Between chaos to the north and south and natives gathering in the east, Lorenzana and Oliva stayed at Mission San Luis Rey, always with a “sense of impending danger.”
Juana Moreno arrived with her children. Families are abandoning San Diego, she said. More rumors: California’s most prominent leaders, Pio Pico and General José Castro, might flee to Mexico. (“Castro,” Angustias de la Guerra uttered through clenched teeth,
didn’t want “to expose his interesting person to bullets.”) In September, an army of Californios forced the Americans out of Los Angeles.
A few days after the Morenos arrived, an armed Indian rode up to the mission holding a spear with a red flag attached like a banner. “A bad sign,” Lorenzana told Oliva. His chief wanted wine, the Indian said. He was camped at nearby Guajomita with many angry warriors.
Oliva gave him the wine and the Indian left.
That night, Doña Moreno appeared in the doorway “half-naked and very frightened.” One of her son’s young native friends told her to leave San Luis Rey at once. “Indians were going to attack the mission and kill all the white people.”
The Indian who had taken the wine rode up, a quiver full of arrows slung across his back. His chief, it seemed, wanted more.
Oliva gave him a second bottle, plus a scolding for bringing weapons to the mission, and again the Indian left.
That night, as Moreno’s son sprinted to Santa Margarita for help, Moreno, Lorenzana, and Father Oliva lit candles and torches and tried to illumine as much of the grounds as possible. “There was so much light, it almost seemed like day.”
Oliva sat on a bench while Lorenzana roamed around, checking various rooms for attackers. “As you can well imagine,” she recalled 32 years later with a shudder, “we did not sleep at all that night.”
The next morning, Sérvulo Varelas, who had led the recapture of Los Angeles, rode up with 30 men. He told the Indians their “attitude made no sense at all, because they and the Californios were one.” He gave them food and wine. When he returned, he took Lorenzana and Father Oliva aside. “Go to San Juan Capistrano,” he whispered, “pronto.”
On December 6 and 7, Andres Pico and about 80 lancers defeated General Stephen Watts Kearney’s army at San Pasqual. Twenty-one of his soldiers died, and Kearney received two serious wounds. But more Americans had come to San Diego and, according to Miguel de Pedrorena, justice of the peace, “a party of fanatic adventurers called Mormons” was on its way from the east, “well armed with the purpose of taking this country by force.” Rumor had it that their leader, Brigham Young, wanted to colonize all of Alta California and drive everyone else out. Some Californios sided with the American forces to defend themselves from these new invaders.
In the first week of February 1847, Father Oliva asked of Lorenzana a favor: go to San Luis Rey, bring back the mission registers, and find a chalice he’d hidden in an arroyo. It could be dangerous, he added. She agreed to try.
That hordes of foreign soldiers clogged the region — taking cattle and horses and human lives — tormented Lorenzana. As she approached San Luis Rey, she saw a sight as perplexing as it was nightmarish: a battalion of forces, at least 300 strong, was camped at the mission. But unlike Fremont’s savages or Kearney and Stockton’s grim regulars, who’d come through in January, the new ones looked like a civilian army — of skeletons.
Few wore woolen uniforms, and almost every one looked as if he hadn’t taken off the filthy, shredded outfit for months. Not many had shoes. Their faces were strangest of all: from their eyebrows to their noses, they were sunburned and blistered, while the skin below their eyes — where foot-long beards, recently shaved, used to grow — was white. The narrow bands across their eyes resembled beet-red masks.
Some did drills and learned to march for the first time, but many were so gaunt and as brittle as twigs, they just leaned against walls for support and swatted fleas.
This was the famous Mormon Battalion, a religious volunteer unit that had come west from Council Bluffs, Iowa, under countless hardships. They arrived in San Diego on January 29, 1847, and moved to San Luis Rey on February 3. Their leader, Colonel Philip St. George Cooke, said, “History may be searched in vain for an equal march of infantry.”
Lorenzana didn’t see history, just more sharp sabers, more long flintlock muskets tilted against each other like teepees, and more death.
Squads of ten occupied each room — infested it, to Lorenzana’s mind. For 30 years she had battled syphilis and smallpox in mission infirmaries. This plague felt more menacing: it threatened to kill a way of life. So many Americans had invaded Alta California that she could no longer wish — or even pray — them away.
In the decades to come, several of her compadres said the change felt like the end of the world. Lorenzana did as well. Whenever her tristeza (sadness) seemed to wane, a new tragedy would resurrect it. Her life became a series of losses, from departed friends to the destruction of everything she’d known.
Father Oliva died on January 2, 1848. A few weeks later, she complained to the president of friars, “The doors of the church of Mission San Diego have been removed” and silver chalices and candlesticks stolen. “This wickedness and robbery must be attributed to the American soldiers.” The assault “has been very sad and painful to me.” If asked, she said, she would go to the mission, but since Oliva’s death, she had no priest to perform the sacraments — a must in her daily life — and had “no mind to go to San Diego.”
Lorenzana had three ranchos, two deeded her by the Mexican government, a rare privilege for a woman (and almost unimaginable for a poor, single woman). A third she bought outright. All three — Jamacha, San Juan de las Secas, and Los Coches — had been mission grazing lands. Before leaving San Diego, she lived part-time at Jamacha. After she left, she entrusted care of the three to her close friend, British-born John Forster, one of the largest landowners in the region.