Chapter IV. The Cross of Santa Fe

The kings highway which led up from Vera Cruz, the chief port of the eastern coast of Mexico, to the capital city of New Spain had in the eighteenth century more history connected with it than any other road in the new world. Over it had passed Montezuma with all the splendor of his pagan court. On it, too, had marched and counter marched his grim conqueror, the great Cortez. Through its white dust had traveled an almost endless procession of mules and slaves, carrying the treasures of the mines of Mexico and the rich imports of Manila and India on toward Spain.

Over this road there was journeying, one winter day in the year 1749, a traveler of more importance to the history of the state of California than any one who had gone before. He was no great soldier or king, only a priest in the brownish gray cloak of the order of St. Francis. He was slight in figure, and limped painfully from a sore on his leg, caused, it is supposed, by the bite of some poisonous reptile. The chance companions who traveled with him begged him to stop and rest beside a stream, but he would not. Then, as he grew more weary, they entreated him to seek shelter in a ranch house near by and give up his journey.

"Speak not to me thus. I am determined to continue. I seem to hear voices of unconverted thousands calling me," was all the answer he gave. So on foot, with no luggage but his prayer book, he limped out of sight - the humble Spanish priest, Junipero Serra.

While only a schoolboy, young Serra had been more interested in the Indian inhabitants of the new world than in boyish pleasure. As he grew older it became his greatest desire to go to them as a missionary. At eighteen he became a priest; but it was not until his thirty-sixth year that he gained the opportunity of which he had so long dreamed, when, in company with a body of missionaries, among whom were his boyhood friends, Francisco Palou and Juan Crespi, he landed at Vera Cruz.

He was too impatient to begin his new work, to wait for the government escort which was coming to meet them. So he started out on foot, with only such companions as he might pick up by the way, to make the long journey to the city of Mexico.

Sixteen years later, attended by a gay company of gentlemen and ladies, there traveled over this road one of Spain's wisest statesmen, Jose de Galvez, whom the king had sent out to look after affairs in the new world. Flourishing settlements were by this time scattered over a large portion of Mexico, and even in the peninsula of Lower California there were a number of missions. It was almost a hundred years before this time that two Catholic priests of the Society of Jesus had asked permission to found mission settlements among the Indians of this peninsula.

"You may found the missions if you like, but do not look to us for money to help you," was the answer returned by the officers of the government. So the two Jesuit priests set about collecting funds for the work.

They were eloquent men, and the people who heard them preach became so interested in the Indians that they were glad to give. And so, little by little, this fund grew. As the good work went on, greater gifts poured in. Whole fortunes were left them, and finally they had a very large sum carefully invested in the city of Mexico. This was known as the Pius Fund. From it was taken all the money needed for the founding of the missions of Lower California; and, many years later, the expenses of founding the twenty-one missions of Upper California came from the same source. This fund became the subject of a long dispute between Mexico and the United States, of which an account is given in Chapter XI.

In 1767 all the Jesuit priests in New Spain were called back to Europe, and a large portion of their wealth and missions on the peninsula were given over to the order of St. Francis, with Junipero Serra at their head. It was Galvez's duty to superintend this change, and while he was on his way to the peninsula for that purpose he was overtaken by an order from the king of Spain to occupy and fortify the ports of San Diego and Monterey. The Spanish government had the description of these ports furnished by Vizcaino in his account of his explorations in Upper and Lower California over one hundred and sixty years before.

The articles of the king's order were: first, to establish the Catholic faith; second, to extend Spanish dominion; third, to check the ambitious schemes of a foreign power; and lastly, to carry out a plan formed by Philip the Third, as long ago as 1603, for the establishment of a town on the California coast where there was a harbor suitable for ships of the Manila trade.

Galvez at once proceeded to organize four expeditions for the settlement of Upper California, two by land, two by sea. Captain Portola, governor of the peninsula, was put in command, with good leaders under him. Still, Galvez was not satisfied.

"This is all very well," he said; "these men will obey my orders, but they do not care much whether this land is settled or not, and if discouragements arise, back they will come, and I shall have the whole thing to do over again. I must find some one who is interested in the work, some one who will not find anything impossible. I think I shall send for that lame, pale-faced priest, with the beautiful eyes, who has taken up the work of these missions so eagerly."

"So you think we can make the venture a success?" asked Galvez, after he had talked over his plans with Junipero.

"Surely," said Padre Serra, his eyes shining, his whole face glowing with enthusiasm. "It is God's work to carry the cross of the holy faith [Santa Fe] into the wilderness, and He will go with us; can you not hear the heathen calling us to bring them the blessed Gospel? I can see that I have lived all my life for this glorious day."