San Bernardino Mission

San Bernardino Mission History

Decorative I Logo Used to Start a Sentencet is fascinating to look back over a stretch of hundred years of time, a feat which San Bernardino is now enabled to do, having but recently celebrated with great splendor her existence as a century-old community. But this is the city's record in civilization only. She has another record still older. White men were in the valley of San Bernardino 136 years ago, and, by a slight stretch of the imagination, the place may be said to have been "discovered" 368 years ago.

Beginning with the record farthest back, we come upon the voyage of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo to California in 1542. Cabrillo was a Portuguese navigator, able and daring, who succeeded in reaching our shores after at least two other sailors had failed in the attempt. He sailed under the Spanish flag in the service of a no less renowned personage than Cortez, the conqueror of the Aztecs. Cabrillo's expedition was fitted out in the "New Spain" of those days, which is the Old Mexico to today. His first landing in California was made at San Diego, where he spent six days. He then sailed north as far as Cape Mendocino where a storm drove him back to Santa Barbara, his ships putting in to the Isle of San Miguel where Cabrillo sickened and died.

On his voyage up the coast, Cabrillo visited the present harbor of San Pedro, which he named the "Bay of Smoke" because at that time the dried grasses on the surrounding hills were one vast flame of fire. But there can be no doubt that Cabrillo caught sight of Mts. San Bernardino and San Gorgonio from the waters of the ocean. No doubt, also, he made note of those majestic peaks as he sailed. Wherefore, it might be said that San Bernardino became know to white men full more than three centuries and a half ago.

Cabrillo, however, never set foot in San Bernardino, so we cannot count him as a visitor. It was not until the year 1774 that the first white man actually arrived in the land of the Guachamas, standing knee-deep in the wild flowers of the valley upon which still looks, as it did then, the mystic mountain of the Arrowhead. This white man was Juan de Anza, the famous Captain of Tubac, who blazed the first inland trail from Sonora to Monterey. Some day there should be erected a monument in Meadowbrook Park to Juan de Anza, the Captain of Tubac. He stands in history as the discoverer of San Bernardino.

It was a notable as well as a hazardous expedition which old Captain de Anza made through the San Bernardino Valley 136 years ago. It was no easy trick to start out from beyond the Colorado River and travel afoot and horseback all the way to Monterey in California. Few people would care to attempt the journey in that way even now, with all the water holes located, not to speak of the section houses and the civilized towns that are strung along the road. Captain Juan had none of these to depend on. It was an unknown country and a hard country to cross. It was filled with savages and sidewinders and God knows how many miles of blazing sands that were horrors of desolation.

Yet the Captain of Tubac made the journey in safety. He blazed the trail and put the desert on the map. With him on that memorable journey he had 240 men and women and 1050 beasts of different kinds. It is not recorded that he lost anybody or anything. The way he came into San Bernardino was exactly the way that the Southern Pacific Railroad comes into it now. But all that this brave old trail-blazer found when he reached the spot where now stands the good gray town of St. Bernard was a village of the Guachama Indians who must have been as greatly surprised to see him and his companions as we would be now to receive a visit from a band of Hottentots.

Up to the time of Captain de Anza's expedition, and for many years afterwards [sic], the Spaniards confined their

The roof and construction of early San Bernardino Mission
Showing the roof and construction of early San Bernardino Mission

task of conquering and civilizing California entirely to the territory lying immediately along the ocean. They never ventured more than 30 miles inland, and they went as far as that only at one place. The Valley of San Bernardino and all the other great inland valleys were as an unknown country to the Conquistadors and the Franciscan Padres until shortly before the time Padre Dumetz came over from the San Gabriel and founded San Bernardino, May 20, 1810. But it is know that the Padres of San Gabriel had long had their thoughts on this Valley were dwelt the Guachamas and which was famed by all reports as "The Place of Plenty".

We can easily imagine the glowing accounts that Captain Juan gave the Padres at San Gabriel as he sat with them at the Mission resting on the way to Monterey. And there can be no doubt that the Padres were then more eager than ever to look upon the mystic Arrowhead and to plant the cross in the country of the Guachamas. But if, too, they were somewhat timid about venturing inland so far, we are not to blame them. The Yumas and the other Apaches were not far away, and the Padres had had a terrible experience with those savages in Arizona.

The people of San Bernardino should be interested in knowing all that is to be known of Francisco Dumetz, the brown-robed Franciscan under whose leadership the city and valley were founded and made a part of the civilized world. In personal appearance he must have been a striking and commanding figure, standing over six feel tall in his sandals, and rather fleshly, too. He was grown old when he came to San Bernardino and was then the last living man of that valiant band of pioneers and proselytizers who had come to California with Junipero Serra in 1769. He was a hard and zealous worker and had served in the Missions at San Diego, San Carlos, San Fernando and Santa Buena Ventura before coming to San Gabriel. He died one year after he had founded San Bernardino and his sacred dust lies buried somewhere in the San Gabriel Mission.

We can picture Padre Dumetz in our imagination as he came on that far away day of a hundred years ago to the beautiful hill in the "Place of Plenty" where the cornerstone of the memorial capilla was dedicated during the recent centennial. And we can also imagine the thrill that swept his soul as he looked away across that wondrous valley, as beautiful now as it was then. We can hear in memory the music of the bells as he rang them calling the savage gentiles to the Cross. It is a far way to look back and it will be still a farther look another hundred years from now when we who are a part of the life of today are deep in the dust of death with Francisco Dumetz. But there will be people then to take the look, and there will be people looking backward still in the centuries that are yet beyond, telling the tale that we tell now.

History relates that the founding of San Bernardino was not without its somber side. The Guachamas did not take kindly to Christianity at first. Soon after the Padres came among them an unfortunate, and, as it would seem, an ill-timed earthquake occurred. Hot springs broke through the ground and the earth trembled. The Indians blamed the whole business on the white men, and especially on the Padres, with the consequence that the Guachamas burned everything in sight and attempted to kill the whites in a body.

San Bernardino Mission (About 1820) Now Barton Place, Near Redlands
San Bernardino Mission (About 1820) Now Barton Place, Near Redlands

A few soldiers were then brought from San Gabriel and the Padres continued their task. They were used to such treatment and it did not deter them. Another capilla was built, this time farther into the valley, but this too was destroyed. But the work went on. The third and the finally successful stand was made over toward Redlands where the ruins of the old Mission buildings are standing to this day. where the ruins of the old Mission buildings are standing to this day.

The old Zanja or irrigation ditch, which the Padres built, is still in existence in the San Bernardino Valley and there are many other evidences of their labors. That the Mission San Bernardino would have rivaled the other Missions in wealth and importance there can be no question were it not for the fact that it was just then the entire Mission empire fell upon evil days. In wh1812 the harassment of the Missions by the greedy and conscienceless land-grabbers began. The Franciscans disputed every inch of ground and did all that brave men could do to protect their Indian wards. But it was of no avail. The Missions fell, one by one, into ruin and decay. The Padres were driven out by injustice and wrong. The neophytes and Christian Indians went back to the hills and the deserts, many of them to worship again at the feet of the ancient heathen gods.

This, then, is the brave story of the Mission San Bernardino and of the founding of the City and the Valley of San Bernardino. It is a story of which to be proud and of which the people of San Bernardino are proud. In the centennial celebration which has so recently been held, they who dwell today in the "Place of Plenty" under the flow of the peerless mountains and in the peerless Valley of St. Bernard have shown their pride in the heritage which they enjoy and which they shall hand down in greater splendor to their children and their children's children.

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