california visitor and tourist guidevisit los angeles californiavisit san francisco californiavisit san diego californiasign up for special offers
About CaliforniaHotels and ResortsAttractionsArt and EntertainmentDiningShoppingReal EstateVisitor InformationCalendar of EventsReturn to Home Page


Featured Websites

California travel and tourist information California
California Historical Articles

California Missions - Santa Barbara

( Originally Published Early 1922 )

After the founding of San Buenaventura Governor Neve arrived from San Gabriel, inspected the new site, and expressed himself as pleased with all that had been done. A few days later he, with Padre Serra, and a number of soldiers and officers started up the coast, and, selecting a site known to the Indians, after the name of their chief, Yanonalit, established the presidio of Santa Barbara. Yanonalit was very friendly, and as he had authority over thirteen rancherias he was able to help matters along easily. This was April 21, 1782.

Neve, in his report to the Viceroy, had long expressed himself in favor of Missions all along the channel. Here is part of his official declaration in regard to the determination to occupy the pass of Santa Barbara.

" This pass is 74 leagues (308 miles) from the Post of San Diego, and 70 from that of Monterey. It stretches between the coast and the Cieneguilla [meadow] Range about 26 leagues, its greatest width being half to three-fourths of a league. It is full of high hills, bluffs, and profound clefts. In this indispensable pass are 8000 to 10,000 Gentiles (Indians) who inhabit 21 Rancherias, situated at short distances on the heights and points contiguous to the Beach. Near the beach, some times on it and some times on the high ground, runs the Camino Real [King's Highway]. This evidences the risk to which small Parties are exposed on it ; and that if some incident makes those Gentiles treacherous or hostile, communication with the old and new settlements would be cut off. These urgent reasons have caused the determination to occupy this pass in the following form.

" The Post which shall be established midway the Pass shall be manned by Lieutenant, Ensign, and 29 Recruits, including a Sergeant and two Corporals. It shall establish in its shelter a Reduction (Mission) which afterwards shall be removed to the neighboring spot which offers more land and sufficient water to irrigate the fields ; — and then it shall be given from the Garrison an Escort of a Corporal and five soldiers. At the ends of said Pass, for its complete occupation, two other ' Reductions' shall be placed, each garrisoned with a Sergeant and 14 Soldiers. Said Recruits will be considered supernumeraries to the Company at the Post, while they secure these settlements peace and good admission among the Gentiles.

"Attaining this with rapid progress that should be expected in the spiritual conquest, they shall be reduced proportionately to the regular Escort of a Corporal and five Soldiers each ; the Sergeants shall be incorporated with the Companies of San Diego and Monterey, and the 16 remaining Recruits shall be destined to garrison other 'Reductions ' which it may be decided to found, in which case they shall be added to the companies nearest the spot."

With a fatuity as singular as it was determined, Neve advised and insisted that the new Missions be founded on the plan followed so disastrously on the Colorado River, which removed from the padres all control of the temporal affairs. The superiors of the Franciscan college in Mexico refused to send their missionaries under any such plan ; the result was the long delay in the founding of Santa Barbara. When Serra came to the establishment of the presidio he expected also to found the Mission, and great was his disappointment. This undoubtedly hastened his death, which occurred August 28, 1784.

It was not until two years later that Neve's successor, Fages, authorized Serra's successor, Lasuen, to proceed. Even then it was feared that he would demand adherence to the new conditions ; but, as the guardian of the college had positively refused to send missionaries for the new establishments, unless they were founded on the old lines, Fages tacitly agreed. On December 4, therefore, the Cross was raised on the site called Taynayan by the Indians and Pedragoso by the Spaniards, and formal possession taken, though the first mass was not said until Fages's arrival on the 16th. Lasuen was assisted by Padres Antonio Paterna and Cristobal Oramas. Father Zephyrin has written a very interesting history of the Mission, some of which is as follows :

" The work of erecting the necessary buildings began early in 1787. With a number of Indians, who had first to be initiated into the mysteries of house construction, Fathers Paterna and Oramas built a dwelling for themselves together with a chapel. These were followed by a house for the servants, who were male Indians, a granary, carpenter shop, and quarters for girls and unmarried young women. This class of Indians were separated from their relatives and placed under the care of some elderly Indian woman, in order to withdraw them from the immoral influences of the camps. The carpenter shop was utilized by boys and young men for the same reason, until suitable quarters had been provided. All these structures were of adobe and the walls about one yard thick. The roofing consisted of heavy rafters across which long poles or canes were tied with rawhide strips, over which a layer of soft clay or mud was spread, and then thatched with straw. Tiles, however, were manufactured in the following year, and thereafter all the buildings covered with these.

