There are a few ruined walls still standing of the chapel of San Bernardino at this time, and had it not been for the care recently bestowed upon them, there would soon have been no remnant of this once prosperous and useful asistencia of the Mission of San Gabriel.
In 1803 a chapel was built at a rancheria called by the Indians Mescaltitlan, and the Spaniards San Miguel, six miles from Santa Barbara. It was of adobes, twenty-seven by sixty-six feet. In 1807 eighteen adobe dwellings were erected at the same place.
One of the vistas of San Luis Obispo was a rancheria known as San Miguelito, and here in 1809 the governor gave his approval that a chapel should be erected. San Luis had several such vistas, and I am told that the ruins of several chapels are still in existence in that region.
In 1816-19 the padres at San Diego urged the governor to give them permission to erect a chapel at Santa Isabel, some forty miles away, where two hundred baptized Indians were living. The governor did not approve, however, and nothing was done until after 1820. By 1822 the chapel was reported built, with several houses, a granary, and a graveyard. The population had increased to 450, and these materially aided San Diego in keeping the mountainous tribes, who were hostile, in check.
A recent article in a Southern California magazine thus describes the ruins of the Mission of Santa Isabel:
“Levelled by time, and washed by winter rains, the adobe walls of the church have sunk into indistinguishable heaps of earth which vaguely define the outlines of the ancient edifice. The bells remain, hung no longer in a belfry, but on a rude framework of logs. A tall cross, made of two saplings nailed in shape, marks the consecrated spot. Beyond it rise the walls of the brush building, enramada, woven of green wattled boughs, which does duty for a church on Sundays and on the rare occasions of a visit from the priest, who makes a yearly pilgrimage to these outlying portions of his diocese. On Sundays, the Captain of the tribe acts as lay reader and recites the services. Then and on Saturday nights the bells are rung. An Indian boy has the office of bell-ringer, and crossing the ropes attached to the clappers, he skilfully makes a solemn chime.”
The graveyard at Santa Isabel is neglected and forlorn, and yet bears many evidences of the loving thoughtfulness of the loved ones who remain behind.
Eleven miles or so from Santa Isabel, up a steep road, is the Indian village of Mesa Grande. The rancheria (as the old Spaniards would call it) occupies a narrow valley and sweep of barren hillside. On a level space at the foot of the mountain the little church is built. Santo Domingo is the patron saint.