Fernando Rivera Moncada

Fernando Rivera Moncada was born in Compostela, New Spain, in about 1725. He joined the army in 1742 and served in Baja California. In 1750 he was promoted to command of the presidio at Loreto. He participated in the important reconnaissances of the northern peninsula.

In 1768 Carlos Francisco de Croix suggested to King Carlos III that the Franciscans should attend to the people of Baja California. It was also agreed that the missionaries should push on quickly into Alta California in order to build a chain of missions that would stop other countries to try and colonise this territory. When asked to organise this campaign, the College of San Fernando de Mexico unanimously selected Junipero Serra, to carry out this task. Serra became president of these missions and Francisco Palóu was appointed as his deputy..

Inspector General José de Gálvez had been sent to New Spain with orders to organize the settlement of Alta California. Gálvez began to arrange what became known as the "Sacred Expedition". It was decided that three ships, the San Carlos, the San Antonio, and the San José, should sail to San Diego Bay. It was also agreed to send two parties to make an overland journey from the Baja to Alta California.

The first ship, the San Carlos, sailed from La Paz on 10th January, 1769. The other two ships left on 15th February. The first overland party, led by Fernando Rivera Moncada, left from the Misión San Fernando Rey de España de Velicatá on 24th March. With him was Crespi, who had been given the task of recording details of the trip. Also in the party were 25 soldiers, and 42 Baju Christian Indians.

Rivera and his party reached San Diego on 14th May. They built a camp and waited for the others to arrive. The San Antonio, reached its destination in fifty-four days. The San Carlos took twice that time and the San José was lost with all aboard. The seaman on the ships suffered from scurvy and large numbers had died on the journey.

On 28th June, the overland party, that included Gaspar de Portolà and Junipero Serra arrived in San Diego. Serra later recalled: "It was a day of great rejoicing and merriment for all, because although each one in his respective journey had undergone the same hardships, their meeting through their mutual alleviation from hardship now became the material for mutual accounts of their experiences. And although this sort of consolation appears to be the solace of the miserable, for us it was the source of happiness. Thus was our arrival in health and happiness and contentment at the famous and desired Port of San Diego."

The following month Rivera joined an expedition that included Gaspar de Portolà, Juan Crespi, José Francisco Ortega, Pedro Fages, sixty-three soldiers and a hundred mules loaded down with provisions, headed north on 14th July, 1769. Rivera reached the site of present day Los Angeles on 2nd August. The following day, they marched to what is now known as Santa Monica. Later that month they arrived at what became Santa Barbara, Portolà's party walked across the Santa Lucia Mountains to reach the mouth of the Salinas River. The fog obscured the shore and they therefore missed reaching Monterey Bay. The men had walked over a thousand miles from Misión San Fernando Rey de España de Velicatá.

Gaspar de Portolà and his men reached the San Francisco Bay area on 31st October. It has been claimed that José Francisco Ortega, his chief scout, was the first European to see the bay. He explored and named many localities in the region. Running short of provisions and forced to live on mule meat, they decided to return to San Diego to replenish supplies. The men arrived back on 24th January, 1770, remarkably, every member of the expedition had survived. Portolà and Juan Crespi had recorded the places they had stayed, the tribes they had met, possible mission sites, and the animals and widflowers found.

Inspector General José de Gálvez had sent orders that their next task was to locate Monterey Bay. On 16th April, 1770, Junipero Serra, left the San Diego harbour on the San Antonio. The following day, Portolà's land expedition, that included Crespi and Pedro Fages marched north. José Francisco Ortega was left in charge of the Mission San Diego de Alcalá.

Rivera retired to the Mexican mainland in 1772. He purchased a hacienda in his native region of Compostela. Meanwhile, Junipero Serra had a difficult relationship with Pedro Fages, the commander of Monterey. He was also disliked by his troops. One soldier wrote that: "The commandante used to beat us with cudgels; he would force us to buy from him at three times their value, the figs and raisins in which he was trading; he would make sick men go and cut down trees in the rain and would deprive them of their supper, if they protested; he would put us all on half rations even though food might be rotting in the storehouse. We had to live on rats, coyotes, vipers, crows, and generally every creature that moved on the earth, except beetles, to keep from starvation. We almost all became herbivorous, eating raw grass like our horses. How many times we wished we were six feet under ground."

Serra decided to visit Antonio María de Bucareli, the new viceroy of New Spain in Mexico City. He left in October 1772, with his servant, Juan Evangelista. He did not arrive at the College of San Fernando de Mexico on 6th February, 1773. Bucareli asked Serra to put all his requests in writing. He gave the viceroy this document on 13th March. It was in fact a "Bill of Rights" for the Native Americans.

