|Home -> Other California Books -> History of California -> Chapter 5 - Pastoral Days|
For hundreds of years poets have written and singers have sung of the loveliness of a country life, where there is no gathering together of the inhabitants in great cities, no struggle to make money, where the people live much out of doors, are simple in their tastes, healthy and happy.
These dreams of an ideal life the Spanish-speaking settlers of early California made real. In this land of balmy airs, soft skies, and gentle seas there lived, in the old days, a people who were indifferent to money, who carried their religion into their daily pleasures and sorrows, were brotherly toward one another, contented, beautiful, joyous.
About the time that the mission of San Francisco was founded, the Spanish government decided to lay out two towns, or pueblos, where it was thought the fertile character of the soil would lead the settlers to raise grain and other supplies, not only for themselves but for the people of the presidios. Up to this time a large part of the food had been brought, at a considerable cost, from Mexico.
We know that the governor, Felipe de Neve, chose the town sites with care, for in the whole state there are nowhere more beautiful and fertile spots than San Jose, near the southern end of San Francisco Bay, and Los Angeles, near the famous valley of the San Gabriel River. In founding these two pueblos, and a third which was located where Santa Cruz now stands, the plan pursued was interesting and somewhat different from the methods of settlement on the eastern coast of our country.
First there was chosen a spot for the plaza, or central square, care being taken that it was not far from good grazing land suitable for the settlers' stock. Around the plaza, lots were set apart for the courthouse, town hall, church, granaries, and jail. Next were the lots for the settlers, who each had, besides his home spot, several acres of farming land with water, and the right to use the pasture lands of the town. To each family was given, also, two horses, two cows, two oxen, a mule, several goats, sheep, chickens, farming implements, and a small sum in money.
Instead of asking tax money of the town people, some of the land was reserved as public property to be rented out, the proceeds to be used for the expenses of the government. Many people believe that this is the wisest plan man has yet discovered for managing the expenses of a city, town, or country.
Los Angeles had for many years a large amount of this land near the center of the town, belonging to the city government. Gradually it was taken up by settlers or appropriated by officials until, when the place grew large and thriving, it was found that the land had become private property; and finally the city had to pay large sums for parks and land for public buildings.
Each pueblo was ruled by an alcalde, or mayor, and council, chosen by the people. To advise with these officers, there was a commissioner who represented the governor of the country. During the first few years the pueblo was governed largely by the commissioner. Presidios, which were, at first, forts with homes for the commander, officers, soldiers, and their families, and were ruled by the commanding officer or comandante, gradually became towns; and then they, too, had their alcalde and council. There were four presidios - Monterey, San Francisco, San Diego, and Santa Barbara.
In spite of all the gifts of free land, stock, and money, it was hard to secure a suitable class of settlers. Many of those who came up from Mexico to live in the pueblos were idle or dissipated, and nearly all uneducated. When, after several years, a Spanish officer was sent down from Monterey to convey to the Los Angeles settlers full title to their lands, he found that not one of the twenty-four heads of families could sign his name. Later a much better class of people came into the country - men of education, brave, hardy members of good Spanish families, who obtained grants of land from the government, bought cattle from the mission herds, and began the business of stock raising.
This was the beginning of the pastoral or shepherd life. Each rancho was miles in extent, its cattle and horses numbered by thousands. The homes were generally built around a court into which all the rooms opened, and were constructed of adobe bricks such as were used at the missions. In the better class of homes several feet of the space in the courtyard next the wall were covered with tile roofing, forming a shaded veranda, where the family were accustomed to spend the leisure hours. Here they received visitors, the men smoked their cigaritos, and the children made merry. In the long summer evenings sweet strains of Spanish music from violin and guitar filled the air, and the hard earthen floor of the courtyard resounded to the tap-tap of high-heeled slippers, the swish of silken skirts, and the jingle of silver spurs, as the young people took part in the graceful Spanish dances.
It was no small matter to rule one of these great households. La Patrona (the mistress) was generally the first one up. "Before the sun had risen," said a member of one of the old families, "while the linnets and mocking birds were sounding their first notes, my mother would appear at our bedside. 'Up, muchachos, up, muchachas, and kneel for your Alba!' The Alba was a beautiful prayer of thanksgiving for care during the night, with a plea for help through the dangers and temptations of the day. No excuse for lying abed was accepted; up, and on the floor we knelt, then she passed on to where the mayordomo, or foreman, and his men were gathering in the courtyard. Here, too, was the cook with the Indian maids, busy making tortillas for the morning meal. 'Your Albas, my children,' my mother would say in her clear, firm voice. Down would drop mayordomo, vaqueros, cook, and Indian girls, all devoutly reciting the morning prayer.
"After their prayer the children might, if they chose, return to their beds, but before sleep could again overtake them there would probably come from a distant room the voice of their aged grandfather asking them questions from the Spanish catechism.
"'Children, who made you?' he would call in a quavering voice.
"A chorus of small voices would sing-song in response, 'El Dios' [God].
"Again he would question, 'Children, who died for you?'
"Again the reply, 'El Dios.'
"By the time the questions were all answered there was no chance for more sleep."
Nothing was taken with the morning coffee but the tortilla. This was a thin cake made of meal from corn ground by Indian women who used for the grinding either a stone mortar and pestle, or a metate. The metate was a three-legged stone about two feet in length and one in breadth, slightly hollowed out in the center; grain was ground in this by rubbing with a smaller stone. It took a great number of tortillas to serve the large household. One Indian maid, kneeling beside a large white stone which served as table, mixed the meal, salt, and water into balls of dough. These she handed to another girl, who spatted them flat and thin by tossing them from one of her smooth bare arms to the other until they were but a little thicker than a knife blade. The cook then baked them on a hot dry stone or griddle, turning them over and over to keep them from burning.
El Patron (the master) usually rose early, and after his coffee, put on his high, wide-brimmed sombrero, and, attended by his sons, if they were old enough, and his mayordomo, rode over his estate, looking after the Indian vaqueros and workmen. One gentleman, a member of a fine Spanish family which lived in the southern part of the state, used to ride out with his sixteen sons, all of whom were over six feet in height. Generally the families were large, often comprising twelve children or more. These made merry households for the little people.
After breakfast it was the duty of the mistress to set the host of Indian girls to their tasks. The padres were always glad to let the young Indian girls from the mission go into white families where there was a wise mistress, that they might be trained in both religious and domestic duties. Going to the gate of the courtyard, the Patrona would call, "To the brooms, to the brooms, muchachas," adding, if it were foggy, "A very fine morning for the brooms, little ones;" and out would come running a cluster of Indian girls carrying each a broom. At the work they would go, sweeping as clean as a floor the courtyard and ground for a large space about the house.
Next they flocked to the sewing room, often sixteen or eighteen of these girls, to take up their day's work under the mistress's eye. Some made garments for the ranch hands, those who were better work women attended to the making of clothing for the family, while the girls who were the most skillful with the needle fashioned delicate, fine lace work and embroidery.
The children were seldom indoors unless it rained. There were no schools; there were few ranches where there were teachers, and the fathers and mothers generally had their hands too full to devote themselves to their children's education, so in the early days it was all playtime. Later, schools were started for boys, and dreadful places they were.
As General Vallejo describes them, they were generally held in a narrow, badly lighted room, with no adornment but a large green cross or some picture of a saint hanging beside the master's table. The master was often an old soldier in fantastic dress, with ill-tempered visage. The scholar entered, walked the length of the room, knelt before the cross or picture, recited a prayer, then tremblingly approached the master, saying, "Your hand, Senor Maestro," when with a grunt the hand would be extended to him to be kissed. Little was taught besides the reading of the primer and the catechism.
Ranch boys early learned to ride, each having his own horse and saddle. Every year there was a rodeo, or "round-up," held in each neighborhood, where cattle from all the surrounding ranches were driven to one point for the purpose of counting the animals and branding the young. Each stock owner had to be there with all the men from his ranch who could ride, nor must he forget his branding irons. These brands were recorded in the government book of the department, and any one changing the form of his iron in any manner without the permission of the judge was guilty of a crime.
To the boys the rodeo was the most interesting time of the whole year. The coming of the strange herds and vaqueros, the counting and the separating of the animals, and the branding of the young stock made a period of excitement and fun. Here was offered a chance for the display of good horsemanship. Sometimes as the cattle were being gradually herded into a circular mass, an unruly cow or bull would suddenly dart from the drove and run away at full speed. A vaquero on horseback would immediately dash after the animal, and, coming up with it, lean from the saddle and seizing the runaway by the tail, spur his horse forward. Then by a quick movement he would give a jerk and suddenly let go his hold, when the animal would fall rolling over and over on the ground. By the time it was up again it was tamed. Many a boy earned his first praise for good riding at a rodeo.
