Johann Jakob Baegert (1717-1772) was the third and final missionary at San Luis Gonzaga. Born at Schlettstadt (Séléstat) Alsace, France, he entered the Jesuits in 1736.1 On his departure from Spain to the new world he was described as of "poor physique, fair skin, corpulent, thin beard and thick lips."2 The final lap of his journey to Baja California which took on and off more than two years, was a three day trip in a canoe carved from a single log. He arrived at Loreto and set out on May 26, 1751 on a 30-hour mule trip to San Luis. 3 Baegert had wanted to come to California, for he pictured it in his imagination as the very embodiment of a foreign mission posting,4 and when he was in Mexico City he had copied the 1746 map of Fernando Consag (Map 1) which, in fact, would have told him very little about the place he was going to.5 The scene that greeted him, therefore, must have been somewhat disconcerting and even disillusioning, a feeling that was only going to grow deeper. The adobe church that Bischoff had made was in ruins from a storm. The priests house was floorless with a straw-thatched roof, and although Bischoff had built a new house, it was windowless, "a veritable hole," Baegert called it, and he tried to put it right by adding windows, paving and stuccoing it, and painting it white. 6
The general setting of the mission was not Baja California at its best. It suffered in comparison to La Pasión with its surrounding hills, and to Apaté with its view of the Gulf. Baegert has gone down in history with the reputation of having been a misanthrope, and there was a streak of that in his nature. But he was more of an omnivorous critic, willing to criticize just about everyone: the Indians, the soldiers, the Spanish-speaking Jesuits of Baja California, and the lifestyle of the Europeans he was later writing for. But he was a lot more than that: well-educated, a dedicated reader, and most important for our purposes, a keen observer who has left us a detailed picture of the world he was now entering. These descriptions were written down first in nine letters to his brother, George, in Europe who was also a Jesuit, and one letter to his mother, then, after the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767, in his Nachrichten, or Observations in Lower California, written in part to combat the erroneous views about Baja California that circulated in Europe. 7 "Now then! Those who have ears, listen! What is California? Nothing but innumerable stones and these you find in all four directions. It is a pile of stones full of thorns "8 "I had the four walls of my cemetery filled in almost to the top with soil, to lessen the work of the gravediggers and to spare the iron tools," he tells us, and he was amazed that his horses would browse on the surrounding brush, thorns and all. And the earth even resisted roads: "When, with a great deal of labor, and after removing shrubs and thorn bushes, a path has finally been cleared across such a mountain, the first or second rain storm often carries the thin cover of soil away, leaving only bare and uneven stones as the future road."9 It is a place of drought punctuated by flash floods. But Baegert tells us he was rarely ever cold, and although the heat could be fierce, especially from July to October, he enjoyed the climate.10 "Three assets which appear beneficial to mans life and his body are a sky that is clear night and day almost throughout the year, an eternal, general aridity, and a gentle, air-cleansing and continuous breeze. Therefore, the only thing I could have wished to carry with me from California was the unique climate."11 It is a land of "everlasting sunshine There is an incredible and unspeakable lack of water."12
But even in his first letter to his brother on Sept. 11, 1752, he writes that he can now understand why all missionaries who come to the Indies and North America feel lamentably cheated: "And one imagines if one comes to a mission, one would meet there well-dressed people living together in huts, living on agriculture the way people do in Europe. And so you can say Mass in a nice way, can hear a lot of confessions on Sundays and holidays and give communion, can sing vespers and the Salve (Regina) and could have a lot of enjoyment with them, and so on. Or if one would receive an order to found a new mission, after some years, one would be able to establish in this way a little market town. However, with these ideas one is again cruelly cheated, but again it is not your fault."13 He is being drawn into a conflict he will never resolve between his dream of a European village and this very different world of the hunter-gatherers.
He continues in this same vein in his letter of Oct. 4, 1754. "I always have been curious to learn about peoples, countries, and maps, but I wonder if there is under the sun a more miserable country, and on this globe a more pitiful people than this. I doubt it strongly."14
Perhaps if the reality had been closer to what he had imagined Baegert could have thrived, but as it was, his disappointment expressed itself in critical comments. But he did have energy and organization. He built a new priests house out of stone paved with flat rocks that he found when building a road three hours away. He cut its foundation out of solid rock. He designed and supervised the building of a small stone church that still stands today. He tells us he started the house and church March 1753, and finished the house and its additions July 1754, but the church was delayed because he couldnt find a bricklayer. The one who built the house "I do not want to live with, or him with me."15 The church was not to be finished until the end of 1758.
He learned the language and fancied himself rather proficient in it. But we are left with the impression that he was socially isolated. This was true in regard to his fellow missionaries. He considered, for example, the Latin of the native Spanish-speaking Jesuits to be full of barbarisms.16 He was isolated, as well, from the Spanish soldiers stationed at the mission, and most of all, from the Indians he served but disliked. The exception to this self-imposed solitude was his neighbor Lamberto Hostell for whom he had warm feelings.
