American Historic Towns
Historic Towns of The Western States

Edited by Lyman P. Powell
G. P. Putnam' Sons
New York and London
The Knickerbocker Press


TO know the story of Monterey, one must go back for a moment to the southern coast of Europe. There, on an island a day's sail from the land that later cradled a prodigy destined to make dynasties his playthings, there was born, in 1713, a boy who by pacific conquests was to perform a part no less significant than Napoleon's in determining the history of nations.

While the infant Bonaparte was listening, perhaps impatiently, to Corsican lullabies, Juniper Serra, a mendicant friar from Majorca, discovered, or rediscovered, on the far shores of this continent the supposedly vanished harbor of Monterey, and thereby marked the genesis of the movement that was finally to give the American republic a western frontage on the sea.

But for this auspicious event and the stimulating effect on Spanish exploration it afterwards provoked, the great domain from San Diego to the Straits of Juan de Fuca would not today be rendering tribute to the Government at Washington. The western lines of the Louisiana Purchase would mark our farthermost frontier; the incredible hoard of California's roaring camps would be minted into sovereigns, shillings, rubles, imperials, or francs; no Pacific Squadron would have carried our flag to the gates of the East; and we would today be a hemmed in nation, disputing our land boundaries with encroaching colonies of Europe, instead of a world power projecting canals to sever continents in the interest of our trade, and sailing our ships east and west across the seven seas.

The average tourist, viewing the adobe ruins of the Monterey presidio and recalling the futile guns of that crumbled fortress, does not dream of the place Monterey filled in the march of international events. Nor will the guide enlighten him as he takes him over the seagirt drive to Carmel and the cliffs of Point Lobos, for that profane, though picturesque historian omits even to say that Robert Louis Stevenson furnished the plan for this famous highway.

Some gleams of Monterey's immortal past illumine the reverent traveller who climbs the stone steps of Juniper's Mission at Carmel. He knows, then, vaguely, that he is exploring the venerable tomb of one of the great men of the world. And the irreverent guide, if asked, will indicate indifferently the spot on the gospel side of the sanctuary where rest the bones of this prophet and builder of empire, but before the hurrying train catcher has returned to the Golden Gate he has ceased to reflect upon the incalculable debt America owes to this mendicant seer and colonizer who, in the name of God, St. Francis, and the King, added half a continent to the Crown of Spain, and, building better than he knew, established the western foundations of the republic that was to rise above Spanish and Mexican decay.

Monterey was an old name on the crude maps of the Mexican frontier. Eighteen years before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock, Don Sebastian Vizcaino had rounded the pine edged promontory that hides the harbor of Monterey, and, anchoring in the bay, went ashore and with sacred rites named the port in honor of Count de Monterey, the reigning Viceroy. For more than a century and a half the spot was not revisited save by savage hunters. Efforts to relocate the harbor were without success.

Back of the concealing peninsula the bay of Monterey sweeps in a. great crescent to Santa Cruz, thirty miles away, and to exploring navigators, shunning possible shoals, the coast presented a seemingly unbroken line. It came to be the scientific belief that some geologic upheaval had altered the contour of the coast. Mariners were mystified. Efforts to rediscover Monterey assumed the nature of crusades. No less a personage than Gaspar de Portala, with a retinue of sixty five persons, set out overland from Loreto in 1769 to find the vanished harbor. Without identifying the haven he sought, he camped on its tree rimmed beaches Hand erected a cross under the ancient oak in whose shade Vizcaino had partaken of the sacrament.

A year later came the seer and scholar Junipero. Long before, in his college in Majorca where he graced with distinction the chair of philosophy; he had read and treasured the description Vizcaino had given. Now he recognized the surviving oak and the neighboring springs, and, turning, he saw unrolled before him the bay which, in its vastness, had to other eyes seemed only a part of the open sea.

