Thomas D. Murphy.

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Indians burned the buildings twice by setting fire to the reed roofs
with burning arrows; then the fathers made tile which would not burn
and all the missions learned this from San Luis."

He showed us with great pride the treasures of San Luis, in the relic
room at the rear of the chapel. Chief among these was the richly
broidered vestment worn by Junipero Serra at the dedication services
more than a century ago. There were many other vestments and rare old
Spanish altar cloths with splendidly wrought gold and silver embroidery
which elicited exclamations of delight from the ladies of our party. The
guide must have thought he noted a covetous look when he showed us some
of the old hand-wrought silver vessels, candlesticks, and utensils, for
he said, "The fathers must die for want of money rather than sell any
of it." On leaving we asked if he had not a booklet about San Luis such
as we had obtained at several of the missions and he gave us a thick
pamphlet which proved to be an exposition of the faith by a well-known
Catholic bishop.

While it is desirable that any mission be restored rather than to fall
into complete ruin, it certainly is to be regretted when the work is
done so injudiciously as at San Luis Obispo. Here original lines have
been quite neglected and so far as giving any idea of the architecture
and daily life of the padres and their charges, the work had better
been left undone. The state, we believe, should assist in restoration,
but it should be done under intelligent supervision, with the view
of reproducing the mission as it stood at its best period under the
Franciscan monks. Old material should be employed as far as possible,
but this does not seem so important as to have the original designs
faithfully adhered to.

Two or three years later a disastrous fire wiped out much of San Luis
Obispo Mission. Restoration is proposed and we may hope that it will
succeed and that it will be more in the spirit of the original structure
than much of the work we saw when we visited the mission. The project
should receive the encouragement and support of everyone interested in
preserving the historic landmarks of our country.

A few miles out of San Luis on the Paso Robles road we crossed the
Cuesta grade. It was a steady pull of a mile and a half over a ten per
cent rise and from the beautifully engineered road we had many vistas
of oak-covered hills and green valleys. Some of the lawnlike stretches
by the roadside, with the Titanic oaks, reminded us of the great country
"estates" we had seen in England, only there was no turret or battlement
peeping from the trees on the hilltop. The western slope is steeper,
some pitches exceeding fifteen per cent, and several sharp turns with
precipitous declivities close beside the road made careful driving

From Original Painting by Gordon Coutts]

Twenty miles farther over a fair road brought us to El Paso de
Robles—the pass of the oaks—a name which it seemed to us might have
been applied to almost any number of places along our route for the
past day or two. The place is famous for its hot springs, which exist
in great variety and whose curative properties were known to the
Indians. The largest spring has a daily flow of two million gallons
of sulphur-impregnated water at a temperature of one hundred and
seven degrees. There is a little spring which reaches one hundred and
twenty-four degrees, besides numerous others of varying composition.
These springs are responsible for the palatial hotel which stands in the
midst of beautiful grounds at the edge of the town. It was built several
years ago of brick and stone in Swiss villa style, with wide verandas
along the front. It was hardly up to date in some appointments, but
the manager told us that plans were already complete for modernizing it
throughout at a cost of a couple of hundred thousand dollars—though I
fear the war wrecked this project as it did thousands of similar ones.
We had no cause to complain, however, at the time of our visit, as the
service was excellent and rates were moderate.

Out of Paso Robles the road still winds among the oaks, following the
course of the Salinas River. At San Miguel, nine miles northward, is
the mission of the same name, one of the most interesting of the entire
chain. It has more of genuine antiquity about it, for it stands to-day
in almost its original state. We not only particularly remember San
Miguel, but have a vivid recollection of Father Nevin, the priest in
charge, since he was the only one of those we met who seemed to have
a strain of pessimism in his make-up and who showed occasional flashes
of misanthropy. He led us first of all into the old chapel, the pride
of San Miguel, and pointed out that the original roof and floor tiles
were still in place and that the walls bore the original decorations.
These were done in strongly contrasting colors, which have faded but
little in the hundred years of their existence. As Indian motifs seemed
to prevail, one of the ladies of our party asked if the work had been
done by the Indians. Father Nevin looked really hurt at the query.

