San Francisco Solano Mission
by Max Stein

Table of Contents

Introduction
Chapter 1, How the Mission Came to Be
Chapter 2, Life On the Mission
Conclusion
Bibliography

Photographs
Outside of the Mission
The Mission Chapel
The Padre's Bedroom
The Soldiers' Barracks
The Mission Bell
The Cistern and Courtyard

Introduction

This report is about the mission San Francisco Solano de Sonoma. I chose this mission to study because I thought that it was interesting that it was at the end of El Camino Real and was the only mission built under Mexican rule.

Thanks to my mom who drove me there and helped me so much, my dad for helping me print those lovely photographs and fix the Photoshop problem, and my brother who tried hard not to bug me. And thanks to the docent at the mission who was kind enough to let us video tape her tour. She gave me information that I could get nowhere else.

Chapter 1 How the Mission Came To Be

For thousands of years Indians lived in Sonoma Valley, in peace. They hunted and gathered for food, and worshipped the Earth as God. Their peaceful simple life seemed to go on with no end. But everything was going to change.

In the year 1823 El Camino Real (the Kings Road) had reached all the way to Sonoma Valley. El Camino brought Padre Jose´ Altimera who was a priest from Spain, some soldiers, and 700 Indians who had already been on a mission. Father Altimera found a spot where he wanted to put the mission, with approval of Governor Luis Argello. Because Mexico had won it's independence before the padre arrived, that made it the only mission founded under Mexican rule.

Father Altimera raised a cross where the mission was to be and they celebrated. Soldiers fired guns and canons. The mission was officially called San Francisco Solano after a saint in Peru. Nearby Indians watched in surprise. Some Indians left the valley because they wanted to keep their old ways. Many stayed to help with the mission. Mission Indians learned Christianity and the ways of the Spanish. Mission Indians were called neophytes.

The first mission structures were built by poles tied together with cow-hide coated with mud. The roof was made from thatched tule reed. This kind of construction is called palizada. In April, 1824 a wooden church was built. A painting of San Francisco Solano was hung above the place of honor, the alter. In the missions first summer, an adobe house was made for the priest. It was plastered with white wash and roofed with tiles baked in ovens for many days. Many padizadas were built for the soldiers. When enough were built, Indians when to work planting a vineyard, an orchard and a corn field. Before they could do this they had to clear the area. The mission grew fast and the vineyard had now 2000 grape vines. A jail for bad soldiers, and even a gris mill was built.
For punishment Indians would have to make red wood beams for the ceilings and each beam would take huge amounts of time and effort. A mule train arrived from Fort Ross (a Russian camp further up the coast) and gave the mission presents like bells. The Russians turned out to be not an enemy but a friend.

Padre Altimera did well getting the mission going, but he was a very cruel to the Indians. He also treated the Indians like children, even the adults. One night there was an Indian revolt, the Indians set the mission on fire and by the next day a lot of the mission was burnt down. Father Altimera was so mad that he took what little belongings he had and fled back to Spain. Of course they had to get a new padre and so they did. His name was Padre Buenaventura Fortuny. He was one of the nicest fathers there were. He treated most of the Indians nicely and with respect and the Indians looked up to him like a father for he understood the Indians better. He lost not a second in getting the mission back in to shape. In no time did he had the Indians weaving, tending the orchard and vineyard, and making saddles etc. A cistern made from stone with water being pumped in from the river was built in the middle of the court yard. It was where laundry was washed and were they got drinking water from.

A new church needed to be built because the old one was too small. It was finished in 1829. Padre Fortuny was tired after 6 and 1/2 years of hard work on the mission so he retired. The next padre was Mexican and his name was Padre Gutierrez. He complained that the Indians were not obeying him. One of the reasons why was because he was very mean and not patient, and the Indians were used to Padre Fortuny, his patience and kindness. Many Indians wandered into the hills.

Padre Gutierrez left after only one and a half years. A new padre came his name was Padre Quijas. He came just in time to hear that that the mission system was going to shut down because in 1830 the Mexican government took over the Catholic church and decided to close the mission. But San Francisco Solano grew and in 1834 the mission reached its largest. From the beginning to the end the mission had grown from 4 rooms to 27 rooms.

General Guadalupe Vallejo was sent to Sonoma by the Mexican army. He lived in the padre's living quarters and gave Father Quijas a small room where he received no peace. Later Vallejo built his own house and when he did this he took the tiles from the mission's roof to make his own roof. When that happened the adobe walls melted due to lack of protection and rain. The padre got so frustrated that he left Sonoma to go to San Rafael and the mission there. General Vallejo took much of the mission's land and cattle.

The Indians that were still in the valley tried to care for the cattle, the vineyard and the orchard, but failed. The cattle wandered away and the vineyard and the orchard didn't do so hot due to lack of care. The Indians left the valley forever. The mission was for a long time empty, or only used as storage.

Later, the American-Mexican war broke out. The United States won the war, Sonoma was now an American town. The Americans gave the mission arched doorways, a bell tower, and red bricks to make it look more American. The new look was horrible because the mission was originally Spanish architecture which looked nice. Then in 1881 the mission was sold for $3,000 to Solomon Schocken. Later on, the people of Sonoma realized that the mission was a historic land mark. They fixed it up as best they could and in 1926 the mission became part of the California State Parks.

Chapter 2: Life On a Mission

How the people thought of life on the mission was very different from one person to another. Some liked it, others hated it. Indians had a wide range of jobs. Some boys would be educated by the soldiers, they would be taught military stuff. Others worked at the gris mill. Girls did laundry at the cistern and weaved in the weaving looms. Men normally did the cattle ranching. Some tended the vineyards and orchards. This was all hard work. I bet that the Indians where glad when it was meal time they must of got awfully hungry. The Indians were not the only ones who worked hard. The Padres also worked hard teaching an Indian to do somthing or making sure that everone behaved during services.

Life on the mission was not always healthy. The Spanish brought diseases like smallbox. Normally most of the diseases would not that major, but the Indians were not immune to them and often were fatal.

Conclusion

I think that the mission was a total waste of time and life. The Indians who lived in the valley wound up with nothing and had to leave the valley in the end. But if the mission had never come, many Indians wouldn't have died, kept their way of living, and have a much happier in life.

The mission was a total failure because it gained nothing. The padres mission was to tame the Indians and make them Catholic. That stopped when the mission fell apart so the Indians never became good Catholics.

The one group that suceeded was General Guadalupe Vallejo and his family. They benefitted from the old mission lands and cattle, and the tiles from the mission roof. So that's why the mission failed, the wrong people benefitted.

Bibliography

California Department of Parks and Recreation. "Sonoma State Historic Parks"
Hayton-Keeva, Sally. The Mission. Vineburg, California. Adobe Books Press, 1988.
Sonoma State Historic Parks Docent Tour of San Francisco Solano Mission on February 17, 1996.

San Francisco Solano Mission


Photographs

(click on small pictures for greater detail)
Outside of the Mission



The Mission Chapel



The Padre's Bedroom



The Soldiers' Barracks



The Mission Bell



The Cistern and Courtyard




Text, Photographs and Illustrations by
Max Stein

Formatted by Max Stein and Mitch Stein


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