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 whose 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.
In the last entry, Father Garces was debating where his mission should take him next, fearing that if he didn’t get back to his companions — a man named Sebastian and friendly Indians he called the Jamajabs — they could desert him.
May 4, 87th day
I went half a league east to a rancheria where they fed me wild rice and urged me repeatedly to stay; indeed, hardly had I arrived when all the girls went to bring grass for my mule, something that nowhere else did I see done. I gave them presents from the very little I had and returned to the rancheria. There they refused me a guide, thus obligating me to stay. The little boy I had baptized was dying, so his parents began to weep and some old women to lament; and the weeping and lamenting went on by turns. Other women and children of the rancheria came and made a large circle, in the center of which was a big bonfire. The child’s parents began to cry again, and the old women accompanied them in a contralto chorus. They stopped, and the captain with the young men in a circle chanted in a mournful tone but in measured time. They got up without using their hands and, bending over, danced in time to the chant, beating the measure with their feet and letting their arms hang limp. Then they would stretch their arms forward, putting their palms together; then draw them back to the chest; then extend them crossed over each other, palm down; then they would raise their arms and clap their hands; then they would suddenly sit down — following the rhythm of the chant in everything. I went to the little boy many times. His mother had put on him all the shell beads she had, and I placed on his breast a little cross and left them my kerchief for use as a shroud.
May 5, 88th day
The child had not yet died, and because people were still coming to see me, they urged me not to go. They still refused to go with me, but as I continued to worry about my companions, I resolved to leave alone. As soon as I left, an Indian caught up with me who guided me to the next rancheria, which was two and a half leagues to the south. Five Indians left here in my company, with whom, traveling two leagues in the same direction and southeast through the mountains, I came to the Santiago River. It had more water than when I crossed it before. After traveling three leagues, I halted to eat at a rancheria where they strongly urged me to stop. I did not give in to their entreaties, however, but went, accompanied by all the men and women, downriver, southwestward to another rancheria. The captain there, a very serious-looking man, urged me to stay. He offered to take me the next day to see a Spaniard who was married to a woman of the Colteche Noches, a short distance eastward. He told me that the Spaniard wore on his breast a round object and that he would name God and tell them that He was in the heavens; that the Spaniard had a small child and was a good-hearted man, and that they all loved him, and he lived in harmony with them. The captain gave me to understand that the Spaniard still wore some clothing. I think that probably he is a deserter who, by reason of his mild ways among them, has been allowed to live. This captain gave me some dried bear meat, and I took leave of him with regret when it was time to go.
Two Indians left with me. Though I wished to follow the flow of the river, they assured me that there was no way through because the canyons were too narrow. I passed a lofty peak; and when the Indians had put me on the path and had pointed out where the rancheria and the river were, they left me although I urged them repeatedly to go on with me. They left me, I judged, not from discontent with me but because they were naked and it was very cold; moreover, they greatly fear the bears that are in large numbers in this land. I gave no thought to these things myself, in my earnestness to reach my companions, but, a short way further on, when night had fallen, I found myself at the brink of chasms where, though I could discern some paths, they were only footpaths on which my mule could not go. At length, God willed that I should get down to a large canyon which I thought would lead to one of the rivers or, at any rate, to the plains on the west. I kept on in the canyon almost all night, winding interminably, and was elated on coming out, when it was day, on the banks of the Santiago River. To this point, I had come four and a half leagues west and southwest from the rancheria I had last left.