"My dear woman," he said, "do you know what you ask? Could those
wretched barbarians have done the beautiful frescoes you see on these
walls? The California Indians were the most degraded beings on earth.
No, the work was done by the good padres themselves."

We were silenced, of course, but could not help thinking that Indians
who designed such marvelous basketry might well have done this
decoration with a little instruction. And such, indeed, seems to have
been the case. George Wharton James, who is known as an authority on
such matters, says that the work was done by the natives under the
direction of a Spaniard named Murros and that the padres probably
did none of it themselves. It is extremely interesting, as showing a
church interior practically as it was when the Franciscans held sway in

From Photograph by Dassonville]

On the walls are ten oil paintings brought from Spain which are
considerably older than the church; the painter is unknown and the
artistic merit is evidently very small. There are also some fine
examples of genuine "mission furniture" in two solid old confessional
chairs, supposed to have been made by the Indians. The first bell-tower
was built of wood, but gave way some years ago and the bells are now
mounted on an incongruous steel tower, something like those used to
support windmills. The large bell, weighing over a ton, was recast
twenty-five years ago from the metal of the ancient bells. The residence
quarters have been restored and the beautiful arcade is still in good
preservation. At the rear are remains of cloisters, which were built of
burnt brick and now are in a sad state of decay. A few fragments of the
wall which once surrounded the mission may still be seen, but, like the
cloisters, these are rapidly disintegrating.

I said something to Father Nevin about the obligation which it seemed
to me is upon the state to preserve these ancient monuments and added
that France and England had wakened up in this regard and were taking
steps—but I again unwittingly irritated the good father, for he
interrupted me.

"France is a robber nation—she robbed the church just as the Mexicans
robbed the missions in California!"

I expressed my regret for bringing up an unpleasant subject, and in
taking leave proffered Father Nevin the little offering which we always
felt due the good priests who were so courteous and patient with their
visitors, but he insistently declined.

"No, no," he said. "I never take anything from a visitor. The question
might be asked me, 'What have you done with all that money?' and the
answer is easy if I never take any."

He then gave us careful directions about the road and we could not but
feel that a kindly nature hid behind his somewhat gruff manner.

San Miguel, it is said, furnished more ideas to Frank Miller for his
Riverside Inn reproductions than any other mission, for many of its odd
little artistic touches have fortunately escaped the ravages of time. We
noted a queer chimney rising above the comb of the roof of the monastic
building. It is surmounted by six tiles—three on one side, sloping
towards the three on the opposite side—and these are capped with a tile
laid flatwise over the ends.

The mission was founded in 1797 by Padre Lasuen. The abundance of water
near at hand was given as a reason for choosing the site, for it is
scarcely as picturesque as many others. The irrigating ditches which
conveyed the waters of Santa Ysabel springs over the mission lands, may
still be seen. The first church was destroyed by a disastrous fire in
1806 and the present structure was completed in 1817—just a little more
than a century ago. The greatest population numbered a thousand and
ninety-six in 1814, but ten years later it was much reduced and at the
secularization in 1836 only half the number were on the rolls. The total
valuation was then estimated at about eighty thousand dollars. After
the American occupation the mission fell into decay, but fortunately,
the substantial construction of the church saved it from ruin. To-day
the community is very poor and if outside help is not received from some
source the deterioration of the buildings will be rapid.

[Illustration: ARCADE, SAN MIGUEL
From Photograph by Dassonville]

A few miles south of San Miguel we forded the Salinas River, a broad but
shallow stream winding through a wide, sandy bed. Two men with a stout
team of horses were waiting on the opposite side to give a lift to the
cars which stalled in the heavy sand—for a consideration, of course—and
their faces showed plain evidence of disgust when we scrambled up the
bank under our own power. In the wet season the Salinas often becomes a
raging torrent and a detour of several miles by the way of Indian Valley
to Bradley becomes necessary. At Bradley we again crossed over a long
bridge and the road then swings away from the river and runs through the
wide level wheatfields of the Salinas Valley. And for the rest of the
day, except when crossing an occasional hill range, we passed through
endless wheatfields, stretching away to the distant hills. On our
first trip the fields did not look very promising, owing to protracted
drouth, but a year later we saw the same country in the full glory of
a magnificent crop. In these vast tracts harvesting and threshing are
done at one operation by huge machines drawn by steam engines. A farmer
told us he had seen the valley covered with grain that was above his
head when he walked in it, and he was a sizable fellow, too.

