September 28, 2007

Hispanic Heritage and San Diego County:

Indian Villages and Ranches of 1821

By Albert Simonson 


Records of California’s Franciscan missions are concentrated at the Santa Barbara Mission Archives Library. In its vault is an expedition diary stamped “Archivum Provinciae.” Thirteen sheets penned in a challenging hand style that grants us a glimpse of San Diego’s broad pastoral unfenced uplands dotted with cattle and rancherias of natives at widely scattered springs.

Friar Jose Bernardo Sanchez, then serving at San Gabriel, had served at San Diego Mission from 1804 to 1820 and had undertaken its most enduring projects: the mission church, dam, and aqueduct along the San Diego River. In the summer of 1816, he had applied for a license for an inland mission at Santa Ysabel, and in 1819 that church was built. This accorded with a long-postponed Franciscan goal of a chain of inland missions.  Several were completed. Only a lack of resident priests obliges us to call them asistencias (sub-missions) rather than missions.

Diary of the Expedition

Fr. Jose Sanchez began his diary on September 10, 1821 (“dia 10 de 7bre de 1821”) mentioning as expedition members the Reverend Father Prefecto Fr. Mariano Payeras, himself the undersigned, six unnamed soldiers, and the two veterans Jose Manuel Silvas and Marcos Briones.

At four in the afternoon they departed the Mission of San Diego de Nyipahuai eastward toward the mission rancho called Santa Monica, otherwise called “el caxon,” some 12 or 13 miles distant, where they arrived at 6:30 P.M. This was a huge rancho centered near the old church in present downtown Lakeside. There they slept.

September 11

Around 3 in the morning, they set off northward and after 2 1/2 miles they entered the glen or canyon called del arrastradero in which was a rancheria (village) called Michegua, with two gentiles. At that distance north, a canyon is dammed by San Vicente Dam, easily visible from Highway 67.

Continuing, they came to the plain of Pamo, presently environs of Ramona, where there was a rancheria called Canapui with six gentiles and a small water hole. They noted good pasturage and satisfactory soil on their continuation between north and east. Climbing eastward, they came to “rancheria de la ballena” with three gentiles, at 8 A.M.

They ate an early lunch and found excellent sarsaparilla (“zarza parilla,” a bramble bush beverage root) by a small water hole with good water.

The presence of a small but good water hole, live oaks, plenty of grassland, a vaguely whale-shaped ridge, and continual use of the place-name Ballena are solid indicators that Egepam was at a wetland at highway station 45.00 where the highway crosses Ballena Creek. Sanchez noted that Egepam meant simply ballena, or whale. 

Leaving the valley at a water hole under alder trees, they took the “camino” tending northward to Santa Ysabel Valley, called Elcuanam in the native language.

September 12

The next morning, at about 9 A.M., they reached the house at the sub-mission , or asistencia, of Santa Ysabel. Sanchez estimated that they had come about 28 miles from Santa Monica (Lakeside).

September 13

Friar Payeras had to attend to clerical matters and he wrote a directive to all missionaries in the jurisdiction of the San Diego Presidio for customary contributions to the Monterey Presidio.

In the afternoon, they explored the southern part of the valley (near present Highway 78), finding the valley narrow but with very good soil and very abundant grass.

There was a water hole in the middle of the southern part and another where a route from San Diego entered, and still enters, the southern part. 

From the southern edge of the valley, they observed chaparral thickets (chamizal) along the upper San Diego River. A traveler of today can better view this unaltered canyon from the Inaja picnic area on the Julian road.

September 14

At daybreak they began the ascent of the “sierra madre.” It appears that they ascended eastward from the mission house through steep hills dotted with live oaks, other oaks, and small water holes.

They rejoined the creek, passing a site where there had been held rodeos of cattle belonging to the San Diego mission in a woodland-enclosed open grassland just west of Julian’s well field near the north end of Farmer Road. There are hiking and riding trails in this area.

Continuing east, they attained the ridgetop of Volcan Mountain in two and a half hours, ascending an unwooded flank near the present Volcan Mountain hiking trail or a more direct northerly flank.

