California's Inland Chain of Missions

California's Inland Chain of Missions
By Tom Davis

[This article first appeared in the CMSA Newsletter, Vol. 9, Number 1, Winter 1992.]

When Junípero Serra began establishing missions along California's coast, he envisioned a chain of missions beginning at San Diego and stretching up to Alaska.

In 1774, at San Diego, Serra met with Fray Francisco Hermenegildo Garcés, the chaplain of the de Anza party. Serra was not unaware of California's great Central Valley, so it is reasonable to imagine Serra and Garcés discussing the possibility of an inland chain of missions. About a year later Garcés became the first European to penetrate the San Joaquin Valley, where he selected a suitable site for a mission near what is now the city of Bakersfield.

We know that Fray Fermín Francisco de Lasuén, second Padre Presidente, was not just filling in gaps between one mission and another when he established the missions at San Fernando, San Miguel, and San José. As early as 1797, Lasuén saw the need to establish contact points for easy access to the Central Valley Indians by the Friars.

In 1804, a Friar from Mission San Miguel, Fray Juan Martín, led an expedition into the San Joaquin and the valleys adjacent to the mountains farther south and visited a village on Lake Tulare. Later expeditions explored the area and the village of Talame was chosen as a site to establish a mission in that region. Until 1818 Talame was first choice as, a future mission site.

Governor José Joaquin Arrillaga, in 1806, was in agreement with the idea of civilizing and Christianizing the inland Indians. He supported the missionaries' efforts during his administration. He explored the valley as did his successor Pablo Vicente de Solá. With Fray José Sánchez, he selected possible new sites in the Tulare area to build missions.

Under Padre Presidentes Fray José Señán and Fray Mariano Payeras the idea of establishing inland missions was continued. Payeras argued for missions in the San Joaquin Valley for several reasons. First, they would serve the spiritual needs of a great number of native living there; second, they would be a deterrent to the stealing of livestock by the inland Indians.

Payeras wrote:
Some of the missions in the north have suffered from incursions and stock stealings of the pagan Indians of the frontier in conjunction with fugitive neophytes from the missions of their respective regions, and although these evils seem to have diminished, through the continued activity of the Government of the Province and the efforts of the Padres, it nevertheless seems an opportune time for the foundation of a mission in the Valley of the Tulares which is to the northeast of these missions from San Fernando to San Jose.
In early 1820, Fray Payeras once again wrote to Mexico City about the establishment of an inland chain of missions. His request was denied based on the lack of available Friars from the Apostolic College of San Fernando, Mexico City. This, added to the political turmoil in Mexico and lack of funds, caused the inland chain of missions to remain a dream.

Payeras, not easily daunted, wrote in June 1820 about the status of the padres and the missions. At that time he was testing the waters for upgrading the Asistencias of San Antonio de Pala, Santa Isabel and San Bernardino to full mission status. At the same time, the sites of Castaic, Tejon, and Tulare were suggested as future mission sites.

In 1825, Padre Presidente Fray Narciso Durán, in support of Fray Payeras' plan, reintroduced the idea to his superiors in Mexico City. Then in 1830, the Government in Mexico City asked Fray Durán for information regarding the conditions of the missions in California. Durán referred them to past reports and the recommendation for missions to be established in the Central Valley. Once again, lack of clerical personnel for the missions prevented pursuing the question further.

Serra's dream of missions to Alaska never materialized, and Garcés' recommendation of sites in the San Joaquin Valley were never acted upon. If they had, the discovery of gold and subsequent rush might have happened under Mexico's rule instead of the U.S., and the wholesale slaughter of the inland Indians by the '49ers and the take-over of Indian lands by American farmers and ranchers might have been avoided or at least forestalled.



Beattie, George William.
"The 'Unbuilt' Missions." Historical Society of Southern California Quarterly, XIV, 1919, pp. 243-264.

De Nevi, Don and Noel F. Moholy.
Junípero Serra. San Francisco, Harper and Row Publishers, 1985.

Engelhardt, Zephyrin.
The Missions and Missionaries of California Vol. II, San Francisco, The James H. Barry Co., 1908-1915. 4 vols.

Weber, Francis J.
El Camino Real, Vols. I and III. Los Angeles, Archival Center, 1988. 3 vols.