There is nothing at Jolon except a country store and two or three
saloons—typical western drinking-resorts with a few lazy greasers
loafing about. There is a good-looking hotel here, but we preferred
our usual open-air luncheon under a mammoth oak—there are hundreds of
them above Jolon. Just beyond we crossed the Jolon grade, which had
some of the steepest pitches we had yet found. The road took us through
beautiful oak-covered hills and at the foot of the grade we came back
to the Salinas River. We had been using a map issued by a prominent
automobile manufacturer, which showed San Antonio Mission just across
the river at King City. Of course we should have to visit this, even if
we were late in reaching Monterey. A farmer of whom we inquired for the
old mission at King City looked at us blankly.

"Old mission," he echoed, "I don't know of any in these parts."

"But our map shows San Antonio Mission at King City."

"Well, your map is wrong, then—San Antonio is back over the grade six
miles from Jolon." And one of the ladies declared that Father Nevin at
San Miguel had said something of that sort—why didn't we pay attention
at the time? We recognized the futility of any attempt at argument under
such circumstances and prudently held our peace. But it was clear enough
that San Antonio was not at King City.

"Oh, well," we finally decided, "we shall have to come back this way,
in any event, for we have missed La Purisima near Lompoc and we have
determined to see them all."

Soledad is a dozen miles farther on the road and near there "Our Lady
of the Solitude" was founded in 1791. Crossing the Salinas again over a
ram-shackle bridge—the flood swept it away a year later—we came into the
street of the little village, which consisted of a few cottages, several
stores, and a blacksmith shop—we remember the latter particularly
because we hailed the worthy smith and inquired for the mission. He met
us with a counter query:

"Are you just on a sightseeing trip?" We admitted this to be our prime
object and he quickly rejoined,

"Then there ain't no use in your goin' to see the mission, for there
ain't nothin' to see. Besides, the road is mighty bad—all cut up just
now"—but seeing we were not satisfied, he added,

"It's just across the river yonder; you'll have to go back to the bridge
and turn to the right."

We thanked him and acted on his directions, and we soon found he was
right enough—about the road, at least. It had recently been ploughed,
leaving a long stretch of powdery dust, axle-deep. We plunged into it,
rolling from one side to the other and making exceedingly slow progress.
At no time on our tour did it seem more likely that a team of horses
would have to be "commandeered," but by keeping at it—had we stopped
a single instant we could never have started on our own power—we came
through at last, and seeing nothing of the ruins inquired of some men
at a pumping station.

"Just over the hill," they replied; but we stopped to see one of the
California irrigation wells, and it was something of a spectacle to
behold a huge centrifugal pump pouring out six thousand gallons of
crystal-clear water every minute.

"She will keep up that gait for four months at a time," said one of the
workmen, "and there are several bigger wells in the neighborhood; there
surely must be something of a lake under our feet."

The effect of these wells was shown in the green fields, which
contrasted with the brown, withered country through which we had been

Our friend the blacksmith was right again when he said that the mission
"wasn't worth seein'"—just as a spectacle removed from any sentiment it
would never repay for the strenuous plunge through the sandy stretch.
But "Our Lady of the Solitude" means something more than a few crumbling
bits of adobe wall; here is the same human interest and romance that
clusters around beautiful Capistrano or delightful Santa Barbara. There
is not enough left to give any idea of the architectural or general plan
of the buildings; there is even doubt if some of the buildings were
not erected after the American occupation. The material was adobe and
this does not appear to have been protected by stucco or cement; as a
consequence the ruin is complete and in a few years more only heaps of
yellow clay will mark the site of the mission. The principal ruins are
of the church, which the Sobranes family of Soledad claim was erected by
their grandfather in 1850. He was baptized and married in the original
church and when this fell to ruin he built the structure whose remains
we see to-day. If this claim be true, there is indeed little left of
the original mission.

