Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Antonio & Ygnacio Del Valle's Roles in Privatizing Mission San Fernando.
Chapters 5 & 6 of Engelhardt's "San Fernando Rey," with Synopsis.

Webmaster's synopsis.

THE 25 YEARS OF MEXICAN RULE in California — from Mexico's secession from Spain in 1821 to the American takeover in 1846 — were consumed in a struggle between church and state for power and property.

In an extensive series of books published in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Franciscan Friar Zephyrin Engelhardt tells the story from the perspective of the official mission historian ... with an inherent bias in matters of church vs. state, but with important detail drawn from primary sources (both mission records and official government documents), and with an encyclopedic knowledge of secondary sources.

Of particular interest to Santa Clarita Valley readers is the plight of the San Fernando Mission and the role Antonio del Valle and his son Ygnacio played in its demise, from its secularization starting in 1834 to the privatization, by sale or lease, of all the missions in 1845-46. Along the way, the Del Valles picked up a nice chunk of property for themselves: the ex-mission Rancho San Francisco, i.e., 48,000 acres of the Santa Clarita Valley.

ALTA CALIFORNIA WAS RULED by a military governor at Monterey who was appointed by and answered to (at least in theory) the government in Mexico City. Under Mexican law, California Indians had natural rights to their ancestral lands; most of the lands that had become mission lands under Spanish authority were supposed to be returned to the Indians; and the mission buildings and grounds were to remain church property. But that's not what happened.

The mission period extended into the 1830s but it was precarious. The friars, who had served under the Spanish crown, were reluctant to switch allegiances to a new, secular government that contravened their beliefs and undercut their authority. Alta California went through a series of governors who were more or less tolerant of the friars — some more, some less.

Ultimately on Aug. 9, 1834, a new governor, Jose Figueroa, ordered the secularization of the missions — confiscating them, in Engelhardt's terminology, from the Franciscans, and diminishing their status to a parish church with a salaried priest; that salary, like those of newly installed government appointees, paid through the fruits of the labor of indentured Indians. Antonio del Valle was commissioned in October to secularize the Mission San Fernando, where most Indians from the Santa Clarita Valley had been taken, baptized, and put to work during the Spanish period.

Del Valle was appointed mayordomo, or administrator, of the mission on May 29, 1835, at an annual salary of $800. (For comparative purposes, the Rancho San Francisco was valued at $1,925 in 1838.) It didn't take Del Valle long — another two months — to convince Figueroa that the Rancho San Francisco needed a military commander to stop ex-mission Indians from stealing horses and cattle. He also wrote to Figueroa accusing the resident missionary, Fr. Francisco Ibarra, of absconding with a chest of silver.

On Nov. 7, 1835, the government in Mexico City countermanded Figueroa's secularization order with a new law calling for the return of the missions to the friars. California's new governor, the young Juan B. Alvarado (1809-1882), simply ignored the new law.

Antonio del Valle resigned as mayordomo in early 1837 but continued to press the need for a military presence to control horse thieves. He personally hunted many of them down. Thus the local Indians at the San Fernando Mission were doubly unhappy when in 1839 they learned Alvarado had granted the Rancho San Francisco to their nemesis.

Engelhardt writes[1]: "William Hartnell, Inspector of the Missions, arrived at San Fernando on June 16th, and remained till June 24, 1839. He found 416 Indians comparatively satisfied, except for the fact that the Rancho of San Francisco had been taken from them and given to Antonio del Valle, the former administrator. Their anger was so violent that Del Valle feared to trust himself and family on the ranch."

Less than three years later, gold was discovered on the Del Valles' Rancho San Francisco. By that time, Antonio had died and his son Ygnacio was filling his shoes.

Mexico City replaced Alvarado in August 1842 with Manuel Micheltorena, who on March 29, 1843, restored the missions to the friars. Alvarado, Ygnacio del Valle and other military men were outraged; they rallied around ex-Gov. Pio Pico whose rebel forces drove a poorly defended Micheltorena out of the country.

Back in office, Gov. Pico, along with a territorial assembly composed of Del Valle, Alvarado and other close associates, promulgated an order on May 28, 1845, to dispose of the missions either through sale or lease — in clear defiance of Mexican law.

Mexico City had more pressing matters to deal with, such as the annexation of Texas and its statehood on Dec. 29, 1845, which Mexico accepted the following February. Americans were also stirring the pot in California in the run-up to war in 1846.

So while Mexico City's attention was diverted, Pico and pals disposed of the missions. Some examples: In December 1845 they sold La Purisma to L.A. entrepreneur John Temple for $1,110[2]; that same month they leased Santa Ynez to Joaquin Carrillo and Jose M. Covarrubias[3]. The latter would later own Rancho Castac in the Santa Clarita Valley. In June 1846 they conveyed Mission San Gabriel to Hugo P. Reid and William Workman to quash unspecified debts[4].

