Thomas D. Murphy.

On Sunset Highways online

. (page 11 of 25)
Online LibraryThomas D. MurphyOn Sunset Highways → online text (page 11 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

loveliest and most impressive scenery in the world.

When to beauty of country and perfection of clime are added the touch
of human antiquity and romantic association, the combination should
prove attractive to even the most prosaic. The memory of human sacrifice
and devotion, and the wealth of historic incident that lends such a
charm to England's abbeys, is not wanting in these cruder remnants
of the pious zeal and tireless industry of the Spanish padres to be
found in so many delightful nooks of the Sunset State. The story of
the Franciscan missions is a fascinating one, despite its chapters
of strife, heavy toil, and ultimate failure. From their inception in
weakness and poverty and their rise to affluence, to the time of their
decadence and final abandonment, these offshoots of the old religious
system of Europe, transplanted to the alien soil of the New World,
afford a colorful chapter of American history. The monk, always in the
vanguard of Spanish exploration and civilization, came hither, as we
have already seen, a little after the middle of the eighteenth century.
The Franciscan order had received from the Castilian throne a grant of
certain properties in California. Junipero Serra, a monk of true piety
and energetic character, gladly accepted the hard and laborious task of
founding missions in this new field. How he finally succeeded we have
already told. Others followed him and between the years of 1769 and
1823 twenty-one missions were established within the present limits of
California, extending along the Pacific Coast from San Diego to Sonoma,
about seventy-five miles north of San Francisco.

Like the English monks, the Spanish padres when locating their
establishments always selected sites with pleasant surroundings and
commanding views of beautiful scenery, always in the most fertile
valleys and adjacent to lake or river. Many of the California missions
are within a short distance of the Pacific, whose blue waters are often
visible through the arcades, lending a crowning touch of beauty to
the loveliness of the semi-tropical surroundings. And in sight of many
of them snow-capped mountains rear their majestic forms against a sky
matched only by that of Italy itself. Surrounding the buildings were
fertile fields, with flowers, fruit trees, and palms, usually watered
by irrigation as well as by winter rains, and, indeed, the Arcadia of
the poets was well-nigh made a reality under the sway of the California
padres. The missions were located, presumably, a day's journey apart,
so that the traveler might find entertainment at the close of each day,
for the hospitality of the Franciscan fathers never waned.

I shall give a short sketch of each of the missions as we reach them
in course of our pilgrimage, and will therefore omit further historic
details here. The building, as a rule, was done solidly and well; adobe,
hard-burned brick, hewn stone, heavy timbers, and roof tiles being so
skillfully combined that many of the structures are still in fair state
of preservation in spite of winter rains, earthquake, and long neglect.

No doubt the equable climate has been a factor in retarding their decay.
Adobe structures have naturally suffered most, but even these were so
massively built that had it not been for earthquakes nearly all would
still stand almost intact. This agency more than any other contributed
to the ruined condition of the mission buildings. Several have been more
or less restored and are in daily use, and it is to be hoped that all
which are not past rehabilitation will finally be rescued from the fate
which threatens them.

The old notion that the red man will not perform hard manual labor is
contradicted in the history of mission building. The work was done by
the natives under the direction of the padres—and hard work it was,
for the stone had to be quarried and dressed, brick and tiles moulded
and burned or dried in the sun, and heavy timbers brought many miles,
often on the men's shoulders. Just how heavy some of these oaken beams
were is shown by several in the San Fernando chapel, fifteen inches
square and thirty or forty feet long. Some of the churches were roofed
with arched stone vaults which must have required great labor and not a
little architectural skill, though the latter was no doubt supplied by
the monks.

The Indians were generally reduced to a mild state of peonage, but it
seems that the padres' policy was one of kindness and very seldom was
there rebellion against their rule on the part of converted Indians.
The missions suffered, of course, from attacks by savages who refused
to come under their sway, but the priests had few difficulties with the
neophytes who worked under them. Taken altogether, there are few other
instances where white men had so little trouble with Indians with whom
they came in daily contact for a considerable period.