" In succeeding years other structures arose on the rocky height as the converts increased and industries were introduced. At the end of 1807 the Indian village, which had sprung up just southwest of the main building,, consisted of 252 separate adobe dwellings harboring as many Indian families. The present Mission building, with its fine corridor, was completed about the close of the eighteenth century. The fountain in front arose in 1808. It furnished the water for the great basin just below, which served for the general laundry purposes of the Indian village. The water was led through earthen pipes from the reservoir north of the church, which to this day furnishes Santa Barbara with water. It was built in 1806. To obtain the precious liquid from the mountains, a very strong dam was built across ' Pedragoso' creek about two miles back of the mission.

It is still in good condition. Then there were various structures scattered far and near for the different trades, since everything that was used in the way of clothing and food had to be raised or manufactured at the Mission.

"The chapel grew too small within a year from the time it was dedicated, Sunday, May 21, 1787. It was therefore enlarged in 1788, but by the year 1792 this, also, proved too small. Converts were coming in rapidly. The old structure was then taken down, and a magnificent edifice took its place in 1793. Its size was 25 by 125 feet. There were three small chapels on each side, like the two that are attached to the present church. An earthquake, which occurred on Monday, December 21, 1812, damaged this adobe building to such an extent that it had to be taken down. On its site rose the splendid structure, which is still the admiration of the traveller. Padre Antonio Ripoll superintended the work, which continued through five years, from 1815 to 1820. It was dedicated on the 10th of September, 1820. The walls, which are six feet thick, consist of irregular sandstone blocks, and are further strengthened by solid stone buttresses measuring nine by nine feet. The towers to a height of thirty feet are a solid mass of stone and cement twenty feet square. A narrow passage leads through one of these to the top, where the old bells still call the faithful to service as of yore. Doubtless the Santa Barbara mission church is the most solid structure of its kind in California. It is 165 feet long, forty feet wide and thirty feet high on the outside. Like the monastery, the church is roofed with tiles which were manufactured at the mission by the Indians.

" Besides the buildings in the immediate neighborhood of the church, the missionaries had farm houses or cattle ranchos at considerable distances for the convenience of the herders and field hands. All the ranchos East of Santa Ines river, including San Marcos, down to the ' Rincon' near Carpenteria, belonged to this mission. Thus we have the ranches of Tecolote, San Miguel, Canyada de las Armas and San Marcos, at which places the stock was herded. The principal ranches for wheat, barley, and corn were : Dos Pueblos, or San Pedro y San Pablo (' Mekeguwe '), San Estevan (' Tokeene '), San Miguel (' Sagspileel' or ' Mescaltitlan'), San Jose or Abajo, San Juan Bautista or Sauzal. Sauzal is now part of the Hope Ranch. San Estevan was all that land north of the road beginning west of the arroyo (' Pedragoso Creek') at the new bridge and continuing to the Arroyo del Burro. The foundation of a large stone wall may yet be seen a little beyond the bridge west of 'Pedragoso Creek.' This was a large corral especially for tame horses."

The report for 1800 is full of interest. It recounts the activity in building, tells of the death of Padre Paterna, who died in 1793, and was followed by Estevan Tapis (afterwards padre presidente), and says that 1237 natives have been baptized, and that the Mission now owns 2492 horses and cattle, and 5615 sheep. Sixty neophytes are engaged in weaving and allied tasks; the carpenter of the presidio is engaged at a dollar a day to teach the neophytes his trade ; and a corporal is teaching them tanning at $150 a year.

In 1801 a large number of the Indians died of an epidemic pulmonary disease. When the matter became serious, a neophyte reported to his fellows that he had had a dream in which Chupu, the channel deity, had appeared to him and warned him that all gentiles who were baptized would die of the epidemic unless they renounced Christianity and washed their faces in a certain water. . The excitement was intense. The scared beings went secretly, but as speedily as possible, to the prophet's house with beads and grain to renounce anything and everything necessary. The movement reached to San Buenaventura and throughout the rancherlas of the length of the channel. Fortunately for their peace of mind, the missionaries knew nothing of it until it was all over. Then they realized their danger ; for had Chupu ordered their killing, there is no doubt but that it would have been attempted.

In 1803 the population was the highest the Mission ever reached, with 1792. In May, 1808, a determined effort of nine days was made to rid the region of ground squirrels, and about a thousand were killed.

The earthquakes of 1812 alarmed the people and damaged the buildings at Santa Barbara as elsewhere. The sea was much disturbed, and new springs of asphaltum were formed, great cracks opened in the mountains, and the population fled all buildings and lived in the open air.