On Dec. 5, 1845, Pico leased the Mission San Fernando to his own brother, Andres Pico, and to a man named Juan Manso. The terms were nine years at $1,120 per year[5]. Then on June 17, 1846, Pico sold the mission to Eulogio F. de Celis for $14,000. "Thus he dispossessed both the Mission Fathers and the Indians of the homes which the latter had reared and expected to leave to their children," Engelhardt writes.[6]

The United States Land Commission later voided the sales of the missions on grounds that Gov. Pico lacked sufficient authority to dispose of church property[7].

The U.S. government eventually upheld the Del Valles' ownership of the Rancho San Francisco, but by the time the paperwork went through in 1875, the Del Valles had lost most of the 48,000 acres to American capitalists after a severe drought decimated their livestock.

The Indians never got any land back.

— Leon Worden 2014

1. Engelhardt: San Fernando, 1927:59.

2. Engelhart: Purisma Concepcion, 1932:65.

3. Engelhart: Santa Ines 1932:60.

4. Engelhart: San Gabriel 1927:221.

5. Engelhardt: San Fernando 1927:65.

6. Engelhardt: San Fernando 1927:67.

7. Engelhardt: Purisma Concepcion, 1932:65fn.

Chapter V.

Fr. [Francisco G.] Ibarra was placed in charge of the Mission San Fernando toward the end of 1820. He had to serve alone because no recruits could be obtained from either Spain or Mexico. The reason was that Mexico in 1821 effected her independence from Spain, which country had supplied most of the missionaries. Furthermore, the men who had seized the reins of government proved more or less hostile to religious Orders. The very constitution, which they framed and put in force without the consent of the Mexican people, savored of Voltairianism so that the Missions in California could expect no encouragement therefrom. Those in power even demanded that the friars should nevertheless take the oath of allegiance to the patchwork called constitution, or be subject to expulsion. A new governor of the same cloth with the Mexican officials arrived at San Diego in October 1825 with the purpose of having every missionary as well as every settler swear allegiance. Though all the friars, without exception, had taken the oath of independence from Spain, most of them refused to swear allegiance to a document that made them believe the Mexican Republic to be a duplicate of the bloody French insurrection, inasmuch as it began by expelling inoffensive religious [sic] and deposing and killing its ruler (Iturbide). Fr. Ibarra was among those who would sear to obey all the laws that did not militate against Christian conscience. As no substitutes could be secured to take the places of the Spanish friars, General José de Echeandia, the new governor, allowed the missionaries to remain, but seized every opportunity to render their life more burdensome.

In 1827 Echeandia and the territorial assembly wanted to know the extent of the Mission lands. They had no pure motive in making the demand, yet we are thankful to them for causing the truth on the subject to be known, since it helps to explode the silly charge of the paisano[a] chiefs and their later abettors, who everlastingly claimed that the missionaries had possession of all the land from one Mission to another so that no bona fide settler could acquire any homestead in California. Fr. Ibarra replied as follows:

"Demonstration of the state of this Mission of San Fernando Rey, according to what is demanded of us by Articles One and Four of the Bando issued by the Exma. Diputacion on October 7, 1827.

"Lands. — From south to west, from Cahuenga to Triunfo, are ten leagues, that is to say, Cahuenga, Las Calabasas, Las Virgenes, Agua Amargo, and Triunfo. From west to north, Camulos and San Francisco Javier. From Encino to the sierra are five leagues.

"Landmarks. — From Cahuenga to the south an Alamo. On the other side of the river a large elder tree, which preserves its mark made by the surveyors (demarcantes) of whom some are still living. Toward the north, a great heap of stones which lies on the same road to San Gabriel[b]; and from there to the neighboring sierra, on which side roamed and still roam the cattle of Verdugo.

"From the south to west, the said sites are contiguous to the Pueblo de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles, San Vicente, Maligo, and El Conejo; and toward the north with Simi, Camulos, and San Francisco, they are contiguous to the lands of the gentiles.

"Lands Irrigated. — In the Mission, wheat is sown, producing as a rule what is necessary for the inhabitants. Neither of corn nor of beans can more than one fanega[c] be planted on account of lack of water; and even this fanega must be sown outside the regular time, otherwise the chapule (grasshoppers) will devour them. At Cahuenga and San Francisco[d] are lands quite sufficient for beans and corn; but in the years 1825 and 1826, on account of the great floods that made wide ravines in some places and in others covered the soil with sand, land was very scarce for the necessarily corns and beans.