Nowhere in the world were there better and more graceful riders. Horses used for pleasure were fine, spirited animals. The saddle and the bridle were generally handsomely inlaid with silver or gold. A California gentleman in fiesta costume, mounted on his favorite horse, was a delight to the eyes. His hat, wide in the brim, high and pointed in the crown, was made of soft gray wool and ornamented with gold or silver lace and cord, sometimes embroidered with rubies and emeralds until it was very heavy and exceedingly valuable. His white shirt was of thin, embroidered muslin, and the white stock, too, was of thin stuff wrapped several times around the neck, then tied gracefully in front. The jacket was of cloth or velvet, in dark colors, blue, green, or black, with buttons and lace trimmings of silver or gold, often of a very elaborate design. About the waist was tied a wide sash of soft material and gay color, the ends hanging down at the side. The breeches were of velvet or heavy cloth, dark in color, save when the rider was gay in his taste, then they might be of bright tints. They either ended at the knee, below which were leggings of deerskin, or fitted the figure closely down to just above the ankle, where they widened out and were slashed at the outer seam, showing thin white drawers, which puffed prettily between the slashes. A gentleman in Los Angeles still has the trimmings for such suit, consisting of three hundred and fifty pieces of silver filigree work.
Every one seemed to live out of doors, and though the ranchos were widely scattered, there was much visiting and social gayety. All who could, traveled on horseback; while the mother of the family, the children, and old people used the clumsy carreta with its squeaking wheels.
One of the prettiest sights was a wedding procession as it escorted the bride from her home to the mission church. Horses were gayly caparisoned, and the riders richly dressed. The nearest relative of the bride carried her before him on the saddle, across which hung a loop of gold or silver braid for her stirrup, in which rested her little satin-shod foot. Her escort sat behind her on the bearskin saddle blanket. Accompanying the party were musicians playing guitar and violin, each managing horse and instrument with equal skill.
The California woman generally wore a full skirt of silk, satin, wool, or cotton, a loose waist of thin white goods, and, in cold weather, a short bolero jacket of as rich material as could be obtained. A bright-colored ribbon served for a sash, and a lace handkerchief or a muslin scarf was folded over the shoulders and neck. In place of bonnet and wrap a lace or silk shawl, or a narrow scarf called a rebosa, was gracefully draped over the head and shoulders.
Children were dressed like the older people, and very pretty were the girls in their low-necked, short-sleeved camisas or waists, and full gay skirts, their hair in straight braids hanging down over the shoulders. The short breeches, pretty round jackets, and gay sashes were very becoming to the boys.
At night the daughters of the house, big and little, were locked into their rooms by their mother, the father attending in the same manner to the boys. In the morning the mother's first duty was to unlock these doors.
Various games were played. Blindman's buff was a great favorite for moonlight nights. There was also a game called cuatrito, in which the players threw bits of stone at a mark drawn on the ground at a certain distance.
"In my time," said a prominent Californian of to-day, "we used to play this game with golden slugs instead of stones; there was always a basket of slugs sitting door. We liked them because they carried well, and we thought it nothing unusual to use them as playthings. They were abundant in most of the houses; my mother and her friends used them as soap dishes in, the bedrooms.
"In the spare rooms was always a little pile of money covered by a napkin, from which the visitor was expected to help himself if he needed. We would have considered it disgraceful to count the guest money."
"Our parents were very strict with us," said another Californian, "much more so than is the custom to-day. Sometimes while the parents, brothers, and sisters were eating their meal, a child who was naughty had for punishment to kneel in one corner of the dining room before a high stool, on which was an earthen plate, a tin cup, and a wooden spoon. It was worse than a flogging, a thousand times. As soon as the father went out, the mother and sisters hastened to the sorrowful one and comforted him with the best things from the table."
The clothes were not laundered each week, but were saved up often for several weeks or even a month or two, and then came a wash-day frolic. Imagine wash day looked forward to as a delightful event! So it was, however, to many California children. Senorita Vallejo, in the Century Magazine (Vol. 41), thus describes one of these excursions: -
"It made us children happy to be waked before sunrise to prepare for the 'wash-day expedition.' The night before, the Indians had soaped the clumsy carreta's great wheels. Lunch was placed in baskets, and the gentle oxen were yoked to the pole. We climbed in under the green cloth of an old Mexican flag which was used as an awning, and the white-haired Indian driver plodded beside with his long oxgoad. The great piles of soiled linen were fastened on the backs of horses led by other servants, while the girls and women who were to do the washing trooped along by the side of the carreta. Our progress was slow, and it was generally sunrise before we reached the spring. The steps of the carreta were so low that we could climb in or out without stopping the oxen. The watchful mother guided the whole party, seeing that none strayed too far after flowers, or loitered too long. Sometimes we heard the howl of coyotes and the noise of other wild animals, and then none of the children were allowed to leave the carreta.