Serra also asked for the removal of Pedro Fages. Bucareli granted the request. He later commented: "The dispute with Don Pedro Fages... compelled Father Fray Junipero Serra almost in a dying condition to come to this capital to present his requests and to inform me personally a thing which rarely can be presented with such persuasion in writing. On his arrival I listened to him with the greatest pleasure and I realized the apostolic zeal that animated him while I accepted from his ideas those measures which appeared proper to me to carry out."

Don Denevi, the author of Junipero Serra (1985), has argued: "Serra could reflect on a number of achievements: the promise of expeditions to explore and open up overland routes from Sonora and new Mexico; the separate marking of mission and military goods; the removal of immoral soldiers from the missions at the padres' request; the regulation of prices and standardization of weights; the recruiting of Mexicans on sailors' pay to the missions' fields; the protection of the padres' mail from tampering by military commanders; the provision of a doctor, blacksmiths, and carpenters, and of bells and vestments for the new missions; serious consideration of the shortage of mules; and pardons for all deserters."

Antonio María de Bucareli appointed Fernando Rivera Moncada as the new commander of Monterey. Junipero Serra, who had worked with Rivera previously, welcomed the decision. Michael Hardwick has argued: "Rivera showed the most scrupulous honesty in administering presidio accounts. His penmanship was firm and distinguished. His ideas were expressed economically and with conviction in a terse and businesslike style. While governor of California, Rivera made every effort to improve the material conditions of the presidio of Monterey. He pleaded for more animals – more cows for milk and meat, more horses and mules to haul supplies from ships to the warehouse, to distribute them among the missions, and to patrol the vast territory. Rivera tried to secure better weapons and worked out a signal system in order to distinguish Spanish ships from hostile intruders. He insisted on regular attendance at religious services and attended regularly himself at the Monterey presidio chapel."

However, it was not long before the relationship between Rivera and Serra began to disintegrate. The main problem was that Rivera did not share Serra's passion for building new missions in the area. Serra wrote: "What are we doing here since it is plain that with this man in charge, no new missions will ever be established." Serra complained that the first mission south of San Carlos de Borromeo was San Antonio de Padua, nearly 70 miles away. Beyond was San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, another 75 miles to the south. The next mission was San Gabriel Arcangel, 212 miles away. The final mission, San Diego de Alcalá, was another 116 miles along the coast.

Serra argued that these gaps needed filling in. He envisioned ten or eleven California missions being developed in his lifetime, "on a ladder with conveniently placed rungs". With missions founded at suitable intervals, travellers would spend only two or three days in the open between them. Serra was given permission to build these missions but Rivera refused to supply the soldiers to protect the missionaries. Rivera argued that: "I have never seen a priest more zealous for founding missions than this Father President. He thinks of nothing but founding missions, no matter how or at what expense they are established."

Kevin Starr defended Serra in his book, California (2005): "Serra's constant quarreling with the military governors of California reflects not only legitimate points of contention - the chronic sexual abuse of Indian women by soldiers, most notably - but also the fundamental tension between Spanish California as a missionary society reporting to the Franciscans and California as a secular society reporting to the military governor."

Serra also complained about lack of resources. He wrote that: "To clothe the nakedness of so many girls and boys, women and men, even moderately, not only to protect them from the cold, which is quite severe here during the greater part of the year, but also to foster decency and urbanity especially among the weaker sex, I am confronted with an almost insuperable difficulty."

Father Vincentre Fuster, of the Mission San Diego de Alcala, 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 tribe approached the mission. 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."

Rivera was given responsibility for investigating the rebellion. On 27th March, 1776, he was discovered hiding behind the altar in the church at the Mission San Diego de Alcala. Rivera and his soldiers surrounded the church. They entered the chapel and seized Carlos and after dragging him from the church he was put in the guardhouse. Father Vincentre Fuster protested loudly against the action and shouted that all those participating in the arrest were now excommunicated. Junipero Serra, who argued that as Carlos had sought refuge in the church, Fuster was right to excommunicate Rivera.

Rivera also opposed the creation of a mission in San Francisco. The Mission San Francisco de Asís, a log and thatch church was completed on 29th June, 1776. The mission was composed of adobe and redwood and was 144 feet long and 22 feet wide. Francisco Palóu was placed in charge of the mission that had been dedicated to San Francisco de Asis.