"Live Stock. — 6,000 head of cattle and 8,000 sheep. — Fr. Francisco Gonzalez de Ibarra, San Fernando Rey, November 24, 1827."[1]

Such was the situation at the missions generally and at Mission San Fernando in particular, even at a time when the military officials were not unfriendly. How the missionaries managed to keep the great majority of their neophytes[e] together is a mystery. It can be accounted for only on the ground that converted Indians realized the utter unselfishness of the Fathers, and their sincere endeavors to shield and protect the Indians to the best of their ability. Indeed, the poor neophytes saw how the Fathers themselves slaved in order to lighten the burden laid on the Indians by unreasoning soldiers. They could not understand why this must be so; but what they saw attracted them to the missionaries and thus prevented a general stampede for the mountains and deserts. Some there were who by mingling with vicious whites had imbibed the spirit of lawlessness; but they were few, and they were held in check by the saner portion of the Mission population, until the first true-blooded Mexican governor arrived in California. Being of the liberal school of politics, he was hostile to the friars. For the time being the missionaries could not be spared, because without them the indolent soldiers would have suffered want. However, Governor José M. Echeandia very soon made his principles known; and the turbulent portion of the Indians listened eagerly to his wild talk about the rights of man and about the freedom from the yoke of the friars. Echeandia was bent on making things disagreeable for the missionaries; but he overlooked one necessary consequence; if the Indian neophytes did not work the fields, produce the cloth, and care for the live stock, the soldiers and their numerous families would starve and suffer. Doing away with the Missions was like killing the goose that laid the golden eggs.

Echeandia, in 1827, nourished an especially wild scheme concerning San Fernando Mission. He wanted to establish a pueblo or town with the emancipated or freed neophytes, for whom the missionary of San Fernando was to act as pastor! Though nothing came of it, the plan demonstrated his bent of mind. Then, in 1831, Governor Manuel Victoria was sent to California. He proved himself fair and just toward the Missions and curbed the cupidity of the paisano chiefs, young men who had been brought to the surface because a new Mexican decree had ordained the banishment of all Spaniards under sixty years of age and declared others incapable of holding office. Headed by Pio Pico and Juan Bandini, the dissatisfied paisano conspirators drove Victoria out of the country. An interregnum followed. The irrepressible Echeandia was recognized south of San Fernando Mission; while from San Fernando inclusive to Sonoma, the more reasonable Captain Agustin Zamorano held sway.

In his district, Echeandia lorded it over the four unhappy Missions of San Gabriel, San Juan Capistrano, San Luis Rey, and San Diego with utter disregard for the missionaries. In order to sustain himself against a possible attack from Zamorano, he called to his standard the deluded Indians of these Missions and gave them weapons. A few of the San Fernando neophytes also joined him. Protests from all sides at last opened his eyes to the danger of assaults from the very Indians he was supplying with arms. After his truce with Zamorano, he sent the truants back to their Mission, but with the warning that they were not to be punished.[2]

Fr. Ibarra, under date of June 22, 1832, reported the conditions at Mission San Fernando to Fr. Duran as follows: "Fr. Sanchez of San Gabriel found himself without hands to perform the work at the Mission (San Gabriel), for the neophytes between San Juan Capistrano and San Diego are now valorous soldiers; but he was also rid of his enemies, if we may call them such, until June 14th when an officer arrived here on his way to San Gabriel. He escorted fifteen of our Indians. They had run away to Echeandia, persuaded that said señor would be the protector of their vices. Two or three days later, Echeandia sent me a letter with orders not to punish them. In the same letter, he held me responsible, in case I should chastise them; and on the same occasion, he told me to reply without delay through the officer. I did so immediately, whereupon the officer left. From the letter of J. Mancisidor, Your Reverence will be enabled to infer what must be the discouragement of the poor Fathers who see themselves compelled to live in such slavery."

This state of affairs lasted till the arrival of José Figueroa, in January 1833. Egged on by the covetous paisano chiefs, this poor man, notwithstanding that a year before he had reported against changing the mission system, on August 9, 1834, issued the decree for the confiscation of the missions. Of course, the conspirators and the intimidated governor called the wicked measure by another name — secularization.[3]

Those concerned were in a great hurry to possess the property of the Mission San Fernando; for under the administration of Fr. Ibarra it had to a certain degree prospered, in spite of adverse circumstances. "The decrease in the neophyte population down to 1834 was less than 100," according to Bancroft; "and in live stock there was no falling off whatever, if the registers may be trusted; and the crops were still good."[4] Lieutenant Antonio del Valle, in October 1834, was commissioned to "secularize" the establishment. He at once took charge of the Mission estates by inventory from Fr. Ibarra. On May 29, 1835, Valle was appointed mayordomo or administrator, at $800 salary[f] beginning with June 1. In July, as a consequence, the administrator had to report that the horses were constantly stolen, and that the Indians, who had taken refuge at the Mission, were the thieves.[5]

The inventory drawn up by Antonio del Valle, on July 26, 1835, gives the Mission property and its valuation as follows:

Assets (creditos activos) — $5,736.00

Buildings of the Mission — 15,511.00

32,000 shoots or grapevines — 16,000.00

1,600 fruit trees — 2,400.00

Goods in the warehouse, implements, tools, looms, etc. — 1,650.00

Sacred vessels, vestments — ?

