On 23rd June, 1769, the expedition led by Gaspar de Portolà, encountered members of the Kumeyaay tribe, just outside San Diego. One of the explorers, Junipero Serra later commented: "The people were healthy and well built, affable, and of happy disposition. They were quick, bright people, who immediately repeated all the Spanish words they heard. They danced for the party, offered fish and mussels, and pressed them to remain... We were all enamored of them. In fact, all the pagans have pleased me, but these in particular have stolen my heart."
According to Don Denevi, the author of Junipero Serra (1985), the Kumeyaay lived in a fifteen-mile radius of San Diego Bay: "All the Indian males walked about entirely naked. However, the women and girls, including the nursing babies, were clothed. They covered themselves with aprons made of leaves or reeds, gathered into a belt at one end and hanging loosely to the knees. Behind, they wore skins of deer or seals. Rabbit skins were used to cover their breasts and other parts of the body. Both men and women had their faces painted, and virtually all the men had their earlobes pierced. From their ears, and sometimes from their noses, hung seashells. For weapons, the Indians carried bows and arrows and war clubs."
The settlement was close to a Kumeyaay village. Tracy Salcedo-Chouree, the author of California's Missions and Presidios (2005), has pointed out that their "natural suspicion flowered into animosity when the soldiers began raping their women and stealing their food." On 15th August, the colonists came under attack. One of the Spanish settlers was killed during the raid. Junipero Serra recorded what happened: "He entered into my little hut with so much blood streaming from his temples and mouth that shortly after I gave him absolution... he passed away at my feet, bathed in his blood. And it was just a short time after he died before me that the little hut where I lived became a sea of blood. All during this time, the exchange of shots from the firearms and arrows continued. Only four men of our group fired while more than twenty of theirs shot arrows. I continued to stay with the departed one, thinking over the imminent probability of following him myself, yet, I kept begging God to give victory to our Holy Catholic faith without the loss of a single soul."
The battle for San Diego, the first in the Spanish settlement of California, changed the relationship between the settlers and the Kumeyaay. They now became more peaceful and began revisiting the camp, bringing along their wounded, probably hoping that Spanish remedies would prove as powerful as Spanish arms. Don Pedro Prat, who had received some medical training, did what he could do to help the wounded men brought to the settlement.
In 1775 Junipero Serra was hearing bad news about his mission in San Diego. Father Vincentre Fuster had ordered the flogging of some members of the Kumeyaay tribe for attending a pagan dance. He also threatened to set fire to their village if they continued to behave in this way. The result of this warning was to make some of these people to runaway to join Chief Carlos, who was calling for an attack on the Spanish missions.
On 4th November, 1775, Chief Carlos and over 600 members of the Kumeyaay approached the Mission San Diego de Alcala. At first they surrounded the huts of the Christian Indians, threatening them with death if they tried to escape. They then crept into the church and stole the statues and other objects they thought might be of some worth. Soon afterwards they began setting fire to the buildings in the mission.
Vincentre Fuster jumped from his bed and raced towards the soldiers barracks, where he found the troops already firing their muskets. By this time two of the soldiers and the carpenter, had been hit by arrows and were gravely wounded. Fuster later told Junipero Serra: "It is impossible to estimate the number of arrows that were aimed at my head and which terminated their flight in the adobes, but thanks be to God not a single one hit me." Fuster told the men trapped in the barracks: "Let us truly ask this Holy Mother to favor us, to repress the fury of our enemies, and to allow us to be victorious over them. To obtain this favor, I on my part promise to fast nine Saturdays and to celebrate nine holy Masses in her honor."
Luis Jayme refused to seek protection and instead walked calmly towards the warriors, chanting, "love God, my children". According to Francis J. Weber: "Instead of running for shelter to the stockhold, Fray Luís Jayme resolutely walked toward the howling band of natives... In a frenzied orgy of cruelty, the Indians seized him, stripped off his garments, shot eighteen arrows into his body and then pulverized his face with clubs and stones... Early the next morning, the body of the thirty-five year old missionary was recovered in the dry bed of a nearby creek. His face was so disfigured that he could only be recognized by the whiteness of his flesh under a thick crust of congealed blood." Luis Jayme is considered to be the first Catholic martyr in Alta California.
Fuster recorded: "Great was my sorrow when I laid my eyes upon his person for I saw him totally disfigured... I saw that he was entirely naked except for the drawers that he wore, his chest and body pitted like a sieve from the savage blows of the clubs and stones. Finally, I recognized him... only insofar as my eyes noted the whiteness of his skin and the tonsure of his head. It is fortunate that they did not scalp him as is customary among these barbarians when they kill their enemies."
All the Indian males walked about entirely naked. However, the women and girls, including the nursing babies, were clothed. They covered themselves with aprons made of leaves or reeds, gathered into a belt at one end and hanging loosely to the knees. Behind, they wore skins of deer or seals. Rabbit skins were used to cover their breasts and other parts of the body. Both men and women had their faces painted, and virtually all the men had their earlobes pierced. From their ears, and sometimes from their noses, hung seashells. For weapons, the Indians carried bows and arrows and war clubs.