Chapter V. Pastoral Days

For hundreds of years poets have written and singers have sung of the loveliness of a country life, where there is no gathering together of the inhabitants in great cities, no struggle to make money, where the people live much out of doors, are simple in their tastes, healthy and happy.

These dreams of an ideal life the Spanish-speaking settlers of early California made real. In this land of balmy airs, soft skies, and gentle seas there lived, in the old days, a people who were indifferent to money, who carried their religion into their daily pleasures and sorrows, were brotherly toward one another, contented, beautiful, joyous.

About the time that the mission of San Francisco was founded, the Spanish government decided to lay out two towns, or pueblos, where it was thought the fertile character of the soil would lead the settlers to raise grain and other supplies, not only for themselves but for the people of the presidios. Up to this time a large part of the food had been brought, at a considerable cost, from Mexico.

We know that the governor, Felipe de Neve, chose the town sites with care, for in the whole state there are nowhere more beautiful and fertile spots than San Jose, near the southern end of San Francisco Bay, and Los Angeles, near the famous valley of the San Gabriel River. In founding these two pueblos, and a third which was located where Santa Cruz now stands, the plan pursued was interesting and somewhat different from the methods of settlement on the eastern coast of our country.

First there was chosen a spot for the plaza, or central square, care being taken that it was not far from good grazing land suitable for the settlers' stock. Around the plaza, lots were set apart for the courthouse, town hall, church, granaries, and jail. Next were the lots for the settlers, who each had, besides his home spot, several acres of farming land with water, and the right to use the pasture lands of the town. To each family was given, also, two horses, two cows, two oxen, a mule, several goats, sheep, chickens, farming implements, and a small sum in money.

Instead of asking tax money of the town people, some of the land was reserved as public property to be rented out, the proceeds to be used for the expenses of the government. Many people believe that this is the wisest plan man has yet discovered for managing the expenses of a city, town, or country.

Los Angeles had for many years a large amount of this land near the center of the town, belonging to the city government. Gradually it was taken up by settlers or appropriated by officials until, when the place grew large and thriving, it was found that the land had become private property; and finally the city had to pay large sums for parks and land for public buildings.

Each pueblo was ruled by an alcalde, or mayor, and council, chosen by the people. To advise with these officers, there was a commissioner who represented the governor of the country. During the first few years the pueblo was governed largely by the commissioner. Presidios, which were, at first, forts with homes for the commander, officers, soldiers, and their families, and were ruled by the commanding officer or comandante, gradually became towns; and then they, too, had their alcalde and council. There were four presidios - Monterey, San Francisco, San Diego, and Santa Barbara.

In spite of all the gifts of free land, stock, and money, it was hard to secure a suitable class of settlers. Many of those who came up from Mexico to live in the pueblos were idle or dissipated, and nearly all uneducated. When, after several years, a Spanish officer was sent down from Monterey to convey to the Los Angeles settlers full title to their lands, he found that not one of the twenty-four heads of families could sign his name. Later a much better class of people came into the country - men of education, brave, hardy members of good Spanish families, who obtained grants of land from the government, bought cattle from the mission herds, and began the business of stock raising.

This was the beginning of the pastoral or shepherd life. Each rancho was miles in extent, its cattle and horses numbered by thousands. The homes were generally built around a court into which all the rooms opened, and were constructed of adobe bricks such as were used at the missions. In the better class of homes several feet of the space in the courtyard next the wall were covered with tile roofing, forming a shaded veranda, where the family were accustomed to spend the leisure hours. Here they received visitors, the men smoked their cigaritos, and the children made merry. In the long summer evenings sweet strains of Spanish music from violin and guitar filled the air, and the hard earthen floor of the courtyard resounded to the tap-tap of high-heeled slippers, the swish of silken skirts, and the jingle of silver spurs, as the young people took part in the graceful Spanish dances.

It was no small matter to rule one of these great households. La Patrona (the mistress) was generally the first one up. "Before the sun had risen," said a member of one of the old families, "while the linnets and mocking birds were sounding their first notes, my mother would appear at our bedside. 'Up, muchachos, up, muchachas, and kneel for your Alba!' The Alba was a beautiful prayer of thanksgiving for care during the night, with a plea for help through the dangers and temptations of the day. No excuse for lying abed was accepted; up, and on the floor we knelt, then she passed on to where the mayordomo, or foreman, and his men were gathering in the courtyard. Here, too, was the cook with the Indian maids, busy making tortillas for the morning meal. 'Your Albas, my children,' my mother would say in her clear, firm voice. Down would drop mayordomo, vaqueros, cook, and Indian girls, all devoutly reciting the morning prayer.