Ensenada’s Guadalupe Valley: The Early Years
By David Kier
David Kier is author of the The Old Missions of Baja & Alta California 1697-1834, that covers the histories and interesting facts around the 48 missions — starting with the first mission established in Loreto in 1697 — founded in Baja during this time period.
Spanish missionary Felix Caballero established California’s last mission in 1834 as Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. Guadalupe was also the only mission to be established after 1821 when Mexico won its 11-year war of independence from Spain. In 1833, the new government in Mexico City had ordered all the Spanish missions secularized and their lands turned over to the locals, given away or sold. Because Baja California was so sparsely populated and remote, a special decree was made allowing the Dominicans to continue operating the missions on the peninsula. The decree did stipulate that once the mission padre had left or died he could not be replaced, allowing the mission system to eventually end on the peninsula. The Indian name for the area where the mission was built was ‘Ojá cuñúrr’ meaning ‘painted cave’ for a nearby decorated granite rock with red, yellow and white pictographs.
Guadalupe Valley proved to be very rich land and Caballero raised 4,915 head of cattle and many crops during the mission’s short six-year existence. Two miles of irrigation canals were built on both sides of the river valley and grapes, pears, apricots and grain was grown. The large native population had originally embraced Padre Caballero, but turned against him after reported harsh treatment, forced baptisms and enslavements. The mission’s Indians joined with other tribes who had been attacking the mission since 1836, and in February of 1840 their leader ‘Jatñil’ or ‘Black Dog’ frightened away Caballero who fled south to San Ignacio. Felix Caballero died the following year on July 11, 1840. The remaining peninsular Indians returned to their previous lives. Over the years most mixed with the mainland Mexicans who came to colonize Baja California, yet some remained in their own communities. Those Indian villages exist today near Guadalupe and Santa Catarina, the site of another mission location 50 miles southeast.
In 1863, the Guadalupe mission site was granted to Don José Matás Moreno, a former governor of Baja California. Moreno’s daughters sold the land to the Russian colonist sect known as the Malakáns who came to Baja California fleeing the czar’s war with Japan. Governor Moreno was buried on the mission grounds and his family brought flowers to it for many years. The grave has vanished since then and a chain-link fence now surrounds the site, over-looking the river valley. A new museum shares the site with recently unearthed foundations of the mission.
The new Russian (or ‘Ruso’) population built their town along a wide street lined with shade trees, Russian style homes, steam-bath houses and barns. Flocks of geese and bee hives were introduced, as well. Men with long beards and women in long skirts were once the norm in Guadalupe. The cemetery has many unique grave markers for the Rusos that are very plain compared to the more elaborate ones used by the Mexicans.
Many of the Russians left in the 1920’s but until just a few years ago you could still see blond and red haired descendents there. In the 1930’s, Mexican farmers began to populate the valley and officially renamed the town Francisco Zarco.
A visit to the Guadalupe Valley is quite rewarding. To locate the mission and museum, take the paved town entrance road off Highway 3, and dive one mile. Where the street ahead becomes divided with a planter, turn left. The mission and museum are just down the side street.
To find out more about David Kier and the missions of Baja, visit the website, http://www.oldmissions.com. With over 160 photographs from the past and present, maps, and more, this 140 page book can be used for research or as a guide to the missions in both Baja California, Mexico and California, USA.
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