CHAPTER VI: DON ANTONIO FRANCISCO DE CORONEL


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DON ANTONIO FRANCISCO DE CORONEL

Another generation has come on the stage since Don Antonio de Coronel, the close and helpful friend to Mrs. Jackson, gave up, at the behest of commerce, the picturesque home in the orange grove which had sheltered him and his since 1834. The troubled Mission Indian can no more find it or him. After the partition of the rancho he built a handsome modern residence at the corner of Central Avenue and Seventh Street, Los Angeles, overlooking the old tract, and there, in the companionship of his noble wife, he spent the remainder of his days, dying in 1894.

Helen Hunt Jackson visited the Don and Doña Mariana in 1884, a few months before her death, and there a delegation of Mission Indian women brought to their benefactress, as a token of their love, a beautiful white linen morning robe, marvelously wrought by their own hands, with the drawn work, for which they are famous, accentuating the entire front. Señora de Coronel describes the garment as the


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most elaborate and exquisite she had ever seen, and calculates that in the production of it months of patient and artistic labor of many persons must have been expended.

To the new home was removed the collection of California antiquities which Don Antonio had been fifty years in gathering, and which has been pronounced unique and the most interesting of any on the coast. California had repeatedly sought to acquire this collection for the exhibit of the State Historical Society, and $30,000 had been offered for it; but this and all other offers were declined, since it had been Doña Mariana's purpose, ever since the death of her husband, to give the precious relics to the city. They were delivered into the care and custody of the Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles, where they are now displayed, filling entirely one large apartment.

Photographs, sketches and paintings of the old hacienda survive in the Coronel section of the Chamber of Commerce exhibit, and will be viewed with interest and delight by generations yet to come. They give strong hints of the gentle life beneath its expansive eaves in the long ago, when Don Antonio was the Indians' padre and every man's friend, the


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gates of his castle ever opening inward to all comers, his hospitality known from San Diego to Siskiyou.

The figures depicted in some of these views, those of the old Don and his wholesome, handsome wife, and their native dependents, all drawn from life and perpetuated in oil, will serve to recall not only their charming personalities, but, as well, the gorgeous costuming of that early era on this coast, the chief events of which are rapidly mingling with tradition.

Don Antonio de Coronel was ever the true and faithful friend of the Indians. They trusted him implicitly, and sought him for advice and assistance in all their troubles. Among his last words to his faithful wife was this request: ‘‘Mariana, when I am dead and gone, be kind to the Indians. Never turn one away without food.’’

Chosen as the bearer of captured American flags to the Mexican capital, Don Antonio was chased all over this country by the soldiers of General Kearney, who was determined that the flags should not be sent. Dead or alive, he must be captured, and every inducement was offered the Indians to assist in taking him.

General Kearney promised the Indians that every foot of land taken from them should be


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restored if only they would deliver up Don Antonio to him. But he had been shrewd enough to dispatch the flags to Mexico by another person, one who would never be suspected of being the bearer. Naturally, however, he did not want to fall into the hands of the Americans. He had other things to do. Upon one occasion a troop of horsemen, under the immediate command of General Kearney, chased him directly to an Indian village; but none of the chiefs knew anything about him, of course. They told him of the offer of General Kearney, but assured him they never would give him up.

Little time was to be lost, and while Kearney was parleying with some of the captains, another rushed Don Antonio out into the cactus patch near by, and beating down the bushes as best he could, pushed Don Antonio beneath them, that he might not be seen, so long as he remained in a crouching position. It was a painful experience he endured, lasting nearly the night through; and when the troopers left, about daylight, he came out a most pitiful sight, his clothing almost stripped from his body, and bleeding at every pore. He was in such a position during all those painful hours that he could not move without encountering the


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thorns of the cactus. But the Don's life was saved, Indian fidelity was vindicated, and the American flags reached Chapultepec, where they can be seen to-day by the curious.