On Feb. 17, 1755 Padre Visitador José de Utrera visited San Luis, noting that he had been preceded by Padre Visitador Agustín Carta on Dec. 22, 1752. He checked the accounts and writes that the mission has "352 cattle, large and small, 200 sheep and goats, 60 riding animals, 14 almudas of wheat, and 6 of corn have been planted, and a bit of sugar cane. There are 80 families, totaling 352 souls, in 4 rancherías which are San Luis, San Juan Nepomuceno, La Magdalena, and SS. Trinidad." They speak Guaycura. There is a house of rock and lime made by P. Baegert, and he is making a church out of the same material; the church is served by one exit; but has good vestments of all colors. There are 3 pairs of silver cruets. It appears to have been founded July 1738. "Padre Baegert is writing a grammar and vocabulary of this language which is spoken here and in La Pasión, and in Todos Santos."17 The visiting station of La Santíssima Trinidad was probably all that was left of the mission that had been proposed before.
The next day Padre Utrera visited La Pasión, again noting the previous visit of P. Carta on Dec. 26, 1752. He checked the books which showed arms from other missions, and inventoried the mission: 240 riding animals, 650 cattle, 490 small animals, 40 burros, and a small vineyard that yielded 4 tinajas of wine. One fanega of corn has been planted, and 1 1/2 of wheat. There are 160 families, 624 people in 6 rancherías: La Pasión is now the mission headquarters and the center of the priests, Los Dolores (which was the center before on the California Sea and where there is a house and canoe, and the place is called Apaté), La Encarnación, La Redención, La Resurrección and La Magdalena. Guaycura language. The house is short. There is no church yet. A room substitutes for it. There are good vestments: 2 chalices, 2 pairs of cruets.18
In 1756 Baegert went to the west coast to try to find water for the Indians there by digging wells, but he was unsuccessful.19
The mission was naturally the focus of Baegerts life, and it didnt have much competition. Aside from mission buildings, "there is nothing to be seen in California which bears a resemblance to a town, a village, a human dwelling, a shack, or a doghouse."20 And "although the homes of the missionaries were poorly furnished and the kitchens badly equipped, the churches were richly decorated and the vestries well supplied with everything."21 The money for the adornment of these mission buildings came from their annuities, and the sale of what they could produce. The missionaries brought in from the mainland "white wax, a few pairs of shoes, some chocolate which everybody thinks he is entitled to drink," and now one year a surplice might be ordered, or some other priestly vestment; "the next, a stole; the third, a choir cope, a bell, a carved or painted picture, an altar or something else for the Church. The remainder, which usually made up three quarters of the entire consignment, consisted of all kinds of blue and white, coarse and rough cloth, to cover the naked Californians."22
The new church at San Luis had on its wall 10 paintings in gilded frames and a fine statue of the Most Holy Virgin standing on the tabernacle.23 The tabernacle had no consecrated host in it, that privilege being reserved for the head mission in Loreto. It also had two other pictures, as well as a huge picture of St. Aloysius, i.e., San Luis Gonzaga, painted on the end wall of the choir behind the tabernacle, and two other pictures on each side of the altar.24 And Baegert tells us that no mission had less than three bells.25 On Dec. 23, 1758 Padre Lamberto sang the first Mass there.
In contrast, the missionarys home was quite humble. "The missionarys kitchen contained a copper pan, a small copper vessel in which to prepare the chocolate, both tinned for the first and last time when they were bought in Mexico; two or three pots made of clay and goat manure, unglazed and only half baked on charcoal in the open air; a small spit, which often remained unused for half a year; and some cow bladders filled with fat. In the rest of the house were to be found a crucifix, some paper pictures on the wall, an adequate library, two or three hard chairs, an equally hard bed without curtains, or in its place, a cattle skin on the bare ground."26 He planted a little garden where he grew beans, turnips and cabbage, as well as watermelons and other melons. He was dependent on the mission spring which emptied into a natural well 30 or 40 feet across. He planted and irrigated a little field of wheat, and he also grew sugar cane which he sold to the mission soldiers and herdsmen, and used the money to buy corn for his herdsmen. "Also, one should know that I have in California in my mission, besides a herd of 400 goats and sheep, over 700 cows, bulls, oxen, horses and colts running around. In spite of this, I put up with porridge every night for over two months. My little animals collapsed because of hunger and in the sun roast beef does not taste good to me even at noon."27 To protect his herds he needed five or six herdsmen who first "rode a week in one direction and then a week in another, in order to herd the animals together, and the cattle hardly paid for the bread of the cowherds and helpers."28
For the space of six or seven years he planted six or seven small pieces of land here and there, and gathered several thousand bushels of corn and wheat. "Yet," he tells us, "most of the time I had no bread in my house. And when I wished to honor a guest, I had to request a fowl from one of my soldiers who kept a few chickens on his own corn ration while I saved my wheat and corn for needy Indians. In my kitchen I also used suet, even on days of fasting, because I had no butter. In many years I hardly tasted meat other than that of lean bulls, which were killed every fourteen days. I never had veal. I seldom saw my roasting spit on the table, although more than once I saw maggots there."29 And the crops were periodically assaulted by locusts. 30
But even this relative abundance of food was not to last. The thieving"of the Indians from my own and another mission forced me to do away with" the herds of animals.31 The Indians "again went too far" and pulled up his sugar cane before it was ripe. "They cannot give up stealing, just as the cat cannot help catching mice They stole the unripened figs from some trees which I have here; they forced me to tear out all melon plants with still unripened fruit; they took 150 pounds of sugar reduced 400 goats and sheep to such a small number I had to give the remaining ones into the care of my neighbor. Partly my own Indians, partly those of the neighboring mission, killed over 400 horses and cattle."32