The priests not only looked after the religious instruction of their
charges, but taught them to engage in agriculture and such arts and
manufactures as were possible under the conditions that then existed.
The chief occupation was farming and, considering the crude implements
at their disposal, the mission Indians did remarkably well. The plough
was composed of two wooden beams—one of them shod with iron; the soil
was merely scratched and it was necessary to go over a field many
times. A large bough, dragged over the soil to cover the seed, served
as a harrow. The carts were primitive in the extreme—the heavy wheels
were cut from a single block of solid oak and the axle and frame were
of the same clumsy construction. Grain was harvested by hand-sickles
and threshed on hard earth by driving oxen over the sheaves. Flour was
ground by the women with pestles in stone mortars, though in a few cases
rude water-wheels were used to turn grinding-stones.

Live stock constituted the greater part of the mission's wealth. Horses,
cattle, and sheep were raised in large numbers, though these were
probably not so numerous as some of the ancient chroniclers would have
us believe. The Indians were exceedingly skillful in training horses and
very adept in the use of the "riata," or lariat. They became efficient
in caring for and herding cattle and sheep, a vocation which many of
their descendants follow to-day. The mild climate made this task an easy
one and the herds increased rapidly from year to year.

Vineyards were planted at most of the missions and the inventories
at the time of secularization showed that the fathers kept a goodly
stock of wines, though this was probably for their own consumption, the
natives being regaled with sweetened vinegar-and-water, which was not
intoxicating. The mission grape first developed by the padres is to-day
one of the most esteemed varieties in California vineyards.

The missions were necessarily largely dependent on their own activities
for such manufactured products as they required and, considering
their limited facilities, they accomplished some wonderful results
in this direction. Brick, tile, pottery, clothing, saddles, candles,
blankets, furniture, and many other articles of daily necessity were
made under the padres' tutelage and such trades as masonry, carpentry,
blacksmithing, tanning, spinning, and weaving were readily acquired by
the once ignorant and indolent Indians.

Under such industry and businesslike management, the mission properties
in time became immensely valuable, at their zenith yielding a total
revenue estimated at not less than two million dollars yearly. This
prosperity was greedily watched by the Mexican government, which in
its straits for funds conceived the idea of "secularization" of the
missions, a plan which ultimately led to confiscation and dissolution.
Shortly after this came the American conquest and the conditions were
wholly unfavorable to the rehabilitation of the old regime, which
speedily faded to a romantic memory. The once happy and industrious
natives were driven back to the hills and their final extinction seems
to be near at hand. The story of their hardship and desolation and the
wrongs they suffered at the hands of the American conqueror forms the
burden of Mrs. Jackson's pathetic story of "Ramona."

Justice may never be done to these bitterly wronged people—indeed, most
of them have passed beyond reach of human justice; but of later years
there has come a deeper realization of the importance of the work of the
California missionary and a greater interest in the crumbling relics
of his pious activities. It has awakened a little late, you may say,
but the old adage, "Better late than never," is doubly applicable here.
We who have traversed the length and breadth of Britain have seen how
lovingly nearly every ancient abbey and castle is now guarded—though
in many cases it was painfully apparent that the spirit was too long in
coming. Many a noble pile had nearly vanished from neglect and vandalism
ere an enlightened public sentiment was created to guard and preserve
its scanty remnants. And I fear that this sentiment was more the result
of selfish interest than of any high conception of altruistic duty—the
strangers who came to see these ancient monuments and left money behind
them probably did more to awaken Britons to the value and importance
of their storied ruins than any strong sense of appreciation on their
own part. California should be moved by a higher motive than mere gain
to properly care for and preserve her historic shrines. They represent
the beginning of her present civilization and enlightenment, which has
placed her in the forefront of the states. Her history, literature, and
architecture have been profoundly affected by the Franciscan missions
and their great influence in this direction is yet to come. They should
be restored and preserved at public cost, even though they continue
in charge of the Catholic Church. Their claims as historic monuments
far outweigh any prejudice that may exist against contributing to any
secular institutions and if the Catholic Church is willing to occupy and
guard them, so much the better. It insures that they will be kept open
to the public at all times and that visitors will be gladly received
and hospitably treated. In all our journey along the King's Highway
we experienced nothing but the utmost courtesy and kindness from the
Catholic priests who may now be found at many of the missions. The
padre acts as custodian and guide and can always tell you the story of
the mission in his charge. These men have already done much to restore
several of the missions and to reclaim them from complete destruction.
The church is struggling to carry this work still farther, but she
has not the means at her disposal to accomplish it before some of the
landmarks will have entirely vanished. And I may say here that although
not a Catholic myself, I believe that the Catholics deserve commendation
and assistance in this great work.