Inspecting Portala's wooden cross, Junipero saw that at the base were votive offerings of birds, shells, strings of fish newly caught, and in a beaver skin quiver a cluster of arrows tipped with obsidian. Here were signs and portents which to Junipero were ever a source of inspiration. In after years he learned that the Esienes, or Monterey Indians, had for ages handed down a tradition that some day a messiah would come to them; and that just before the advent of Junfpero, the cross which Portala had reared seemed to rise in the sky at night until its splendor filled the heavens; and that then the tribes, believing their deliverer was at hand, came with gifts of food and trinkets to this unaccustomed altar and, in token of the peace they felt, tied a quiver of arrows to the cross.

In the fertile valley of Carmel just over the pine clad cordillera that conceals the bay, on a slope above the thundering surf, Junipero dedicated the Mission that was to be named San Carlos in honor of the King. Hanging his bells on a cypress branch, he chimed the tidings of the gospel he was to preach.

"Why sound this call?" protested his companions; "there are no heathen here."

"Would that these bells might be heard around the world I" replied Junipero.

Few events in Spanish history since the expulsion of the Moors three centuries before had occasioned the joy that greeted the news of the rediscovery of Monterey. In the Mexican capital cathedral bells pealed throughout the night, rockets flared in the sky, and guns in the forts kept up a cannonade. Later, in Madrid the rejoicing was even more tumultuous. Royal salutes were added to the acclaim and the King declared a public holiday. A sandalled monk, seeking neither gain nor temporal glory, the leader of a handful of Franciscan pioneers, had restored a fabled harbor to the world.

The discovery of the bay of San Francisco, reported at the same time, was ignored as a trivial and miscellaneous item.

The celebration in honor of Junfpero's discovery gave new impetus to his plans of Christian conquest, and Monterey was declared the capital of the colonial empire.

For a time it appeared that nothing more would be needed to stimulate Spain to hold the western coast of America against the world. But Castilian enthusiasm was short lived. The mystery of Monterey having been cleared away and the event deliriously lauded, Spain lapsed into an indefinite programme concerning the Californian coast. Both Madrid and Mexico all but forgot Monterey and the activities of wandering friars who, radiating thence, were unconsciously preparing the way for a national destiny as glorious as Spain's, even at the height of her circumstance and pomp.

Now came the critical moment in Junipero's career, a moment that was to decide the fate of the western half of the New World. Antonio Bucareli had been installed as Viceroy of Mexico. A keen man of conventional wisdom, it seemed to him to be a waste of public money to divert a stream of gold to maintain the far away civilizing dreams of mendicants centred at Carmel. He would close the harbor of San Blas, then maintained to equip expeditions to the Californian settlements, and abandon the fruitless undertaking of trying to populate bleak, promontories swept by winds that brought home no rich argosies. The enterprise of his subjects should be devoted to more lucrative pursuits.

Here was need and opportunity for a supreme test of the resources that had made the founder of Monterey the heroic figure of the West. He saw, as did no other Spaniard of his day, the splendid future awaiting the Pacific coast. There was no time to halt between two opinions. Already Captain Behring had explored northwestern waters in the name of Russia, and now the fur traders of that empire, establishing their commercial posts at Unalaska, were prepared to claim the coast as far south as sea otters run. Captain Cook and Vancouver were about to sail to try to nail the Union Jack on every headland from Sitka to San Diego. Disguised under the standard of Portugal, privateersmeñ of various nations were hoisting full sail in the race for western conquest, and Louis XVI. was planning to equip Francois de Gallup, Count de la Perouse, to transplant the eagles of France to California crags. The end of the Seven Years' War, a decade before Bucareli's remarkable decision, had led to a recarving of America among European powers, and jealousy and world wide ambition now steered the sea in search of new empire.

All this was not then apparent on the surface, but the cowled monk in his Mission at Carmel divined events. Worldly power and possession by him were trampled underfoot. In humility he had turned his back upon the emoluments of scholarship to labor among savages in the remote wilderness. The fame he had achieved by the rediscovery of Monterey was not of his choosing. Although he counted all earthly things as dross he knew the action of Bucareli meant the downfall of his spiritual kingdom. In the flutter of foreign sails he read a menace to Spain's sovereignty on the coast. And, so it happened that in the same year that Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and Dabney Carr in the Raleigh tavern were pleading the cause that was to wrest the Atlantic colonies from George III., an aged cripple in coarse robe of gray serge, tied at the waist with a girdle of hemp, employed his splendid eloquence in the viceregal palace of the Mexican capital to save the Pacific coast from the hands of navigators who with roving commissions of conquest from European kings and emperors were cruising in the wake of Spanish indecision.

