Santa Clara Mission

Santa Clara was founded in the following year, 1777. Padre Tomas de la Pena officiated at the ceremonies, seven years before the death of Junipero Serra. This Mission is in Santa Clara County, three miles from San Jose, the county seat. The two places are connected by an old boulevard made by the padres, and lined on each side by a triple row of trees, planted in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, equidistant from each other, on opposite sides of the roadway. They are now of great height, shading the entire route. An old legend says that they were intended as a hedge to protect the traveler from the wild cattle. The boulevard is one hundred feet wide, and in the days of the padres the surface was kept clean and smooth as a promenade. It was called “Alameda,”- the pleasant way. The location of this Mission affords another example of the excellent judgment and taste of the old padres in the selection of sites for their Mission homes. There is no more enchanting valley on earth than this one in Santa Clara County.

On the sixth of January, Padre Tomas and Lieutenant Moraga, with ten soldiers, selected the site; another padre, Jose Murguia, with a party soon came from San Carlos with provisions and supplies for the little colony, but Padre Tomas de la Pena with becoming ceremony founded the Mission; and the buildings were completed in due course. Here again the trained heathen’s hand and brain were utilized in the construction of this, as they were in that of all the Missions, except the first few that were built, before the necessary educational process and experience had prepared the Indian for the work. Conversion and baptism went on apace, and the padres were made happy by the salvation of many native souls.

The Mission thrived from the beginning until the Spring of 1779, when excessive rains and floods caused by the melting of the heavy snows in the mountains destroyed their buildings and improvements, causing great loss. In consequence, other buildings, including a very beautiful church on more elevated ground, were constructed, and President Serra, with Padre Pena and his old friend and biographer, Padre Palou, led in the ceremonies of dedication. The architect, Father Murguia, died after the completion of the structure, and now lies buried under its walls. An earthquake wrecked these buildings in 1818, but the Mission was restored by erections on a more generous scale in 1825 and 1826. All now lie in moss-grown ruins, which stir mournful memories and regretful thoughts in the minds of those who visit them in these latter days.

Santa Clara Mission had an exciting experience with its Indian converts not realized to any extent by the other Missions. Yoscolo, who was educated at the Mission,-a strong character,-was named the alcaide, or chief of the Indians controlled by the Mission, but rebelled against the authority of the padres; with a thousand-Indians, armed with bows and arrows, he attacked the Mission and robbed it of such stores and supplies as the rebels cared for and could take with them. Meeting with no serious opposition, they invaded the convent where the Indian girls lived, and ignoring the padres’ system, which allowed the girls to select for themselves if they were inclined to matrimony, they adopted the method of the Romans who seized the Sabine women, and captured more than three hundred of them, many of whom may have been willing victims. Then, herding three thousand head of cattle and five hundred horses, they fled to the mountains near Mariposa, afterwards General John C. Fremont’s noted ranch claim. About the same time Stanislaus, another Indian leader, deserted from the Mission of San Jose, gathered some three thousand Indians at Mariposa, and united his forces with those of Yoscolo, who was chief of the native armies. General Vallijo of the Mexican army, and resident commander, with about three hundred soldiers, started after the rebels, but was outwitted by them, and they escaped into the hidden recesses of the mountains, and were lost to the Mexicans.

Later, Yoscolo, who seems to have been something of a strategist and fighter, and doubtless encouraged by his good fortune, made another raid on the Santa Clara Mission, and was again successful in looting and carrying away large quantities of stores and valuable goods. He retreated to the Santa Cruz Mountains, near Los Gatos, at the mouth of a great cannon leading through these mountains. The locality of Los Gatos (“the home of the cats”) appears to have been the rendezvous and breeding-place of innumerable wild cats, dangerous even to the hunter.

Still later Yoscolo, exalted by his good fortune, and destitute of gratitude toward the Mission fathers for their former kindness, made another raid. This last adventure awoke the sleeping and peaceful energies of the Mission and the native Californians, so that Juan Prado Mesa, the commander of the Mission, organized a force and followed the rebels to the mountains. A battle ensued; with the true tactics of a good soldier, Yoscolo formed a square, ordered his Indians to fight lying down, and behind rocks and trees. A fierce conflict resulted, but bows and arrows could not compete with the flintlock arms of the time. A day’s battle, in which the Indians evinced great courage and tenacity of purpose, until their rude weapons were exhausted, ended in surrender to the Mission forces. Yoscolo was wounded and taken, and according to the usages of those times, he and the leading members of his army were at once beheaded; the others were taken to the Mission to undergo anew the process of conversion after due punishment for their sins. Yoscolo’s head was set on the top of a pole planted near the front door of Santa Clara church, to terrorize other Indians inclined to evil-doing and rebellion against Mission authority.

In 1839, in execution of the decree of secularization, issued some years prior to this time, Don Jose Ramon Estrada, the legally constituted commissioner, gave away, or sold to his friends and followers, the rich lands and other property of the Mission. The padres voluntarily abandoned their homes in most instances when they saw their work destroyed and their opportunity gone. The Indians, vainly protesting, were driven away to encounter poverty, suffering, and ultimate extinction. Decay and speedy ruin came to the Mission. This, in brief, was the end of all the heroic, sublime, and unselfish labors of the Franciscan fathers to redeem and civilize the savage tribes of California. The bitter experience of the Santa Clara Mission with the rebels was without doubt due to the fact that the greater portion of the converts were mountain-bred Indians, whose nature and habits were more savage, cruel, and warlike than those of tribes living in other localities, more favorable by nature to their support.

The modern Santa Clara has, within sight of the old Mission ruins, a Catholic College, with extensive grounds and magnificent buildings, and a faculty famed for its piety and learning. Within its boundary lines are many acres adorned with statuary, and planted with trees shading pleasant walks; fountains refreshing the air and pleasing the eye; flowers everywhere lending their fragrance to the breath of life; vines laden with the nectar of the gods; rare plants and beautiful shrubbery; while here and there, standing in stately height and native vigor, widely spreading its branches, is the antique oak, whose length of days extends to centuries. This picture of beauty, power, and progress represents the Mother Church of our times; the old ruins near by represent the same Church more than a hundred years ago; this, the loss of a rude but precious civilization; that, the achievements of a living race with a splendid civilization alike precious and, we trust, far more enduring. The Church has made her record in each.

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