Antonio María de Bucareli began to favour Junipero Serra over Rivera. In 1777 he replaced Rivera with Don Felipe de Neve. Rivera was now transferred to Loreto in California as lieutenant governor. At Neve’s request, Teodoro de Croix, Captain General of the Interior Provinces ordered Rivera, to recruit soldiers and settlers for the founding of Los Angeles.

The Spanish Government was eager to establish an overland link between California and New Spain and needed to establish a presence to protect point where travelers would ford the Colorado River. In January, 1781, Father Francisco Garcés established the Mission San Pedro y San Pablo de Bicuñer. However, unlike the missions established by Junipero Serra, the powers of administration rested with the military and not with the padres, as a result the soldiers were abusive to the local Native Americans. Spanish colonists were also accused of seizing the best lands in the area. This caused conflict with the Native Americans.

In the summer of 1781, Rivera and a small group of soldiers advanced across the desert with a vast herd of animals, estimated to nearly 1,000 in number. On 17th July, while camped on the banks of the Colorado near Yuma, Rivera and his men were killed by a surprise attack by the Quechan tribe. They then went on to destroy the Mission San Pedro y San Pablo de Bicuñer. The mission was never re-established and the overland route to Alta California was considered too hostile to be used and was therefore abandoned.

Primary Sources

(1) Michael Hardwick, Fernando de Rivera y Moncada (2001)

Captain Fernando Javier Rivera y Moncada was 56 at the time of his death. He had been a California soldier for 40 years. Rivera showed the most scrupulous honesty in administering presidio accounts. His penmanship was firm and distinguished. His ideas were expressed economically and with conviction in a terse and businesslike style. While governor of California, Rivera made every effort to improve the material conditions of the presidio of Monterey. He pleaded for more animals – more cows for milk and meat, more horses and mules to haul supplies from ships to the warehouse, to distribute them among the missions, and to patrol the vast territory. Rivera tried to secure better weapons and worked out a signal system in order to distinguish Spanish ships from hostile intruders. He insisted on regular attendance at religious services and attended regularly himself at the Monterey presidio chapel. He often made loans to his underpaid soldiers, most of which were never repaid. He made the first land grant in Upper California. Rivera himself did not receive his salary, and money often came from his brother in Mexico. He was popular with his men and left among the old California soldiers a better reputation probably than any of his contemporaries.

(2) Herbert E. Bolton, Spanish Shadowlands (1920)

The first of the overland parties set out from Velicatá on March 24, 1769. It was led by Captain Rivera, commander of the company of Loreto. He had twenty-five leather jacket soldiers (soldados de cuera), three muleteers, and some forty Indians from the old missions, equipped with pick, shovel, ax, and crowbar, to open the roads through the mountains and across gullies. Along went Father Juan Crespi, principal historian of the expedition. Rivera's men were declared to be "the best horsemen in the world, and among those soldiers who best earn their bread from the august monarch whom they serve." The cuera, which gave them their name, was a leather jacket, like a coat without sleeves, reaching to the knees, and made of six or seven plies of white buckskin, proof against the Indians' arrows except at very close range. For additional armor they had shields and chaps. Shields, carried on the left arm, were made of two plies of bull's hide, and would turn either arrow or spear. The leather chaps or aprons, fastened to the pommel of the saddle, protected legs and thighs from brush and cactus spines...

On the 15th of May, the day after Rivera and Crespi reached San Diego, Portolá and Serra set out from Velicatá. The season was better, the trail had been broken, and the journey was quicker than Rivera's. On the last day of June, after a march of six weeks, the wayfarers reached San Diego. Serra said Mass, the Te Deum was sung, and artillery roared salute from the new outpost of Church and State. The first band of Spanish pioneers on the soil of Alta California, when all were assembled, comprised one hundred and twenty-six souls; ninety-three of the original number had perished on the San Carlos or after landing; of the Indians, some had deserted on the way, reluctant to leave home. On Sunday, the 16th of July, Serra preached to a group of natives made happy by little trinkets from his stock, and dedicated the mission of San Diego de Alcalá. Nearby the presidio of San Diego was founded.

The port of Monterey was still to be protected. Portolá therefore sent the San Antonio back to Mexico for men and supplies; then, leaving the San Carlos at anchor for want of a crew, he continued up the coast by land to complete his task, without the aid of the vessels. The march began on the 14th of July, two days before Serra formally founded his mission of San Diego. Ahead rode Portolá, Fages, Costansó, the friars, six Catalan volunteers, and the Indian sappers. Next followed the pack train in four divisions, each of twenty-five loaded mules, with muleteers and a soldier guard. In the rear came Captain Rivera, the rest of the soldiers, and friendly Indians driving the herd of spare mules and horses.