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Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Miraculous Transportation of Cruz Miranda



I’ve long wondered (and my mother before me) how the hell my paternal ancestor (great-great-great grandfather), Cruz Miranda, an Indian from the Jesuit Mission San Jose del Cabo at the tip of Baja California, just up and migrated all the way to Monterey, California, around 1850.  Google Maps tells me that the distance is at least 1200 miles; probably a lot more, without flattened mountains and smooth highways. Commander-in-chief U.S. Naval  Forces, Pacific Ocean, Thomas Jones reported in 1848 that in his ship's voyage from San Juan del Cabo to Monterey he had presided over, “A voyage exceeding in time that from America to Europe.”  

Not only did Cruz make this trip, but he did it without seeming to possess any real occupational training or political power that would explain the financial ability to pay for such a trip – and managed to arrive with two young children (whether his wife made the journey with him is debatable, as we'll see), to boot.  On the 1860 U.S. Census, Cruz Miranda’s occupation is recorded as “Teamster” – in other words, he knew how to drive a team of mules and/or horses.  Not one of the more in-demand specialty trades at that time.




So, what kind of magical transportation allows this kind of miraculous mileage?!

That my ancestor brought children and possibly his wife has always suggested to me that Cruz hopped a ship; the overland trek up Baja to Monterey was a killer.  But just how would a lowly Mission Indian rate the relative luxury of shipboard travel, let alone be allowed to bring his young family?

If this had happened in an earlier time, when the missions in Baja and Alta California were still vital parts of economic/political hegemonies, I might think that Cruz and family were just neophytes sent from one mission to another as part of typical labor exchanges, or even as “model” neophytes indoctrinated in Catholicism, who could serve as mediators for newer converts.  But the missions were secularized in 1836, and the system had broken down long before then; a mission exchange is unlikely even if the Jesuits and Franciscans were amendable to cooperation.

The timing should have been my first clue: just barely post-Mexican-American War.  And I did vaguely consider that Cruz and family might have been fleeing the violence of that event.  But in Baja?!  Obviously I wasn’t listening very well during U.S. History class in high school – at least not for the 13 seconds we spent on that conflict – because I did not realize that Baja had, at one point, been part of a military contest between the U.S. and Mexico (I knew about the political conflict over Baja; just didn’t know it had actually involved battles not in the interior of Mexico).  



The truth is, neither my mother or I ever really put much effort into searching for Cruz, mostly because the original impetus for our genealogical research was always about Federal Recognition, and the Feds don’t give a hoot about “Mexican” indigenous blood-lines (those pesky borders again!  - paradoxically, the fact that the U.S. once felt so strongly that Baja California was U.S. land unjustly stolen by Mexico, and even sacrificed American lives to enforce that claim, is a moot point in the Federal Recognition process.  How convenient.).

Yet I’ve always wondered how Cruz accomplished this epic journey.  This past week, thinking about my upcoming California trip and remembering again how the Mirandas just seemed to drop out of the sky into the Monterey/Carmel Indian community, I threw a few search terms into Google, and the Google Gods were with me.  I struck it lucky during a Starbucks-fueled online muse-session, and came across an article on the Mexican-American War that totally illuminated the whole situation. 

Here it is, in a nutshell:  First of all, it’s important to know that the Spanish Mirandas, the colonizers, were present in Baja early on.  In fact, during 1848, Colonel Francisco Palacios Miranda was governor of Baja California.  For how long, I don’t know; but it could be a connection to Cruz Miranda’s family – important men in Spanish settlements often lent their names to neophytes at the baptismal font as sponsors or godparents.  If not Francisco Palacios Miranda, then some other Spanish soldier or priest.

Anyway, Governor Miranda apparently faced a choice: remain loyal to Mexico and possibly lose everything, or cooperate with the Americans and maybe retain some of his power if the Americans won.  I’m sorry to say, he wasn’t a very good guesser.  After several battles – including one in November 1847, when American Marines were holed up in a mission building were saved only because Mexican troops mistook a couple of incoming whaling ships as U.S. reinforcements - and a longer siege from January 22 to February 14 in 1848, when Mexican forces eventually “took over San Jose del Cabo and forced the Americans to either starve or surrender.  The USS Cyane rescued the Americans on the14th of February.  United States forces left the area 18 months later. The Americans had lost Baja California.” - and the fate of U.S. loyalist Mexicans was sealed.  Like Governor Miranda, the neophyte Cruz Miranda may have been forced into working for the U.S., and then faced retribution afterwards.  Commander Jones writes about his mission to rescue these refugees, 

 
The more powerful Mexican collaborators – including the Governor – demanded refugee status, and even some reimbursement for the property they had to abandon (part of Jones's report involves determining who was paid how much).  Perhaps some of them also managed to bring along loyal servants or, in the case of the diocese priest, particularly dear converts who were somehow attached to the mission.  

At any rate, the U.S. sent two ships, The Lexington and The Ohio, to pick up those refugees.  The Lexington left in August 1848 with about 130 refugees; The Ohio left on September 6 with about 350.  Only the more prestigious refugees are actually named in the reports of this activity to Congress; the Governor, the diocese priest, a few wealthier Mexicans.  Peons like Cruz were lumped in as “other” refugees.


And just where did those refugee passengers disembark?  Why, Monterey, California – both ships docked there by October 1848.  It can be no coincidence that Cruz Miranda and family show up on the 1860 U.S. Census in Monterey.  Under country of origin, Cruz told the census taker “Mexico” (his wife, Crispina, seems to have died, and Cruz remarried one Gertrudis Duarte, also of Mexico – whether before or after the exodus, I don’t know).  Thanks to my mother’s research, I know that he also meant that he had been born, baptized and married at Mission San Juan del Cabo.

Upon arrival in Monterey, Cruz’s family immediately affiliated themselves with the indigenous population from the remnants of Mission Carmel.  Also in the 1860 census pictured above, my mother notes that the Mirandas lived within a door or two of the family they ended up marrying into, the Reals and Cantuas, