San Francisco Solano Mission
by Max Stein
Table of Contents
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
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
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
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.
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.
California Department of Parks and Recreation. "Sonoma State Historic
Hayton-Keeva, Sally. The Mission. Vineburg, California. Adobe Books Press,
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)