Library containing 191 volumes[6] — 417.00

The church building is described as follows: "The church is a cañon, 40 varas (110 feet) long and 6 varas (17 feet) wide. It is roofed with tiles, and the ceiling is of boards, the floor of brick, and the walls are of adobe. It has three doors and seven windows. The sacristy measures 8 by 8 varas (22 by 22 feet), covered with tiles. The floor is of brick, the ceiling of boards, and the walls are of adobe. It has one door, and one window with grating. The windows of the church also have their gratings."[7]

The Indian population of the confiscated Mission of San Fernando, in 1835,[8] was as follows:

"Married men, 126 ... married women, 126 ... [subtotal] 252

"Widowers, 45 ... widows, 53 ... 98

"Single men, 39 ... single women, 23 ... 62

"Boys, 68 ... girls, 61 ... 129

"Total ... 541"[9]

It would seem that the Indians had begun to use their wits. They and their fathers had cultivated the fields, made the land productive, collected and cared for live stock, and woven cloth, blankets, etc. All was now seized by the people who had contributed nothing to the wealth of the Missions. The very land was taken from the Indians. If white people could thus steal at wholesale, why could not the Indian endeavor to get back some of it in order to maintain himself and his helpless family? Did the land not belong to them? The result of this native philosophizing was that the Indians took horses and cattle just as they needed them. In view of this it is easy to understand the following complaint which is but a specimen of hundreds of similar ones, made all over California, after the havens of neophyte peace and happiness in charge of the unselfish missionaries had been confiscated. On July 26, 1835, the day on which the inventory was taken at San Fernando, administrator Del Valle wrote to Governor Figueroa that, in order to prevent the stealing of cattle and horses, it would be necessary to put in the Rancho of San Francisco a corporal, since the Christian Indians were committing great damage to the herds.[10]

The sad conditions of the confiscated Mission were too much for Fr. Ibarra. He had managed to make it prosperous and the Indians had been happy and contented under his administration. They had labored with a will, knowing that the Father was saving everything for their benefit, and that in time they were to manage their property themselves. Now he could not keep his word. The property had been seized by strangers, who were to reap the fruits of Indian labor and industry. Fr. Ibarra had slaved for the Indians without compensation; and now a stranger was drawing a salary which had to be produced by the Indians before they could think of their own needs. Clearly, the Mission was doomed to extinction. Fr. Ibarra would not stay to witness its death throes. Like Hagar, not able to see the little Ismael slowly dying from lack of the liquid she could not provide, went away, saying, "I will not see the boy die;"[11] in like manner, Fr. Ibarra, overcome with grief, ran away. It was about the end of June 1835 that he, with Fr. Esténaga of Mission San Gabriel, who was in a like predicament, left for Sonora. His last entry in the Baptismal Register is dated June 19, 1835. It was an irregular move for him to make. To leave his post and even the country without the permission of his Superior was akin to apostasy from the Order. However, Fr. Narciso Duran, the Commissary Prefect, understood the situation, and, in reporting to the College of San Fernando in Mexico, on September 25, 1837, wrote: "Two years have elapsed since Fathers Ibarra and Tomas (Esténaga) have fled to Sonora without license. As there is nothing more against them, I sent them, out of pity, their permits, so that they may not be regarded as apostates. During this time, the Law of November 7, 1835, was issued, which ordered the Missions returned to their former state.[12] They returned in that hope, but seeing that there is no prospect and having now their permits, they want to go back or depart I do not know for which country.[13] I neither can nor will detain them, because I see they have reason for abandoning such a wretched life."[14]

Both, Fr. Ibarra and Fr. Esténaga, remained only about a year in Sonora and then returned, as Fr. Duran reported. Fr. Esténaga was back at San Gabriel in August 1836; and Fr. Ibarra came to San Fernando in time to bury the body of Fr. Pedro Cabot, who had succeeded him in 1835. Fr. Cabot died on October 11, 1836, and his interment took place the next day. Fr. Ibarra's name does not appear in the Registers after this. Most likely he went to San Luis Rey Mission. As the Registers of that Mission are lost, however, no dates can be given. We find him baptizing at San Diego on December 11, 1837, doubtless while he was visiting there from San Luis Rey. Here, too, he died, after having long and bravely suffered the indignities heaped on him by the administrator, the malodorous Pio Pico and henchmen.

On July 5, 1835, Antonio del Valle wrote to Governor Figueroa that eight days before Fr. Francisco Ibarra left the Mission, a group of Indians had presented themselves asking Del Valle to demand an account from Fr. Ibarra; that he should deliver to them the chest of silver which he had taken away; and that he had assembled the Indians again who told him that they were to receive the accounts of what the Father had managed, because they know that he had in the preceding year embarked two boxed full of money.[15] As Del Valle had managed the Mission fully twelve months at the time of the alleged complaint, one wonders where the Father could have obtained the money and what the object of Del Valle was in reporting such drivel. Later on we shall see that he had to hide himself and family from the wrath of those same Indians.