The site is a superb one. The mission stood on one of the foothills
which overlook the wide vale of the Salinas, stretching away to the
rugged blue ranges of the Sierras. The river may be seen as a gleaming
silver thread in the wide ribbon of yellow sand through which it
courses, fringed now and then by green shrubs and trees. Across the
river is the village of Soledad and the wheatfields beyond are dotted
with ranch-houses at wide intervals. It was a fine, invigorating day;
the wind, which whiffed sand into our faces all the afternoon, had
subsided; a soft, somnolent haze had settled over the landscape; and
the low, declining sun reminded us that we must be moving if we were to
reach Monterey before dark.

There is not much of history connected with the pitiful relics we were
leaving behind. The records belonging to Our Lady of the Solitude
have perished with her earthen walls and we could learn only the
general details of her story. Founded in 1791 by Father Lasuen, the
mission reached its zenith in 1805, when there were seven hundred and
twenty-seven neophytes under its control. They possessed large numbers
of live stock and had built an extensive irrigating system, traces
of which may still be seen. Soledad faded away even more rapidly than
its contemporaries following the Mexican confiscation. Six years after
this event, which occurred in 1835, only seventy Indians remained, and
ten years later the property was sold for eight hundred dollars to the
Sobranes, who claim to have built the church. Our Lady of the Solitude
is quite past any restoration and it is not likely that a new building
will ever be erected on the spot. It will soon take its place with Santa
Cruz and San Rafael, which have totally disappeared.

But while we were moralizing about the fate of the mission we were
running into some dreadful road. We decided on the advice of a farmer
not to retrace our way to Soledad village, but to follow the road
on the west side of the river to the crossing at Gonzales, some ten
miles distant. It proved a rough, narrow, winding road and we managed
to lose it once or twice and came very near stalling in some of the
sandy stretches. But the series of views across the valley from the
low foothills along which we coursed atoned for the drawbacks, and
the bridge at Gonzales brought us back to the main Salinas highway.
This proved an excellent macadam road and its long, smooth stretches
enabled us to make up for the numerous delays of the day. Salinas,
a modern, prosperous-looking town of some four thousand people, is
the commercial center of the vast wheatfields surrounding it. Here is
located the largest beet-sugar factory in the world and fruit-raising is
also a considerable industry. Our run had been a long one and we were
quite weary enough to stop for the night, but visions of Del Monte and
Monterey still lured us on. We quickly covered the twenty miles to the
old capital, the road winding between the glorious hills on either side.
These were clothed with a mantle of velvety grass variegated with pale
blue lupines and golden poppies and studded with sprawling old oaks—a
scene of rare charm in color and contour. We reached the Del Monte just
at dusk and were glad that darkness partly hid our somewhat unkempt and
travel-stained appearance.

From Original Painting by Thos. Moran]



"I say God's kingdom is at hand
Right here, if we but lift our eyes;
I say there is no line nor land
Between this land and Paradise."

So sang Joaquin Miller, the Good Gray Poet of the Sierras. What
particular place in California he had in mind I do not know, but if
I were making application of his verse to any one spot, it would be
Monterey and the immediate vicinity. Perhaps I am unduly prepossessed
in favor of Del Monte, for here I came on my wedding tour many years
ago, and I often wondered whether, if I should ever come again, it
would seem the same fairyland and haven of rest that it did on that
memorable occasion. I say "haven of rest," for such indeed it seemed
in the fullest sense after an all-day trip on a little coast steamer
from San Francisco. It was my first voyage and the sea was as rough
as I have ever seen it; great waves tossed the little tub of a boat
until one could stand on deck only with difficulty. Perhaps I am not
competent to give an opinion about standing on deck when during most of
the trip I perforce occupied a berth in the ill-smelling little cabin.
When the Captain called us to dinner we made a bold effort to respond
and I still recall the long, boxlike trench around the table to keep the
dishes from sliding about. One whiff of the menu of the "Los Angeles"
satisfied us and we retired precipitately to the cabin. The boat was
twelve mortal hours in making the trip. When we landed the earth itself
seemed unstable and it was not until the following morning that "Richard
was himself again."