"A great dark mountain rose behind the spring, and the broad, beautiful valley, unfenced and dotted with browsing herds, sloped down to the bay [of San Francisco]. We watched the women unload the linen and carry it to the spring, where they put home-made soap on the clothes, dipped them in the spring, and rubbed them on the smooth rocks until they were white as snow. Then they were spread out to dry on the tops of the low bushes growing on the warm, windless southern slopes of the mountain." After a happy day in the woods came "the late return at twilight, when the younger children were all asleep in the slow carreta and the Indians were singing hymns as they drove the linen-laden horses down the dusky ravines."
As at the missions, soon the ranchos, little was raised for sale save hides and tallow from the cattle. It was not the fault of the settlers that, living in so fertile a country, they made so little use of its productiveness. Spain's laws in regard to trade were made entirely in the interests of the mother country, the settlers of New Spain, especially of Alta California, having no encouragement to raise more than they needed for use at home. They could not sell their produce to ships from foreign countries, for the penalty for that was death to the foreigner and severe punishment for the colonist. All trade had to be carried on in Spanish vessels, and it was forbidden to ship olive oil, wine, or anything that was raised or made in the home country. As California and Spain were much alike in climate and soil, this law really stopped all outside trade except that arising from cattle.
After the territory became a Mexican province, the rules were not so severe in regard to foreign trade, and finally the New England vessels freely entered the ports by paying certain duties to the government.
To the young people upon the ranchos the arrival of a trading vessel was a great event. If the port was not far from the house, the Patrona and the young ladies sometimes went on board to select for themselves from the miscellaneous cargo the things they desired; but as they were generally afraid of the water, especially of trusting themselves in the ship's boats, the father and boys often represented the family on such occasions.
When news arrived that a ship was coming down the coast, elder sisters became very kind and attentive to younger brothers, who accepted panocha (a coarse brown sugar cast in square or scalloped cakes) and other gifts contentedly, knowing well they would be expected to "coax Father" to buy the ring, sash, necklace, or fan which the good sister particularly desired. Often a ranchero would go down to the harbor with ten or fifteen ox carts loaded with hides, skins, and tallow, and return with ranch implements, furniture, dishes, sugar, other food, clothes, and ornaments of all kinds. Such laughing, chattering, and excitement as there was when the squeaking ox carts came into the courtyard! The whole household, from the Patrona and her guests to the Indian mothers with their children from the kitchen precincts, gathered to watch the slow unloading of the purchases. Slow, indeed, seemed the process to the eager children of the family. Except on horseback for a short dash, the Californian never hurried. For a journey the usual gait was a little jog trot, hardly faster than a walk.
Senorita Vallejo, in the Century Magazine, describes the loading of a ship's cargo: "The landing place for the mission of San Jose was at the mouth of a salt water creek several miles away. When a trading vessel entered San Francisco Bay, the large ship's boat would be sent up this creek to collect the hides and tallow; but if the season was a wet one, the roads would be too bad for the ox carts; then each separate hide was doubled across the middle and placed on the head of an Indian. Sometimes long files of Indians might be seen, each carrying hides in this manner, as they trotted across the wide, flat plains or pushed their way through the little forest of dried mustard stalks to the creek mouth."
No such thing was known as a Californian breaking his word in regard to a debt. Yankee ship owners trusted him freely. Once, when a ship was in port, the captain left it for a little while in charge of the clerk whose business it was to sell the goods, but who had never been in California before and knew nothing of its customs. Down to the shore came a ranchero attended by servants and ox carts. He came on board and bought many things, intending to pay later with hides and tallow which were not then ready. When he ordered the goods taken ashore with never a word as to payment, the clerk informed him that he must either give money or else give some writing saying that he would pay.
Now this Californian, though rich in lands and stock, could neither read nor write. When he understood that he was being distrusted, he gravely drew from his beard a hair, and, handing it to the clerk, said: "Give this to your master and tell him it is a hair from the beard of Agustin Machado. You will find it sufficient guarantee." The clerk saw that he had made a mistake, and, taking the hair, placed it in the leaves of his note book and allowed the goods to be taken away. When the captain returned, he was mortified that there had been any distrust shown.
While California was a Spanish province its chief ruler was appointed by the home government and was always an educated gentleman of good family, generally an officer of the army. The coming of a new governor was a great event in the colony and was celebrated with all possible ceremony and display.
In 1810 Mexico began its revolt against Spain. In California the people were in sympathy with the mother country and had no doubt of her final success. For a long time they received little news of how the war was progressing. They only knew that no more money was sent up to pay the soldiers or the expenses of government, that the padres no longer received any income from the Pius Fund, that even the trading vessels from Mexico upon which they depended for their supplies had ceased to come.