And Baegert didnt care much for the soldiers stationed at the mission. "They know nothing of military exercises They are in every respect inexperienced, ignorant, and clumsy fellows born in America of Spanish parents."33 They serve on horseback or mule and must keep five mounts which they have to buy, as well as their weapons sword, musket, shield, and armor made out of four tanned layers of white deerskin, and their food and clothes. They guard the missionary and go with him on all of his travels.34 But it was not the soldiers lack of education and culture that bothered Baegert the most. It was their behavior. "I have only four louts as soldiers to guard and protect me, who are my dependents. They are often relieved and are kept in strict order by their captain so that they cannot at all, neither days nor nights, go for a walk when they please but have to stay in their quarters. "In spite of that I discovered in four years alone more than twelve whore-mongers and seducers of Indians girls, even though not virgins, who were all publicly thrown in prison and several were cashiered and exiled across the ocean by their captain."35 In only a few years, he tells us, he had to send "at least two dozen of these men back to Loreto."36
In this kind of setting, along with his feeling of failure in his ministry to the Indians, he took refuge in his routines, persevering without a sense of joy. He had his friend, Padre Lamberto; he had his house and courtyard; he had his work at the mission and his visits to the sick, and he had his books. Baegert tells us that given the rocky land and the intensity of the sun, he didnt "leave the house merely to take a walk. All my promenading during that time had to be done in the little walled court before my house, and only after sunset."37
He spends his time left over from the Indians reading and doing small craft work."As the sun at all times burns down from the ever bright sky, and everything everywhere is covered with stones and thorns, I less and less feel the desire of leaving my house or setting one foot outside the yard except to visit sick people."38 "In my library I have 78 works and volumes, among them are 46 in French With these books I spend my spare time."39 And he even writes to his brother in 1761: "I can assure Your Reverence that from the moment when I entered the ship in Genoa up to this day, I have not experienced in any way what might be called recreation or any other diversion."40
And it was definitely more than the weather weather he had praised, and winter weather that could be superb that kept him inside. He writes: "I am unable to praise those among whom I lived for seventeen years and, consequently, had enough time to become thoroughly acquainted with them. I must, rather, admit with great sorrow that, although I have used many means to educate them, together with the seed of the Divine Word, which was preached to them so many times, my labor has borne little fruit."41 He is not sure if other Indians are better. "It can also be that they are the same all over America, and that they get worse and more godless after being baptized You may find among so much evil also something good, only if it is that a missionary in such a small mission of a few heads can "shove off" into Heaven at least ten souls."42
Baegert found himself faced with difficulties, even when it was a question of his sacramental ministry. There were problems with hearing confessions and, as we will soon see, there were problems that arose in caring for the dying, as well. He wondered if he had to create a "new theology" since his Indians after confession were continually falling back into the same sexual sins. He went ahead and absolved them, reasoning that in some fashion they could be considered in danger of death if they were to fall sick far away from the possibility of the missionary helping them.43 The result of this conflict is that he appears to have been less willing to give his parishioners communion than the other missionaries, as we will see from the remarks of Padre Visitador Ignacio Lizasoáin.
Baegert strikes us as someone rather humorless, or perhaps better, someone whose humor comes out in the form of a rather sardonic, biting wit. Yet he soldiered on: "Several times I could have changed my post and gone to another place where, I am sure, I would have found better food and many other things I did not have, but it was not very hard for me to resist the temptation. In California the missionary has small regard for temporal goods or personal advantages."44
There certainly wasnt much of either to be had in Jesuit California. They had gone out of their way to try to maintain not only religious but civil control in order to avoid the exploitation of the Indians by Spanish colonists, as had happened in other parts of the New World. The missions were supported by revenues generated from investments in Mexico, and never came close to paying for themselves. "If one shared the money among the Indians and their families spent by the king for California since 1701, and the foundation and the interest, they and their descendants could become knights of the Holy Roman Empire and drive around in coaches in the Wetterau."45
The missionaries could hardly help living a rather penitential life, willingly or not, given the settings of most of the missions and the work they were called on to do. And to this some of them added their personal penances: "There were those who abstained from wine, although they had the best that was grown in California, who rarely took off their cilicium (i.e., hair shirts) and slept every night on the bare floor or on the altar steps, or those who for days and nights tended the sick in uncomfortable sick-houses, depriving themselves of their only bed and offering it to a sick person. Some even had scruples about acquiring the necessary clothing and food for themselves for fear they might thereby deprive the poor Californians. Others, who never had a kitchen of their own, ate as their chief meal a thin piece of bone-dry meat warmed a little in the community copper kettle used for preparing Indian corn for the Indians."46
But good intentions, even heroic intentions, were not enough, at least from the human perspective. Christianity remained in large measure, at least in Baegerts mind, something imposed from without. "I am firmly convinced that if the thirteen missionaries, spread out in the twelve missions in California, would leave the country, from that hour Christianity would vanish and not one child would be baptized in the future. Such is my abysmal judgment."47 And the missionaries, themselves, armed with these good intentions, failed to see that they were the unwitting instruments of the destruction of the Indians. They could not see the connection, at least in any efficacious way, between their presence, and thus the presence of the whole colonizing community, and the terrible epidemics that decimated the tribes, and neither could they distinguish clearly between preaching the Gospel and making the Indians subjects of the Spanish crown. The Gospel came freighted with all sorts of social and cultural baggage. The missionaries, for the most part, were in no real position psychologically to sympathetically try to understand what the Indians actually believed, or appreciate the value it had. Further and this is a common trait of the times they were quite willing to use force, if not to impose belief in Christianity, to impose its morality and the culture they felt went with it on the Indians.