Mariano Bonilla, a lawyer, who had come to California in 1834 with the Hijar-Padres-Bandini crowd,[16] was looking for an office and Governor Figueroa gratified him. Writing to the administrator of San Fernando, the governor, on September 22nd, only five days before his death, informed Del Valle that Mariano Bonilla had received the approval of the Most Excellent Deputacion for the position of teacher at San Fernando. His salary would be $1,000!! No knowing the state of funds of the Mission property, the Assembly resolved to ask for information on that point.[17] On October 26, 1835, from Santa Barbara, Mariano Bonilla wrote to the temporary governor, José Castro: "I have received the official note of the 22nd of the preceding month, in which the disposition of the Assembly was communicated to me regarding my taking possession of the office of teacher of the primary school (las primeras letras) at the Mission of San Fernando. I went to take possession, but the administrator of the Mission came to the presidio (of Santa Barbara) and made known to me that he could not deliver the office to me so long as he had not received orders on the funds of the property."[18] Thus the Indians were spared the additional burden of having to produce by their labor $1,000 annually for having the alphabet taught them.

Author's footnotes.

1. Cal. Arch., St. Pap., Missions, vol. vi, p. 175.

2. Bancroft, vol. iii, p. 227; Hittéll, vol. ii, p. 151.

3. Santa Barbara Archives. For details on this subject, see Missions and Missionaries, vol. iii, pp. 523-532.

4. California, vol, iii, pp. 646-648.

5. Cal. Arch., St. Pap., Missions, vol. ix, p. 8. Banc. Coll.

6. An inventory of December 18, 1834, has 197 volumes.

7. Cal. Arch., St. Pap. Missions, vol. vi, pp. 736-739.

8. Most probably, although the date is missing in the list.

9. Cal. Arch., St. Pap. Missions, vol. xi, pp. 848-863.

10. Cal. Arch., St. Pap. Missions, vol. xi, p. 24.

11. Genesis, xxi, 16.

12. For this decree of the Supreme Government of Mexico which repealed that of confiscation wrung from Figueroa buy the paisano chiefs, see Missions and Missionaries, vol. iv, pp. 6, 209-210.

13. Alvarado, one of the conspirators against the Missions, was now governor. He simply ignored the Mexican decree returning the Missions to the management of the friar.

14. See Missions and Missionaries, vol. iv, p. 115. [By Engelhardt.]

15. Cal. Arch., St. Pap. Missions, vol. xi, pp. 26-29.

16. See Missions and Missionaries, vol. iii, pp. 507-512.

17. Cal. Arch., St. Pap. Missions, vol. ix, p. 87.

18. Ibidem, pp. 81-82.

Webmaster's footnotes.

a. Literally, peasants; Engelhardt uses this term derogatorily throughout, as if to mean rogues.

b. Probably the Chatsworth formation in the Simi Hills.

c. As a Mexican unit of land measure, a fanega is equal to 8.81 acres.

d. The Rancho San Francisco, i.e., the Santa Clarita Valley.

e. Baptized Indians who lived at the missions.

f. If Engelhardt is consistent in his figures, he means $800 annually.

Chapter VI.

After the death of Fr. Pedro Cabot, Mission San Fernando seems to have had no resident missionary till the summer of the following year, 1837, when Fr. Blas Ordáz of Mission San Buenaventura took charge. He remained till the spring of 1847, when he replaced Fr. Thomas Esténaga at San Gabriel, who had gone to his eternal reward. Thereafter, the Mission was occasionally attended from San Gabriel.

In March 1837, Antonio del Valle was succeeded as mayordomo by Anastasio Carrillo, but before resigning, on January 3rd, Del Valle informed the alcalde of Los Angeles, of having received notice that six armed but unknown Indians had gone up toward the pastures of the horses; that he had ordered six cowboys to go in pursuit and that they encountered the Indians as they were making away with a hundred horses. A skirmish ensued, he continued, which lasted till noon, with the result that two of the thieving Indians had been killed. Three of the cowboys had been seriously wounded and were forced to retreat. Then he, Del Valle, had come up just in time; and with his party he had followed the Indians. On the road they encountered a different gang of Indians, whom they attacked and from whom they took away the stolen horses. From the tracks observed he judged that other Indians were getting away with sixty horses belonging to settlers.[1] From this we see that the paisano chiefs were reaping what they had sown. How different from what the Fathers at this same Mission had harvested with the neophytes for more than thirty years.

