The Old Franciscan Missions Of California

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Showing monastery recently built behind the old Mission arches.

Old Franciscan Missions
of California



Author of “In and Around the Grand Canyon,” “Heroes of California,” “Through Ramona’s Country,” Etc.

With Illustrations from Photographs



To those good men and women, of all creeds and of no creed, whose lives have shown forth the glories of beautiful, helpful, unselfish, sympathetic humanity:

To those whose love and life are larger than all creeds and who discern the manifestation of God in all men:

To those who are urging forward the day when profession will give place to endeavor, and, in the real life of a genuine brotherhood of man, and true recognition of the All-Fatherhood of God, all men, in spite of their diversities, shall unite in their worship and thus form the real Catholic Church:

Especially to these, and to all who appreciate nobleness in others I lovingly dedicate these pages, devoted to a recital of the life and work of godly and unselfish men.


The story of the Old Missions of California is perennially new. The interest in the ancient and dilapidated buildings and their history increases with each year. To-day a thousand visit them where ten saw them twenty years ago, and twenty years hence, hundreds of thousands will stand in their sacred precincts, and unconsciously absorb beautiful and unselfish lessons of life as they hear some part of their history recited. It is well that this is so. A materially inclined nation needs to save every unselfish element in its history to prevent its going to utter destruction. It is essential to our spiritual development that we learn that

“Not on the vulgar mass
Called ‘work,’ must sentence pass,
Things done, that took the eye and had the price;
O’er which, from level stand,
The low world laid its hand,
Found straightway to its mind, could value in a trice.”

It is of incalculably greater benefit to the race that the Mission Fathers lived and had their fling of divine audacity for the good of the helpless aborigines than that any score one might name of the “successful captains of industry” lived to make their unwieldy and topheavy piles of gold. With all their faults and failures, all their ideas of theology and education,–which we, in our assumed superiority, call crude and old-fashioned,–all their rude notions of sociology, all their errors and mistakes, the work of the Franciscan Fathers was glorified by unselfish aim, high motive and constant and persistent endeavor to bring their heathen wards into a knowledge of saving grace. It was a brave and heroic endeavor. It is easy enough to find fault, to criticize, to carp, but it is not so easy to do. These men did! They had a glorious purpose which they faithfully pursued. They aimed high and achieved nobly. The following pages recite both their aims and their achievements, and neither can be understood without a thrilling of the pulses, a quickening of the heart’s beats, and a stimulating of the soul’s ambitions.

This volume pretends to nothing new in the way of historical research or scholarship. It is merely an honest and simple attempt to meet a real and popular demand for an unpretentious work that shall give the ordinary tourist and reader enough of the history of the Missions to make a visit to them of added interest, and to link their history with that of the other Missions founded elsewhere in the country during the same or prior epochs of Mission activity.

If it leads others to a greater reverence for these outward and visible signs of the many and beautiful graces that their lives developed in the hearts of the Franciscan Fathers–their founders and builders–and gives the information needed, its purpose will be more than fulfilled.

In most of its pages it is a mere condensation of the author’s In and Out of the Old Missions of California, to which book the reader who desires further and more detailed information is respectfully referred.



List of Illustrations

The Old Franciscan Missions
of California



In the popular mind there is a misapprehension that is as deep-seated as it is ill-founded. It is that the California Missions are the only Missions (except one or two in Arizona and a few in Texas) and that they are the oldest in the country. This is entirely an error. A look at a few dates and historic facts will soon correct this mistake.

Cortés had conquered Mexico; Pizarro was conqueror in Peru; Balboa had discovered the South Sea (the Pacific Ocean) and all Spain was aflame with gold-lust. Narvaez, in great pomp and ceremony, with six hundred soldiers of fortune, many of them of good families and high social station, in his five specially built vessels, sailed to gain fame, fortune and the fountain of perpetual youth in what we now call Florida.

Disaster, destruction, death–I had almost said entire annihilation–followed him and scarce allowed his expedition to land, ere it was swallowed up, so that had it not been for the escape of Cabeza de Vaca, his treasurer, and a few others, there would have been nothing left to suggest that the history of the start of the expedition was any other than a myth. But De Vaca and his companions were saved, only to fall, however, into the hands of the Indians. What an unhappy fate! Was life to end thus? Were all the hopes, ambitions and glorious dreams of De Vaca to terminate in a few years of bondage to degraded savages?

Unthinkable, unbearable, unbelievable. De Vaca was a man of power, a man of thought. He reasoned the matter out. Somewhere on the other side of the great island–for the world then thought of the newly-discovered America as a vast island–his people were to be found. He would work his way to them and freedom. He communicated his hope and his determination to his companions in captivity. Henceforth, regardless of whether they were held as slaves by the Indians, or worshiped as demigods,–makers of great medicine,–either keeping them from their hearts’ desire, they never once ceased in their efforts to cross the country and reach the Spanish settlements on the other side. For eight long years the weary march westward continued, until, at length, the Spanish soldiers of the Viceroy of New Spain were startled at seeing men who were almost skeletons, clad in the rudest aboriginal garb, yet speaking the purest Castilian and demanding in the tones of those used to obedience that they be taken to his noble and magnificent Viceroyship. Amazement, incredulity, surprise, gave way to congratulations and rejoicings, when it was found that these were the human drift of the expedition of which not a whisper, not an echo, had been heard for eight long years.

Then curiosity came rushing in like a flood. Had they seen anything on the journey? Were there any cities, any peoples worth conquering; especially did any of them have wealth in gold, silver and precious stones like that harvested so easily by Cortés and Pizarro?

Cabeza didn’t know really, but–, and his long pause and brief story of seven cities that he had heard of, one or two days’ journey to the north of his track, fired the imagination of the Viceroy and his soldiers of fortune. To be sure, though, they sent out a party of reconnaissance, under the control of a good father of the Church, Fray Marcos de Nizza, a friar of the Orders Minor, commonly known as a Franciscan, with Stephen, a negro, one of the escaped party of Cabeza de Vaca, as a guide, to spy out the land.

Fray Marcos penetrated as far as Zuni, and found there the seven cities, wonderful and strange; though he did not enter them, as the uncurbed amorous demands of Stephen had led to his death, and Marcos feared lest a like fate befall himself, but he returned and gave a fairly accurate account of what he saw. His story was not untruthful, but there are those who think it was misleading in its pauses and in what he did not tell. Those pauses and eloquent silences were construed by the vivid imaginations of his listeners to indicate what the Conquistadores desired, so a grand and glorious expedition was planned, to go forth with great sound of trumpets, in glad acclaim and glowing colors, led by his Superior Excellency and Most Nobly Glorious Potentate, Senyor Don Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, a native of Salamanca, Spain, and now governor of the Mexican province of New Galicia.

It was a gay throng that started on that wonderful expedition from Culiacan early in 1540. Their hopes were high, their expectations keen. Many of them little dreamed of what was before them. Alarcon was sent to sail up the Sea of Cortés (now the Gulf of California) to keep in touch with the land expedition, and Melchior Diaz, of that sea party, forced his way up what is now the Colorado River to the arid sands of the Colorado Desert in Southern California, before death and disaster overtook him.

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