Here, again, Monterey was playing an allimportant part in history, for it was the fame Junipero had won through its rediscovery that sped his message to the Viceroy and through him to the King. The humble monk had made the long journey from Monterey with no other escort save an Indian acolyte, and though lame, infirm, and of lowly mien, was received with the consideration due an accredited ambassador.

Bucareli was not only won over to maintain the Californian settlements, but was fired to achieve new conquests along the upper coast. Junipero's memorial, forwarded to Madrid, reawakened the sentiments his rediscovery of Monterey had stirred. By the King's order every recommendation of the pioneer friar was adopted, offices for California were created at permanent salaries, the treasury at Guadalajara was pledged to the colonization of the Pacific coast and Monterey named as the abiding capital.

Thus an open highway to the sea was unconsciously reserved for the United States. Russia was forced up against the Arctic Circle, England did not gain a foothold south of the island Vancouver named, the privateers tacked toward the South Seas, and when the French explorer, Count de la Pérouse, sailed into the harbor of Monterey the only thing he could do to save his name from engulfing obscurity was to introduce potatoes to a smiling land. The following season, instead of the fleur-de-lis, potato blossoms in the flowering Carmel were the only token that the King of France had ever had designs upon the coast.

The relief the Viceroy sent to Monterey in response to Juniper's plea came none too soon. For thirty seven days the latter's boyhood friend and lifelong colaborer, Palou, and his comrades at Carmel had gone without a tortilla or a crumb of bread, subsisting patiently on a little meal ground from peas. But now began the years of mission prosperity and peace, and thereafter in Monterey was presented in miniature the story of the glory and decline of Spain.

For half a century it was the brilliant capital of Spain's new empire. It was a thriving metropolis and the gay seat of the Spanish Court fifty years before the settlement at San Francisco became more than a straggling pueblo, struggling to survive against wind and sand. In fact, for two generations alter the founding of Monterey San Francisco's chief claim to distinction was that the first craft to pass through the pillared channel that leads to its incomparable harbor was a launch hewn from a redwood felled by Ayala on the banks of the Carmel.

Year after year in Monterey were great fetes, the laughter of beautifully gowned women, the melody of troubadours, the click of castanets, the trampling of horsemen in gay attire, the triumphs of governors and captains, and the booming of guns in the walled presidio. Here at this capital titled officials sat at the receipt of customs; here galleons from Manila put in for repairs and departed with cargoes of furs, and hither came fragatas and paquebotes from the Mexican coast and imposing craft from the four corners of the earth. Over picturesque adobe consulates in Monterey floated the flags of foreign nations when the only standard reared in San Francisco was a desolate wooden cross in the Mission Dolores. And the road through the mountain pines to Junfpero's spiritual capital, his cabecera, three miles away, over which governors followed by glittering retinues marched to solemnize their oaths of office and whither they were borne for sepulture, was worn to its primal rocks long before the path from the San Francisco Mission to the bay became more than a shifting trail.

San Francisco now can stand these invidious comparisons, for when glory finally sailed through the Golden Gate, fame departed from Monterey.

The genius of Junipero gave to Monterey an impetus that long survived his death. As unconscious trustee, Spain, centring power at Monterey, was holding the coast for the larger destiny to follow.

The shadow of new events crept toward Portala's cross. In a winter month in the third decade of the nineteenth century an unprecedented happening awakened the fears of the Franciscans at Carmel, the holy water in the baptismal font in the San Carlos Mission was found to be frozen. This unparalleled thing in that bland clime could not, they believed, but portend some unhappy fate. In confirmation of Their worst fears came the news that the Viceroy had repudiated allegiance to the King. The eagle of Mexico had soared above the lion of Castile, and a rebel had supplanted the King in the litany of prayers. The cornerstone of the mission system had been broken; the crumbling process was at hand.

Then came Fernandez, the Canonigo, the most exalted ecclesiastical dignitary that had ever set foot in Monterey. Junipero was a Puritan of humble and contrite virtue. The Canonigo was a swaggering roysterer, pledging the revenues of the Church in games of chance. On the occasions of Juniper's journeyings from his capital, the tears of his neophytes, the sound of mission bells, and the prayers of his comrades attested the reverence he had won. Races, revels, and bull fights in Monterey celebrated the convivial departure of Fernandez.

A new era was at hand. Under the unstable Mexican regime, chaos followed confusion. In the twenty four years that intervened before the Stars and Stripes, hoisted over Monterey, proclaimed the advent of the golden age in the West, that city saw thirteen governors come and go. Communication with Mexico was difficult. A governor at Monterey when he rose in the morning did not know whether to salute the flag of a liberator, an emperor, a rebel, a president, or, a king. Monterey, too, had turmoils and revolutions of her own. Ambitious intrigue placarded her adobe walls with flaming ultimatos. The alcalde and regidores of one clay were prisoners in irons the next. Anarchy today sat gravely in the Ayuntamiento tomorrow, and governors turned fugitive as usurpers assumed control.

Yet these Monterey revolutions were anaemica, attended with less shedding of blood than the bull fights that celebrated the triumphs of her voluble warriors. It was the operabouffe warfare of little statesmen making their clamoring exit from the stage of history.

The spectacular caballero in his jacket laced with gold, was passing away with the phantoms he had chased. The Mission bells grew silent. New horsemen thronged over the mountain roads. New sailors cast anchor in the harbor. A new flag floated over the presidio, a flag that was not to be pulled down. The American Republic had reached the western sea.

Of these later events the guide informs you with some fidelity to the facts as you start on the famous Twenty Mile Drive. He tells you how the brig Natalia, upon which Napoleon escaped from Elba, was wrecked by storms in Monterey Bay in 1834 to typify that Europe's power over California was gone forever, and he will sell you fragments of the wreck; he will tell you how Commodore Jones in 1842, by mistake but in prophecy of things to come, hoisted the American ensign over Monterey; how in 1846, that flag, in the hands of Commodore Sloat, went up to stay; how in the following month the first newspaper published on the Pacific coast made its appearance in Monterey; in the corners of the public squares he will show you the cannon of John C. Fremont, and he will point you to the Gabilan Mountains where on their highest peak overlooking Monterey the famed "pathfinder" unfurled the colors of his country and bade defiance to the Mexicans, even before he knew that war raged between the two republics. Then your proud historian will show you the ancient adobe capitol where in 1849, just one hundred years from the time Juniper set sail from Majorca, the first convention met to form the commonwealth of California, a convention which, though composed in the major part of adventurers, some of whom looked upon murder as a pastime, sent to Washington the unanimous declaration that slavery should never stain the Golden West, and thus revived the great conflict in the Senate and caused the famous compromise.

Then your pilot will guide you to the fishing villages whence Spanish pescadores once put out in their shallops to harvest the bay for the governor and his Court. Later came the American whalers before the tide of commerce turned the sperm whale and the finback to remoter waters. Occasionally yet comes a sulphurbottom following the tides of the Kuro Sirva, and then there is vast excitement in Pescadero Bay.

Now through the groves of giant pines at the edge of the sea where the western Chautauqua meets, and then to Cypress Point, whose trees, the guide informs you loftily, are identical with the cedars of Lebanon, and you are nearing the resting place of Juniper. With the adjournment of the convention that met at Monterey in response to the proclamation of the military governor to frame a State, the capital passed from that historic town, and for many years the grave of its founder was forgotten. The rush to the gold mines trod underfoot the old time glories of Monterey. From a throbbing capital it became for a while a deserted village. Lichens grew in its streets and the roofs of its houses crumbled.