Times became so hard that the local government turned for aid to the missions, which had become largely self-supporting. Many of them were indeed wealthy communities, and the padres responded generously to the demand for help. For several years they furnished food and clothing to the soldiers, and money for the expenses of government, for the most of which they never received payment.
Gradually the fine clothes of the Californians wore out, no vessels arrived from which they could purchase more, and again it was the missions which came to the rescue. Their cotton and woolen goods were in great demand. Indian spinners and weavers were busy from morning until night making clothes for the "gente de razon," or "people of reason," which was the term by which the white settlers were distinguished from the natives.
In 1822 a vessel came up from the south, bringing to the governor official notice that the war had been decided in favor of Mexico, and that California was therefore a Mexican province. This was disagreeable news to the Californians, but after consultation held by the governor, his officers, the padre who was the president of the missions, and some of the leading citizens, it was decided that they were too far away from Spain to be able to resist, and that they should take the oath to be true to the Mexican government. For the padres, who were all Spaniards and loyal to the home government, this was a hard thing to do, and they never became reconciled to the change.
From this time California was not so well governed. Mexico, which was then an empire but soon became a republic, had its hands full looking after its own affairs, and little attention was paid its far-off province. Its best men were needed at home, and the governors sent up the coast were not always wise or pleasing to the people. There were several revolutions with but little bloodshed. One governor was sent back to Mexico. At one time the Californians declared that theirs was a free state, and a young man named Alvarado was made governor. General Vallejo, who was his uncle, was given command of the army. But soon the Californians quarreled bitterly among themselves, so that this government did not last long and the territory went back under the rule of Mexico. That government, in order to have peace in the province, confirmed Alvarado and Vallejo in their positions.
During the war between Mexico and Spain a South American pirate paid a visit to the coast of Upper California. Monterey was attacked and partly destroyed, also the mission of San Juan Capistrano and the rancho El Refugio, the home of Captain Ortega, the discoverer of San Francisco Bay. In the crew of the pirate ship was a young American named Chapman, who had found life among his rough associates not so interesting as he had hoped it would be, so he deserted, but was taken prisoner by the Californians and imprisoned in a canyon near the present site of Pasadena. Later he was brought down to Los Angeles and set at liberty. He found the people of the pueblo planning to build a church on the plaza, and he told them that if they would let him have some Indian workmen he would get some large timbers down from the canyon. He accomplished this successfully, and it was considered a wonderful work. The stumps of the trees can yet be seen far up on the mountain side, and the timbers are still in the plaza church.
Visiting San Gabriel, young Chapman found the padres having trouble to keep the flour which they ground in their new stone mill from being dampened by water from the mill wheel. Knowing something of machinery, the American remedied the defect by means of a flutter wheel, and there was no more trouble.
For years the catching of otters for their fur along the lagoons and bays about San Francisco and Monterey brought considerable money to the northern missions. Chapman, finding that the padres of San Gabriel were anxious to engage in this trade, built for them the first sea-going boat ever constructed in southern California. It was a schooner, the various parts of which he made in the workshop of the mission. They were then carried down to San Pedro, where he put them together and successfully launched the vessel.
Finally, to close his history, it is recorded of Mr. Chapman that he fell in love with the pretty daughter of Captain Ortega, whose home he had helped his pirate associates to attack, that he married her and lived to a good old age. The country had few more useful citizens than this capable man, the first American to settle in the southern part of California.
With the secularization of the missions in 1833-34 came a change in the peaceful pastoral life. In each section all that was of interest had from the first centered around its mission. One of the chief pleasures of the early Californians was the feast day, "La Fiesta," which celebrated a saint's birthday. During the year there were many of these festivals. First there were religious exercises at the mission church; then in the great square there followed dancing, games, and feasting, in which all classes took some part. These happy church festivals ceased with the breaking up of the mission settlements. Some of the Indians disturbed the community by disorderly conduct, and the ill treatment and suffering of the rest of these simple people caused sorrow and dismay in the hearts of the better portion of the settlers. There was a wild scramble for the lands, stock, and other wealth which had been gathered by the missionaries and their Indian workmen.
Many of the beautiful churches were sold to people who cared nothing for the faith they represented. In some, cattle were stabled. The mission bells were silent, and many of the mission settlements, once so busy and prosperous, were solitary and in ruins.
Life in the great ranchos still went on much as before, but it was no longer so simple and joyous. A change had begun, and not many years later, with the coming of the Americans at the time of the Mexican war, the peaceful, happy life of Spanish California was brought to an end.