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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.
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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
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.