Riding on Holy Ground
I have a cousin who rides his horse into the Saloon at the Rodeo grounds every year. The first time he did it they arrested him, but he did it again the next year! It has come to be one of the highlights of the year! However, I have one that tops that! I’ve ridden my horse into the church –12 years in a row! Let me explain!
Have you ever rode your horse over Holy Ground? I Have! Yes, indeed, Holy Ground for it was the lands of Mission San Antonio de Pauda, the third of the famous 21 California missions founded on July 14,1771 by Father Presidente Junipero Serra. It is nestled in a beautiful valley in the California Coast range. No doubt this area and Mission grounds had been blessed by the Spanish fathers who had taken the message of Christ to South and Central America.
I rode this ground every year from the age of eight until I went in the Navy at the age of 19 because the Mission district was a part of the military lease, which my father and two other men acquired after WWW II. The mission is surrounded by Army Property, called Fort Hunter Liggett Military Reservation, which was acquired by the Army from the Hearst Corporation during World War II to train troops. There will be many more blogs about this partnership and the operation of running 3000 mother cows on 154,000 acres with nine sets of working corals.
One of the areas we worked was called the Mission and there was a set of corals about a mile and a half from the ruins of the old mission. The Corrals were on the San Antonio river and the Mission was on Mission Creek which dumped into the San Antonio. Mission Creek ran west and north of the Mission into the watershed of the Arroyo Seco. The Arroyo Seco ran east into the Salinas River at Greenfield, while Mission Creek went into the San Antonio River and traveled South to Paso Robles where it dumped into the Salinas River.
Between 1900 and 1944 the mission went downhill; most of the tiles were taken to other places and in 1930 the only Indian priest and about 5 famlies were living there. In 1930 they sent a runner to an old rancher that lived about 35 miles away near San Lucas telling him of the death of the priest. He rode to the mission a horse back and dispached one of his men to King City to bring back a pair of new jeans and shirt in which to bury him as all his clothes were rags! It wasn’t too many years after that the Hearst ranch sold to the U.S. army, and training for WWII began in earnest. The picture below is from that time; the mission was reduced to rubble by our troops using it for target practice.
To the West and North of the mission across the San Antonio river Mission lands went into what was called “The Indians”, with the Santa Lucia Mountains further west. We had a set of corrals at the Indians, but that was about 15 miles from the Mission so some cattle were gathered to the Mission corrals from that direction while others came down Mission Creek and still other came from the valley directly south of the Mission. When we were working the Mission area we would throw our sleeping bags in an old Army barracks building. There was a cook trailer that was pulled around to the various locations. Other places it was a tent! We tailored our horses in old single and two horse trailers, and had two bob-tail trucks with a ramp in the back that we used; they each hauled about 7 horses. It didn’t take long for those horses to learn to walk the ramp. In all those years I saw only one horse fall off the ramp! Some of us got hauled and some rode out; the bosses usually arrived at the corrals just in time to get things going. Mission creek was a rather easy gather but a long one. Coming down the creek, we would come to the ruins of the Mission; a truly historic place.
It was founded and blessed by Father Serra; not only just the mission itself but thousands upon thousands of acres which belonged to the mission and which stretched all the way east to the Salinas River and west to the Coast. Fathers Miguel Pieras and Buenaventura Sitjar were left to continue the work and the building. Nicknamed “Mission of the Sierras”, it ministered to the Salinan Indian tribe; There had been 4,419 Baptisms, 1,142 marriages and 3,617 burials. It was the site of the first Christian marriage in Alta California in 1772! It was Holy ground.
However, in 1834 it had been secularized by Mexican Governor Pio Pico. All the missions were sold except San Antonio for which there were no bidders. It went into disrepair; it was given to the Catholic Church about 1864; it went further into disrepair, its tile roof was removed, etc. A restoration was getting started about 1903 but nothing was done and the 1906 earthquake ended that. Restoration really didn’t get under way with earnest until about 1960.
So, as I came trailing cattle toward the Mission corrals I would ride right thru the ruins picking up cattle laying against the crumbled walls of the Mission. At that time there wasn’t a wall over 5 feet tall, and most were a lot less than that! At that age I didn’t realize the significance of that place. It was Holy ground! Not only was it the 3rd California Mission, it was on the Juan Bautista de Anza Trail. I was there for the 200 year celebration of the trail in 1976. When the trail riders reached Mission there were two days of Stampede and Fiesta!
As I rode my horse thru what was the Sanctuary of the Mission little did I know that a few people had been buried right there! It was Holy Ground! With the restoration completed, services are held there every day and it is an education to go thru there. The old Olive tree at the bottom of the steps is still flourishing; the spot where the first marriage in California is marked with a plaque. I have been to the Mission for various events and weddings and as I sat in the pew my mind harkened back to when I was a part of the outfit, working a 3000 cow-calf operation on the military reservation. And especially to those times when I was riding my horse right down by where I was sitting! And I did this, year after year for 12 years –I rode on Holy Ground! It was an awesome thought! May your trails be Blessed!