Padre Jacobo leaves us a collection of small glimpses of Los Dolores from 1751 onwards. There were wild ducks to be found there in several swamps,48 and a few fish and carp, and if its missionary would simply catch enough fish for 6 days just for his own kitchen every bit of fish life would disappear from his district.49 Two creeks come together, he tells us, at Los Dolores, but after an hour you cant find them.50 And there are mountain lions, and one invaded Los Dolores while he was visiting, and attacked a 14-year-old boy in daylight in front of everyone,51 and Padre Lamberto once found a whale on the shore that was 20 yards long.52
Los Dolores was roughly a 5 to 6 hour trip away from San Luis Gonzaga, and the two missionaries used to take turns visiting each other every month. Padre Lamberto "is a man full of love for the poor Indians and kindly toward me. He pleased me a lot with grapes, pomegranates, figs, and so on."53 "My neighbor lives 6 hours away in a valley full of mountains and hills. When I visit him and stand on a rim from where one climbs down into the deep valley, then I see in a half circle more than 10 dozen hills lifting up their heads. According to their appearance, one may call them bells or sugar cones."54 Here he is referring to the locally made raw sugar, or panocha, which was cast into the form of truncated cones. Baegert lived at Los Dolores for several months after arriving in Baja California, probably to learn the language and get oriented, but he complains that although the room he had was paved, the mice ran around in daytime and chewed up his bed covers.
Sometime during Baegerts stay in Baja California there was a smallpox epidemic in Los Dolores.55 This smallpox epidemic had kept its missionary "almost constantly on horseback."56 In another place Baegert tells us that "in 1763 a traveling Spaniard who had recently recovered from smallpox presented a shred of cloth to a native. Within three months this gift caused the death of more than a hundred people at a small mission, without mentioning those who were cured thanks to the untiring efforts and care of the missionaries. Not one of them would have escaped unharmed had not the majority run far away from the hospital as soon as they realized the contagious nature of the disease."57 This, too, probably refers to the same incident.
Padre Juan de Armesto, the procurator of California, came to visit both missions. Armesto was procurator between 1747 and 1752.58 On Aug. 15, 1754 Baegert made his final profession there, with Padre Lamberto presiding.59 Baegert described flash floods that could be heard half an hour before they arrived, and periodically destroyed the California mission gardens and orchards. "Thus it happened that in 1763, when I visited a mission and tried to find an orchard containing 15 or more very large fig trees and as many pomegranate trees, which I had seen more than 100 times in the previous year, I could find neither the trees nor the land upon which they had stood only two days before my visit."60
In his letter of Oct. 7, 1755, he tells us that he had gone to Los Dolores on October 2 to assist Hostell with solemn confirmation, and to help hear confession. Hostell, who was to serve as padre visitador between 1755-1757, wrote to his father on January 17, 1758: "A few years ago I traversed for a third time all of California a truly strenuous trip in order to confer the sacrament of confirmation on nearly 6,000 prepared to receive it."61
The Guaycura Indians
Mission San Luis Gonzaga consisted of 360 Guaycuras, yet in another place he puts the number of people in his mission at 1,000, and 6,000 in Jesuit California. Perhaps he is including the rancherías along the west coast that have not actually been incorporated in San Luis. In any event, his 360 are spread out over 20 hours traveling time, all the way to the Bahía de Santa María Magdalena. They are divided into three brigades, as he calls them: one to the north, one toward the east, a third to the west on the shore of the Mar del Sur.62 Santa María Magdalena to the west is the richest because they have an abundance of fish and turtles. They fish standing or sitting on rafts of reeds sometimes made of two bundles of reeds with a piece of wood between them with wooden spears, but dont use fish hooks or nets.63 It used to take 8 hours to reach the western group, "but this year I straightened and cleaned the road or path which curved a million times."64 He tells us that there are 150 people on the west coast.65 If we follow Hostells remarks, the one to the north was San Juan Nepomuceno, and the one to the east probably Acheme.
