The Padres as Agriculturists

Of all the heritage enjoyed by the present generation in California, descending from the old padres, the greatest corporeal blessings are the fruits, wines, foods, flowers, seeds, plants, and trees, natural products of the soil and climate of Old Spain, the Garden of the Ancients. Without these the far-famed land would be shorn of her beauty and her food products, and as ill fitted for sustaining a numerous population as when occupied by tribes of primitive red men. The old padres made it possible for the white man to make her the Garden of the Moderns.

All this advancement was accomplished in about thirty years after the establishment of the first Mission in San Diego in 1769. Another equal period of mission work and great results by this band of holy men followed. The harvest of souls received into the Church was commensurate with the progress made in material, corporeal, and social life. Then blight and ruin fell upon them; life under. the regime of the Franciscans ceased forever. To that period of progress and enlightenment California may turn with amazement, love, and gratitude, as the foundation of her greatness and glory of to day.

These achievements, strenuously made and suddenly lost, all in about sixty years’ time, were the first lessons in the reclaiming of savage races in California. Looking backward to prehistoric times, we see the forefathers of the Mission Indians, rude, uncouth, river-drift men, wandering through the valleys, along the rivers and streams, in search of the food that Nature had stored for them in her waters more generously than upon the land, and more readily within reach of their feeble powers.

Pastoral and agricultural industries were the principal means upon which the Missions depended for their support and maintenance, and for the acquisition of wealth. The vineyards were planted for the pleasures of the table, as the pious padres did not deny themselves creature comforts; hunting- and fishing were to them sources of very considerable revenue; in short, all the products of nature and art were made to subserve their sustenance, their comfort, and their pleasure. The spiritual life first; the temporal life next. And neither was neglected.

In all the greater Missions, the holy temple was the most prominent building. Over the main entrance was reared the tower with its bells; then came the residences, the quarters and guardhouse for the soldiers, houses for the Indian converts; after which the warehouses, granaries, prisons, and cemeteries. The Indian houses were set apart by themselves within a walled inclosure, called a rancheria. The orchards and gardens, both flower and vegetable, were properly located. The industrial establishments were also in a place by themselves. The entire Mission and grounds were laid out with streets and alleys after the forms of civilized life; everywhere regularity and system were strictly observed.

The full measure of the progress made among the primitive fields, valleys, and mountains in the material things of life during a period covering only two generations of time, may be estimated in the amount of property acquired by the padres. In 1830 they had more than one million head of cattle pasturing on Mission lands, one hundred thousand horses, and almost innumerable other domestic animals. Their yearly crop of wheat averaged one hundred and fifty thousand bushels; and barley, oats, and other crops were in like proportion. Corn was not a climatic favorite, but was cultivated to some extent. The general and unfailing products-agricultural and manufactured-were wheat, barley, oats, beans, tallow, soap, leather, hides, wool, oil, cotton, hemp, linen, wine, brandy, tobacco, salt, and soda. The fruits raised were as great in variety, as rich in quality, and profuse in quantity then as now, subject to the restriction of acreage only.

Return to: The Missions of California and the Old Southwest

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