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California Missions - Chapel Of San Bernardino

( Originally Published Early 1922 )

It must not be forgotten that one of the early methods of reaching California was inland. Travellers came from Mexico, by way of Sonora, then crossed the Colorado River and reached San Gabriel and Monterey in the north, over practically the same route as that followed today by the Southern Pacific Railway, viz., crossing the river at Yuma, over the Colorado desert, by way of the San Gorgonio Pass, and through the San Bernardino and San Gabriel valleys. It was in 1774 that Captain Juan Bautista de Anza of the presidio of Tubac in Arizona, was detailed by the Viceroy of New Spain to open this road. He made quite an expedition of it, - 240 men, women, and Indian scouts, and 1050 animals. They named the San Gorgonio Pass the Puerto de San Carlos, and the San Bernardino Valley the Valle de San Jose. Cucamonga they called the Arroyo de los Osos (Bear Ravine or Gulch).

As this road became frequented San Gabriel was the first stopping place where supplies could be obtained after crossing the desert. This was soon found to be too far away, and for years it was desired that a station nearer to the desert be established, but not until 1810 was the decisive step taken. Then Padre Dumetz of San Gabriel, with a band of soldiers and Indian neophytes, set out, early in May, to find a location and establish such a station. They found a populous Indian rancheria, in a region well watered and luxuriant, and which bore a name significant of its desirability. The valley was Guachama, " the place of abundance of food and water," and the Indians had the same name. A station was established near the place now known as Bunker Hill, between Urbita Springs and Col-ton, and a " Capilla " built, dedicated to San Bernardino, because it was on May 20, San Bernardino's feast-day, that Padre Dumetz entered the valley. The trustworthiness of the Indians will be understood when it is recalled that this chapel, station, and the large quantity of supplies were left in their charge, under the command of one of their number named Hipolito. Soon the station became known, after this Indian, as Politana.

For two years prosperity smiled upon Politana. The padres from San Gabriel visited it often, grain was planted and good harvests reaped. Then came the sad year of the earthquakes, " el ano de los temblores." The hot springs increased their temperature to such a degree that the Indians became alarmed ; and the bursting out of a new hot mud spring near Politana did not serve to quiet them. The padres bade them cover up the spring with earth, but of no avail. The "temblores " increased in power, the Indians' fears increased, their superstitions became more and more aroused, and the soil of their minds was quickly prepared for the seed that was soon to be sown there. It can readily be understood that the old Shamans (medicine men, or native priests), of the Indians, had not viewed the destruction of their power by the padres with equanimity. No man likes to feel his vocation taken from him by another, especially when that vocation is productive of wealth, influence, and power. To be discredited and reduced to poverty is enough to arouse in a civilized man a desire for revenge. And thus it worked with the Indians. Now, therefore, was their opportunity. Secretly they began to work upon the newly aroused superstitious fears of their fellows. These " temblores " were manifestations of the dreadful anger of their gods, " Those Above " and " Those Below," because they had forsaken " the ways of the old," and had been led away into new and false paths by the " long gowns." These were only the beginnings. " Those Above and Below " had spoken to their earthly representatives ; more evils were to come, unless ! Fear was now left to work and ferment awhile. Then the " unless " was explained, " unless the long gowns and all renegade Indians were slain, stamped out, exterminated root and branch, and the accursed buildings erected for the more accursed worship were totally and completely destroyed. A few more " temblores " helped along the desire for vengeance, and at length, led by their medicine men, the now altogether aroused savages destroyed the buildings and slew most of the christianized Indians and later converts.

The destruction of Politana in 1810 was a source of great distress to the padres at San Gabriel, and they longed to rebuild. But the success of the attack of the unconverted Indians had reawakened the never long dormant predatory instincts of the desert Indians, and, for several years, these made frequent incursions into the valley, killing not only the whites, but such Indians as seemed to prefer the new faith to that of the old. But in 1819 the Guachamas sent a delegation to San Gabriel, requesting the padres to come again, rebuild the Mission chapel, and re-establish the supply station, and giving assurances of protection and good behavior. The padres gladly acceded to the requests made, and in 1820 solemn chants and earnest exhortations again resounded in the ears of the Guachamas in a new and larger building of adobe, erected some eight miles from Politana. The Indians soon settled around it, a resident priest was appointed from San Gabriel, a vineyard and olive orchard were planted, grain was extensively sown, herds of sheep and oxen covered the neighboring plains and foothills, a zanj a was built for conveying water for irrigation and domestic purposes, and an active and busy community was soon in full operation.

For eleven years this peaceful life continued; and then, in 1831, the desert Indians made another raid, destroying the buildings and running off most of the stock. Fortunately no human lives were lost. And, as was their wont, they resolutely set to work to rebuild, this time making the chapel and residence buildings stronger than ever. A foundation of cobblestones was put in, and walls of adobe three feet thick crowned it to a height of 20 feet. The structure was some 250 feet in length, and 125 feet in width, and a corral added which extended nearly 100 feet beyond the main building.

Scarcely had these new buildings become accustomed to their occupants when the long-dreaded order of secularization was promulgated. Juan Bandini was appointed to see that San Gabriel and all its dependencies were disposed of, according to the decree. This was in 1838-40. But as early as October, 1834 (one year after the order was issued), a band of Paiutis from over the Sierras, who had been forced by famine to seek a new home for themselves, attacked the chapel of San Bernardino. The neophytes, led by a Christian Indian chief, named Perfecto, defended themselves and their property with bravery and courage. The invaders were repulsed again and again ; many lives were lost on both sides ; and when, at last, further resistance seemed hopeless, a sortie was made to cause a diversion, while Perfecto gathered together all the church vessels, vestments, and other valuable church property in three carretas, and started to San Gabriel. When the Paiutis discovered the ruse they were infuriated, and started in pursuit, but at Cucamonga were defeated, and, consoling themselves with such stock as they had collected, they beat a retreat into the mountains.

In December of the same year another attack was made; but this time it was by two hundred native Indians, led by two war-chiefs who had once been neophytes at San Gabriel, but who felt they had real or fancied insults to avenge. As they marched to San Gabriel they stopped to anticipate their vengeance by destroying San Bernardino Chapel. The priest in charge, Padre Tomas Ellutario Estenaga, defended as well as he was able with his small band of neophytes, but the knowledge the attacking party had of the interior of the buildings and all their modes of defence materially nullified their efforts, and before long resistance was seen to be vain. The buildings were completely sacked and then set on fire. Padre Estenaga was captured and carried away to the mountains, where he undoubtedly would have been slain had it not been for the fear his cap-tors entertained of him. They regarded him as a powerful medicine man, capable of working " strong medicine " to their undoing if they injured him, so he was finally released uninjured.

But never again was San Bernardino Chapel to resound to the sacred hymns and words of priests and dusky neophytes. Its work was accomplished. Now vandalism stepped in to finish with ruthless havoc the destruction the hatred of hostile Indians had begun. Many of the timbers used in the roof had been hewn in the mountains. These caught the eye of certain citizens of Los Angeles. Carretas were sent, and eleven loads were removed to be used in the construction of buildings in the newer city. Later on restitution was demanded of these respectable (?) vandals, and they paid three dollars per vara for the timber they had thus stolen. The adobes they took, however, were never accounted for. The bill for them is still outstanding; waiting for its final settlement when the Judge of all men shall ask of each an accounting for all the deeds done in the flesh.

There are a few ruined walls still standing of Bernardino at this time, but adobe rapidly disappears, and it will not be long before no smallest remnant will remain of this once prosperous and useful asistencia of the Mission of San Gabriel.