Times Past

Franciscans rode, not walked, between missions

Special to The TribuneSeptember 15, 2013 

The Franciscan Padres usually rode between missions.

The “mission mania” that coincided with the rise of tourism and automobile travel in the early 20th century produced many myths about the missions. Some of these were “the Franciscan missionaries always walked between the missions” and “the missions were spaced one day’s walk from each other.”

Many of these myths were given popular circulation by J. Smeaton Chase, the English naturalist who rode on horseback along the mission coast trail in his 1913 book, “California Coast Trails.”

Chase arrived at the lonely buildings upon his horse, Chino, from Gaviota Pass into the Santa Ynez Valley in 1912.

Little remained of Mission Santa Inés itself.

Here, as “in the case of most of the Missions, only enough to suggest the extent and beauty of the original structure,” he wrote. “Santa Inés suffered an additional disaster when, in the heavy rains of the spring of 1911, the bell tower and several of the buttresses of the church wall suddenly crumbled away and fell in a chaos of adobes and tiling into the little cemetery.

“The bells themselves, all of dates early in the last century, fortunately were unharmed, even to their huge ornamental caps of sycamore,” he wrote. “Through the energy of Father Alexander Buckler the damage has already been repaired, and in enduring concrete.

“I was amused at a vast umbrella of yellow silk, with which the padres of bygone days shielded their reverend pates from the sun on their long marches afoot (for the strict Franciscan rule debarred the use of horse or ass).”

Had Chase read the original sources, he would have known that the padres usually rode on mules or horses. Fr. Serra’s lifelong friend, companion and biographer cites only one instance of Blessed Junipero walking between two missions. His walk between Missions Santa Cruz and Santa Clara in October 1779 was a distance of 71 miles. Upon arriving at Santa Clara, his leg was painfully inflamed and swollen “so that he could barely stand.”

Serra and his successors as Mission Father Presidents wanted their priests to arrive with dispatch and the energy to get on with building.

Chase doesn’t mention the existence of the town of Solvang, which now spreads to the edge of the mission grounds. Benedict Nor dentoft, Jens M. Gregersen, a pastor from Kimballton, Iowa, and Peder P. Hornsyld, a teacher, had only just formed the Danish-American Colony Co. in San Francisco. In 1912, they were in the process of buying 9,000 acres of the Mexican land grant, Rancho San Carlos de Jonata, for about $40 an acre.

By August 1914, Nordentoft founded Atterdag College for the education of Danish-speaking students. The town had a post office, store, barbershop and bank.

Chase had arrived some two years before the rapid transformation of the valley. Having ridden up from Los Angeles, he might not have been surprised by the instantaneous growth that typified the more desirable sections of Southern California.

• • •

On Wednesday, the California Mission Ride arrives at Mission San Luis Obispo for a special 8 a.m. Mass. At 10 a.m., I’ll lead a mission tour that’s open to the public. We will begin at the fountain in Mission Plaza at Paula Zima’s admittedly a historical but wonderful statues Tuquski Wa Suma (Bear and Child) of grizzly bears and a Chumash child.

At 11 a.m. there will be a ringing the mission bells by Richard Ochs and Michael LaFreniere. They will ring both the classic mission patterns and music that LaFreniere has com posed. The original bells were retired a decade ago.

The sweet peal of our Dutch cast replacement bells would surprise J. Smeaton Chase, who complained of their cacophony in 1912.

Visit http://www.ventanawild.org /news/fall05/chase/ ednotes.html to read an electronic version of the 1913 first edition of J. Smeaton Chase’s “California Coast Trails.”

Dan Krieger’s column is special to The Tribune. He is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly and president of the California Mission Studies Association.

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