The Missions: Number 12

In 1769, Spanish explorer Captain Gaspar de Portola gave the name Santa Cruz (Holy Cross) to the area along Monterey Bay’s northern shore. Twenty-two years later, in 1791, Mission Santa Cruz was founded by Fathers Alonso Salazar and Baldomero Lopez. Two years after that, with the help of the local native Ohlone people, work began on a church that had a stone foundation and thick adobe walls. A grist mill, weaving rooms, and a two-story granary were eventually added. Successful from the beginning, within five years Mission Santa Cruz reported large harvests of grains, corn, and beans, plus large herds of cattle, oxen, and sheep. The Ohlone Indians were taught spinning, weaving, blacksmithing, leather tanning, and tile making. Yet the padres encountered difficulties in 1797, when the governor of Alta California decided that a town should be built directly across the San Lorenzo River from the mission. Over the priests’ protests that “non-religious people with wild ways” would adversely influence the Indians, pueblo Villa de Branciforte was established—whereupon the padres’ worst fears came true. Branciforte soon became the center of gambling, drinking, smuggling, and other crimes. These problems, and the diseases the newcomers brought, contributed to the dramatic decline in the Indian population, and the steady decline of the mission’s success. Mission Santa Cruz was one of the first missions to be secularized, by order of the Mexican government. In 1859, United States President Buchanan returned the mission, and about 17 surrounding acres, to the Catholic Church. Today only one of the original mission’s 32 buildings still stands, restored in 1991 as part of Santa Cruz Mission State Park.

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