When the child was the result of a rape, especially by a “white man,” native women attempted abortion.
“The missionaries see to it,” the report concludes, that neophytes “are directed not only along the road of justice but also to realize the utility of work educating them in the arts and agriculture. So, little by little, the diligence exerted to this end bears fruit.”
Hugo Reid (1852)
After leaving San Luis Rey, Davis and McKinley stopped at Rancho Santa Anita, where Hugo Reid, a fellow Scot and old friend of McKinley’s, was an hacendado. The land baron owned an 8000-acre spread beneath the San Gabriel Mountains. Davis found Reid “cultivated and educated, a big-hearted man.” Reid married Doña Victoria, a Native American, and adopted her children. He and his wife knew Father Zalvidea during his years at Mission San Gabriel. In 1852, Reid described the mission in a series of letters to the California Star.
Zalvidea was a “man of talent, possessed of a powerful mind — which was as ambitious as it was powerful, and as cruel as it was ambitious.”
When he came to Mission San Gabriel, Zalvidea learned the local tongue so he could preach sermons in the local dialect. He planted orchards of fruit trees, gardens of lilies, high-stalked century plants, passion vines, and thick hedges of red roses. (One historian labeled him the “Johnny Appleseed of the Missions.”) He specialized in vineyards. Irrigated by a dam the natives constructed, the grapes produced the best wine and brandy in New California. Shipments even went to Mexico.
“It was to him that the…splendor of San Gabriel was due,” wrote Reid. “He remodeled the general system of government…. Everything under him was organized — and that organization kept up with the lash!”
According to Reid, Zalvidea punished every infraction. He ordered runaways whipped (“Who would not have deserted?” Reid asks). He punished drunkenness, but waited until the offender sobered up, the better to feel the pain.
Zalvidea appointed native alcaldes to act as judges and enforce punishments. He chose the laziest ones, Reid says, because they would “take more pleasure in making the others work than would the industrious ones!”
Each alcalde carried a wand, to denote his position, and a ten-foot-long rawhide scourge: a multi-thong whip. “They did a great deal of chastisement, both by and without orders.”
While most friars thought little of the hechizeros — spiritual leaders, today called shamans — Zalvidea distrusted the “special powers” of their Satanic witchcraft. He had them chained in twos, “like hounds in couples, and kept them well flogged.”
When he learned that native women pregnant with a “white” child committed infanticide, Zalvidea had them punished. Among the penalties: “shaving the head, flogging, iron leggings.” He also ordered them “to appear every Sunday in church, on the steps leading to the altar, with a hideous painted wooden child in her arms!”
“He was in his chastisements most cruel…he must assuredly have considered whipping as meat and drink to them, for they had it morning, noon, and night.”
Reid also questions conversions: “They had no more idea that they were worshipping God, than an unborn child has of Astronomy.”
Baptism gave the missionaries an advantage: “once baptized, they lost ‘caste’ with their people” and had to side “with the oppressor.”
“Although severe to the Indians,” Reid continues, Zalvidea “was kind in the extreme to travelers and others.” He spread a “splendid table daily” and gave travelers “a good bed to sleep on.” Whenever the guests departed, they had fresh horses and a servant “to go as far as the next mission.”
“Loss of his favorite hobby” — Reid doesn’t specificy — “capsized his reason, and after lingering for many years in a disturbed religious state of mind, he at length expired, regretted by all who knew his worth and gigantic intellect.”
Eulalia Perez (1877)
She was born in Loreto in the 1760s. Around 1814 — the year Zalvidea wrote the report — she began working at Mission San Gabriel. In 1821 she became la llavera — “keeper of the keys.” When she retired, the Mexican governor gave her Rancho San Pascual (today’s Pasadena, Altadena, and San Marino). Since a woman couldn’t own land she had to marry a man to keep it. She died in 1878, at least 109 years old.
“Father Zalvidea loved his ‘mission children’ very much,” Perez told an interviewer. “This is what he called the Indians whom he personally had converted to Christianity.”
He also “wanted the wild Indians to have something to eat. So he planted trees in the mountains and far from the mission so the other Indians would have food.”
Yes, he punished the natives. Most were put in the “stocks or confined to a cell.” More “serious” offenders went to the “guardhouse” (an “underground dungeon,” some say). They were tied “to a cannon or a post” and whipped “twenty-five times or more, depending on the crime.”
“Sometimes they would put a shotgun behind their knees and tie their hands to the gun. This punishment was called ley de bayona. It was very painful.
“Father Sanchez and Father Zalvidea always showed much concern for the Indians,” adds Perez. “Both men were well loved by the gente de razon (Spanish-speaking Californios) and the neophytes, as well as by the other Indians.”
- 1. Banning Taylor (of the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation): The padres committed “acts that even with the softening of time appear brutal.”
- 2. Douglas Monroy: “That [the natives] were not blank slates upon which to inscribe the Word of God doomed the missions.”
- 3. Michael C. White: Zalvidea “was in the full sense of the word a saint.”
- Bebe, Rose Marie, and Robert M. Senkewicz, Testimonios: Early California through the Eyes of Women, 1815–1848 (Berkeley, 2006); Senkewicz, interview.
- Dakin, Susanna Bryant, A Scotch Paisano in Old Los Angeles (Berkeley, 1939).
- Davis, William H., Seventy-Five Years in California (San Francisco, 1967).
- Engelhardt, Fr. Zephyrin, O.F.M., San Luis Rey Mission (San Francisco, 1921).
- Geiger, Maynard, O.F.M., Franciscan Missionaries in Hispanic California, 1769-1848 (San Marino, 1969).
- Gil, Fr. Luis; Zalvidea, Fr. José Maria, Mission San Gabriel in 1814, (trans. Geiger), the Historical Society of Southern California (Sept. 1971).
- Monroy, Douglas, The Prideful Mission and the Little Town: Los Angeles, historycooperative.org.
- Sandos, James A., Converting California: Indians and Franciscans in the Missions (New Haven, 2004).
- White, Michael C., California All the Way Back to 1828 (Los Angeles, 1956).
The Life and Times of Father Zalvidea, Part Two