Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Presedio Santa Barbara, the Military Dimension of the Missions in the Alta California of the 18th Century

When writing my last report on Mission Santa Inés, and looking back to my to my previous post on Mission Santa Barbara, I realized that I had omitted in our reports the entire military dimension of the Missions of Alta California, and where best to experience it that at the Presidio Santa Barbara.
This picture Estela took of me at the Presidio is
very illustrative, as you can see the what was
probably the officers' quarters, which permit us
to see the different phases of construction: the
grey adobe brick to my right and whitewashed
on my left. Further to my right in the background
you can see part of the presidio's chapel.
"The Franciscan missionaries joined the Spanish military in settling alta or upper California with the goal of a political and spiritual conquest of new land. The Spanish missionary effort was to educate and convert the Indians to Christian faith." (Mission Santa Inés, the Hidden Gem, by Cresencia and Dale Olmstead, 1995, Mission Santa Inés). The strategy of Spain included a coordination of different organizations on the frontier: the Mision, the Presidio and el Pueblo. The Presidio was the military arm of this transculturization of Alta California, and Santa Barbara is possibly the best preserved of these 18th Century Spanish forts.

This pair of 3 1/2 inch bore cannons probably
reeked terror into the local native population of
Santa Barbara when they first arrived in the

Having said that the Presidio and the Mision had two different purposes, and were each accountable to a separate authority, the Misiones to the Franciscans friars and the Presidios to the Capitanes, the rivalry between both authorities was continuous and contemptuous. Each authority vied for supreme authority over the other. The truth was the Missionaries needed the soldiers, who provided protection, and the soldiers needed the Missionaries, who gave legitimacy to the entire enterprise.

This 54.25" barrel length cannon was probably
more intended as a deterrence, a symbol of the
military might and superiority of Spain over the
the natives than actually intended for continuous
defense against Indian raids of the Missions.
But this Presidio was built in the last 15 years of the 18th Century, and the Franciscans were already considered by the Spanish Governor of California, Felipe de Neve, strongly influenced by a very Illuminist Bourbon court in Madrid, to be somewhat archaicNeve moved the center of operations for California from Loreto to Monterey.

Here is a smaller bore (1.5 inch bore, 36" long)
iron swivel gun was the type used during the
American Revolution and thus during the period
of the establishment of the Missions in Alta
California. This gun is much lighter (175 lbs.,
tube, 350 lbs. with carriage) than the cannons
above (625 lbs.)
From the very beginning of his first Missionary activity in New Spain in 1750, Fray Junipero Serra lived in constant conflict with the Spanish civil government as to what were the limits of the authority of the Missions, first, in the 1750's, in the Sierra Gorda, where José de Escandón was appointed as the military commander from 1742, and afterwards, from 1769 until his death, in Alta or Upper California, with Rivera y Moncada.

Estela loves her country, Mexico, and is proud
of her Spanish heritage, as her father was born
in Spain and came to Mexico as a young man.
Some zealously "patriotic" Mexicans viewed
double nationality as a treasonous, which led
to laws in the past that even coerced her to
publicly renounce the Spanish Peseta, if she
wish to have a Mexican Passport.
A constant issue of conflict between the Missionaries and the Military was the issue of under what conditions could the natives be punished, and for which transgressions, and who (the Missionary or the Military officer) would be the final judge of whom should be punished.
King Carlos de Bourbon and Queen Sophia of
Spain came to this faraway outpost of what was
200 years ago the final frontier of their Kingdom
and bestowed on the caretakers of the Presidio a
medal of recognition and an expression of
gratitude for the preservation upkeep of this
 important piece of this important site in the
history of Imperial Spain.

Another issue of conflict, which was an issue the began shortly after the Conquest of Mexico, and has really never been solved to everyone's satisfaction is the issue of the tenure or ownership of the land. Fray Junipero Serra was heard saying many times that the best settlers, where those far away from his Missions. He was very critical of the settlers , near the Tancama valley.

"Old Glory" (as Americans call their flag) waves
on the top of this flagpole outside the front
 entrance of the Presidio with the flag of
 California underneath. (Americans are fiercely
patriotic citizens of their states as well as to
their country.)
Many times Fray Junipero's appraisal on the real dangers of an Indian attack were unrealistically optimistic, and this naivety brought him into constant conflicts, about how many soldiers to be allotted to each Mission and Presidio, and this naivety was partly the cause of the slaughter of the first fatal raid and destruction of Mission San Diego de Alcala. 

