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, Garces met friendly Indians after passing through the Tehachapi Mountains on April 26. The next day, Garces and his two Indian guides set out west-northwest and came to another rancheria of hospitable Indians. However, when Garces attempted to persuade his companions to venture on, they refused to go because their hosts said the neighboring Noche Indians were hostile. Garces decided to go on when an Indian born among the Noches volunteered to be his guide.
April 30th, 83rd day
Telling Sebastian and the Jamajab to wait for me there the four or five (days) that I should be away, I set out eastward with the old man. After we had passed some low hills and travelled eight leagues northward, I stopped at a watercourse which I named after Santa Catarina, having met on the way some boys of the Noche nation to whom I gave presents. Right at hand is the Sierre de San Marcos (Tehachapi Mountains), which runs northeast and north, about 11 leagues distant from the San Luis range. As we were savoring at this place a very tasty herb that grows in the streambed, we saw up the mountainside three Noche Indians. The old man went over to speak to them, and seeing that they did not approach I got up to give them presents, but I only succeeded in getting one of them to come a little nearer. He threw me two squirrels; so did the other two Indians. With these six squirrels, and six others which they gave the old man, we had a supply of food. We went for the night further down the same watercourse, where we found two huts and the families who lived in them.
May 1, 84th day
After a league’s travel northwest I came to a big river (the Kern) the waters of which, beautiful and crystal-clear, make a great noise as they issue from the San Marcos ranges, for where they come from the eastward, they are narrowly boxed in. I wanted to cross at once, because the river, though rapid, did not seem to me to have much water, but the old man dissuaded me. Continuing downriver, I came to a rancheria where the inhabitants were kind and generous to us and from there three Indians went with me as far as another rancheria, on the other side of the river, to which they told me I could cross.
Difficulties arose when they asked me if I knew how to swim. When I told them no and that they should make me a raft, they answered that they didn’t know how. Finally I took my clothes off, except my shirt and drawers; though they urged me to take off even these, I refused. Then they decided to take me across by having four swim me, two holding my arms and two by the body and with that opportunity I had a fine bath in that beautiful water. My mule crossed by swimming; my habit and saddle were taken over in baskets.
The people at the rancheria put on a big celebration at my coming and fed me. Happy at their attention and affection, I reciprocated with tobacco and glass beads. The men make a good appearance. The women are very neat and clean; they take good care of their hair and put it up in a knot over the forehead and bathe often. They wear skirts of deerhide and wraps of animal pelts; they show little concern, however, about concealing their person.
I dried out my clothes, and in the afternoon an Indian captain from the west came to invite me to go there. I kept refusing and they kept urging, so I brought out the magnetic needle and as they saw that no matter how I kept turning it about, it always pointed to the north, which was the direction I told them I ought to take, they let me go; and they remained looking at one another with wonder, which is not strange, for when other Indians have seen the compass they have thought it possessed an understanding of its own.
Along this noteworthy river which I called the Rio de San Felipe, there is ample pasturage, an abundance of trees and much irrigable land. Leaving the rancerhia and going three leagues partly northwest and partly north, I came to another river (Poso Creek) not very big, which to judge by its bed undoubtedly rises very high in flood. I called it the Rio de Santiago. It has great masses of trees. I spent the night at a rancheria of notably good-looking people. They were very hospitable, and I reciprocated.
Since leaving the San Felipe River, I have traveled over country so rugged that the old man, tiring, told me at this rancheria that someone else must go on with me. In this Noche nation and even in that of the Benemes, the use of the sweat-bath is common. The sweat-house is an underground room covered with sticks and grass, like an oven, with a single window either in its top or side. They go into it and light a fire, and as there is little movement of air the heat and smoke make their eyes water and their sweat pour to the ground. When they can stand it no longer, they come running out and jump into the river, where they take a thorough bath. This is why these people stay clean, but although well formed, they are slender and not hardy enough to travel afoot.