California's Unbuilt Missions

Text and photographs extracted from George William Beattie's
California's Unbuilt Missions, published in 1930.

"The reasons for the founding of the first missions in Alta California are familiar to all of us. Chief in importance was the desire of the fathers to convert the Indians to the Christian faith. For more than a century and a half after the day in 1602 when Vizcaino anchored in Monterey Bay, missionaries had been seeking permission to begin work in California, but in vain. The Spanish Government had other uses for its revenues, and without its approval and backing, missionaries could accomplish nothing.

"By 1767, however, menacing movements in the Pacific by other nations, particularly the Russians, aroused sufficient fear among Spanish officials to spur them to action; and this fear was the decisive reason for the sending of missionaries into California...

"The development of missions in California led to marked changes in the conditions that prevailed when they were started. In their contacts with the natives, the Fathers at first had merely local problems to deal with. Indians generally might feel hostile toward the alien race that was occupying their land, but the missions in their poverty showed little to arouse cupidity. By offering food, clothing and a general improvement in living conditions, they usually won the loyalty of the Indians near them, and the savages accepted instruction in religion and the elements of civilization without objection.

Map of Spanish Missions in Southern California
Map of Spanish Missions in Southern California. Squares mark mission sites in the coast chain. Circles indicate proposed sites for inland missions
(Courtesy of Auto Club of Southern California).

"The missionaries launched out as opportunities permitted, and established ranchos to accommodate the increasing flocks and herds, which in turn rendered possible the support of an ever growing number of neophytes [new converts]. Unfortunately, the live stock became increasingly tempting to unconverted Indians, some of whom came from great distances to raid mission herds. Occasionally a neophyte became restive under mission discipline, and ran away, seeking refuge among the wild Indians of the valleys, deserts and mountains in the interior. These runaways were naturally the independent, unsubmissive and lawless characters. They had become accustomed to the superior food of the missions, and they inevitably imparted their taste for mission live stock to the wild men with whom they associated, and became guides and leaders in forays upon mission flocks and herds. Because of the ease with which horses could be driven away, horse flesh came to be preferred as food to the flesh of other mission animals. Horses were not stolen for their transporting capacities.

"The runaway Indians soon became a serious menace to the progress of the missions and to the peace and welfare of the Government of California. It was to them that the wholesale stock stealing and the savage attacks on ranchos were laid. The pursuit and bringing back of runaway Indians was therefore, not so much due to a desire to hold them in subjection, (as has been charged by unfriendly critics of the mission system), as it was to ward off the evil effects of their allying themselves with unconverted Indians in raids upon mission establishments.

"It became more and more apparent that the menace of the unchristianized Indians could be met only by extending the mission system inland. The Government itself was aroused to action by the growing lawlessness of runaways. Governor Jose Joaquin Arrillaga, who reached Monterey in 1806, was thoroughly in sympathy with the idea of civilizing and Christianizing the inland savages, and agreed heartily with the ideas the missionaries were developing, and lent his aid to their projects. The interests of both Church and State were well served during his administration.

"Until the early part of the nineteenth century, little was known concerning the vast interior of California---the great Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys, and the valleys adjacent to the mountains further south...Governor Arrillaga entered promptly upon the task of exploring the interior of California in the hope of subduing the wild tribes, and of securing new subjects for Spain by the usual Spanish method of planting missions and presidios. Numerous were the expeditions that went in search of suitable sites...

[Father Mariano Payeras, as Comisario-Perfecto, in 1820 writes] "...that San Gabriel had established a Rancho twenty leagues to the east with the name San Bernardino; that the location is suitable for a mission, and that in it, according to the Reverend Fathers of the said Mission are to be found all the elements for a good establishment.

"The Memorial of Father Payeras...was issued on June 2. One week later, June 9, 1820, Fathers Zalvidea and Nuez of Mission San Gabriel, responded to Fr. Payeras with the following information:

'In confirmation of what our Father Comisario intimated as to the rancho of this Mission, which is called San Bernardino, we have to say that with a simple invitation, which was extended to the pagans on the last day of May, to come and help in the planting which was being done at said rancho for the purpose of pleasing, attracting and winning the affection of the pagans for Christianity, in less than one month about one thousand souls have come together. They are helping to plant, and they perform other labors useful for their maintenance and subsistence.'