They had brought a good telescope to view the Colorado River, but blamed the haze (“humazon”) for obstructing the view. They did survey the broad San Felipe Valley with poplars in the middle and very good pasturage, albeit spotted with salt grass (“zacates salebrosos”). 

Having described San Felipe and also the ridge of Volcan Mountain much as they appear today to a hiker on the public trail, they returned downhill on the same “camino” almost to the mission rodeo grounds. Then they turned northward and descended (from the watershed divide) toward the head of the Santa Ysabel/Dan Price creeks, now accessible by the northern part of Farmer Road, Julian. Sanchez identified these headwaters correctly as sources of the San Dieguito drainage system. He observed an orderly maize field belonging to the mission. Next to the field was the rancheria Guichapa.

Continuing down, on the right hand side were several small water holes, one of which is beside Farmer Road just north of Julian’s pump house, known to later homesteaders as Iron Spring. There was also an excellent water hole about halfway to the house which watered the whole creek, with poplar, sycamore, willow, and alder. A present day hiker in a dry season will see how water emerges from the apparently dry creek bed, at two locations where tributary streams recharge Santa Ysabel Creek.

About a mile and a quarter down from the maize field, by the big water hole, was the rancheria Geenat. A bit farther downstream was Tatayojai and then Elcuanam, where the mission house was. The ascent and descent and the stops they made took about six hours. 

All the people of these rancherias had congregated at Elcuanam, called by the padres Santa Ysabel. Just counting Christians, there were 450, plus all their gentile parents and relatives.

September 15

The party surveyed the northerly half of Santa Ysabel Valley, finding the rancheria Mucucuiz, with its small water hole, a short distance from their lodging. Heading in the same direction, turning to the west there was another named Getanopai. A little farther there was another named Egenal that also had a small water hole. Continuing west, there was another named Teguilque and very close to it another called Gecuar. All the people of these rancherias were congregated at Elcuanam (Santa Ysabel) in the same fashion as those of the aforementioned Jamatai. The (northern) part of the valley was where the wheat, barley, and maize plantings were located.

September 16

It rained at dawn and it rained all day. Sunday mass was sung and the friars visited the sick.

September 17

Sanchez awoke sick, so Payeras set off very early without him toward Jacopin (Agua Caliente, or Warner Springs) which lay circa 12 miles north. After about 2.5 miles, he came to a water hole where gentiles had a maize field. The rancheria was Ajata but Payeras re-named it Las Llagas, (torments). This was at the head of a fertile meadowland embraced by woodland, easily found and viewed from Highway 79. 

Payeras observed that Las Llagas sloped toward the valley of San José, where Lake Henshaw now occupies the southernmost portion.

About 3.75 miles away (assuming that Payeras reckoned his 1 1/2 leagues from Las Llagas) there was a water hole known to them already as Buena Vista. A major creek of that name rises near Ranchita and crosses route 79 at about that distance at highway station 31.31. He noted two other small marshes.

Towards the east a further 4 miles lay Jacopin (Agua Caliente or Warner Springs). Along the trail were various kinds of bushes, with abundant islay, good for many things.

At the springs, cold water was abundant and Payeras found the hot water very hot. Cold water flowed so near that one could have one hand in hot water and the other in cold. It was thought that with a little work, very useful baths could be made there. 

September 18

This day was spent in writing and religious duties. Payeras and his page, the “invalido” Jose Manuel Silvas, bound up an old woman’s broken arm. Sanchez thought her to be at least 90. The use of Latin “in periculo mortis” (in mortal danger) must mean the old gentile woman was catechised (instructed), baptised, blessed and given last rites all at once.

In the afternoon, thirteen adults, all over 60 years of age, came to be catechised for baptism the following day.

September 19

Very early in the morning after mass, Payeras again instructed the old natives, and baptized others until about 11 A.M.

In the afternoon, Payeras, Sanchez and the military detachment set out on the same trail north past Ajata (Las Llagas, as named by Payeras). They entered the valley crossing the best lands (clearly bottom lands now submerged by Lake Henshaw).