In June 1838, the administration of the Mission was surrendered by Anastasio Carrillo to Captain José M. Villavicencio. So, at least, Bancroft relates,[2] who also collected other little items that appear of doubtful value [sic]. At the time of the confiscation, Mission San Fernando was made a parish of the second class with a salary of $1,000 for the priest. The Franciscans disregarded the term, since they would not allow themselves to be called parish priests;[3] nor was it within the province of a legislature to create parishes. However, as there was no other means of gaining a livelihood, the Franciscans accepted the so-called salary as alms and then used the surplus for the Indians out of whose labor and property all the salaries were squeezed. From the following figures one can conclude that under the Fathers the Mission would have flourished if the cupidity of the paisano chiefs had but let the Indians and their missionaries alone. Under the comisionados the Mission was mulcted in order to provide high salaries for men who were absolutely dispensable. They were not needed before, and they were not needed now. According to Bancroft, the following sums were paid in the year 1836:

$2,226 to Ignacio del Valle;[a]

1,003 to Fr. Cabot;

1,018 to Fr. Duran;

500 to Fr. Ibarra;

2,159 for supplies for the troops.

From the same source we learn that in June 1838, an inventory gave the valuation of the Mission as $156,915. The various items were the following:

Credits — $14,293

Buildings — 56,785

House utensils — 601

Goods in the storehouse — 5,214

Wine and liquors — 7,175

Live stock — 53,854

San Francisco Rancho — 1,925

Grain — 618

Tannery — 544

Carpenter shop — 127

Blacksmith shop — 789

Soap works — 512

Mills — 200

Tools — 368

Tallow works — 2,540

Church — 1,500

Vestments, etc. — 4,348

Library, 50 works (?)

Debts — 1,689[4]

William Hartnell, Inspector of the Missions, arrived at San Fernando on June 16th, and remained till June 24, 1839. He found 416 Indians comparatively satisfied, except for the fact that the Rancho of San Francisco had been taken from them and given to Antonio del Valle, the former administrator. Their anger was so violent that Del Valle feared to trust himself and family on the ranch. Jose A. Villavicencio was administrator; but Hartnell found the accounts in an unintelligible condition. The clerk, Bonifacio Madriga, was therefore dismissed.[5]

On his visitation tour south of Santa Barbara, Fr. Narciso Duran, the Superior of the Franciscans, came also to Mission San Fernando. He found a different state of things, which he com­muni­cated to Gov­ernor Alva­rado's secre­tary, Manuel Jimeno, on Sept­ember 7, 1839. "Why," he writes indig­nantly, "cannot these colo­nists in the vici­nity of San Fer­nando do the same as those of the pueblo of Los Angeles with respect to San Gabriel; or, at least, alter­nate the burden with the Mission Indians? Why must the labor be done by the Indians alone without the last co-operation of the surrounding white people? I ask Your Honor for some relief in behalf of these unhappy Indians who for the last five years have been molested to extremes without mercy, whereas their character and their sufferings might move the very stones to pity. I hope that something will be done, for I ask nothing more than what appears to be quite just."[6]

Much of the vexation which the poor Indians had to suffer doubtless came from the periodical visits of opposing military parties; for the paisano chiefs were playing dogs and cats ever since the usurpation of the governorship by Juan B. Alvarado. Thus Mission San Fernando or its immediate vicinity would become the headquarters of one or the other party. José Castro, for instance, was there with his forces early in 1838. It was from this Mission that in April he congratulated Alvarado on the "capture" of San Buenaventura, declaring it to be another triumph which would end the disorders of the politicos.[7] The truth is, if Castro and Alvarado had remained on their ranchos, there would have been no disorders in California, neither at this time nor at the time of Micheltorena; and if Pio Pico and others had been contented with the vast tracts of land wrung from the neophytes of the various missions, there would have been no disorders in California. The cupidity and ambition of these politicos caused all the ruin that the Missions had to undergo.

According to Bancroft, who apparently follows Hartnell, the live stock on the different ranchos of Mission San Fernando, in June 1839, consisted of 3,590 head of cattle, 2,044 horses, 2,887 sheep, 25 asses, 57 mules, and 47 pigs.[8]

Governor Manuel Micheltorena, whom the Mexican Government, in August 1842, had sent to California to supplant Juan B. Alvarado, issued a decree under date of March 29, 1843, restoring the Missions to the friars. He was but carrying out the orders of the Mexican Government which Alvarado had persistently ignored. Mission San Fernando, or what was left of it, thus came into full control of Fr. Blas Ordáz, for whom the Indians did not have to slave in order to raise fat salaries such as the administration enjoyed. Like the friars before the confiscation, Fr. Blas accepted nothing for his services. That explains how the Father could write in May 1845, when all the Franciscans were accused of alienating mission property: "I have complied in everything with the direction of the Government. At the same time, I declare that I have protected with the greatest care all the lands and goods entrusted to me without any loss to them; rather have they advanced to a considerable degree. For example, I have paid all the debts, bought a hundred and twenty head of cattle, and have to a notable extent improved these possessions which I found ruined."[9] The charge of doing away with mission property came with poor grace from those who had been looting the Missions for eight years. Like thieves they imagined the friars also to be thieves.