"Quoting again from the Memorial, we find Fr. Payeras saying:

'The same I say of the Mission of San Luis Rey. Between Pala and Temecula, about 8 or 9 leagues from the Mission, to the north and northeast of it, at the foot of the mountains, it has the Rancho of San Antonio de Pala with 1300 neophytes, whose Christian docility and joyful aspect gladden and encourage the heart.

Mission San Luis Rey
San Antonio de Pala Asistencia of Mission San Luis Rey in 1870.

Chapel and Bell Tower
San Antonio de Pala, Chapel and Bell Tower (Photograph by Barton Bachmann, 1930)

Interior of the Chapel
San Antonio de Pala, Interior of the Chapel (Photograph by Barton Bachmann, 1930)

Santa Ysabel Asistencia

Santa Ysabel Asistencia of Mission San Diego
(Sketched in 1853 by the artist of Lieutenant R. S. Williamson's surveying party)

Santa Ysabel Chapel
Santa Ysabel Chapel in 1886
(Photograph by C. B. Turril)

'What I said of these two places, I say of Santa Ysabel, seventeen leagues to the north of Mission San Diego.

'In these three mentioned points, [that is, Santa Ysabel, Pala and San Bernardino], the respective Fathers have informed me that there are a large number of tractable natives, who on account of their considerable distance from the missions, and their unwillingness to leave their dwelling places, desire and request a mission on their own lands. Already they have in these places a temporary chapel in which to pray, storehouses, planted fields, and a house for the Padres. What then is lacking? What will be the outcome? I am persuaded that with the same arrangements that I outlined for the Presidio of Santa Barbara, that of San Diego will found the three missions, since to the three places within the mountains a helping hand will be extended, and immediately, whenever founded, the three establishments will function. It seems as though foundations more easy to make, and more useful for the development of the Province in matters spiritual and temporal, cannot be proposed.'

"As we have said earlier, Fr. Payeras, accompanied by Fr. Jose Sanchez, had, in September, 1821, inspected recent missionary advances made within the jurisdiction of the Presidio of San Diego, with a view to locating new missions...He recommended four sites for missions: Pala...Santa Isabel...Guadalupe; and San Bernardino, where two years before, as we have seen, Mission San Gabriel has established a rancho and had begun work among the natives. Father Payeras found about 200 Indians at San Bernardino who had been baptized in Mission San Gabriel, and who expressed a desire to have a mission in the valley, claiming that if one were established, many more Indians would join them. He recommended the site of the present City of San Bernardino as suitable for such a mission. He reported that Mission San Gabriel had cattle grazing in the San Bernardino Valley, and commented on the old houses [at Jumuba], evidently the homes of the herdsmen, that he found a few miles west of the rancho headquarters.

"A report issued in 1822 in connection with the transfer of California from Spain to Mexico is illuminating. In September, 1821, Mexico had attained her independence...The Supreme Government of Mexico sent Reverend Augustin Fernandez de Vicente to California as a Commissioner, and he called at once for a full report on location, population, lands, products and live stock of each mission. As Comisario-Prefecto, Fr. Payeras furnished this information in a special report for 1822 [on Mission San Gabriel]...

'In the year 1819, at the request of the unchristianized Indians of the place they call Guachama and which we call San Bernardino, we began the introduction of cattle raising and farming, in order to induce the natives to become Christians . . . The project has been worth while, for it has succeeded quite well. If the natives would settle down in this region it would be much better for all concerned; for them, because it would give us a means of approach to other more distant tribes, especially if we should desire later to establish a route to the Colorado. The place has an abundance of water. Of course in dry years the supply diminishes, but there is enough for irrigation . . .'

"This report also informs us that Mission San Gabriel was ministering to sixteen tribes of Indians to the north and east of San Bernardino, some of them ten or twelve leagues distant. Points, therefore, as far away as Victorville and the Coachella Valley lay within their field of visitation.