And if California is not influenced by the higher consideration we
have enumerated, selfish reasons are strong for the preservation of
the missions. Already they are proving an attraction to a great number
of discerning tourists and with the increasing prevalence of the motor
car, El Camino Real will become one of the most popular routes in the
world. People will bring their cars from the Eastern States—instead of
taking them to Europe—and will pass their vacations in California. They
will spend money freely and many will become enamored of the country
to the extent of becoming permanent residents. The missions are one of
the greatest attractions to bring the tourist class to California—she
can not afford to allow them to disappear. They form a valuable asset
in more ways than one and now is the time to awaken to the fact.

Perhaps I have lingered too long on this subject, but it seems to me
like a necessary preface to a trip over the King's Highway. We left
San Diego in the late afternoon and reached the beautiful suburb of La
Jolla just as the declining sun was flooding the broad expanse of the
ocean with golden glory. The town is situated on a promontory beneath
which there is a lovely little park and one can enter several caves from
the ocean which, under favorable conditions, are almost as beautiful
as the Blue Grotto of Capri. Here is a favorite resort of artists
and a permanent colony has been established, the vicinity affording
never-ending themes for their skill. One of these is to be seen a
few miles farther on the road—the group of Torrey pines on a headland
overlooking the sea. Here is the only spot on this continent where these
weird but beautiful trees are to be found, and our illustration gives
some idea of their picturesque outlines against the sky. They were named
for one of our earliest naturalists, John Torrey, who was the first
to describe them in a scientific way. The few wind-swept patriarchs of
this rare tribe straggle over the bold headland or crouch on its edges
in fantastic attitudes. At this point the road leaves the cliff which
it has traversed for several miles and descends by a long winding grade
to the seashore. There is a fairly steep pitch just at the top, but for
most of the descent the gradient is easy, though sharp turns and blind
corners make careful driving necessary.

From Photograph by Harold Taylor]

Twilight had fallen when we reached Del Mar—our objective for the
night. Previous experience had taught us that the Stratford Inn was one
of the most comfortable and satisfactory in California—with the added
attraction of moderate rates. It is a modern building, in Elizabethan
style, situated on the hillside fronting the wide sweep of the Pacific.
It is surrounded by lawns with flowers and shrubbery in profusion and
there is a wide terrace in front with rustic chairs, a capital place
to lounge at one's ease and view the sunset ocean. Inside everything
is plain and homelike—in fact, "homelike" best describes the greatest
charm of Stratford Inn.

After dinner—which was more like a meal in a well-ordered private
home than the usual hotel concoction—I inquired about the roads of the
vicinity of a young man whose conversation showed him familiar with the
country. He readily gave the desired information and, learning that we
were tourists from the East, he put the universal first question of a

"And how do you like the country?"

"Very much, indeed," I rejoined. "In fact, it seems to me that anyone
who isn't satisfied with California isn't likely to be thoroughly
satisfied any place short of the New Jerusalem."

"And that's too—uncertain," he replied. "California is good enough
without taking any chances. In the ten years I've been here I've never
had any hankering to return to the East, where I came from."

"But honestly, now," I said, "aren't there some people from the East
who get sick of California and are anxious to get back home?"