As for the Mission at Carmel, rust muffled its chimes; Spanish moss covered its tumbling pilasters; its sanctuary was choked with wild mustard; storms blew through the fallen roof. The lizard alone kept watch of the ruin. But when the new civilization had built its cities and established its railways and there was time again to cultivate the arts of rest, romance turned once more to Monterey. Capital saw in its ruins an opportunity for gain. In its environs Stevenson beheld a paradise for poets, and Monterey became a field of dalliance, a mecca for millionaires at play, an unfailing inspiration to every spirit in a mood to dream.

Junipero at Monterey initiated the activities that held the coast against envious nations, and now to his tomb comes the tide of travel. A few years ago Mrs. Leland Stanford, representing patriotic citizens and students whom the eloquent writings of the historian Hittell had inspired to veneration of J unipero, restored the ruined Mission, so that now his tomb is marked by no traces of neglect, and there with the Carmel surf chanting his eternal requiem, side by side with the comrades he loved and the governors he and his followers installed, this unconquerable friar who trudged, lamely, ten thousand miles in the name of God, establishing the outposts of Christianity and opening the way for the Democracy to come, is receiving the tardy homage his genius and character deserve.

He was indeed one of Emerson's men who "pin continents together."

Now you climb to the crest of the cordillera. Before you is the circling bay with its border of white beaches. Beyond, Fremont's Peak, the tall sentinel that first proclaimed the advent of the dominant American. At your feet the quaint capital that Juniper founded, half adobe, half modern. You can distinguish the time tumbled walls that tell of Spain's departed glory, and you see the crumbling Cuartel and Custom House of the Mexicans, who lacked the Spaniards' Moorish taste in their homes and public buildings. The old capital has outlived its day. It thrives now on trinkets and abelone shells, painted with memories of the past. But on your left, set in the midst of five hundred acres of flowers and oaks and pines, are luxurious touches of modern life where business comes to forget its cares, and romance spends its honeymoon.

Descend the slope toward the city, passing on your way ruined adobe cabins. Rounding a turn in the historic road you see the smoke of an incoming steamer bringing holiday passengers through waters where, aforetime, Spanish corvettes lurked for wily smugglers. From the Cuartel as you near the old capital you hear, instead of the. war ballads of quixotic guerreros, the merriment of school children at play. On the streets, instead of the alferez coming on caparisoned horse to announce the presence in the harbor of a stranger craft, you encounter hotel runners clattering in 'buses to the pier. On surviving fragments of villa walls you discern no solemn reglamentos. Advertisements of swimming suits and fishing tackle have supplanted the rhetorical decrees of the Spanish governors. The descendants of the naked Indians that crowded round the royal carriage of Donna Eulalia of Catalonia a century ago, shocking that titled lady to throw them some of her purple and fine linen, now shamble by you in slattern calico and jeans, bearing bundles of laundry to a neighboring lagoon. The cleansing process of their trade has for them no personal contagion. In curio shops that crowd the site of the old presidio where the soldiers of Charles III. performed their part in the programme of civilization Junipero had outlined, you buy your souvenirs.

Then climb to Vizcanio's oak. Beyond the cross reared here are the tottering memorials in the ancient graveyard. A century of strange and stirring romance is buried there. From this weed grown cemetery haunted by memories which your guide cannot recall, you again see the town and harbor in panorama, and you get clearer glimpses of the paradise into which landscape gardeners have transformed surrounding acres of sand dunes over which pobladores once ranged seeking pasturage for their herds.

At your feet, along a well kept road of pounded shells, and across bridges framed of the skeletons of whales buttressed with moss grown rocks, roll automobiles and victorias in the pursuit of pleasure. Follow them blithely, if you will, waving your hand to the past; or, in the true spirit of historic pilgrimage, kneel in this place of burial and spell the imperfectly chiselled story of the Spanish pioneers who, despite their visionary dreams, held, for the government Washington was founding, a highway to the Pacific.

[Also see the early California biographies]

Historic towns of the Western States

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