CHAPTER III: FIRST MEETING WITH MISSION INDIANS


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FIRST MEETING WITH MISSION INDIANS--PREPARATIONS TO VISIT INDIAN SETTLEMENTS--CAMULOS RANCH--HOME OF RAMONA

At her initial interview with the Coronels little more was accomplished than the establishment of confidence. A second conference was arranged for the following week. It happened to be Christmas day, 1881, a circumstance that appealed to Helen Hunt Jackson only after her arrival at the hacienda, so absorbed was she in other thoughts. Don Antonio, Doña Mariana and their guest were seated upon the broad veranda, the latter intent upon the details of her hosts' relation of Indian history and Indian wrongs, when the conversation was interrupted by the appearance in the yard of five mounted men, evidently in great mental perturbation.

‘‘More trouble,’’ quietly suggested the Don, accustomed to such visitations. ‘‘But it must be unusually serious, for these are all chiefs of their tribes, and their ponies indicate that they have been ridden a long distance and very fast.


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Excuse me for a moment while I try to discover what it means.’’

The interview between the Don and the Indians was very animated, all talking at once. Mrs. Jackson soon became as excited as were the Indians. She could not understand their language, it being a mixture of Spanish with the tribal dialect; but their voices and manner indicated the deepest distress, and it was not difficult to perceive the import of their mission. It soon developed that the water rights to their lands, without which they were valueless, had been sold to a syndicate of white men; and these chiefs had come, as so often before, for counsel from Señor and Señora de Coronel.

On three distinct occasions had the life of Don Antonio been saved by the timely intercession of Mission Indians. The bond between them was indissoluble. The Don was their ‘‘padre,’’ and Doña Mariana was in their sight little less than a saint.

Mrs. Jackson begged the privilege of talking with the chiefs, and, with the help of her friends in interpreting, she was soon established in their confidence. The inspiration at that moment seized her of visiting their villages, and the foundation was laid for securing, as she might in no other way, the fullest confirmation


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of all that had been told her prior to their visit. This was most pleasing to Don Antonio and Doña Mariana, and the incident was regarded as fortunate; for Helen Hunt Jackson was assured of a welcome in the Indian settlements such as otherwise might not have been accorded her, and of knowledge that could be acquired by no other means.

MEETING OF THE MISSION INDIANS WITH DON ANTONIO DE CORONEL AT PALA MISSION, 1887

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THE FAMOUS TORN ALTAR CLOTH, CAMULOS CHAPEL

The details of the journey were soon arranged. It included a long and wearisome ride over the mountains to the Indian settlements, with a side trip of observation to Camulos ranch, which the Coronels desired her to visit, that she might get a better idea of a typical Spanish abode, and because its occupants were not only zealous children of the Church, but traditional friends of the Indians as well. The Coronels assured Mrs. Jackson that Camulos ranch was one of the few remaining of the old Spanish homesteads where the original of a California hacienda still existed.

The ‘‘Century's’’ artist, the late Mr. Henry Sandham, and Mr. Abbot Kinney accompanied her on this journey. The owner and driver of the carriage in which they first rode was Mr. N. H. Mitchell, then conducting a livery stable at Anaheim, California, and now residing in Los Angeles.


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It is not the purpose to follow Mrs. Jackson in her wanderings over the San Jacinto mountains. The details have been recorded in reports to the Government, published as an appendix to the second edition of A Century of Dishonor. It is enough here to say that the name of Helen Hunt Jackson is to this day revered in the abode of every Mission Indian, and that, were it in the power of these grateful people, it would long ago have been placed in the Church calendar of saints.

Judged by the accuracy of her description of Camulos, it is likely the pictures she drew of Indian life were faithful and conscientious. She was at the ranch but a few hours, a circumstance which makes her portrayal of it all the more remarkable. In the short time she not only observed every detail of situation and environment, but while there evolved the chief incidents of the story.

‘‘It was sheep-shearing time in Southern California.’’ The Indians from over the mountains were there. All of the preparations described in the opening chapters of Ramona had been made. Father Salvierderra had come down from the Santa Barbara Mission. The matin songs had echoed through the court. Mass had


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been said in the little chapel in the orange grove. The altar cloth, made originally from Doña Ysabel del Valle's wedding gown, was spotless in its whiteness; but to the discerning eye disclosed a patch; for Helen Hunt Jackson saw it, and every visitor there since has seen it, although it is probable that on that particular day its existence was unknown even to Señora del Valle, the widowed mistress of Camulos. That dear, sweet soul, had been occupied with manifold household duties, and may not have been as observant of the smaller details as was her guest. However that may be, the patch was an inspiration, and provided the material for one of the most touching incidents of the story.

The dimensions of the ranch have since been somewhat curtailed, from forty-five thousand to nineteen hundred acres; but the ranch-house, or hacienda, with its picturesque environment and now historical belongings, survives the thirty years that have since elapsed, without essential modification or change. The visitor of to-day, stepping from a Southern Pacific train into the precincts of Camulos, will need to go through the yard where the shearing was done, past the shed in which the wool was stored and in the heat by which Felipe was overcome, to


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reach the entrance of the house; for the railroad track is in the rear of it.

Once within the court every scene will seem familiar; the arbor and the fountain and the chapel; the path leading down to the stream where Ramona washed the stains from the altar cloth, and where Alessandro first beheld the wondrous beauty of the maiden; the porch on which the raw-hide bed stood with its precious burden, and where the lover drew symphonies from the violin fetched at such cost of effort by José from Temecula for the delectation of Felipe, the invalid.

With the physical conditions unchanged in any material particular, it is not difficult to fancy the actual scenes being re-enacted. All of the influences of earth and air, of sheen and shadow, of restless foliage, and laughing waters of fountain and stream, combine to produce a state of consciousness, the disturbance of which comes necessarily in the nature of a shock.

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