Chapter IV. The Cross of Santa Fe
In 1833 the Mexican government decided to confirm the mandate issued by Spain several years before in regard to the breaking up of the mission settlements. By this law each Indian was to have his own piece of land to own and care for. He was to be no longer under the control of the church, but to be his own master like any other citizen. As for the padres, they were to give up their wealth and lands, and leave for other missionary fields. That this would create a great change in California all realized; still it was no new idea, but the plan Spain had in mind when the missions were first founded. The mistake was in supposing that it was possible for a people to rise in so short a time from the wild life of the California Indian to the position of self-supporting citizens in a civilized country.
When the Indians understood this order, some were pleased and, like children when freed from restraint, ceased to work and became troublesome. Many, however, when they found that the padres were to leave them, became very unhappy; some, it is said, even died from homesickness for the mission and the padre. One committed suicide.
It was soon seen that they were not fitted to look after themselves. Only a few years had passed since they were savages, knowing nothing of civilized life, and they still needed some one to guide them. They not only began to drink and gamble, but were cheated and ill-treated on all sides, until many of them became afraid of living in towns and went back to wild life. For this they were no longer fitted, and they suffered so much from hunger and cold that great numbers of them died.
Because the Indians were not capable of caring for themselves at the time of the secularization of the missions, the padres are often severely blamed. It is said that they tried to keep the natives without knowledge, in fact something like slaves. But the truth is that the padres taught them by thousands, not only to cultivate the soil, to irrigate wisely, to raise domestic cattle, but to work at every trade that could be of use in a new country. They were encouraged to choose from among themselves alcaldes, or under officers of the mission. In this way every inducement was given to the Indian showing himself capable of self-control, to rise to a prominent position in his little world, where he generally ruled his fellow-workmen wisely and kindly.
Added to this, the Indians acquired, through the teaching and example of the padres, a religion that has lasted through generations. The breaking up of the mission settlements scattered the Indians through the country, many of them going back to the wild life in the forest and mountains, where they no longer had any religious instructions. Yet to-day, after all the years that have passed, there are few Indians from San Diego to San Francisco who do not speak the language of the padres and follow, though it may be but feebly, the teaching of the Catholic faith, the "Santa Fe" of the padres.
Some of the mission buildings, many of the flocks, and much of the land fell into the hands of men who had no possible right to them. Orchards and vineyards were cut down, cattle killed and stolen, and there was only ruin where a short time before there had been thousands of busy people leading comfortable lives. Soon the churches were neglected and began to crumble away, bats flew in and out of the broken arches, squirrels chattered fearlessly in the padre's dining room, and the only human visitor was some sad-hearted Indian worshiper, slipping timidly into the desolate building to kneel alone before the altar where once
Sweet strains from dusky neophytes Rose up to God in praise, When life centered 'round the missions In the happy golden days.