The action of Governor Micheltorena regarding the Missions angered the paisano chiefs out of their wits. Therefore they began to conspire against him as they had done against Governor Manuel Victoria.[b] In the end, they triumphed, too. Near San Fernando, on February 22, 1845, Micheltorena surrendered his office to the Pico crowd and left the territory.[10]

Eugene Duflot de Mofras, who visited California during the early days of Micheltorena's term, writes as follows about Mission San Fernando: "Mission San Fernando, King of Spain, is situated about nine leagues west-northwest from San Gabriel, about seven leagues from the Pueblo of Los Angeles, and about fourteen leagues from the harbor of San Pedro. It has had as many as 1,500 Indians.[11] In 1838, it still owned 14,000 head of horned live stock, 5,000 horses, and 7,000 sheep. It harvested as many as 8,000 fanegas of grain, and produced 200 barrels of wine and brandy.[12] At present (in 1842) it counts no more than 400 Indians, 1,500 head of cattle, 400 horses, and 2,000 sheep. The establishment is well preserved, thanks to the care of the Spanish missionary, the Rev. Fr. Blas Ordáz, a Castillian.

"The Mission stands at the foot of the sierra. It owns good pastures and good standing timber. Its large ranchos are Las Virgines, La Amarga, La Huenga [sic], and San Franciquito.[b] At this last rancho gold was discovered. Near Mission San Fernando, a wide gap cuts through the sierra and affords entrance to an extensive plain, which leads all the way to the banks of the rivers San Joaquin and Sacramento."[13]

The discovery of told mentioned by Mofras was made in March 1842, on the San Francisco Rancho, of which the Del Valle family had taken possession against the will of the neophytes, as was already stated. "By May," writes Bancroft, "the gold region had been found to extend over two leagues, and the dirt, with a scanty supply of water, was paying two dollars per day to each man engaged in mining. Miners, chiefly Sonorans, were at work more or less continuously down to 1846."[14] The Mission gained nothing from the discovery. Paisanos and Mexicans to the present day persisted in the belief that the Fathers had possessed and hidden away great quantities of the precious metal. The writer, on a visit to San Fernando in 1904, saw how such foolish men had actually dug through the hardened soil in the very church of the Mission. Just before the main altar, where the priest would begin holy Mass, a deep hole several feet long and about a yard wide proved that some goldseeker had been at work after the treasurers of the poor friars. Under the door that led from the church to the sacristy, a similar excavation of the same depth, four or five feet, gave evidence of the stupid notion that friars, who had barely enough to sustain life, possessed hidden treasures. Along the rear of the old sacristy was another hole. At Mission Soledad, in 1904, the writer found similar excavations on the same spots as also in an interior room, notwithstanding that the last Franciscan was said to have died there at the foot of the altar from starvation [emphasis in the original].

The first Bishop of California, Rt. Rev. Francisco García Diego, visited Mission San Fernando once. This was on April 1, 1843.

After the expulsion of the lawful governor, Manuel Micheltorena, the usurper, Pio Pico, only a few weeks after he had taken control of the office, hastened to take the management of the Missions out of the hands of the missionaries, who were serving gratis, and put them into salaried hands. A subservient assembly composed of four partisans, Botello, Figueroa, Carlos Carrillo, and Ignacio del Valle,readily assisted Don Pio in his nefarious schemes. Without consulting the Mexican Government, Pico, on May 28, 1845, had his four friends pass the decree for "Renting some Missions and converting others to Pueblos."[15] Mission San Fernando was among those to be rented. The neophytes were not asked for their consent. Finally, in October 1845, Pio Pico issued a proclamation announcing that some Missions would be sold and others rented or leased[c]. San Fernando was to be leased to the highest bidder.[16] Accordingly, on December 5, 1845, Pio Pico leased the Mission to his brother, Andrés Pico, and to Juan Manso for nine years at a yearly rental of $1,120,[17] but not for the benefit of the Indian owners.

Fr. Ordáz delivered the Mission by inventory to the lessees on January 1, 1846. The witnesses were Nemesio Dominguez and Pedro Lopez. The inventory listed the following items:\

Live Stock:

710 unbroken horses of all classes — $1,065.00

16 tame horses, each @ $8.00 — 128.00

74 head of cattle, each @2.50 — 185.00

375 sheep, each @ $1.50 — 562.50

9 yoke of oxen, each @ $12.00 — 108.00

Tools in the Carpentershop — 30.00

Furniture in the House:

4 tables, each @ 12 reales — 6.00

4 benches, each @ 8 reales — 4.00

2 copper kettles, each @ 32 reales — 4.00 [sic]

3 cazos (copper ladles?), each @ 10 reales — 3.75

Tools in the Smithy — 20.00

[Total] $2,170.04[18]