"Yes," he admitted. "I know of several who said it was too monotonous
here—that they were going back to God's country and stay there; but
in the course of a year I saw them here again; after one good dose of
Eastern winter they came back to California and forever after held their
peace. Have you been about Del Mar and up to the top of the hill?" he
went on. "No? Then I want you to drive about with me a short time in
the morning and let me show you the prettiest seaside town and one of
the grandest views in California." He was so sincere that we acquiesced
and he said he would be on hand with his car at the appointed hour.

Returning to our rooms, which fronted on the sea, we were soon lulled
to sleep by the long, rhythmic wash of the waves on the beach. It
would be hard to imagine a lovelier or more inspiring scene than that
which greeted us through our open windows on the following morning. An
opalescent fog—shot through by the warm rays of the rising sun—hovered
over the deep violet ocean; but even as we looked it began to break and
scatter, the azure heavens gleamed through, and the sea in the distance
took on a deep steely blue, shading into lighter tones nearer the shore,
and finally breaking into a long line of snow-white spray. A light
rain had fallen in the night and everything was indescribably fresh and
invigorating—and the irresistible lure of the out-of-doors, always so
strong in California, seemed doubly potent this glorious morning.

We hastened down to breakfast—which proved quite as different from
the ordinary hotel meal as the dinner of the evening before—and at
the appointed hour our friend appeared with his car. This chance
acquaintance proved fortunate—for us, at least—since our guide knew
all about the place and most of the people who lived there. Some of
these are well known in business, literature, and art circles and,
drawn by the charm of Del Mar, spend a good part of their time there.
The contour of the site afforded remarkable opportunities for the
landscape-gardener, and very successfully has he seized upon them.
The hill is cut through the center by a deep erosion; along its edges
are numerous shelf-like places which make unique building sites, some
of which have already been occupied. Straight lines have been tabooed
in laying out the streets, which circle hither and thither among the
Torrey pines and eucalyptus trees. The houses and gardens conform to
the artistic irregularity of the streets and, altogether, Del Mar, both
in charm of natural situation and good judgment in public and private
improvements, is quite unique even in California.

But the marvel of Del Mar is the view from the summit of the great
hill which towers above the village and which may be reached by a
comparatively easy road. I find a description given in a small booklet
issued by the Stratford Inn that is genuine literature—in fact, the
literary style of the booklet so impressed me that I spoke of it to a
Los Angeles friend. "Not strange," said he. "It was written by John S.
McGroarty, who is interested in Del Mar." In any event, it is worthy of
Mr. McGroarty's facile pen, as is proven by the following description
of the scene from Del Mar hill:

"From its pinnacles you can hear the ocean crooning in long, rolling
breakers against gleaming shore lines, or see it leap into geysers of
spray against majestic headlands for an eye-encompassed distance of
forty miles, swelling in from the magic isles of Santa Catalina and
San Clemente, and the curtain of the sky far beyond them all. But from
the same pinnacles, landward, you shall look down from your very feet
into the dream-kissed vale of San Dieguito, serpentined with natural
canoe-ways that have crept in from the great waters. And from the
San Dieguito meadows there are trails that lead into the valleys of
Escondido and San Luis Rey and many other valleys. Eastward are the
peaks of the lake-sheltering Cuyamacas and Mt. Palomar. Lift up your
vision yet again and you shall behold, all crowned with snow, the hoary
heads of old San Antonio, Mount San Bernardino and San Jacinto—the
kingly outposts of the royal Sierras. Back of those white serranos
is the desert, only fifty miles from where you stand. And it is these
two—the desert and the sea—that make Del Mar what it is.

"The Del Mar which the traveler beholds from the car window as the
railroad train glides along the beach on that wonderful journey south
from San Juan Capistrano, is a vast hill rising from between two
estuaries of the ocean, with Encinitas headland to the north and Torrey
Pine Point to the south. But one gets no idea at all of what the hill or
Del Mar really is by looking up to it from the railway. Its appearance
from such a fleeting view would be much the same as the view of many
another coast hill; and it would perhaps pass without special notice
from the railway traveler were it not for the fact that it is heavily
wooded and that a strikingly beautiful and large building in the
Elizabethan style of architecture instantly attracts an admiring eye.

