By David Kier
Co-author of ‘The Old Missions of Baja & Alta California, 1697-1834’
The 17th and final Jesuit California mission was founded by Padre Victoriano Arnés and Padre Juan José Diez, at a site called Calagnujuet. The Cochimí name was soon modified to Calamajué (Cala-ma-WAY). In Johann Jakob Baegert’s 1772 book, ‘Observations in Lower California’, he provides the founding name of the mission as being Nuestra Señora de Columna. ‘Columna’ also appears on a map in the German publication, but typically this mission was called Calamajué. Some historians only consider Calamajué as being a visita (satellite visiting station) of Mission San Borja, but the documents seem to show otherwise.
The running stream at Calamajué was first discovered by Padre Fernando Consag in 1753 on his third expedition, and revisited by Padre Wenceslao Linck on April 12, 1766. Linck had recently discovered a fine future mission site called Velicatá during his 1766 expedition. The distance to Velicatá from San Borja was too great in a potentially hostile region, and Calamajué was the only possible mission site known to the Jesuits between the other two. Using funds provided by the Duchess of Gandía, Doña María de Borja (of the famous Borgia family in Spain) the Jesuit Padre Visitador Lamberto Hostell gave the order for a mission at Calamajué to be founded.
On October 16, 1766, Arnés and Diez arrived at the site after traveling for two days from San Borja with 10 soldiers and 50 neophytes. The Calamajué site is on the side of a broad arroyo where a year-round stream emerges from a canyon. The water is heavily mineralized and undrinkable, although the local Cochimí natives survived on it. Wells were dug to provide drinking water from over a mile away. The padres hoped the minerals in the stream would serve as fertilized for crops they would plant.
Soon construction of an adobe chapel, a storehouse, and residence for the missionaries was begun. Shacks were made for the soldiers’ quarters. Only one wooden door was available and it was used for the storehouse. 200 Indians were baptized in the first months at the new mission. Not long after the founding, Padre Diez became quite ill and returned to San Borja. Arnés continued on at Calamajué without Diez and soon had a confrontation with a tribe from a place called Cagnajuet, 70 miles north. The men of Cagnajuet became angry when young women from their ranchería joined the mission. The men of Cagnajuet conspired with the Cochimí at Velicatá to kill the missionaries and soldiers. The Velicatá Cochimí had remembered the kindness of Padre Linck several months earlier and wanted no part in bringing harm to the Spanish. Juan Nepomuceno was the Cochimí neophyte governor at Calamajué. He sent six well-armed neophytes to Cagnajuet, captured the troublemakers, and brought them to the mission. Padre Arnés interceded and spared the prisoners from the lash, thus gaining their friendship and converting them into Christians.
Wheat was planted, but when irrigated with the Arroyo Calamajué water, it withered and died. The soil became white with the salts from the stream. The mission could not survive any longer at Calamajué and seven months after Mission Nuestra Señora de Columna was founded, Padre Victoriano Arnés discovered a better location with good water. It was 30 miles away and called in the Cochimí language: Cabujakaamang. There was not much area to cultivate crops, but the fine bay of San Luis Gonzaga was nearby and it was reasoned that seafood could supplement their diet.
The mission was moved in May, 1767 to Cabujakaamang and renamed Santa María de los Ángeles. When missions were moved, a complete name change was rare. This may have led to some confusion with writers about the relationship between Calamajué and Santa María. They were indeed one mission, but at two locations. This was a new beginning for what would turn out to be the last mission center founded by the Jesuits. Orders for the Jesuits expulsion from the New World had already been made and were in route to Mexico from Spain.
The new site had limited resources but palms provided wood for building shacks which served as a chapel and residence for the missionary and his soldiers. Wheat and cotton were planted and in good condition when the expulsion orders arrived in January, 1768. Santa María had 300 neophytes (baptized Indians) and 30 catechumen (Indians preparing for baptism) at the time of the expulsion.
Almost four months had passed following the removal of the Jesuits before the Franciscans arrived to resume mission functions. Padre Juan Leon de Medina Beitia (also spelled Beytia or Veitia) arrived in May, 1768. He found Santa María was lacking a suitable church, so he had one erected of adobe and roofed with tules. Next to it, a two-room adobe dwelling was constructed as well as a barn which served as a storage room.
By April 14, 1769, almost a year of isolation and lack of provisions at Santa María, had caused Padre Beitia to remove himself to Mission San Ignacio. To fill the void at Santa María, San Borja’s Padre Fermin Francisco de Lausen, traveled to Santa María. Padre Andrés Villumbrales had been assigned to Mission San Luis Gonzaga, but when it was closed he was sent to San Borja to assist Lausen. Padre Lausen was now dividing his time between two missions.
Franciscan President Junípero Serra, during his expedition to Alta California, was at Santa María from May 5 to May 11, 1769. Serra examined the lonely mission and found it had potential greater than the reports he had read. Serra’s opinion to further develop Santa María changed however after he arrived at Velicatá, three days later. On May 14, 1769, Serra founded Mission San Fernando, at Velicatá. Serra had a cargo trail constructed from San Luis Gonzaga Bay to San Fernando, passing just north of Santa María’s valley. The Camino Real route was also improved between Calamajué and Santa María by moving it from the bottom of the deep canyon, east of the mission, and placing on top of the north rim of the canyon.
The highest population recorded at Mission Santa María was 523 in September, 1771. Five families and four single young men lived at the mission center and the others lived in various rancherías surrounding the mission. In a report from February 12, 1772, Padre Francisco Palóu states that Mission Santa María loaned one of its bells to Mission San Fernando de Velicatá to serve that new mission’s needs. In 1772, an unnamed epidemic caused the population to drop, and just 317 neophytes where living in the Santa María territory in 1773. In 1774, a final census at Mission Santa María recorded 485 neophytes. By 1775 the mission’s neophytes were relocated to Mission San Fernando and Santa María became just an outpost on El Camino Real.
At the first site (Calamajué) only the outlines of the adobe walled church and other buildings remain today. Calamajué is accessed on a dirt road, 13 miles east and then south from Coco’s Corner (a junction on Hwy. 5, 13 miles north of Laguna Chapala and 23 miles south of Bahía San Luis Gonzaga).
The adobe ruins at Santa María are most impressive, perhaps because of its remoteness and dry climate. The 14 mile ‘extreme’ dirt road to Santa María begins at Rancho Santa Ynez (near Cataviña on Hwy. 1) and is known as one of the roughest 4WD trails in Baja California.
David Kier is co-author of ‘The Old Missions of Baja & Alta California, 1697-1834’. The book is available for purchase HERE or at the DBTC offices (call 800-727-2252).