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THE INFLUENCE OF THE MISSIONS ON PRESENT
MARY PIUS CARROLL
Today California is a great and prosperous commonwealth with wonderful prospects for the future. Its history, since it sprang Phoenix-like into the Union in 1850, has been a story of the advance of an aggressive people who, by utilizing the unsurpassed advantages of soil, climate, position, and material resources, have made California one of the foremost states. There has been a steady increase in wealth, population, industrial activities, and culture since the American period began. But the earlier chapter of its history presents another picture. In the fertile valleys the Franciscan missions were centers of a different culture and of a different civilization. The present state of California did not develop from the Spanish settlements as did the Atlantic coast states from the thirteen colonies. The creation of the western commonwealth was wrought by another people with different laws, customs, and institutions. But the work of the early padres was not entirely obliterated in the rapid transformation, for the past still exerts an influence on the present conditions and life. To demonstrate the truth of this assertion is the purpose of this paper.
Without describing in detail the successful career of the missions which were at their height in the first quarter
1 This essay won the prize awarded in 1915 by the Alumni Council of the Newman Club of the University of California.
of the nineteenth century, it is sufficient to say that the number of Indians who were baptized is recorded as 88,240, of whom as many as 25,000 were in residence at the missions at one time. These Indians, rescued from savagery, were making rapid strides toward civilization when the Mexican government ordered the secularization of the missions in 1833. With this change the moral support of the padres was withdrawn, and most of the Indians reverted to the free life of their forefathers. The land was soon occupied by the incoming settlers, and the once vast population of Indians decreased rapidly from starvation or disease. But were all the efforts of the padres wasted! No, for some of the mission Indians who survived continued to show the effects of their early training. They and their descendants clung to the Christian faith and, in numerous instances, to their habits of industry. Helen Hunt Jackson, the enthusiastic writer on the mission era, has described graphically the thrift of the remaining descendants of the neophytes of the old days who now live in the San Jacinto Valley and other sections of the south. She bears out the assertion of Father Engelhardt that the Catholic Indian of today is more self-sustaining than any of the other natives, due to the fact that the mission friars in their gospel of Indian salvation placed industry at the head of all human virtues.
These same authors demonstrate also beyond a doubt that the influence of the mission system is being felt in present educational methods, especially in those that deal with the Indian and other dependent classes. Not only is this noticeable in California but in the nation at large, for the United States government, after much investigation and many experiments, has adopted the same means of instruction as those that were followed in the missions. The national Indian schools, Haskell Institute and Carlisle, are now making industrial education the basis of their courses of study and, like the mission friars, are adding the intellectual culture only after the Indians have been taught to be useful and self-supporting. The government has also taken some of the Indians of the Southwest from reservations and placed them again under Franciscans who continue the mission system.
The industries of the California missions were numerous and varied. Not only were the neophytes instructed in the industrial arts by experts and skilled artisans brought from Mexico for the purpose but, under the direction of the padres, the Indians constructed buildings and aqueducts, tilled the soil, planted orchards and vineyards, and raised vast herds of live stock. The work accomplished in sixty years by a few friars and their Indian converts is simply marvelous, and the direct influence it exerts today upon the economic life of the Golden State cannot be questioned.
The following few illustrations will amply prove this statement. The cattle industry of this state can be traced back to the two hundred head of cattle sent by the wise Gálvez in 1769. Sheep-raising in California began also at that time, and the horses for which many sections of the state are still famed are of the breed introduced by the early Spaniards. Kindred industries, such as the making of carved leather articles and hand-made bridles and saddles, still exist in the old Spanish towns of the state. Bee culture is another of the mission occupations that has survived to the present. The horticulture and agriculture of California also date back to the mission times.
The keen eye of the Franciscan padres for the qualities of soil and irrigation facilities is shown in the enthusiastic remarks about the agricultural advantages that are found in Crespi's diary. He also records the soils of diffent localities passed through as emplastado, heavy; prieta, dark; or migajón, friable; and the amount of the water supply was carefully estimated. Indeed, the missions might almost have been considered experiment stations where different plants were tested and only those that were most suitable to the soil and climate survived.
The padres brought trees and vines, as well as seeds, from Mexico and Old Spain. Thus they greatly increased the plant life of the state, and these plants, particularly the palm, the orange, and the olive, then new to California, have been widely distributed. A few remnants of the once flourishing orchards still exist, such as the orange grove at Mission San Gabriel and the old olive orchard planted more than a century ago at San Diego. Today the olive culture has become one of the leading sources of wealth of this state, and the wine industry, founded by the missions, has reached a point where seventy-five thousand persons are dependent upon it for support. Fruit-raising and, in fact, all the rural pursuits have been directly or indirectly influenced by the knowledge and practical wisdom of the early padres, who always selected for the missions the most fertile land in the most favorably located valleys. This was due to the fact that the friars always settled where the Indians were most numerous. These latter had found out by long experience where the vegetation was most luxuriant and where the acorn and other seeds could be gathered with the least labor. Hence the missions have aided later-day settlers in choosing the best sections for their ranches. Besides adding to the variety of California plant life, the missionaries, by their study of the native herbs, discovered many new medicines, the best known of which are the yerba santa or holy plant, and the cascara sagrada, or sacred bark.
Not all of the time of the neophyte at the missions was occupied in religious observances and daily toil, but his life was relieved by social hours when he could enjoy leisure or engage in games and dancing. Much time was also devoted to music, which was extensively taught. On certain days great fiestas were held, when horse-racing and bullfighting were the chief attractions. At such times whole beeves were barbecued, and the entire countryside turned out to enjoy the sports. The influence of these early celebrations reveals itself to-day when cities and towns add a romantic flavor to California outdoor life by spasmodically arranging old Spanish festivals, such as the Rodeo at Salinas and the Portola celebrations at San Francisco. The carnival spirit, a heritage from the old Spanish times, is ever present in our people and is ready to burst forth and lend its gayety-loving and care-free attitude to any and all holiday celebrations.
The missions were the religious, social, educational, and economic centers of California, and, because of them, permanent military and civil settlements were made possible. San Francisco and Los Angeles, by their phenomenal growth of to-day, demonstrate the wisdom shown by the padres in the choice of localities. Several of the missions, on account of their attractive and advantageous situations, have become sites for present-day cities, such as Santa Clara and Santa Barbara, while many of the old Spanish settlements, notably San Diego and Monterey, are now showing signs of renewed prosperity. These historic towns stand as a concrete proof of the mission influence.
The civil establishments which grew indirectly out of the missions have not only affected the locality of cities but they have left their impress upon the laws of California, as John J. Boyce of Santa Barbara pointed out in an address before the Bar Association in San Francisco on January 12, 1895, when he said: “The municipal law of California contains proof of Spanish influences. Tribunals of conciliation, community property, separate property of the wife, domestic relations, descents, and distribution, trespass on land and proceedings in action may be mentioned as examples. To California is granted the distinguished privilege of uniting in her jurisprudence the common law of England and the civil law of Rome, each the product of a great civilization."
The mission system as an active force came to an end with the death of Prefect Narciso Durán in 1846, but it is not the purpose of this essay to discuss the story of the downfall and the widespread destruction of mission property that occurred after the Mexican government had passed, in 1833, the decree of their secularization. In 1842