"That Del Mar hill is wooded is owing both to the generosity of nature
and to the poetic enterprise of the 'boomers' who, in those still
remembered days of empire-building, planted the bare spaces to gum,
acacia, and other trees. The trees that are indigenous to Del Mar
and that have been there for hundreds and perhaps thousands of years
are the cypress and the Torrey pine, both of which are favorites with
artists and all nature lovers. And they are both rare, the cypress being
found hardly anywhere else on the California coast except at Monterey,
while the Torrey pine is absolutely unknown on the face of the earth
except at Del Mar and La Jolla, a few miles farther south. But there
is, besides the scattered Torreys at Del Mar, a whole grove of these
five-needled pines—a grove famed among tree-lovers the world over. As
to the Elizabethan building, which fastens the traveler's curiosity
from his flying window, he is informed that it is an inn called 'The
Stratford,' and well named at that. It was designed by the English
architect, Austin, who must have put a good deal of heart into his work,
for his inn is a thing of beauty. Nor is it just a thing of outward
show. You will think of what rare Ben Jonson said as you sit at its
plenteous board and slip away into dreamland from its cool, clean beds,
with the deep melody of the sea in your ears: 'There is nothing which
has yet been contrived by man by which so much happiness is produced as
by a good tavern or inn.'"

I would beg pardon of my reader for having quoted so much at length from
an advertising booklet were it not that the quotations themselves render
it unnecessary. Doubly fortunate is Del Mar, not only in the charms
which she possesses, but in having an admirer who can herald them to
the world in such pleasing language and imagery.

We are late in leaving Del Mar—we always were on each of our several
visits. But the lure of the road on such a glorious day is too strong
for even the attractions of Del Mar and its pleasant inn. The purr of
the motor and the long white road winding down to the seashore and
disappearing in the distant hills is a combination to rouse all the
wanderlust in our natures and waving adieu to our kindly hosts we are on
the King's Highway again. Occasionally snowy clouds float lazily through
the deep azure sky, serving to give variation to the scene; they darken
the sun at intervals and the lapis-lazuli blue of the ocean changes
to dull silver for a moment. Sunshine and shadow chase each other over
the low green hills to the landward and brighten or obscure the distant
mountain ranges. Beyond Encinitas, about ten miles from Del Mar, the
road follows a magnificent beach. Here the waves have piled up a long
ridge of rounded stones, from which a wide stretch of hard sand slopes
down to the sea. It is sprinkled with millions of golden particles,
giving a peculiarly brilliant effect in the sunlight which may have
roused the hopes of more than one early adventurer in his search for
El Dorado. The smooth, shining sand tempts us to leave the car by the
road to wander up and down the beach, gathering shells and seaweed
or watching the long white line of waves creep landward and recede in
glittering ripples. Each comes nearer and nearer until one flings its
white spray over us and drives us toward the great cobblestone dike
stretching along the shore. Near this are myriads of yellow and pink
sand-flowers with queer waxen leaves and delicate silken petals. Some
day, no doubt, as California's millions increase, this beautiful beach
will become a popular resort.

(Before Restoration)
From Photograph by Pillsbury]

A few miles beyond this we pause in a sheltered canyon and spread our
noonday lunch under a vast sprawling sycamore—if I should make a guess
at its dimensions I might lay myself open to the charge of exaggeration,
which some insinuate is the universal California failing. Out of
Oceanside the road soon takes to the highlands again and runs through
fields of yellow mustard and purple-pink wild radish blossoms—sad pests,
they tell us, for all their glorious color.

Oceanside is a quiet little place with a large hotel down towards the
beach, and her El Camino Real has departed from its olden course, for
the mission of San Luis lies some four miles inland. Just out of the
village we descend a winding grade into a wide green valley, and far
to one side under a sheltering hill we catch the gleam of whitewashed
walls surmounted by the characteristic mission tower. We soon draw up

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25

Online LibraryThomas D. MurphyOn Sunset Highways → online text (page 11 of 25)