In Glimpses of California and the Missions Mrs. Jackson gives this sketch of Don Antonio de Coronel:

‘‘

Don Antonio speaks little English; but the Señora knows just enough of the language to make her use of it delicious, as she translates for her husband. It is an entrancing sight to watch his dark, weather-beaten face, full of lightning changes as he pours out torrents of his nervous, eloquent Spanish speech; watching his wife intently, hearkening to each word she uses, sometimes interrupting her urgently with, 'No, no; that is not it,'--for he well understands the tongue he cannot or will not use for himself. He is sixty-five years of age, but he is young; the best waltzer in Los Angeles to-day; his eye keen, his blood fiery quick; his memory like a burning-glass bringing into sharp light and focus a half-century as if it were a yesterday. Full of sentiment, of an intense and poetic nature, he looks back to the lost empire of his race and people on the California shores with a sorrow far too proud for any antagonisms or complaints. He recognizes


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the inexorableness of the laws under whose workings his nation is slowly, surely giving place to one more representative of the age. Intellectually he is in sympathy with progress, with reform, with civilization at its utmost; he would not have had them stayed or changed, because his people could not keep up and were not ready. But his heart is none the less saddened and lonely.

"This is probably the position and point of view of most cultivated Mexican men of his age. The suffering involved in it is inevitable. It is part of the great, unreckoned price which must always be paid for the gain the world gets when the young and strong supersede the old and weak.

"A sunny little southeast corner room in Don Antonio's house is full of the relics of the time when he and his father were foremost representatives of ideas and progress in the City of the Angels, and taught the first school that was kept in the place. This was nearly a half-century ago. On the walls of the room still hang maps and charts which they used; and carefully preserved, with the tender reverence of which only poetic natures are capable, are still to be seen there the old atlases, primers, catechisms, grammars, reading-books, which


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meant toil and trouble to the merry, ignorant people of that time.

CHIEF JOSé PACHITO AND HIS CAPTAINS AT PALA, JULY, 1885, TO MEET ANTONIO DE CORONEL

 (Mrs.  in .

DON ANTONIO DE CORONEL SINGING TO HIS WIFE, MARIANA. (Permission of Miss Annie B. Picher, Pasadena.)

’’

Mrs. Jackson then proceeds to relate several stories of the experiences of Don Antonio, after which she continues:

‘‘

Sitting in the little corner room, looking out through the open door on the gay garden and breathing its spring air, gay even in mid-winter, and as spicy then as the gardens of other lands are in June, I spent many an afternoon listening to such tales as this. Sunset always came long before its time, it seemed, on these days.

"Occasionally, at the last moment, Don Antonio would take up his guitar, and, in a voice still sympathetic and full of melody, sing an old Spanish love-song, brought to his mind by thus living over the events of his youth. Never, however, in his most ardent youth, could his eyes have gazed on his fairest sweetheart's face with a look of greater devotion than that with which they now rest on the noble, expressive countenance of his wife, as he sings the ancient and tender strains. Of one of them I once won from her, amid laughs and blushes, a few words of translation:--


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"'Let us hear the sweet echo
Of your sweet voice that charms me.
The one that truly loves you,
He says he wishes to love;
That the one who with ardent love adores you,
Will sacrifice himself for you.
Do not deprive me,
Owner of me,
Of that sweet echo
Of your sweet voice that charms me.'

"Near the western end of Don Antonio's porch is an orange tree, on which were hanging at this time twenty-five hundred oranges, ripe and golden among the glossy leaves. Under this tree my carriage always waited for me. The Señora never allowed me to depart without bringing to me, in the carriage, farewell gifts of flowers and fruit; clusters of grapes, dried and fresh; great boughs full of oranges, more than I could lift. As I drove away thus, my lap filled with bloom and golden fruit, canopies of golden fruit over my head, I said to myself often: 'Fables are prophecies. The Hesperides have come true.'

’’

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