And these brigades which are equivalent to the pueblos are composed of various bands:"the Paurus, Atschémes, Mitschirikutamáis, Mitschirikuteurus, Mitschirikutaruanajéres, Teackwás, Teenguábebes, Utschis, Ikas, Anjukwáres, Utschipujes, all being different tribes, but hardly amounting in all to 500 souls."66 And he tells us, "My Ikas in California spoke a language different from the rest of the people in my mission, but I am quite sure the whole nation of the Ikas never numbered 500 persons."67
Baegert was not only a keen observer about what went on around him, but he reflected on its implications. He found shells inland that still maintained their colors, and concluded that "where land is now there was once the sea." "My suspicion is that California arose long after the great flood out of the salty ocean water by and by through the force of an underground fire."68 And he even speculated about where the Indians had come from, and he came up with four theories that have a surprisingly contemporary ring, and have been brought forth during the course of the 20th century. They may have come from across the Gulf, or from crossing the Colorado River, or by crossing the Gulf in the north where it is narrow and full of islands. But the theory he leans towards is that nobody would have come to California if they had not been "forced and pushed." "I believe, therefore, that the first California Indians, pursued by their enemies, entered this peninsula on foot and from the north in search of a safe refuge."69
The Guaycuras have brown-black skin,70 or "dark chestnut, or clove-brown shading almost to black in sun and to a swarthy or copper-red complexion in others."71 They have pitch dark eyes and black straight hair, which the men wear to their shoulders, and the women in some places wear much shorter,72 and even the children are born with a full head of hair and with light skin. Some are tall, some are small, but none are fat. They are well proportioned and athletic, and walk perfectly upright. The men are beardless with scanty eyebrows, and "the angles of the eyes towards the nose are not pointed, but arched like a bow."73
The men go around completely naked, while the women string beads of reeds on cords to hang from their waist to create garments that reach to their thighs, or knees, or ankles, and wear untanned deerskins behind. They never wash, or wash with urine. They lay in dust and ashes, and sometimes he cant recognize people he knows well. Baegert tells us they pierce their ears, but not their noses: "In earlier times, both earlobes of newly born male children were pierced with a pointed piece of wood; later on, the openings were extended by inserting bones and pieces of wood, so that the ears of some natives almost touched their shoulders. Nowadays they omit this custom "74 Hostell has already told us in his 1758 letter to Joseph Burscheid that the Guaycuras pierce both their ears and their noses. Perhaps this, too, was a custom that was dying out, yet still continued in Los Dolores, or the Los Dolores Guaycura differed in this practice from their San Luis neighbors. "The women sit with legs stretched out, the men cross them in the Asiatic manner."75 The men carry things on their heads, but the women carry them on their backs, supported on a rope that goes around their forehead. Their forehead is protected by a piece of untanned deer skin which reaches above their head, and makes them appear like they are wearing a headdress.76 "Their household utensils if I may call them that consist of bows, arrows, a stone instead of a knife, a bone or a pointed piece of wood for digging roots, a turtle shell used as basket or cradle, a large gut or the bladder of an animal for fetching water or carrying it on trips, and finally, if luck is with them, a little knitted sack, like a fish net, made of the above-mentioned aloe fibers or the skin of a wildcat, in which they keep and carry their provisions, sandals, and all kinds of filthy old rags."77 "With their knives and shears, which are sharp stones, they cut reeds, sticks, aloe, disembowel and strip animals, yes, even use these same instruments to cut their own hair close to the skin "78 They use six foot long bows79 with serrated triangular arrowheads80 that look like a snakes tongue, some of which are made of flint.81
And Baegert describes their daily schedule. They sleep until hunger makes them get up. As soon as they are awake they start eating, laughing, chattering and joking. Then the men get their bows and arrows and the women their yokes or turtle shells tied to their forehead. They wander around in little groups, and still they are laughing, chattering and joking. They find mice or rabbits or deer, dig up some roots, rest a little in the shade, "all the while their tongues keep wagging." They fool around, walk back, and where there is water cook and grind their food, "constantly chattering, they eat as long as something is left and there is still space in their stomachs,"82 and this they do day after day, month the month, the whole year. In short, the Indian "jumps up when it is cold and runs the whole day with bow and arrows through the hills and valleys, through stones and thorns, in order to catch some vipers or a few bats."83
The Indians"dwell, eat, sleep, and live all the time under the free sky, in open fields, and on the bare ground. Yet, by using brushwood, they construct in winter, when the wind blows somewhat sharply, a kind of wall in the shape of a half moon, two spans high."84 Occasionally, to shelter the sick from heat or cold, they make low brush shelters, and they do the same at the mission.85 They make fire by twirling a pointed stick between their hands which fits in a hole in another stick laying on the ground.86 They live "in cleft rocks and caves, and that only when it actually rains and if such places are close at hand. However, there are not many of these caves, and they cannot be found everywhere."87 They are exceedingly good runners. One 14-year-old boy, for example, had covered on foot in 5 hours, a distance of more than 9 hours. 88 They make sandals out of two pieces of deerskin by passing a string between "the big and small toes and around the ankles."89 "Their food is poor, but it is very cheap, and it keeps the Indians healthy. They grow strong on it and live to a very old age." They eat yucca, agave, and water reed roots. They throw their meat into the fire, and indifferently cook it so the outside is charred and the inside is raw and bloody. They gather all sorts of small seeds, even extremely tiny ones, and they gather pods from shrubs and trees. They toast the seeds by shaking them, together with hot coals, in a turtle shell or a woven mat.90 But all this doesnt amount to much. "The seeds and pods which a man can collect with much toil during a whole year may scarcely amount to twelve bushels."91 Remarkably, they dont use salt, but enjoy it like candy when it is given to them. 92
They are omnivorous eaters, eating all sorts of animals and plants and insects, but large game did not make up a large portion of their diet. "As far as the natives are concerned, let us suppose that 100 families killed 300 deer in one year (which, however, is not the case). This would provide only three meals per family in 365 days and would help very little to relieve the hunger and the poverty of the natives. The hunt after snakes, lizards, mice, and rats, which they practice with much zeal, is far more remunerative and provides their kitchens with a great many more roasts."93 But the culinary high point of the year is the harvest of the pitahayas, the succulent cactus fruit they loved so well, and with good reason. Baegert also does not fail to report on the second harvest of the pitahayas, that is, the harvesting of the seeds from the fruit that had been eaten and excreted. "At the time of the pitahayas the California Indians can go for several days without drinking water. At other times, while traveling in waterless territory, they carry water with them, either in a turtle bladder or in dried intestines, which are, as a rule, thick as an arm."94
While the material life of the Guaycuras was difficult, and their diet was, no doubt, often meager, Baegert remarks about how happy they were. "He is with his way of life always in a good mood and has a funny humor, and his nature is content with a few things what more does an Indian want? It also must be admitted that in truth they are really happy because they are content as they believe they do not miss anything."95 Elsewhere he remarks: "I know of no others under the sun which have such a good disposition and laugh so heartily as they do."96 This happiness on the part of the natives, however, did not seem to give Baegert pause when he coerced them to live another kind of life that did not agree with them.