On the 6th of December, in the same year, the arrival of Bouchard " the pirate " gave them a new shock of terror. The padres had already been warned to send all their valuables to Santa Ines, and the women and children were to proceed thither on the first warning of an expected attack. But Bouchard made no attack. He merely wanted to ex-change " prisoners." He played a pretty trick on the Santa Barbara commandante in negotiating for such exchange, and then, when the hour of delivery came, it was found he had but one prisoner, — a poor drunken wretch whom the authorities would have been glad to get rid of at any price.

In 1824 the Indian revolt, which is fully treated in the chapters on Santa Ines and Purisima, reached Santa Barbara. While Padre Ripoll was absent at the presidio the neophytes armed themselves and worked themselves into a frenzy. They claimed that they were in danger from the Santa Ines rebels unless they joined the revolt, though they promised to do no harm if only the soldiers were sent and kept away. Accordingly Ripoll gave an order for the guard to withdraw, but the Indians insisted that the soldiers leave their weapons. Two refused, whereupon they were savagely attacked and wounded. This so incensed Guerra that he marched up from the presidio in full force, and a fight of several hours ensued, the Indians shooting with guns and arrows from behind the pillars of the corridors. Two Indians were killed and three wounded, and four of the soldiers were wounded. When Guerra retired to the presidio the Indians stole all the clothing and other portable property (carefully respecting everything, how-ever, belonging to the church) they would carry, and fled to the hills. That same afternoon the troops returned and, spite the padre's protest, sacked the Indians' houses and killed all the stragglers they found, regardless of their guilt or innocence. The Indians refused to return, and retreated further over the mountains to the recesses of the Tulares. Here they were joined by escaped neophytes from San Fernando and other Missions. The alarm spread to San Buenaventura and San Gabriel, but few, if any, Indians ran away. In the meantime the revolt was quelled at Santa Ines and Purisima, as elsewhere recorded.

On the strength of reports to this effect, and not realizing the fact that Santa Barbara was still in a state of turmoil, Governor Arguello recalled the Monterey troops which had been aiding the padres at Santa Ines and Purisima ; but this appeared to be a mistake, for, immediately, Guerra of Santa Barbara sent eighty men over to San Emigdio, where, on the 9th and 11th of April, severe conflicts took place, with four Indians killed, and wounded on both sides. A wind and dust storm arising, the troops returned to Santa Barbara.

In May the Governor again took action, sending Captain Portilla with a force of 130 men. The prefect Sarria and Padre Ripoll went along to make as peaceable terms as possible, and a message which Sarria sent on ahead doubtless led the insurgents to sue for peace. They said they were heartily sorry for their actions and were anxious to return to Mission life, but hesitated about laying down their arms in fear of summary punishment. The gentiles still fomented trouble by working on the fears of the neophytes, but owing to Arguello's granting a general pardon, they were finally, in June, induced to return, and the revolt was at an end.

After these troubles, however, the Mission declined rap-idly in prosperity. Though the buildings under Padre Ripoll were in excellent condition, and the manufacturing industries were well kept up, everything else suffered.

In 1817 a girls school for whites was started at the presidio of Santa Barbara, but nothing further is known of it. Several years later a school was opened, and Diego Fernandez received $15 a month as its teacher. But Governor Echeandia ordered that, as not a single scholar attended, this expense be discontinued ; yet he required the commandante to compel parents to send their children to school.

The French voyager Duhaut-Cilly describes the Mission as follows : " As we advanced, the buildings of the Mission appeared under a finer aspect. From the roadstead we could have taken it for a chateau of mediaeval times, with its lofty apertures and belfry. Coming nearer, the building grows, and, without losing anything of its beauty, takes on, little by little, a religious appearance; the turret becomes a spire ; the brass, instead of announcing a knight's arrival, sounds the Office or the Angelus ; the first illusion is destroyed, and the castle is a convent.

" In front of the building, in the middle of a huge square, is a playing fountain, the workmanship of which, imperfect as it was, surprised us more, since we had not expected to find in this country, otherwise so far removed from the fine things of Europe, this sort of luxury, reserved among us for the dwellings of the most wealthy."

