The Wealth of the Missions

In the latter days of their prosperity, when all the Missions had been founded and their surroundings completed, two hundred thousand head of cattle were killed yearly, netting a profit usually of ten dollars each. The hides and tallow were the chief articles of commerce with cities on the Atlantic coast, Boston leading in the early thirties of the last century. The flesh of the cattle found consumers among the Mission Indians and the needy elsewhere. The padres permitted none to want for food in the regions around them. Their hospitality, like their faith, was boundless. All the Missions from San Diego to San Francisco were enriched by the planting and cultivation of extensive orchards, gardens, and vineyards around them; while they were beautiful with flowers of every variety, hue, and fragrance, some of native origin, and some brought as seeds or plants, from other lands within the limits of the temperate and tropical belts.

In truth, California was then to a limited extent, and within the lines of Mission endeavor, the garden of the earth. Blossoms and perfumes were hanging on and emitted from every vine, plant, shrub, and tree capable of bloom and odor; for the old padres loved beauty of nature and art, as they loved purity and beauty of soul, and all other good things.

The annual revenues of the Missions from sales and trade, tithes and rents, would aggregate in their latter and fully prosperous days nearly three million dollars; and it is stated upon authority that the padres sent to the Church in Spain and Mexico during the time of their existence more than twenty million dollars from their surplus accumulations of wealth. A still greater amount was taken from them in property and treasures by the Mexican Government under the orders of confiscation, which were finally passed by the Mexican Congress on the seventeenth of August 1833. The religion and morals of the Missions were swept away at this time, with their material progress and the monuments thereof. Under the curse of greed, the better life of the Indian neophyte, with his hopes in the future, passed into oblivion with the wreck of his Mission home. The padres could protect him no longer. He fled a fugitive to the mountains, where his short lived civilization disappeared forever.

Avarice, bred in the hearts of the Mexican authorities and people in the era of reckless lawlessness that succeeded the revolt of that country from Spain, extinguished old-time reverence for the Church and its precepts, and produced a breed of rascally officials. Soldiers of fortune who had served in the recent wars were now without regular occupation; and these, with other adventurous men, united in a general invasion of Alta California, to seize and possess the rich properties which the Franciscans had created through toil, privation, and danger, but now were powerless to defend when the merciless hand of spoliation was laid upon them.

The old padres fled like the Indians, and left behind them all the fruits of their glorious labors and triumphs to the fate that overwhelmed them. The vandal destroyed that which he could not create. A most benign and unique civilization disappeared for a time under the superstition and ignorance of the Mexican and his rule; but to him even it imparted an influence which chastened and elevated him into a new and better life.

Return to California Missions and Old Southwest

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

Scroll to Top