Meanwhile there had come to California an order from the Supreme Governor forbidding the governor to make any changes in the status of the Missions. The order was dated in Mexico on November 14, 1845.[19] This document arrived in California during the month of March or, at latest, in April 1846. Pico simply ignored and suppressed it, for it never came to light till some years later. Despite its provisions, he continued to sell Missions. San Fernando was sold on June 17, 1846, to Eulógio Celis for $14,000.[20] Thus he dispossessed both the Mission Fathers and the Indians of the homes which the latter had reared and expected to leave to their children. Retribution soon overtook the malefactor. Only two years later, in June 1848, Pio Pico appeared at this very Mission a fugitive, and later only through the kindness of an American was he saved from the poor house.[21] The neophytes of San Fernando, the evicted owners of the Mission, fared no better than those of the other establishments. "In September 1845," Hittéll relates, "Fr. Blas Ordáz, writing from San Fernando, repeated the same story of misery and wretchedness. His complaint may be said to have been the last."[22]

It has already been pointed out that the various military forces would in turn make San Fernando Mission their headquarters. Its vicinity was also the scene of several "battles" which it is not worth while dwelling on here. A last scrap of paper from Fr. Blas Ordáz is of some importance, however. It is a certificate, written apparently by some one else but signed by the missionary. An English translation of it reads:

"Fr. Blas Ordáz, Missionary Apostolic of the holy Mission of San Fernando. I certify in the form permissible that in the month of January of the year 1847, Colonel J.C. Fremont and his troops were at this Mission. He entered the workshops and rooms of this Mission, and the lessee reclaimed from Señor Fremont the implements and other things which he told him were missing. I certify likewise that during the days when the troops remained at this Mission they maintained themselves on the sheep and cattle of said establishment, taking more than two of the tame horses it had. At the request of the persons concerned I sign this at San Fernando on January 14, 1847. — Fr. Blas Ordáz."[23] Only the day before Andrés Pico had surrendered to Fremont. Accordingly, the Yankees under Fremont followed the example of the paisanos with this difference, however, that they were less voracious, that the establishment no longer belonged to the Indians, and the paisano chiefs and their henchmen were dispossessed of what they had illegally appropriated to themselves as will be related in the next chapter.

[Chapter VII relates how the title to the mission buildings and grounds, as surveyed by E.F. Beale, was affirmed in 1862 (recorded 1874) to Bishop Joseph Sadoc Alemany of the Diocese of Monterey.]

Author's footnotes.

1. Cal. Arch., Dep. St. Pap., Angeles, vol. ii, p. 414.

2. California, vol. iii, pp. 646-648.

3. See Missions and Missionaries, vol. iv, p. 43.

4. Bancroft, iii, 647.

5. See Missions and Missionaries, vol. iv, p. 148.

6. Ibidem, p. 118.

7. Cal. Arch., St. Pap., vol. iv, pp. 440-441.

8. Bancroft, iii, p. 647.

9. Missions and Missionaries, vol. iv, p. 357.

10. For details see Ibidem, pp. 329-330.

11. The highest number the Mission ever had was 1,081, in 1811.

12. The figures are all exaggerated. The reader will find the correct ones in the Tables.

13. Exploration, vol. I, pp. 360-361.

14. California, vol. iv, p. 297. See Appendix D.

15. See Missions and Missionaries, vol. iv, pp. 373-375.

16. Ibidem, pp. 445-450.

17. Ibidem, p. 459.

18. The original gives the summary as $2,170.04, which seems to be erroneous. Pico, Papeles de Misiones, p. 156.

19. See Missions and Missionaries, vol. iv, p. 455.

20. Ibidem, p. 508. "La Mision de San Fernando se le traspasó á Don Eulógio Celis como hipoteca pro una cantidad que facilitó por atensiones del gobierno," Pico himself writes in his Documentos, vol. ii, pp. 85, 171-172. So he had received funds on it in advance!

21. See Missions and Missionaries, vol. iv, pp. 633-636.

22. California, vol. ii, p. 382.

23. Andrés Pico, Papeles de Misiones, p. 157, Banc. Coll.

Webmaster's footnotes.

a. Engelhardt doesn't explain the role of Ignacio, Antonio's son, at the mission during 1836, the year Antonio was appointed mayordomo. Considering Antonio's absence from this list, perhaps Engelhardt meant Antonio.

b. The ex-mission Rancho San Francisco frequently appears in the diminutive form, "Francisquito." It's the same place.

c. According to Engelhardt in "Mission La Conception Purisma" (1932:64), Pico's actions were approved by an assembly of cronies consisting of Narciso Botello, F.X. Figueroa, Carlos Carrillo and Ignacio del Valle.

d. None other than Gen. Andrés Pico, Fremont's adversary.


Native Village Names
Secularization & Sale, 1830s-40s (Engelhardt 1927)

Vischer 1865

Dedication 1925 x4

Bell at Camulos: Alaska Report 1923

Bell at Camulos (News reports 1923)

Bell at Camulos (Engelhardt 1927)


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