" H. H." thus describes the christening of one of the towers of Santa Barbara at the wedding of the brother of the superior, the bride having told her the story :

" On the day after her wedding came the christening or blessing of the right tower of the church. She and her husband, having been chosen godfather and godmother of the tower, walked in solemn procession around it, carrying lighted candles in their hands, preceded by the friar, who sprinkled it with holy water and burned incense. In the four long streets of Indians' houses, then running eastward from the mission, booths of green boughs, decorated with flowers, were set up in front of all the doors. Companies of Indians from other missions came as guests, dancing and singing as they approached. Their Indian hosts went out to meet them, also singing, and pouring out seeds on the ground for them to walk on."

In 1835 all the Indians on San Nicholas Island were removed to the mainland, except one woman who escaped, and about whom many a page of wild fiction has since been written.

In 1833 Presidente Duran, discussing with Governor Figueroa the question of secularization, deprecated too sudden action, and suggested a partial and experimental change at some of the oldest Missions, Santa Barbara among the number.

When the decree from Mexico, however, came, this was one of the first ten Missions to be affected thereby. Anastasio Carrillo was appointed comisionado, and acted from September, 1833. His inventory in March, 1834, showed credits, $14,953; buildings, $22,936; furniture, tools, goods in storehouse, vineyards, orchards, corrals, and animals, $19,590 ; church, $16,000 ; sacristy, $1500 ; church ornaments, etc., $4576 ; library, $152 ; ranchos, $30,961; total, $113,960, with a debt to be deducted of $1000.

The statistics from 1786 to 1834, the whole period of the Mission's history, show that there were 5679 baptisms, 1524 marriages, 4046 deaths. The largest population was 1792 in 1803. The largest number of cattle was 5200 in 1809, 11,066 sheep in 1804.

Here, as elsewhere, the comisionados found serious fault with the pueblo grogshops. In 1837 Carrillo reports that he has broken up a place where Manuel Gonzalez sold liquor to the Indians, and he calls upon the commandante to sup-press other places. In March, 1838, he complains that the troops are killing the Mission cattle, but is told that General Castro had authorized the officers to kill all the cattle needed without asking permission. When the Visitador Hartwell was here in 1839 he found Carrillo's successor Cota an unfit man, and so reported him. He finally suspended him, and the Indians became more contented and industrious under Padre Duran's supervision, though the latter refused to undertake the temporal management of affairs.

In 1841 Garcia Diego was appointed bishop. He arrived in Santa Barbara from San Diego January 11, 1842, with the intention of making it his episcopal residence. Robinson, who witnessed his arrival, thus describes the event:

"The vessel was in sight in the morning, but lay becalmed and rolling to the ocean's swell. A boat put off from her side and approached the landing place. One of the attendants of his Excellency, who came in it, repaired to the Mission, to communicate with the Father President. All was bustle; men, women, and children hastening to the beach, banners flying, drums beating, and soldiers marching. The whole population of the place turned out to pay homage to this first Bishop of California. At eleven o'clock the vessel anchored. He came on shore, and was welcomed by the kneeling multitude. All received his benediction—all kissed the pontifical ring. The troops and civic authorities then escorted him to the house of Don Jose Antonio, where he dined. A carriage had been prepared for his Excellency, which was accompanied by several others, occupied by the President and his friends. The females had formed, with ornamental canes, beautiful arches, through which the procession passed ; and as it marched along the heavy artillery of the ' Presidio' continued to thunder forth its noisy welcome.

"At four o'clock the Bishop was escorted to the Mission, and when a short distance from the town the enthusiastic inhabitants took the horses from his carriage and dragged it them-selves. Halting at a small bower on the road, he alighted, went into it, and put on his pontifical robes ; then resuming his place in the carriage he continued on amidst the sound of music and the firing of guns till he arrived at the church, where he addressed the multitude that followed him."

Mexico made many financial and other pledges to the new bishop, including a salary of $6000 a year and the management of the pious fund. But she was too much in need of money herself to care for promises made to an outsider, and, consequently, his hopes and ambitions were speedily nipped in the bud. He found that tithe-gathering was not easy ; and though he received the concession of the Mission buildings for episcopal purposes, and a site for a proposed cathedral, the latter never grew higher than a few piles of stone.

Micheltorena's decree of 1843 affected Santa Barbara, in that it was ordered returned to the control of the padres ; but in the following year Padre Duran reported that it had the greatest difficulty in supporting its 287 souls. Pico's decree in 1845 retained the principal building for the bishop and padres ; but all the rest and the orchards and lands were to be rented, which was accordingly done, the property being valued at $20,288, December 5, to Nicholas A. Den and Daniel Hill for $1200 per year. Padre Duran was growing old, and the Indians were becoming more careless and improvident; so, when Pico wrote him to give up the Mission lands and property to the renters he did so willingly, though he stated that the estate owed him $1000 for money he had advanced for the use of the Indians. The Indians were to receive one third of the rental, but there is no record of a cent of it ever getting into their hands. June 10, 1846, Pico sold the Mission to Richard S. Den for $7500, though the lessees seem to have kept possession until about the end of 1848. The land commission confirmed Den's title, though the evidences are that it was annulled in later litigation. Padre Duran died here early in 1846, a month after Bishop Diego. Padre Gonzalez Rubio still remained for almost thirty years longer to become the last of the old missionaries.