At times he refers to their skin color in a way, i.e., "black heads,"97 that leads us to wonder whether he was, indeed, a racist, but that does not seem to be the case. He writes, "They are endowed with reason and understanding like other people, and I think that, if in their early childhood they were sent to Europe, the boys to seminaries and colleges, and the girls to convents, they would go as far as any European in mores, virtues, in all arts and sciences. Many good examples of that can be found in different American provinces. Their animal-like stupidity is not inborn but grows slowly, just as intelligence does with others, and becomes more pronounced with the years."98
Some had learned trades by simple observation. There appears to have been an Indian who did some of the masonry work on the mission, but as Baegert notes, he did not think about building something more substantial for his own family. But for many others he felt that as time went on the talents they had received from God and nature, like other people, "are likely to rust and become rustier and rustier with every day for lack of experience."99 He is viewing them across the cultural divide which rarely gets bridged. He simply cant understand why they are content with the way things are and are not interested in becoming Europeans. They, on their part, probably couldnt grasp very well just what mission life was about.
Some Indians count only to 3, and not beyond 6 in any event. A number beyond 6 is just designated as "much." They are fearless in climbing to the top of giant cardon cacti, or riding half-wild horses on terrifying trails, or going out to sea in their flimsy-appearing rafts, but "laziness, lying and stealing are their three hereditary vices."100 They are strong, but they resist working at the mission. They have to be driven to it, and they often pretend to be sick, and so Baegert calls Sunday "the day of miracles" because the sick are suddenly better because they dont have to work. To his mind they are prodigious thieves, as we saw, who have forced him to do away with his garden and sugar cane, and his herds of animals. They have little conception of time, and for the most part confine themselves to "a little while ago," or "long ago, which might indicate 1 or 20 years it makes no difference to them."101
Baegert tells us:"They never take pains to reflect."102 "I once asked a native woman who understood Spanish (it must have been during the pitahaya season) why she had not done the penance imposed on her after her previous confession (and which may have consisted of reciting one or several rosaries). In good Spanish she replied, "De puro comer," "Because I was eating." I asked another woman, a rather intelligent person, what she had done or thought before my arrival at the church. The blunt answer was, "Nothing." She did not have to swear an oath; I believed it."103 The cultural divide was also a psychological divide.
It wasnt as if Baegert with his inquiring mind never tried to fathom the inner life of the Indians, as these questions imply. But he was so positioned as to make that a difficult task, and even one that they would resist, and he never really succeeded. Why should they trust him with their deepest religious secrets when he was instrumental in destroying their religion? "I have often asked several to tell about their old customs and various observations, but all questioning was for nothing and they very fast cut me off with their ci perthe risi, that means "who knows?" And even if they had confided in him, he would have had a very hard time understanding that world.
But he found out from Padre Lamberto that they had initiation rites for the girls and boys when they came of age, and someone else told him that they broke the spines of the dead, rolled them in a ball and buried them so they would not get up again.104 They still had the custom of wrapping up the dead in deer skins or other materials, and sometimes they did it so quickly that the person had not yet expired. He observed them putting shoes on the feet of the dead, which to his mind indicated that they were preparing them for a journey.105 Some of them, when they were ill and in danger of death, did not want to come to the mission. When Baegert asked them why, he was told that "they considered it a mocking of the dead to bury them with the ringing of bells, chanting, and other Catholic-Christian customs."106 They had songs they called Ambera didi, and a dance called Agenari. Baegert in his typical fashion likens the singing to whining, and the dancing to foolish "jumping and leaping before and behind each other and around in a circle." These dances that could last all night was something he disapproved of because they led to "great disorder."107 Elsewhere he describes this as "general prostitution" when the neighboring tribes got together,"108 and wife-switching.109
On special days they painted themselves red and yellow, colors they obtained from burning stones. 110 And while when Baegert asked them about God and the soul he never got anywhere, he did manage to piece together a few of their beliefs. "Some of my parishioners believe themselves to be descendants of a bird, others of a stone which was lying not far from my house, "111 In a similar story the human race came out of the mating of Emma, the devil, and a bird, Joeminini generis, but the bird somehow had been a woman. He was also told that people first came from the north, and that all animals, wood and stone had once been human beings. 112
Baegerts natural rivals were the shamans who thought of themselves as pitahaya makers, exorcists and doctors. They go into a cave and talk with a different voice and pretend they are talking with Emma. "They hide in their mouths or between their fingers a stone or bone and exhale on the patient here and there and finally bring forth what they have hidden, and tell them that this had stuck in their body and caused the sickness."113 They would wash and lick the patient, and blow at him through a small tube, and sometimes they would cut open the infection and make small cuts in the middle of the persons face, as well.114 And their reward is a meal of a few bats. The Guaycuras, according to Baegert, had little notion of medicine, and their universal remedy was to bind tightly the affected part. They also practiced "bleeding and cupping and extract thorns and splinters from their hands and feet" with their sharp stone tools.115 In time of mourning they cut their hair, which was given to the shamans for wigs and long capes, or mantles, made entirely of human hair, which they wear during ceremonies, and "the missionaries burn a great number of these garments at all the newly established missions."116 When they were mourning they would lament and beat their heads with sharp stones until they bled. The Indians objected, at times, to Christian burial and tried to avoid it, as we saw. Perhaps they felt it was a mocking of the dead because the Christian ceremonies or singing contrasted too strongly with their traditional mourning rites. 117
