Cannibal Eliot – Book Excerpt

Book Excerpt

Cannibal Eliot and the Lost Histories of San Francisco

by Hilton Obenzinger

cannibalThe Kiss

From the Diary of Sergeant Juan Pablo Grijalva, December 1776

When I visited the Mission I learned of the recent insolence of the savages.

Most of the Indians from the nearby area had fled across to the other shore, after their rancheria was burned down by their enemies from San Mateo, and only a few Indians would come to the Mission as they went to hunt for ducks on the nearby lake.

These hunters would be very shy, but they would offer the Franciscans some ducks, and Fathers Palou and Cambon went about their business of fishing for souls, offering their beads and delicacies in exchange. (I actually savored the little black ball of seeds the savages would give us. They tasted like toasted almond tamales. If by food faith is won, I might have been a convert to theirs on these tamales alone. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, forgive me for writing these things!)

At any rate, one of these duck-hunting parties of savages grew so familiar that they became uncommonly bold, started stealing food, clothes, utensils-all sorts of things-as Indians do, stealing with no shame.

Then I was told that one of the brutes ran up to Maria Angela Chumasero, the wife of one of our soldiers, Domingo Alvisa, whereupon the savage suddenly kissed her on the lips!

When I heard this, my blood began to boil. Naked as Adam, this filthy beast ran up to Maria Angela, his member flapping like a banner in some holy procession, to kiss her on the lips! And when Corporal Alvisa sought to protect her honor, the savage shot arrows at him. The filthy beast had actually kissed her! I have seen many soldiers take their pleasures with Indian women, but never have I heard of such a thing right before the eyes of our soldiers!

At the same time, another of the duck hunters saw a neophyte from Mission Carmelo whom he must have thought was his people’s enemy, for the Indian began to aim his arrows at him too, and began making threatening noises. Finally, they left, much to the relief of the Mission, after which Maria Angela was taken by the other women to the Fathers to revive her.

I was amazed and sorely troubled by this report. It so happened that a few days after I heard this, five Indians came to visit the Mission while I was there. Corporal Alvisa pointed out to me the one who threatened the neophyte from Carmelo. I ordered him arrested on the spot, and we took him to the guardhouse we had built of logs and tule, and there I gave him a few lashes.

Two savages who were hunting ducks in the lagoon heard his cries and came running up, jumping up and down, howling. Then they had the audacity to take their revenge by shooting arrows at us. We discharged two shots from our muskets to scare them off-and at the sound they began to run away, frightened. I followed them to the wooded mountain by the beach, and then I retired to the Presidio to take charge in Lieutenant Moraga’s absence, as is my duty There I made plans with the soldiers to search for the savages.

The next day we set out for the beach, for I suspected that they had not yet crossed over to the other shore, in order to have them flogged for shooting arrows in the Mission. My object was to fill their hearts with dread, for they must learn now, at the outset, a wisdom taught by all soldiers of the Crown, a wisdom as much a staple of their souls as the blessings of the Fathers. They must be made to feel fear.

On the beach we encountered the band of savages. By signs I asked them who had shot arrows at the Mission, and the savages readily pointed out the two guilty ones. The accused loudly protested their innocence, but when I dismounted to seize them, the two culprits fled, with two of our soldiers pursuing them. But then the other Indians suddenly turned on us and began to shoot arrows at us. One of the settlers, Pedro Perez de la Fuente, had forgotten to wear his leather jacket, and he was slightly wounded by one of the arrows, as was also one of the horses.

I commanded that the muskets be discharged. One of the Indians fell dead by the water, killed by this same settler Pedro Perez de la Fuente, while the others fled to some rocks isolated in the surf nearby from where they continued shooting arrows.

I then discharged my own musket, with the ball passing through the leg of one of the Indians and digging into the rock. With one dead and another wounded, the savages threw down their bows and arrows, pleading for peace. I threw down my gun in a similar fashion. But despite my gestures of peace, they would not return to the beach to pick up their belongings.

Meanwhile, the soldiers had captured the two culprits who had run away to the mountain. I charged them with the insolence of shooting their arrows in the Mission, and caused them to be whipped. Although they could not understand me, I believe they understood the flogging. After the lashes, I made cutting signs at my neck to indicate that if they were to commit their crime again, I would kill them. They quivered in fear, but I told them to gather up their belongings, as well as those of their companions, and that if they did not violate our trust again, we would be friends.

In the absence of our commanding officer, I took all of this upon myself, feeling that, as sergeant, it was my duty to conduct ourselves in this fashion, since it is our charge to protect the missionaries in their Holy labors of saving souls and keeping Russians from our land, and the necessity of swift punishment to serve as a lesson requires our utmost and immediate attention, otherwise the insolence of the savages would know no bounds.

Our situation-the necessity of soldiers to accompany the missionaries-can be compared to the banner I have seen Father Garces use to convert the Indians, a comparison which I will endeavor to explain.

Father Garces would show the savages the large painting of the Most Holy Virgin with the Child Jesus in her arms. The Indians would manifest great and noisy delight at the image, marveling at it, saying that it was good, and that they wished to be Christians in order to be white and beautiful like the Virgin. Father Garces would tell them that they could, at another time, but that at the present it could not be. Father Garces would then quickly reverse the banner, on which was pictured a condemned soul burning in Hell, whereupon the pagans would raise a great outcry and shrink back, saying that they did not like that! In such a way, Father Garces would introduce their catechisms, not allowing them easy baptism without learning at least the beginnings of reason. I have seen him do the same with the Opas and the Yumas, and I have admired his method, along with his phlegmatic ability to get along with these simple creatures.

In our situation, the Fathers are the bearers of Heaven, but we are the other side of the banner-the soldiers must be the tormentors of Hell. We can easily paint such a picture, particularly as the Fathers come from Spain, while we soldiers come from Sonora, so many from its jails.

As this was the first crime committed at the Mission, we needed to locate the culprits and to punish them swiftly in order for the Indians to understand that we have come to bring them either the blessings of the Church or the muskets of the King. In any case, the Fathers must be protected, no matter how these savages decide, and for that they spend their

That night we sang the Alabado with Fathers Palou and Cambon, content in the exercise of our duties. I told Father Palou that I believed these Indians had never felt the stings of a flogging before. I told them they had been so surprised by the lash, that they howled as much in consternation and humiliation as in pain.

Father Palou looked saddened. The Father felt that these strange creatures were like his children, and he wept.

“Well,” I said to Father Palou, for I wanted him to be relieved of his sorrow; “now that they know the lash, they will be able to approach reason. Soon you will have your flock.”

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