On the occasion of Kern County’s centennial in 1966, The Californian printed a series of history pieces, including the diaries of Father Francisco Garces, a Franciscan missionary who began his work on behalf of the Catholic Church and Spain in Tucson, Ariz., in 1768. His travels brought him to the valley in 1776. What follows are excerpts from his experiences in the area, as translated by John Galvin, reprinted from the April 2, 1966, edition of The Californian.
1966 editor’s note: Father Garces had asked for aid from the military to continue his journey northward from San Gabriel Mission and win converts for the Church and subjects of the Spanish crown, but it was refused because of a policy of the military authorities to keep the tribes separate. Father Garces strongly disapproved of this policy and says as much in his diary. He finally was given two Indian guides and a small amount of supplies by the Mission priests and set out on his journey northward on April 9, 1776. He entered the Tehachapi Mountains through Oak Creek Pass and traveled through the Tehachapis, which he called the Sierra de San Marcos.
April 26, 81st day
I went up the Sierra de San Marcos a distance of two and a half leagues north, to where I had sight of lofty mountains and of heavy, grassy canyons. Three and a half leagues more, and I came to some rancherias of the Cuabajai nation where the old women gave me many seeds of chia (the lime-leafed sage) which are abundant here. This rancheria, which I called San Pascual, is built thus: There is a large square enclosure with arches of willows and a roof of mats made of rushes split and sewn together. It has some windows to let smoke out, but only one door at the east and another at the west, at each of which a guard stands all night. On all sides are sleeping rooms to which they go when it is time, each family until then staying by the fire at the door of its own chamber.
As I said, it was the old women who welcomed me, because the Jamajabs had gone ahead to give notice of my arrival. The young people, as soon as they heard it was a Spaniard that was coming, took to the woods. When I came up to the rancheria, as one of the Jamajabs was wearing my woolen shirt and the other my blanket, they were suspicious of them, thinking they too were Spaniards but seeing that they did no harm and that my companions were not Spaniards but Jamajabs, they all gathered round to have a look and showed their pleasure by kissing my crucifix and responding to everything I said that it was good.
They told me that in the night, the captain had taken all the animals over from the western to the eastern side because there were bad people about. The Jamajabs were grieved that the Indians should question them insistently, above all to ask if I were a Spaniard from the west. They answered no, that they were from the east, and all the nations loved me dearly because I did no harm to anyone; they themselves might have considered me a Jamajab, and that was why they came with me.
At nightfall, I went into the large hut, or enclosure, where each family was at its fire. I went from one to another, greeting them cordially, and sat down at the captain’s fire. Through an Indian who understood their language well, I told the captain that I knew he had a good heart and so would do me no harm, but there were bad people near and he should tell me if there was anything I should know. “Don’t be afraid,” he answered; “I shall escort you with all my people as far as the next rancheria, and no one will harm you. We already know that you have behaved well toward the people of the great river.”
I recited there the Corona and, with Sebastian and the two Jamajabs, chanted the Alabado, as has been my practice at all the rancherias, to their wonderment and pleasure, so that word of it has passed from one nation to another, and they would ask me, “When are you going to pray? The people now don’t want to leave until they have seen you pray and sing?” I noticed that no sooner did I begin to pray than all the shouting, dancing and hubbub ceased and they preserved a dead silence. They kept giving me shells in great numbers in exchange for my Corona. This night, as we were praying, the captain’s wife took a basket of chia seeds and, as an offering, emptied it over the crucifix at my breast. The other women did the same and threw some in the fire so there would be a burst of light.
When I had finished reciting the Corona, I sat down with the captain and some old men who gathered near. They sucked the tobacco I gave them and then asked me to show them my breviary and the compass and other things, with all of which they were delighted. Then the captain took a little white stone out of his pouch and cast it into the fire to be heated and after it was hot, he mashed it thoroughly in a stone mortar, adding water and tobacco until the mixture was like gruel. He handed me the pestle, which was also of stone, for me to lick and taste the broth, which I found most bitter. The moment I gave him back the pestle, he wet it again ad handed it to an old man, who took quite a lick but had to force himself to get such bitterness down. Then came my companions’ turn. When one of the Jamajabs tried it, he had such a vomiting spell that I thought he would die, which the rancheria people greeted with a burst of laughter. The meeting broke up when there was no other to try it.
I slept near the door of the big hut, and from an Indian on watch I was able to make out that they drink this gruel to banish fatigue and for this reason give to their guests. Here I saw baskets, flint knives, shallow bowls with inlaid work of mother-of-pearl — the knives had it too — and woven shellwork, all of which things are to be found also at the (Santa Barbara Channel) since there is much trading back and forth and perhaps these Indians belong to the same nation; from what I hear, they are similar also in their dress and the cleanliness of the women.