After two years of warfare, an opportunist named Augustín Iturbide succeeded in shaking off Spain's grasp on her Mexican provinces. On April 11, 1822, the capital city of Monterey swore allegiance to Iturbide, who now called himself Augustus I, Emperor of Mexico.
Within a year, riders pounded up El Camino Reál ("The King's Highway") to inform Iturbide's subjects that Augustus no longer ruled in Mexico City, but had been forced to abdicate in favor of a federal republic.
Almost immediately a group of California citizens began to apply pressure on the Mexican congress to divide the mission properties, as provided by law. These citizens, or Californios, as they liked to call themselves, believed that as soon as the lands reverted back to the Indians, these simple souls could easily be plied with liquor and persuaded to sign their rights away.
Finally, in August, 1833, the congress in Mexico City gave in and issued an immediate general secularization law. Under its provisions the mission buildings remained church property, while the cattle, crops and lands which sustained them were confiscated. The priests objected and some of the citizenry mounted revolts, while the supposed beneficiaries, the Indians, were bewildered.
Precisely one year later, Governor José Figueroa declared that the missions were to be reduced to the status of parish churches, with half of their property going to the natives, who were forbidden to sell it. Figueroa dispatched administrators to inventory clerical holdings and enforce the law.
During October, 1834, one Lieutenant Antonio Seferino del Valle arrived at the gates of Mission San Fernando Rey, armed with the authority of the governor to preside over the dismantling of the church — for an annual salary of eight hundred dollars.
Del Valle's great-grandfather, Juan del Valle, heralded from Valencia, Spain, and settled in Columbia in 1642. Eventually he moved to Mexico, where he amassed considerable wealth and influence.
Don Antonio was born at Composilla in 1788, son of Antonio and María del Valle. He married María Josepha Carillo and had two children, Ygnacio and María. When his wife died, Antonio joined the San Blas Company, where he was commissioned as a lieutenant and sent to Monterey in 1819. The children were left in care of a relative.
Monterey had just been raided by Argentine pirates and warmly welcomed the arrival of the good ship San Carlos, bearing troops to shore up coastal defenses. But it was not long before the residents began to feel that they were better off in the hands of buccaneers than those of their defenders. The San Blas Company was a rag-tag bunch of thieves and convicts who caused so much trouble that the citizens petitioned for their ouster.
At that moment, February 1824, the Indians at Santa Ynez revolted. The flame spread to five other missions, threatening to engulf the whole Mexican establishment.
Lieutenant Del Valle and his troops were sent to the San Joaquin Valley to round up the neophytes who were making a stand in the "tulares." Antonio's military operations were successful, and in June he arrived at the Santa Clara del Sur with a long train of rebels in tow. He marched down the river to Ventura, then north to the presidio at Santa Barbara, where his prisoners were incarcerated.
Del Valle returned to Monterey a hero, but the celebration was not to last. Soon Antonio was embroiled in political intrigue and various affairs with charming young ladies. Convicted of insubordination, he spent half of 1825 behind bars. At this low point in his career, Del Valle wrote to his son, Ygnacio, to join him.
This was another mistake.