In 1853 a petition was presented to Rome, and Santa Barbara was erected into a Hospice, as the beginning of an Apostolic College for the education of Franciscan novitiates who are to go forth, wherever sent, as missionaries. St. Anthony's College, the modern building near by, was founded by the energy of Father Peter Wallischeck. It is for the education of aspirants to the Franciscan order. There are now thirty-five students.

Five of the early missionaries and three of later date are buried in the crypt, under the floor of the sanctuary, in front of the high altar; and Bishop Diego rests under the floor at the right hand side of the altar.

The small cemetery, which is walled in and entered from the church, is said to contain the bodies of 4000 Indians, as well as a number of whites. In the northeast corner is the vault in which are buried the members of the Franciscan community.

In the bell tower are two old bells made in 1818, as is evidenced by their inscriptions, which read alike, as follows : " Manvel Vargas me fecit ano d. 1818 Mision de Santa Barbara De la nveba California " — " Manuel Vargas made me Anno Domini 1818. Mission of Santa Barbara of New California." The first bell is fastened to its beam with rawhide thongs ; the second, with a framework of iron. Higher up is a modern bell which is rung, the old ones being tolled only.

The Mission buildings surround the garden, into which no woman, save a reigning queen or the wife of the president of the United States, is allowed to enter. An exception was made in the case of the Princess Louise when her husband was the Governor-general of Canada. The wife of President Harrison also has entered. The garden, with its fine Italian cypress, planted by Bishop Diego about 1842, and its hundred varieties of semi-tropical flowers, in the centre of which is a fountain where goldfish play, affords a delightful place of study, quiet, and meditation for the Franciscans.

It is well that the visitor should know that this old Mission, never so abandoned and abused as the others, has been kept up in late years entirely by the funds given to the Franciscan missionaries, who are now its custodians. With no other revenues to rely upon, they have expended thousands of dollars in cash, and of their own skilled labor even more freely, to keep all these historic memorials in good condition. It is also to be remembered that each visitor, or group, requires a good deal of the time of the brother who is appointed as escort, hence it is an imposition to expect to be admitted and escorted around without the return of some honorarium. Every cent thus given is wisely expended, and it would be a good thing if a fund could thus be raised at each Mission to aid in its preservation and care.

The Mission library contains a large number of valuable old books gathered from the other Missions at the time of secularization. There are also kept here a large number of the old records from which Bancroft gained much of his Mission intelligence, and which, recently, have been carerully restudied by Father Zephyrin, the California historian of the Franciscan order with the purpose of writing a new history from the standpoint of the order. Father Zephyrin is a devoted student, and many results of his zeal and kindness are placed before my readers in this volume, owing to his generosity.

In the curio rooms are many objects of interest and value, some of which are pictured and described elsewhere in this volume.

The Santa Barbara fountain is the most ornate and beautiful piece of stone work, I believe, in the whole Mission chain. It consists of an upright octagonal standard, upon four sides of which are scrolled buttresses, divided into three fillets, giving added grace and lightness. Only one of these scrolls remains to show the beauty of the ornament, the others having been knocked off. This standard supports a bowl, some three feet around, sculptured into eight oval panels, each panel connected by a well-executed conventionalized leaf and wavy design above and below. From the centre of this bowl rises another octagonal stem supporting another and smaller bowl, carved in flutings. From this still another standard arises, circular in form, from which the water-pipe extends.

Just below the fountain, and now fenced into a corner of the garden, is a large reservoir, with sides that slightly slope to the edges. On these cement sides, which are nine or ten feet wide, the Indian women of the Mission were wont to bring their laundry. Let us try to imagine the busy and interesting scene, — one that I fain would have come back again. A carved figure of a crouching bear spouts the water out of his mouth into this reservoir, which is seventy feet long by six feet wide. The cement sides are full of Indian women, each with her pile of clothes, splashing, soaping, scrubbing, sousing, rubbing them ; at the same time laughing, chatting, scolding, gossiping, or, perhaps, even, sometimes serious and sad.

At the lower end of the cistern is another carved figure. The cistern itself is built of solid stone, well cemented, and made to endure.