By David Kier
Co-author of ‘The Old Missions of Baja & Alta California, 1697-1834’
The history of the 8th California mission began in 1719 when Padre Juan de Ugarte discovered a forest of güérivo trees (Populus brandegeei) from which he could construct California’s first ship, ‘El Triunfo de la Cruz’. The Cochimí Indians of the region (who helped cut and transport the lumber) requested to have a mission of their own.
On December 26, 1720, Jesuit Padres Juan de Ugarte and Everardo Helen arrived at the Indian settlement of Huasinapí and began to establish the mountain mission. Padre Helen served at Guadalupe for 15 years, except when he was ill and removed to rest at Mulegé during the two years 1724 and 1726. Over 2,000 natives were baptized by Helen and Padre Bravo (who traveled from La Paz to fill in during Helen’s absence).
Just two years after its founding, the people of Guadalupe mission suffered the destruction of crops and native fruits (pitayas, berries, etc.) by swarms of locusts. The food stores of wheat and corn at the mission helped to save them from starvation. The Cochimí neophytes also gathered up dead grasshoppers then dried and cooked them to supplement their diet. Sadly, dysentery broke out from that action and many lost their lives.
The mission church floor was tiled, and a 1744 report by Padre Juan Antonio Balthasar said that Guadalupe had “the finest church in California”. Tragedy followed heavy rains in November of 1744 when a mission wall collapsed and killed 100 neophytes. A new stone and adobe mission church was built around 1750 and it is those foundation stones that can be seen today.
Spain ordered the Jesuits expelled from their missions, and they were arrested and sailed away from California on February 5, 1768. The Franciscan Order of Friars was chosen to operate the California missions, and soon they expanded Spain’s occupation northward, into ‘Nueva California’. In April of 1768, when assigning friars to their mission posts, Franciscan President Junípero Serra wrote that the neophyte population of Guadalupe was 530.
Once they saw the green lands north of the peninsula, the Franciscans were quick to share mission operations with the Dominicans, who had been requesting a share of the California project. In 1773, the Dominican Order had assumed California peninsula mission operations. Sadly, diseases introduced by the Europeans had decimated the native California population. The Guadalupe mission was abandoned in 1795 and its 74 neophytes still living were transferred to La Purísima.
In 1834, another mission named Guadalupe was founded in the far north area of Baja California. To avoid confusion, that site is often called ‘Guadalupe del Norte’ (North). The 1720 mission then became called ‘Guadalupe del Sur’ (South) or locally as ‘Ex-misión de Guadalupe’. Guadalupe de Huasinapí is accessed via a dirt road from Mulegé. Take it 25 miles west, and then 20 more miles north. Another road to Guadalupe from San José de Magdalena, was reported washed out and impassable in 2013.