I do not know that such a digression as this is in place in a
motor-travel book. However that may be, I shall never forget the
first impressions of Del Monte and its delightful surroundings on the
following morning; nor can anything eradicate the roseate memory of the
scenes of the seventeen-mile drive, although we made it in so plebeian
a vehicle as a horse-drawn buggy.

But Del Monte was not less satisfying or its surroundings less beautiful
on the lovely morning—an almost unnecessary qualification, for lovely
summer mornings are the rule at Del Monte—following our second arrival
at this famous inn. Its praises have been so widely sounded by so much
better authorities than myself that any lengthy description here would
surely be superfluous. I shall content myself with introducing a page
from "America, the Land of Contrasts," by that experienced traveler, Dr.
Muirhead, author of Baedeker's guides for Great Britain and the United
States, who unqualifiedly pronounces Del Monte the "best hotel on the
American continent" and while such a statement must be largely a matter
of personal opinion, all, we think, will concede that the famous hotel
is most delightfully situated. Dr. Muirhead writes:

"The Hotel Del Monte lies amid blue-grass lawns and exquisite grounds,
in some ways recalling the parks of England's gentry, though including
among its noble trees such un-English specimens as the sprawling and
moss-draped live-oaks and the curious Monterey pines and cypresses.
Its gardens offer a continual feast of color, with their solid acres
of roses, violets, calla lilies, heliotrope, narcissus, tulips,
and crocuses; and one part of them, known as 'Arizona,' contains a
wonderful collection of cacti. The hotel is very large, enclosing a
spacious garden-court, and makes a pleasant enough impression, with its
turrets, balconies, and verandas, its many sharp gables, dormers, and
window-hoods. The economy of the interior reminded me more strongly of
the amenities and decencies of the house of a refined, well-to-do, and
yet not extravagantly wealthy family than of the usual hotel atmosphere.
There were none of the blue satin hangings, ormolu vases, and other
entirely superfluous luxuries for which we have to pay in the bills of
certain hotels at Paris and elsewhere; but on the other hand nothing
was lacking that a fastidious but reasonable taste could demand. The
rooms and corridors are spacious and airy; everything was as clean and
fresh as white paint and floor polish could make them; the beds were
comfortable and fragrant; the linen was spotless; there was lots of
'hanging room;' each pair of bedrooms shared a bathroom; the cuisine was
good and sufficiently varied; the waiters were attentive; flowers were
abundant without and within. The price of all this real luxury was $3.00
to $3.50 a day. Possibly the absolute perfection of the bright and soft
California spring when I visited Monterey, and the exquisite beauty of
its environment, may have lulled my critical faculties into a state of
unusual somnolence; but when I quitted the Del Monte Hotel I felt that
I was leaving one of the most charming homes I had ever had the good
fortune to live in."

All of which is quite as true to-day as it was more than twenty years
ago, when it was first written, excepting that the good doctor would
not linger very long at Del Monte on $3.50 per day. And it should be
remembered that since the time of Dr. Muirhead's visit many new hotels,
which rival Del Monte in location and excellence, have been built in
California. The variety and extent of the grounds, the golf links and
other amusements, are attractions that might well detain one for some
time, even if the surrounding country were not the most beautiful and
historic in California. The miles of shady, flower-bordered walks,
the lake with its friendly swans, the tennis and croquet grounds, the
world-famous golf course, the curious evergreen maze—a duplicate of
the one at Hampton Court Palace—the bath-house and the fine beach a
few hundred yards to the rear of the hotel, and many other means of
diversion always open to the guests, combine to make Del Monte a place

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Online LibraryThomas D. MurphyOn Sunset Highways → online text (page 15 of 25)