The streets in modern-day Santa Barbara do not
respect the original layout of the Presidio, and
cut through buildings that formed a continuous
square complex. Those sun-lit whitewashed
buildings in the background are actually
across a street.

Saint Francis of Assisi founded his Ordo de Fratrum Minorum or small and humble brothers on the principle of the strictest poverty, and the absolute denial of all property. This was the beginning of the mendicant  religious groups, which means that it was Saint Francis's intention that the subsistence of his order be on the basis of begging for alms. His Rule was so strict and so radical that Saint Francis even exasperated the Holy Father, Pope Innocent III, to the point that he was said to have said that he did not know whether to canonize Francis as a Saint, or to excommunicate him from the Church.
Inside a soldier's quarters at Presidio Santa
Barbara.. Realistically, these quarters were
probably as livable as any military residence
in mainland Spain at the end of the 18th
Five centuries later, Fray Junipero Serra and his Franciscan Missionaries were no longer mendicants, depending on alms, but rather their entire exploit was financed directly by the Crown of Spain, and this financial dependency made for a mutually uncomfortable situation between the religious orders and the civil government.  

Song and music were probably a
popular remedy for homesick
soldiers living at the Presidio.
As you go though the pictures of this article, you can see how wide a scope this presidio had, and that it is quite feasible that its scope overlap with that of the scope of the Mission, and seemingly that became competing organizations. 
High ceilings and thick adobe walls provided
a cool atmosphere during warm days and a
warm ambience on colder days.
It is feasible as well that the natives noticed this tension and used it to their own benefit. Not only feasible, but in the case of the Missions of the Sierra Gorda, this was what actually happened, when a complaint was made in January 1762, by the de la Cruz families, accusing the Franciscan Friars of cruelly mistreating the natives, and taking this complaint directly to the viceroy.

This wide window ledge allows us
to fully appreciate thickness of the
adobe brick walls.
It was later proven to be a false complaint, orchestrated by unhappy settlers, but the incident does show the point of how the Presidio and the Mision, the military and the priests, were continuously in contention with each another.

This cavity in the adobe wall would have made
an ideal device for keeping certain food items
from spoiling.
Fray Palou's biography of Fray Junipero Serra, published shortly Fray Junipero's demise, was as much of a defense of the Franciscan Missionary system than a posthumous panegyric of a single particular ppiest.
Small private backyard behind a soldiers quarters
were probably used for planting a small vegetable
and flower garden or orchard. 

These stick and reed fences were the common
building material for the native Californians,
used for building the walls of their dw

"El jinete" or horseman was an important figure
 in the life of the Missions.

Another private backyard patio

The foot treadle loom weaving was a
novelty that the Spanish introduced
to the Indians of New Spain. Yet
the art of weaving was a widespread
art from Alaska down to Peru,
mainly with hemp and yucca fibers.  

Fray Junipero Serra believed that
it would help the newly-baptized
Christians to carry out a
sustainable lifestyle in the Missions
if they learn a trade, such as
weaving, ceramics, leather tanning,
carpentry and blacksmithing.

Small fruit trees in the private enclosed backyard
 orchards of the Presidio.

The barracks had a central kitchen with a hearth
oven, with a small storage space for logs

The stove occupies the other side of the kitchen.

A cupboard was an essential element
of the barracks kitchen at the

The kitchen windows were always
well boarded-up to keep out pilferers.

Washing basin with a wooden cover.

These triangular holes in the wall were large
enough to permit fresh air in and excess smoke
out, but small enough to keep animals out.

This corner section of the Presidio grounds were
the house of a Japanese family.


This model in the Presidio shows what the it
probably looked like at the end of the 18th
Ordinary everyday cups and "Molinito" or spoon
used for frothing hot chocolate similar to the one
we still use today in our house in Mexico City

The pomegranate was a favorite fruit in
Missions, Monasteries and Presidios.

Oranges were another favorite fruit the Spanish
brought to California.

King Carlos III was the monarch
of Spain when the Presidio was

This portrait of Saint Barbara,
painted by Jose de Arcibar,
hangs on the wall of the
chapel of the Presidio.

The portrait of Our Lady of
Guadalupe hangs on the wall
of the chapel of the Presidio
in front of Santa Barbara

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