The Attack on Mission San Diego, November 4, 1775 from the Account of Father Palou

Account of the Cruel Martyrdom of the Venerable Father Luis Jayme, and of the Lamentable Tragedy at Mission San Diego

By Father Palou


At about 1 o’clock in the night that part of the savage mob arrived which was to attack the poor mission. Some of these Indians stationed themselves at the doors of the huts of the Christians in the village in order to prevent them from sounding the alarm or taking up arms, threatening with death whoever should leave his habitation. The others went to the vestry to rob the vestments and whatever they might discover of use to themselves. Finding the chests locked, they broke them open with stones and stole everything they wanted. From the sacristy they passed on to the soldiers’ quarters which stood somewhat apart. Here they found a fire burning; but all, even the sentinels, were sleeping so soundly that the racket caused by breaking open the wardrobes in the vestry had not been sufficient to rouse them. When savages noticed this, one of their number took a brand from the fire and with it set fire to different parts outside. That awakened the two missionaries, who were sleeping in separate apartments, also the soldiers of the guard. Of these there were only three besides the corporal, since one had gone to the new foundation of San Juan Capistrano, and another having gone three days before to this Presidio on account of ill health, had not been replaced. Besides those mentioned, there were in another quarter the blacksmith and to carpenters, one from the Presidio, who was ill, and one who belonged to the mission. In another building were two youths, the son and the nephew of the Presidio Lieutenant. Against the small number of persons stood united a formidable army, but so cowardly as to choose the most unexpected hour of the night.

When father Vicente awoke and saw the buildings on fire, he hastened to the barracks where the soldiers had already begun to discharge their muskets. The two boys likewise took refuge under the protection of the soldiers. The blacksmith was about to leave his room when he was so badly wounded that he died soon after. The carpenter of the mission seized a gun which he had in readiness, shot one of the Indians, and escaped to the soldiers’ quarters during the subsequent turmoil. The other carpenter Urselino by name, who was ill, received a mortal wound; he lived to the fifth day, however during which time he was prepared for death; and we piously believe that he went to enjoy God inasmuch as he gave such good proof of being well disposed; for, when pierced with the arrow that caused his death, he said only these words: “Ha Indian, you have killed me. God forgive you!” He persevered in these dispositions, forgiving him who had inflicted the wound. More than that; when he made his will, presuming there was no needy relative, he bequeathed all that was coming to him from the general store, and that was quite a considerable amount, to the Indians of Mission San Diego. An heroic act, worthy of a true disciple of Jesus Christ!

Father Luis Jayme, who awoke at the same time as his companion, Father Vicente, did not seek the soldiers quarters, but went to where a crowd of savages were standing. On coming near enough, he greeted them with his customary salutation “Love God, my children! Amar a Dios, hijos!” In return, however, they seized him and dragged him outside the mission to the bed of the river. Here, having stripped him to the trunks, they began to shoot innumerable arrows into his body and to beat him with clubs until life was extinct. When discovered next day, there was not a sound spot in his body, save the consecrated hands. These God had preserved (as we must piously believe and infer from the fathers godly and exemplary conduct), in order that it might be known how zealously and nobly he had labored for the Indians who should repay him with such cruelty, and the how he had toiled for the purpose of saving their souls and rescuing them from the gates of hell. Nor do we doubt that he shed his blood willingly, in order to irrigate that vineyard of the Lord which he had cultivated amid suchs hardships and which, because of such copious irrigation, will yield fruit in season by converting the remainder of the pagans who has yet persist in their wild life. This we hope from the Lord through the intercession of the venerable deceased, whose soul I do not doubt is now enjoying God.

