Times Past

Could the gruesome murders of 1848 still haunt Mission San Antonio?

The 1804 cemetery at Mission San Antonio de Padua under restoration in 2013.
The 1804 cemetery at Mission San Antonio de Padua under restoration in 2013.

“This room feels unbearably cold! .... It has to be where the murders began.”

On Dec. 5, 1848, 11 people were murdered at Mission San Miguel. My late student, Col. Ralph J. Leonard, and I sorted out the details during the late 1970s. Leonard published an article in La Vista: The Journal of Central Coast History in 1980, and by the mid-1980s, I had written several columns about it. Neither of us revealed the room where Peter Raymond split William Reed’s head with an axe. Nor did we share many other specific details of the crime.

My friend, Father Reginald Gardiner, the Franciscan Guardian in charge of Mission San Miguel, told me that he felt uncomfortable with too much mention of the murders, so I backed off for a while. Then a clairvoyant, now long since departed herself, contacted me, stating that she had Gardiner’s permission to go through the mission if I would accompany her.

She moved from room to room until she came to the spot where the records suggest Reed was murdered. She asked me if I sensed the drop in temperature. She correctly identified other key locations that I thought were known only to a few Franciscans and historians, including the wood shop where the mail carrier, famed mountain man Jim Beckwourth, discovered the bodies as the murderers made their escape.

I was impressed by the clairvoyant’s paranormal skills. This happened more than 10 years before the availability of the internet and most of her revelations were, I thought, known only to a handful of monks and historians.

I might have become a true believer, had not several former Franciscans at Mission San Miguel later told me that Gardiner himself would often speak of the murders and take young monks on a tour of the “grisly sights.” I had always assumed that the beloved “Father Reggie” preferred that the murders not become a distraction to spiritual matters.

Apparently, he enjoyed a ghost story as much as anyone. Could some of his monks have leaked the details to the clairvoyant? ¿Quein sabe?

If you want to experience a beautiful moment of true spirituality at a California mission in the wilderness, you’re invited to the annual All Soul’s Mass and Memorial Ceremony at the graveyard, honoring the ancestors of the Salinan Tribe, at Mission San Antonio de Padua at 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27. Bishop Gerald Wilkerson will celebrate mass and would very much like to meet and share the ceremony with members of the Salinan Tribe.

Mass will open with the Salinan “creator Thanksgiving prayer” and the “Lord’s prayer” in Salinan, with the assistance of tribal elders Susan Latta and Mary Rodgers. John Warren will direct the traditional musical responses and hymns, including compositions by Padre Juan Bautista Sancho at San Antonio (1804-1830), sung by members of the St. Rose of Lima School Youth Choir and singers from St. Rose and Mission San Miguel.

The traditional smudging of sage and prayers at the cemetery, the oldest Mission graveyard for Native Americans in California, will follow.

Mission San Antonio, called “the mission in the Sierras,” is the most remote of all of California’s chain of 21 Franciscan missions. Yet it’s less than an hour and a half away from most points in San Luis Obispo County.

It is about 30 miles northwest of Camp Roberts along Monterey County Road G-18, which is reached at the Jolon turnoff.

My traditional Halloween day tour of the historic Old Mission Cemetery in San Luis Obispo will be on Wednesday, Oct. 31, meeting at the Bridge Street entrance to the cemetery at 4pm.

Both events are free and open to the public.

Dan Krieger is professor of history emeritus at Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo. He is past president of the California Mission Studies Association, now part of the California Missions Foundation. He can be reached at slohistory@gmail.com.
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