"The appreciation of private property as a civilizing agency, and the recognition of the strategic importance of San Bernardino is shown in the part of the report which says:

'These nations are very friendly now. It is certain that some ill feeling is concealed among them, but this is not to be wondered at---The fact that anyone of them who does not own his house or even his domestic animals is covetous at the present time, proves to us the actual state of affairs to be thus among the sixteen [Nations]---a state of affairs which in my opinion would not have existed if a mission had been established in San Bernardino.'

"Notwithstanding the efforts of the missions authorities just cited---efforts supported at times by government officials, no new missions were ever founded in the great interior---the Valleys of the Sacramento and the San Joaquin or in the mountain valleys to the South...

"There is left for consideration little more than the final attempt to provide for a mission at San Bernardino. At the end of 1827, Father Sanchez of San Gabriel said in a report,

'Rancho of San Bernardino---The house is of adobe. It consists of one long building. It has an enramada or structure of boughs which serves for a chapel. It has also a building with compartments for keeping grain. The walls of this structure are of adobe.'

Chapel at Santa Ysabel
An Example of an Enramada (or structure of boughs). In 1901 a fragment of the adobe Chapel at Santa Ysabel remained. In preparation for Easter Sunday, the Indians enclosed the remnant with an enramada.
(The interior was photographed by C. C. Pierce)

This is an Example of the Exterior of an Enramada. This one is at Santa Ysabel, showing cross and bells.
(Photograph by C. C. Pierce, in 1901)

"This was written of the rancho headquarters on the flats west of Redlands, and reveals the extent of the building operations there up to that date. Later, an extensive and impressive structure was begun on a hill one and a half miles southeast of these rancho buildings. Nothing relating to the erection of this later building has been found in contemporary mission writings. No mention of it occurs until after the station was abandoned. In 1837, however, we find a reference to it that is of great significance. In September of that year Fr. Duran wrote to the Fr. Guardian of the College of San Fernando, saying:

'If the Mexican Republic had been bred in peace . . . California at this date might have a new chain of missions in the very heart of paganism with scarcely any expense to the Government, for the requisites to found them could have been obtained from the old establishments. With this project in view, San Diego, for instance, founded the rancho of Santa Isabel in the interior; San Luis Rey established San Jacinto and one other station [San Antonio de Pala];

San Bernardino Asistencia
The San Bernardino Asistencia. The site belongs to the County of San Bernardino and restoration was begun in 1928 by the County Historical Society.

'San Gabriel founded the beautiful San Bernardino Asistencia, which has lately been given to some private individual in spite of my protest in behalf of the rights of the Indians of San Gabriel, and whose entire restitution I demand to the Day of Judgment...Thus all the missions would have done in their respective parallels if the times had assisted in building up instead of tearing down.'

"This statement, of the highest mission official in California, shows conclusively that the establishment at San Bernardino with its new buildings had reached the rank of an Asistencia, and was on the way to becoming a mission proper in the proposed inland chain.

"Further information regarding the station at San Bernardino comes to us from civil records.

Barbara Palomares
People entrusted by the Fathers with a branch mission. From left to right: Barbara Palomares, wife of Juan Nepomuceno Alvarado, last mayordomo at San Bernardino; Francisco, their son; Ygnacio, son of Francisco. Ygnacio was born in the mission building at Old San Bernardino.

"Francisco Alvarado, son of the last mayordomo that represented Mission San Gabriel at San Bernardino, testified in a water suit in 1876 that his father moved to San Bernardino about 1826, and with his family occupied the original adobe house on the flats; that number of years after, a builder named Manuel came from Mexico, and began the second house of adobe on the hill; that before completing it the Indian war began, and the builder, frightened, left the country.

"Jose del Carmen Lugo, who made his home for ten years in the uncompleted building Alvarado mentions, said to Bancroft's representative when dictating his statement concerning the mission rancho at San Bernardino:

'This rancho was almost like a mission. On it were grown large and various crops, and in the years from 1830 to 1832 a very large house, and also other buildings, were being constructed which were not completed because of the uprising of the Indians and the resultant difficulties in protecting them at so great a distance from the mission.'