After about 2 1/2 hours they arrived at the knoll where the rancheria Taqui was located (renamed Guadalupe by Payeras). Sanchez gave the distance from Santa Ysabel as 6 1/2 miles, a little short of the actual distance.

September 20

At about 4 A.M. they set out to the west on a very bad trail through the valley. There were poplar, willow and alder, in addition to live oak on the hillsides. It was a narrow glen but a grassy meadow appeared after five miles. There were four irrigation channels that glided down from the mountain (“regaderas que descuelgan”). Then they arrived at villages called Caqui by the natives and Potrero (pasture) by the friars.

Sanchez wrote that they rode about 25 miles by 9:45 A.M., arriving at large fields belonging both to gentiles and Christians. There, they ate lunch in Pauma Valley.

At about 4:30 P.M., after 5 miles, they arrived at Pala (which he also called San Antonio), a site belonging to the San Luis Rey Mission. 

September 21, St. Matthew’s Day

After mass the chapel was visited and the day was spent with church business. Four soldiers returned to the San Diego Presidio owing to rumors of large ships off-shore. Later, Sanchez noted that it was only a small smuggling boat.

September 22

After singing mass, (Misa a la Purissima), Payeras reconnoitered the Pala area for the 

eventuality that a mission might be founded there. He was thinking ahead about marking a boundary with San Luis Rey. Everything had been done to qualify Pala as a mission except for the assignment of a resident priest.

September 23 - Sunday

Payeras said the mass and sermon. Present were neophytes from Sanchez’ San Gabriel and also San Juan Capistrano, who were very pleased with the possibility of a new mission. Five children were baptised, then the friars had a good time watching Christians and gentiles dancing for two hours according to their custom (“a su usanza”).

At 4 P.M., the friars and the remaining soldiers set off to the north through unpromising terrain with poor soil and scant water, live oaks and oaks. Soon they entered a valley that stretched to the north and east.

From there they took to the north and found the terrain improved, well covered with live oak until arriving at the plain of Temecula.

September 24 - October 1

The friars and remaining military escort passed through San Ysidro, Santa Gertrudis, Jaguara (San Jacinto, a rather dry cattle ranch of San Luis Rey), San Timoteo Canyon, Guachinga (San Bernardino), Jubuval, Arroyo de San Miguel (City Creek), Guapia (southwest of Riverside) and Ajuenga. 

Once arrived in his home territory of San Gabriel, Sanchez closed his diary, a precious glimpse into an unfenced pastoral bicultural land. His terse parting words were: “No digo mas” (I say no more).

Concluding Observations

Sanchez was a man who did much and wrote little: Building a new church at the San Diego mission turned out to be an enduring legacy, but the annual report of Barona and Sanchez stated merely, “Se sigue la Iglesia comenzada.” Introducing the herculean task of a dam and tile aqueduct (both cemented) in the San Diego River, Sanchez wrote simply “We are working at an aqueduct, which is to bring water to the mission.”

Sanchez was tired of sixteen years of missionary adversity at the infertile mission of San Diego. In 1820 he requested permission to leave the province, i.e. Alta California. He was reassigned to San Gabriel which did little to end his entreaties or calm him. He was destined to never leave the province, dying in 1833, aged 55. As he considered rumors of secularization along with the realities of Mexican independence, declining native population and the burden of supporting the presidios, his spirits must have lifted when he witnessed the promise of a chain of inland missions, abundant crops, and natives openly welcoming to missionaries. Santa Ysabel and Pala became in fact progressive establishments in following years with irrigated crops of wheat, maize, pumpkins, beans, and figs, along with remarkable spiritual and material achievements.

The Franciscans had always intended that the coastal missions serve a temporary role in establishing settled pueblos and ranchos on a European model, before repeating the process farther inland. At Santa Ysabel and Pala, their efforts achieved greater success than at San Diego.

The amiable Franciscan in 1827 became president of the missions, appointed by the mother college in Mexico City. The interested reader will find much about his life in works by Bancroft, Geiger, Engelhardt and Reid.

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