you who speak now of a burden of four days and nights in luxurious Pullman cars to step out on the soil of California as though you had performed a deed of heroism, that a Spanish soldier, Cabeza de Vaca, with the courage of primitive Christianity, walked from Florida to the Gulf of California, though it took him seven years to accomplish his task; and the wonderfully brave Friar Marcos de Niza pioneered his way on foot thirteen hundred miles into the heart of Arizona through deserts and hordes of Apaches, in his efforts to plant the cross of civilization among the children of the new world. Nay, the Grand Canyon of Arizona, now one of the greatest natural wonders of the world, was seen by a young Spanish lieutenant and his twenty soldiers three hundred years before the Anglo-Saxon took a glimpse at its wonderful and awe-inspiring beauty. These and other similar facts are attested by the report of the Bureau of Ethnology of Washington, as well as by many other reliable authorities, including that singularly gifted and scholarly student of Spanish history and folk lore, Charles F. Lummis of Los Angeles, himself a Puritan on both sides of his house for several generations back. It was the fortitude of this Spanish race, coupled by its strong devotion to the faith which you and I profess, which enabled them to solve the Indian problem as it has never been attempted since. While under our present system of the government of this United States, the Indian has been an outcast and a derelict to be robbed and cheated by his white brother, yet on the other hand the Spanish missionary brought into the life of the simple native of the new world the wholesome light of Christianity, which made him recognize in the Red Man the same soul which was made in the image and likeness of the common Creator of us all. In that spirit of brotherhood and charity he obtained the confidence and good will of the Indians, almost without exception, throughout the length and breadth of the countries that he explored. And while his path was beset with dangers from the grim forces of nature, and occasionally the crown of martyrdom was given to him by an unthinking hand of those he was coming to evangelize, yet he faltered not in his footsteps.

Today the memory of Columbus may be coupled with and attributed, on our part, to the splendid heroism and Christian fortitude of the great Spanish race which continued the work of Columbus with all that it entailed for the betterment of humanity."

In compliance with our promise not to forget the friends of the missionaries and of their compatriots, of today, we will first speak of California's wonderful enthusiasm in the celebration of the Bi-centenary of Junipero Serra's birth. Of the privileged thousands who visited Monterey on November 23, 1913 and made a pilgrimage to Serra's tomb at San Carlos Mission, how many will efface that sight from their minds in years to come? But this awe-inspiring sight to which Reverend Raymond Mestres and the Franciscan Fathers of San Francisco, contributed so much, and in which the Third Order of Saint Francis so prominently participated will be yearly renewed. Ecclesiastical and civil authorities, towns and cities, individuals, all had the "right spirit." The accounts of the press were glowing. Mr. Frank Powers of Carmel-by-the-Sea was California's representative at the celebration which Spain did not fail to hold in honor of her illustrious son; and Mr. Powers indeed proved a worthy representative, returning to California with renewed enthusiasm for the saintly Serra, and his lectures have been listened to with keen delight. And can any praise seem superfluous for California's apostles in particular for the saintly Serra? At the civil exercises, held in Monterey on the occasion of the celebration we are speaking of, Senator Reginaldo del Valle, of Los Angeles, Mr. Michael Williams and Mr. Charles Phillips of San Francisco each paid exquisite tributes to our hero whom the opening lines of Mr. Phillips' beautiful ode described as:

"A young boy dreaming by the Spanish main:
Knee-high in waving grain
He halts at eve and dreams,
Where green Majorca fronts the cycling sea,
And far worlds ceaselessly
Beckon with passing sail and swinging tide,
And plunging galleons ride
Home from adventure, or away, away
To silken bright Cathay,
Or where dark India her golden treasure yields;
A young boy dreaming in his father's fields,
Who plucks a lily from the bending wheat
And stands with veiléd gaze and searching eyes
Pale with some great emprise,
Beyond the homing waters of his isle,
Beyond Majorca's skies; -
And dreams and dreams the while!"

"And they who love him wonderingly ask:
"What lad is this of ours
Who dreams away the hours,
And when the windy night-tide running sings,
So strangely seems
Converse to hold with far compelling things?
Or what these spirit-smiling ecstasies,"
They reverent cry,
"That halt him at his task
And hold him trancéd in bright reveries?
Is this our lad, indeed,
Who with such Heaven-given grace -
Ay, with the light of Heaven on his face! -
Makes question of the very world about?"

One of the sweetest features of this day was that hereafter by a decree of Governor Hiram Johnson, who also did not fail to send a representative to Monterey in the person of Judge Griffin, November the twenty-fourth was declared a state holiday. May Serra day long be welcomed by loyal Californians! We cannot close this chapter after speaking of the bright constellation of the past which appeared in California skies so many years ago, and whose traces we so cherish, without saying a few words about that worthiest of worthy movements to restore the dear old missions of El Camino Real according to their traditional lines, here again Reverend Father Mestres of Monterey deserves the greatest credit in this enterprise, and the Knights of Columbus of the California councils have proved themselves great helpers in the plan. King Alfonso, his minister, Señor Juan Riaño, the Marquis de la Vega y Inclan who will be King Alfonso's representative at the Panama-Pacific Exposition of 1915, are hearty supporters and sponsors of this movement, and with cooperation from faithful friends and the sanction of the Bishop of the diocese of Monterey and Los Angeles, we have no doubt that these glorious landmarks, some of which have alas too long been allowed to go to "wreck and ruin" while others are still more or less neglected, after the cruel years which extinguished their sanctuary lamps, left their altars bare and their belfries silent save for the hooting of the night owls, will ere long be in the proper repair to hand down with pride to posterity; and to further repair these holy temples and place them under their historical and original plans the most fitting priests to whom we could entrust them (at least wherever the necessary satisfactory arrangements are possible) are Spanish priests, compatriots of their founders, this too would serve to continue and strengthen the old friendly relations between Spain and California, and as whatever Spanish priests would take charge of the missions, would be scholarly men speaking both English and Spanish, the English speaking congregations would be well served. About three of the old missions are under Spanish priests now. Let us then not cease our efforts until every mission cross gleams gloriously in the radiance of the California sun, until the devotional chimes of mission bells peal forth again from every silent belfry, until the altar light beams again before each tabernacle enclosing the Eucharistic Presence, until the empty niches contain again the images which decked them as of yore, until each tomb of sainted missionary is restored, until mass is again daily said within these consecrated walls, and finally until San Carlos of Carmelo is again a worthier Carmel, "for the greater honor and glory of God" and the praises of His Virgin Mother once more are sung about this smiling valley where the Christian Indian children gathered the beautiful wild flowers of the blooming meadows to adorn the hallowed shrines, ere chimed the Angelus at evenings mellow glow.

Decorative Flower

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