La Baja California Mission History

The history of the missions from this time on reads like a romance. The natives at first were friendly, and rendered willing services in return for slight rations of grain and porridge. Later they became refractory, began to steal from the strangers, and then went on to personal attacks, often repeated, of murderous in-tent. Unexpected rains, in a country they had supposed rainless, damaged the stores. Their own weapons of defense recoiled upon them; for when they fired their pedrero (a swivel-gun) to repel a ferocious attack of the Indians, it burst and wounded several of the garrison. A great obstacle, too, lay in the missionaries’ ignorance of the language of the natives, and the misleading teachings of it by the Californians, through a mischievous enjoyment of the strangers’ blunders. The crews of the supply ships took the pearl-fishing fever, which pursuit the Fathers deemed the most dangerous of all the evils menacing their work. Still they persisted, bravely combating every obstacle, and strong in their faith, stimulated by various notable coincidences that they regarded as miraculous intervention in answer to their prayers.

In March, 1699, encouraged by more favorable conditions, they set about extending their enterprise, and on November 1 of that year they founded San Xavier, second of the California missions.

The last year of the century, the third of this work, was full of trouble for the Jesuit fathers. The loss of a ship, the deaths of friends and supporters, laymen and priests, lack of re-sources, indifference in Mexico and Spain to the needs of the colony, and the opposition of the local military power, all led to great distress, material and spiritual, which was some what mitigated by the arrival, early in 1771, of Father Ugarte, a man of power in every sense. Strong, intellectual, magnetic, practical, a churchman militant, his presence ever inspired the devoted little band with fresh courage in periods of depression, even when, more than once, the padres and their companions were reduced to subsisting, like the savages, upon wild berries, roots, and pitahayas the fruit of a species of cactus-and when attacks from the natives and insubordination among the soldiery were like to drive them desperate.

In 1705-’06 the missions San Juan Bautista and Santa Rosalia were founded, and in 1708 that of San Jose. The year 1709 was full of disaster, what with the loss of another ship, and the ravages of smallpox and other diseases. All this time Father Salvatierra, in his various offices, had never ceased to labor valiantly for these missions; but on July 17, 1717, that good, true, disinterested priest died in Guadalajara.

In 1718 was founded the mission of La Purisima Concepcion, which later became one of the best on the peninsula. In 1719 was launched the first ship built on the shores of California. El Triunfo de la Cruz (The Triumph of the Cross) was constructed through the determination of Father Ugarte, bent on executing Salvatierra’s fond plan of gulf exploration. Sailing in this vessel, in November, 1720, Ugarte and Bravo, being joined by a land party, founded the mission Nuestra Senora del Pilar de la Paz, on the spot still known as La Paz. In 1721 Father Helen founded the mission Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe.

In May 1721, Ugarte sailed in the Triunfo on a four months’ exploring tour up the gulf; the journey was hard and perilous, but it supplied much geographical data, and proved conclusively that California was not an island, but a peninsula. From this on explorations were made as often as possible.

In 1721 was established mission Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, and in 1723 that of Santiago. In 1730 was founded near Cape San Lucas the mission San Jose del Cabo, and that same year witnessed the death of Father Ugarte, after thirty years’ work in California. In 1733 was founded the mission Santa Rosa. This year, and again in 1734, there were outbreaks of the Indians, who murdered several of the friars. Troops were brought from the mainland to reduce the rebels of this province, now became a valuable possession, and thus the revolt led to the increase of the local presidial force.

Intermittent troubles with the natives, and promises, made only to be broken, of Government support to the missions, occupy the record up to 1746, after which there is a blank of twenty years.

By the year 1750 the missions of La Baja were producing grain, fruit, livestock and other staples, almost sufficient for their own consumption, and were no longer in straits of necessity. The policy followed was also modified. Trade was measurably encouraged, and pearl fishing was not discountenanced. All was not, however, plain sailing for the Fathers. Much discontent was expressed against them. They were accused of concealing, through self-interest, re-sources of great richness alleged to exist in the country, and that they engaged in smuggling was more than hinted. From 1751 to 1766 Fathers Consag and Link made some not very important explorations. It would seem, however, that their successors were wanting in the spirit of enterprise and disinterestedness that had marked the original founders of the missions.

The situation became most unpleasant; it was, no doubt, the strength of the opposition to them that led the Provincial of the Jesuits to offer formally to give up all the missions of the society, including those of California. There is also little doubt that the conditions on the peninsula had some influence in the expulsion, in 1767, of the Jesuits from all Spanish possessions.

In November of that year, Don Gaspar do Portola landed near San Jose, charged with the governorship of California and the expulsion of the missionaries. The fathers seem to have borne themselves through these trying circumstances with composure and dignity; and the scene at their departure was most affecting. Their disciples, ungrateful and savage as they had shown themselves in the past, were contrite and full of sorrow at this juncture; and they followed their pastors up to the last moment, with bitter lamentations. It is said that even the governor shed tears as the parting exiles started on their via dolorosa.

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