Another Jesuit missionary described the Guaycuras perhaps the people of San Luis and Los Dolores, or perhaps those of La Paz, or a composite of all of them like this: "They are generally of a somber complexion and of medium stature but robust and sturdy. Their nature is wild, cruel, and haughty; they do not know how to conceal their intentions or feelings and are inclined to quarrels and murders. In order to incite the men to take revenge on their enemies the women, in addition to their cries and tears, prick and wound themselves on the head with a sharpened bone so that the men will be aroused by the sight of blood to spill the blood of the enemy. Those of this tribe who have given themselves over to the care of the Missionary Fathers show a capacity to learn whatever they are taught, and it is this group which is used to pacify and reduce the others. For this reason murders are now uncommon."118
Baegert calls the Guaycuras"a people without government, police, religion and laws "119 "They neither pray to the true and only God, nor do they believe in false deities."120 They practice polygamy, and a man used to marry all the sisters in the family, and the son-in-law could not look at his mother-in-law, or his wifes female relations at certain times. When they are present he has to hide himself. 121 Here we can recall the incident on Guilléns return journey from his expedition to La Paz, in which the Spaniards laughed at an Indian who could not be in camp with his father-in-law. Perhaps here, too, it was really a question of the Spaniards misunderstanding father-in-law for mother-in-law. When they visit, they say nothing, and neither do they greet anybody, and when they dislike something they spit sideways and scrape the ground with their left foot. 122
They appear to have no real conception of marriage. When they come to the mission to be married no one comes with them. They show no joy, have no special meal unless the missionary gives it to them, and wander off apart afterwards. They didnt even have the word "to marry," "which now is expressed quite ingeniously in their language by the words tikére undiri, that is, to touch each others arms or hands."123 Finding a mate was made more difficult because in most missions the males outnumbered the females.124 Baegert tells us that "many native women never bear any children; others, and not a few, bear only one."125 His 90 married couples have few children. Occasionally a woman will bear eight or ten, but only one or two will reach maturity. The women are careless before and after birth, and sometimes practice abortion.126
These, then, are the Indians who the Jesuits here in the Guaycura nation have been trying to integrate into their missions. The missionarys plan was not only to bring the Gospel to the rancherías, but, as we saw, to consolidate the rancherías into pueblos, or visiting stations, placed strategically around the mission headquarters. But the whole mission enterprise generated very human but tragic paradoxes. The intelligence and zeal of the missionary and even their individual virtue goes hand in hand with social catastrophe. Literally their good intentions lead to disaster for the Indians.
Baegert, himself, realized there couldnt be many Californians because of the nature of the country, and therefore its limited carrying capacity. This number was diminished to some extent by the warfare between the different bands, but the missionaries were witness to a precipitous decline in the number of Indians. The very mission enterprise, beginning with the initial contact, right through the consolidation of the Indians into pueblos, is going to stand in direct relationship to their decline. The missionaries certainly understood that epidemics were sweeping the Indians. How could they not? But Baegert says, "But I leave others to divine why, after the discovery of (America) its inhabitants have decreased and daily continue to decrease." But we have to remember that the missionaries were only beginning to have a clear idea of the nature of infectious diseases, for Baegert continues, "This is even true in those provinces where the Europeans have not ruled and are not yet masters, and where the Americans have not been hurt and have retained their liberty."127 This lack of medical understanding explains why a little later when he is talking about plague and general contagious diseases, "which occur not infrequently,"128 he does so in the context of explaining why the missions could not be consolidated, for in this case a single priest could not take care of so many sick parishioners. Baegert, himself, however, told us the story of a Spaniard who had suffered from smallpox and then had given a piece of cloth to the Indians, which led to an epidemic that killed 100 of them. But what is much less excusable than his lack of understanding of infectious diseases was his attitude about the disappearance of the Indians: "The world misses little thereby and loses nothing of its splendor."129
San Luis Gonzaga more or less followed the basic Jesuit mission pattern. Baegerts "brigades" of Indians would take turns coming to Chiriyaquí to participate fully in mission life. He tells us that the group from the Pacific Coast came to the mission every 3 or 4 weeks, and stayed for 14 days, after which they were replaced by another brigade. Elsewhere he tells us that these groups stayed for a week. Perhaps the Magdalena group stayed longer because of the distance they had to travel.130 Their schedule: Mass at sunrise, during which they said the rosary, and before and after Mass they were taught Christian doctrine "by being asked questions in their own language."131 This appears to have been teaching them one of the creeds or something like it. Then the missionary talked to them for 30 to 45 minutes explaining these Christian doctrines. Then they are dismissed. "From the church they run helter-skelter as fast as possible into the woods to look for some food."132 At sunset the bells call the Indians back, and they recite the rosary and a litany, and recite Christian doctrine again. The bells were also rung at other times during the day to remind everyone to pray. If they work, they are fed atole, a gruel of ground corn.133
From each band Indians were chosen to be fiscals and magistrates. They were in charge of collecting the Indians of each brigade and bringing them to the mission, and when at the mission, making sure the Indians entered the Church at the proper time. They also helped the Indians review their catechism, observe the times of silence, punish minor offenses, and report major ones. Mission attendance for the Indians was definitely not a voluntary affair. "They have to be forced with threats or even with thrashing not only to work, but also to go to Church, to follow Christian dogma, and to pray."134 In addition to thrashing, punishment included hobbling with foot chains and shaving the head of the Indian, and painting his body, and leading him around on a donkey.135
One of the missionarys principle duties was to visit the sick because under the theology of the times, this was essential to do so before they died if the person was not yet baptized if they were to be saved. It was also of great importance, if they were Christians, that they go to confession and receive the last rites of the Church, and thus increase their chances of going to heaven. The presumption here was that in most cases the Indians, because of their incessant sexual misbehavior, were in a state of serious sin. This imperative of visiting the sick was enforced on both missionaries and Indians alike. The Indians knew they would be punished if they did not report the sick people among them. The missionaries, themselves, knew they would be held to account if a sick person died without them being in attendance.
