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Mission San Antonio de Padua

Of all Spanish California missions, San Antonio de Padua is the most faithfully restored. This is what a mission really looked like. Artifacts of the missionaries and their neophyte’s are on display.

Frescoes of their daily life, and the painstaking restoration of the mission’s workings make it a valuable and educational museum.

All that’s really different here from the old days is the Indians …

But, they are coming back.

In 1771 Spaniards created the archetypal California Mission amidst 20 Salinan Indian villages. Founded by Father Serra, the Mission San Antonio de Padua was relocated a couple miles to the confluence of San Miguel and San Antonio Rivers. They thought it would be a good place for a winery.

Isolated from population, the mission appears pristine. Also, it has been protected, so that it appears even more as it may really have been 200 years ago.

On land that once belonged to William Randolph Hearst, the Mission was part of his hunting game reserve, so he protected it. Later, it was the Hearst Foundation that financed the restoration in 1949. Then, they traded the land with the mission to the U.S. Government.

ow it is on a military installation that is used principally as an all purpose vehicle testing ground. It would seem this could be damaging to the historical artifacts in the Valley.

But, the Dept. of Defense has a team of archeologists who study past civilizations here, and provide an environmental monitoring crew for this special valley.

Presently, discussions are underway to convert FHL to public use — one consideration is to make the valley a National Park.

Mission San Antonio produced wine, flour, leather, and everything else to support a population of several thousand souls.

After awhile the indigenous people began dying from the Europeans’ diseases. Then Mexico won the territory from Spain in a revolution, but began losing political control of California. The resulting 100 years of neglect caused the Mission to deteriorate.


The Spaniards, who liked the site for wine making because of its soil and climate, were right on the money. 200 years of alternative use prevented wine grape growing in the immediate vicinity. But Swss Italian farming families throughout the Salinas Valley grew wine grapes in near perfect conditions. Today several of the world’s greatest wine appellations straddle the mission.



The Sea to Jolon Classic tale from California Coast Trails by J. Smearton Chase is reprinted by Ventana Wilderness Alliance

Salinans thrived in the San Antonio Valley.  They conducted agriculture, traded 
commercially with coastal tribes and populations in the Central Valley.  This valley
was the heart of their homeland, which ranged from Carmel Valley to Morro Bay.
     Salinans conducted a sophisticated religious life, as evidenced by the Painted Cave.  
At the entrance to the cave (bottom left photo) there appears to be a solstice 
niche in the overhang.  In pictograph scenes the observer can detect a peaceful 
people, who were agronomists.  There were 2,000 to 3,000 Salinas in permanent 
residence in the San Antonio Valley until the Spaniards' European ways took their toll.  
Effects of their lives in the Valley go back 2,000 years.  Until very recently, it was 
thought there were no remaining Salinans.  However, there is a strong Salinan 
cultural consciousness emerging, and they are industriously recovering their culture.
A ghost story by Salinan writer Debra Kroll

Salinan artifacts in the Valley go back 2,000 years. Until very recently, it was thought there were no remaining Salinas. However, there is an emerging Salinan cultural consciousness, and evidence of living legacy. PelicanNetwork is keeping abreast of developments in the attempts by Salinan leaders to keep their culture alive and their sacred sites preserved.

Salinan Nation Gathers annually at Mission San Antonio. Above left, Gregg Castro, one of the Nation’s leaders addresses a group of elders who were being honored at the Gathering. Above right, Joe Freeman leads a group singing authentic ancient Salinan songs. Below left, a woman at the Gathering is in thought. Bottom right, a group of the event’s planners tell stories for a visitor.

Ironically the Mission is the site of the greatest decimation of their population – but it is also the center of their homeland (Robert Duckworth, Castro, Freeman and Ken Castro).

To learn more about Salinan culture, see Elders of the Land

The Salinan Nation people were assumed culturally extinct. But, as evidenced by these photos, they are quite vibrant, having learned to hide from the Europeans who quickly dominated California.

For six thousand years they existed peacefully with other Indians. However, in the 1770’s, contact with Europeans brought violent subjugation. During the short rule of California by the Mexicans, the Salinans were amongst those native people who fared relatively well, but when Americans took control of California, execution, and enslavement became normal. To avoid this almost certain fate, some mothers actually took their newborn children to the Ventana back country and abandoned them.

Others just disappeared by themselves. A typical story is that of a University of California anthropologist coming to a popular meeting place in Jolon and asking if anyone knew where he could find any Jolon or Salinan (the same people, actually) Indians. Each person there, all of whom were Jolon-Salinan Indians, shook their heads, “No, don’t know.”

Salinans kept their culture alive by telling stories in their families. Now they are becoming more outspoken to the outside world in order to enlighten others about their valuable cultural legacy.


How were Indians treated?

Spain’s Colonial economic system depended on Indian labor. History of that era has been romantized. Recently, however, more realistic accounts are being recorded. Here is an account in Tending the Wild by Dr. Kat Anderson:

“Mission Indians labored long and hard, often lived under miserable conditions had poor diets, suffered from epidemics, experienced physical abuse and intimidation, and died in huge numbers. After the establishment of the missions, diseases such as syphilis, tuberculosis, dysentery, diphtheria, and measeles spread rapidly throughout native popuilations lacking any immunity, aided by crowded living condiions in drafty adobe dormitories with poor sanitation. Deficient diets consisting of a starchy cereal soup and a little meat predisposed Indians to infectious disease and malnutrition. Medical treatment was rare.

“In an 1813 report on Mission San Antonio de Padua, Father Señàn noted that ‘for each two (Indians) that are born three die.’ Mission records show an even more morbid relationship: between1799 and 1833 the padres recorded 62,000 deaths and only 29,000 births. At its height, the mission system boasted a total of 72,000 Indian converts, or neophytes, but by 1830 only 18,000 neophytes remained. The total loss of the mission Indian population has been estimated, on the basis of mission reords, at 72 percent. The anthropologist Aolfred Kroeber wrote, ‘It must have caused many of the Fathers a severe pang to realize, as they could not but do daily, that they were saving souls only at the inevitable cost of lives. And yet such was the overwhelming fact. The brute upshot of missionization, in spite of its kindly flavor and humanitarian root, was only one thing, death.'”

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Peafowl and Yellowbill Magpies have a very purposeful presence at the Mission these days. Relics testify to the vast industry that once was here.


The Hearst folks rebuilt the Mission after William acquired the property for a hunting reserve to entertain his Hollywood pals. His architect, Julia Morgan, built a lodge, now called the Hacienda very near the Mission.

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