Shoemaking was extensively carried on, for sale on the ranches and to the trading-vessels. Tallow was tried out by the ton and run into underground brick vaults, some of which would hold in one mass several complete ship-loads. This was quarried out and then hauled to San Pedro, or the nearest port, for shipment. Sometimes it was run into great bags made of hides, that would hold from five hundred to a thousand pounds each, and then shipped.
Many of the Indians became expert carpenters, and a few even might be classed as fair cabinet-makers. There were wheelwrights and cart-makers who made the “carretas” that are now the joy of the relic-hunter. These were clumsy ox-carts, with wheels made of blocks, sawed or chopped off from the end of a large round log; a big hole was then bored, chiseled, or burned through its center, enabling it to turn on a rude wooden axle. Soap or tallow was sometimes used as a lubricant. This was the only wheeled conveyance in California as late as 1840. Other Indians did the woodwork in buildings, made fences, etc. Some were carvers, and there are not a few specimens of their work that will bear comparison with the work of far more pretentious artisans.
Many of them became’ blacksmiths and learned to work well in iron. In the Coronel Collection in the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce are many specimens of the ironwork of the San Fernando neophytes. The work of this Mission was long and favorably known as that of superior artisans. The collection includes plough-points, anvils, bells, hoes, chains, locks and keys, spurs, hinges, scissors, cattle-brands, and other articles of use in the Mission communities. There are also fine specimens of hammered copper, showing their ability in this branch of the craftsman’s art. As there was no coal at this time in California, these metal-workers all became charcoal-burners.
Bricks of adobe and also burned bricks and tiles were made at every Mission, I believe, and in later years tiles were made for sale for the houses of the more pretentious inhabitants of the pueblos. As lime and cement were needed, the Indians were taught how to burn the lime of the country, and the cement work then done remains to this day as solid as when it was first put down.
Many of them became expert bricklayers and stone-masons and cutters, as such work as that found at San Luis Rey, San Juan Capistrano, San Carlos, Santa Ines, and other Missions most eloquently testifies.
It is claimed that much of the distemper painting upon the church walls was done by the Indians, though surely it would be far easier to believe that the Fathers did it than they. For with their training in natural design, as shown in their exquisite baskets, and the work they accomplished in leather carving, I do not hesitate to say that mural decorations would have been far more artistic in design, more harmonious in color, and more skilfully executed if the Indians had been left to their own native ability.