Baegert tells us of some of the long journeys he undertook to fulfill this obligation, and incidentally, about the lack of hospitality from the Indians he suffered along the way. But the Indians were not above taking advantage of the situation. It was as if they realized that they had this one power, their own illnesses, by which they could compel the missionary. So the missionaries were called out to visit people who were not seriously ill either by a fear of punishment or even out of mischief. In one case Baegert was called out to minister to a young man who was feigning illness, but since he was more familiar with mortal illnesses in cows than in humans, rolled on the ground and mooed. Baegert was going to punish him severely for this deception, but he ran away, and after that carried the name Clemente Vaca, that is, Clemente the Cow.
The Indians had to dress up when they came to Church. The men got a piece of blue cloth, six spans long and two wide, which they used like a loin cloth. They also got a blue woolen short skirt if the missionary had enough cloth. "The women and girls, however, are provided with a roughly woven, thick, white veil of wool, which covers the head and all of the body down to the feet." Sometimes the women also got skirts, jackets, and shirts, and the men trousers and long coats. "However, as soon as they leave the church, the women throw off their veils and the men their long coats because these coverings are too cumbersome and an awful impediment to their wanderings, especially in the summer."136 No doubt these garments were, for the most part, highly impractical, and a substantial portion of the mission revenues were spent on buying the cloth. The Indian men, however, apparently went out of their way to wear their cloth trousers, although Baegert tried to convince them to make garments out of deerskin. Indeed, they would "trade about a dozen of these skins for one pair of old cloth trousers which are torn up within three months."137
Lamberto Hostell was padre visitador from 1755 to 1757, and from 1764 to 1766, and Anastasio Verduzco by 1766 was the mayordomo, or foreman, of Los Dolores.138
1762 Visit of Lizasoáin
Padre Visitador Ignacio Lizasoáin visits California and stops at San Luis and Los Dolores.139 The mission has 90 families, 240 confessions, few communions, no catechumens, and 300 people in all. "This mission is composed of 3 pueblos: the headquarters San Luis, San Juan Nepamuseno, (as he spelled it) and Santa Magdalena, and is 40 leagues distant from San Javier and 8 leagues from the mission of Los Dolores. Minor livestock few, major livestock none. (Baegert has done away with them because of the thieving of the Indians, as we saw.) It only has 60 saddle animals. "Mission of Los Dolores, missionary Padre Lamberto Hostell, families 132, widows 27, widowers 34, confessions 369, communions 133, catechumens 0, individuals 573, goods and fields, cattle 0, mules, horses and oxen few, it is distant from San Luis 8 leagues."
This is a rather meager census, but Lizasoáin adds something to his report that is very valuable. It is his itinerary traveling through this area.
"Feb. 15 from San Javier to La Presentación 5 leagues.
16. From La Presentación to the arroyo called El Pozito del Miguel 9 leagues.
17. From this arroyo of Miguel, eating in the arroyo called Jesús María and sleeping at the arroyo of Quepó 13 leagues.
18. From this arroyo eating at the beginning of the plains of San Luis 10 leagues, and sleeping at San Luis which are 14 leagues.
20. From San Luis to La Pasión 8 leagues of good road.
22. From La Pasión to Guí 4 leagues.
23. From Guí eating in the arroyo and sleeping at San Hilario 16 leagues.
24. From San Hilario in the afternoon to a plain without water 6 leagues.
25. From this plain eating at Salto de los Reyes and sleeping at the mouth of the arroyo 11 leagues.
26. From this arroyo eating at Los Aripes and sleeping at Pavellon without water 15 leagues.
27. From El Pavellon eating at Muela and sleeping at Nuestra Señora del Pilar 15 leagues."
Coming back he passed through the same country, but by a different route. He slept on the plains near La Paz on Mar. 9, and on the 10th went from the plains to eat in a dry arroyo near the canyon of Los Reyes, and to sleep in the middle of this canyon 13 leagues.
11. From this canyon to eat at Salto del Conejo and to sleep at Guadalupe 14 leagues.
12. From this arroyo of Guadalupe to eat at Los Paderones and to sleep at the plains of Las Liebres 13 leagues.
13. From the plains to eat at La Pasión 8 leagues.
15. From La Pasión to sleep at the third arroyo 13 leagues.
16. From this arroyo to sleep still in the arroyo 14 leagues.
17. From this arroyo to the Playa al Rincón 13 leagues.
18. From El Rincón del Marquéz to Loreto 7 leagues.
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