"The testimony of Alvarado and the statement by Lugo fix somewhere about 1830 as the time of the beginning of work upon the second building---the one that was to stand on what is now known as Barton Hill. Although left uncompleted, the walls were up and the roofs were on, for Alvarado stated that in 1842, when the Lugos secured the property, the roof on two sides of the building had fallen, but that the remainder was in good condition.

Ruins at San Bernardino
Ruins at San Bernardino in 1928 when the temporary roof was removed to permit reconstruction
(Photograph by A. E. Isham)

"The Indian trouble that Alvarado mentions occurred in 1834. A military report to Governor Figueroa dated October 29 of that year states that, 'The marauding Indians stole the ornaments and sacred vessels from the chapel that Mission San Gabriel had at San Bernardino, and also stole the grain set aside for feeding the neophytes.' Another report says that in December, in a second attack, fourteen neophytes were killed and others were made captives.

"That the new building, though uncompleted, was being used by the Mission is evident from a statement by Louis F. Cram, a trustworthy American pioneer who lived in the structure in 1854-1855. He states that Indians were still coming to the chapel to worship while he was there.

"The magnitude of the development at San Bernardino is shown by the report of the appraisers appointed by Governor Alvarado to determine the value of the mission property at the time the Lugos applied for a grant. They said:

'Rev. Father Friar Tomas Estenaga gave us a person to show us the buildings pertaining to the establishment . . . and in it there were shown to us by the person sent, on a mesa, some walls which form fourteen rooms and a back corral, one tile kiln, and a lime kiln, and a ditch for irrigation, [the Zanja].'

Ruins of the San Bernardino Asistencia in 1887. Trees beyond the walls are growing along the Zanja built by the Fathers in 1819-20 to bring water from the mountains to irrigate mission lands, on the San Bernardino Rancho. This building was begun about 1830 (Photograph by W. A. Vale). in 1887. This building was begun about 1830.

"The buildings here mentioned were those that Mission San Gabriel had begun on the hill. The inspection of these ruins ended, the appraisers say:

'After examining these, he showed us lower down than the first, three rooms and a grist mill in ruins. We observed that no room is roofed and all are somewhat dilapidated. This is everything belonging to the Mission which exists there . . . These buildings being abandoned cannot have at this time the value they would otherwise possess, and could only be repaired by the expenditure of much labor.'

"The stations, Santa Isabel, San Antonio de Pala, and San Bernardino have all been referred to as ranchos in the documents I have been quoting. Ranchos of the missions were numerous. San Gabriel alone, according to Duflot de Mofras, had thirty-one of them. They usually had nothing in the way of improvements beyond corrals to enclose the live stock and brush huts or jacals in which the Indian herdsmen lived; but Santa Isabel, Pala, and San Bernardino were very different from the other ranchos, inasmuch as on them schools for instruction in religion and the arts of civilization were maintained.

"These three mission---stations have often been referred to mistakenly as missions, though they never attained higher status than that of asistencias...

"We have already seen from the diary of Fr. Jose Sanchez that San Antonio de Pala would have been made a regular mission in 1821, if a priest had been available. It is evident that San Bernardino and Santa Isabel were also in the way of becoming units of the inner chain, and their progress was halted only by the succession of events that stopped all mission activity in California."

San Bernardino
Molding roof tile by hand at San Bernardino in 1928 for use in restoration work.
(Photograph by A. E. Isham)


Additional Resources:

  1. Living in Two Worlds by Pauline Murillo: This book is an autobiography of a Native American woman in California. Pauline Murillo is a member of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians and the great-granddaughter of Santos Manuel.

  2. We are Still Here Alive and in Spirit by Pauline Murillo: A San Manuel Tribal Members Family Record. Her new book contains nearly 1,500 photographs and other images that tell a story of more than 100 years of life on the San Manuel Reservation.

  3. The People of San Manuel by Clifford E. Trafzer: This is the first analysis of the sovereign peoples of the San Manuel. Clifford E. Trafzer is Professor of History and Director of American Indian Studies at the University of California, Riverside.

  4. For a short history of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians see:

  5. "A History of American Indians in California" by the National Parks Service