While some of the savages were martyring the venerable deceased, the rest craved to do the same to the other father in the soldiers’ barracks, which like the other structures was already on fire. In order to massacre all, as they had resolved, the savages kept on discharging arrows and throwing clubs. One of the soldiers, who wore no leather jacket, was in fact struck by an arrow and disabled; but the other three did their best and succeeded in killing the some of the savages and wounding others. The fire raging in every direction was already becoming intolerable. In order not to roasted death, the soldiers determined to move to a little adobe structure, three walls of which had the height of a man, and which the cook had covered with boughs as a protection against the sun. This place they reached at imminent peril from a shower of arrows. Shooting through the cracks and openings in the walls, the soldiers wounded every savage that came within sight. No sooner, however, had the Indians noticed this then they threw firebrands on the branches that served as a roof. Fortunately, there were but few branches, so that little harm was done to the persons who had taken refuge there. What molested them seriously where the darts, clubs, and firebrands which the Indians threw into the side that was open. To deliver themselves from this danger, the soldiers resolved to fetch from the burning buildings some bundles and boxes with which to erect a kind of parapet. Although in this bold attempt another soldier was disabled by the arrows of the enemies, the men succeeded in’s constructing the low barricade behind which they were protected when discharging their muskets. Though shielded now on all sides against the arrows, the defenders were not secure against the firebrands, sticks, and lumps of Adobe, which the savages threw over the walls; still these did little harm. In this situation, the heroic defenders continued until the powder began to give out. In one of the burning houses, the mission had a quantity of powder which it used to discharge the guns on great festival occasions. It was preserved in a box, which through the interposition of the Lord, had not yet been reached by fire. They succeeded in getting it; and with it the men continued the defense until the dawn of day, when the enemies retired, taking along their dead and wounded.

Meanwhile the second band of savages had proceeded to the garrison; but before reaching it, they stopped because those who were to assault the mission had in their haste set fire to its buildings when the others were at a distance from the Presidio. From the road they saw the conflagration at the mission; but they dared not approach the garrison, since they presumed that the fire must’ve been seen there. Hence, they hastened back to join the other savages at the mission, in order to help them in case the expected relief should come from the Presidio soldiers. At the military post, however, they were as careless as the guards at the mission. They did not learn what had happened until the morning of November 5, when they were notified by the lower California Indian whom, on withdrawal from the enemies, Father Vicente had dispatched to them. Without doubt, the sentinel had been sleeping, since he neither had seen the great fire, although from the Presidio the Mission buildings are visible, nor had even heard the gunshots so often breaking the silence of the night, although at the mission one could hear the salute which was fired every morning at the Presidio.

After daybreak, on November 5, when the savages had disappeared, the Christians came forth from their rancheria. They went to Father Vicente who was with the wounded soldiers and with tears in their eyes related how the pagans had threatened them with death if they would leave their habitations. Then Father Vicente immediately sent an Indian to the Presidio to report what had happened. Others were dispatched to in search of Father Luis. Father Vicente a was much worried on his account, as he knew nothing about his companion, the whole building was already ablaze when he fled to the barracks. Not finding Father Luis with the soldiers, he again left the barracks at the peril of his life to look for him in his apartment. Failing to find him there, Father Vicente feared that he had been burned to death, but such was not the case; for Father Luis had gone up to the savages, who at once took his life in a cruel manner. Not knowing this, however, Father Vicente supposed that Father Luis might perhaps be in hiding and was not aware that the savages had departed. Hence he ordered a search. At the same time, he directed other Indians to extinguish the fire in the wheat room, so that at least some of the provisions that the mission had might be saved.

The Indians searched for Father Luis and at length found him dead in the mission arroyo. The body was covered from head to foot with wounds and wore no more clothing than his innocent blood. They bore the corpse to Father Vicente, who was beside himself with grief at the sight of his beloved companion Father. He wrote later that the face was so disfigured and bruised from the blows with clubs that he could recognize the body of Father Luis only by the whiteness of his flesh appearing through the crust of blood, that was the only robe that the corpse wore. There was not a sound spot on it, except the innocent hands. It is left to the reader to imagine the pain which the said Father must of felt who saw his beloved companion missionary killed with such cruelty, and to picture the extraordinary lamentations of the neophytes bitterly bewailing their dead father whom they loved so much. When pain and sorrow at last gave way to for reflection, Father Vicente ordered some of the Indians to prepare stretchers on which to carry the dead and those of the wounded who could not travel on horseback, to the Presidio, whilst waiting for relief from there. This was done; and when the soldiers appeared they conveyed the dead and wounded to the garrison, Father Vicente following on foot. On arriving at the Presidio, he buried the two dead, the venerable Father Luis Jayme and the blacksmith José Romero. Then they endeavored to restore to health the four soldiers and the carpenter Urselino. The former all recovered; but the carpenter who was more seriously injured died an exemplary death on the fifth day after the cruel tragedy. A few days later, Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuen and Father Gregorio Amurrio arrived. They had gone to found mission San Juan Capistrano, but suspended action for the present. The three Fathers celebrated the obsequies for the dead Father, and then reported all that had occurred to the Father Presidente in letters which the lieutenant dispatched by a courier to Monterey.

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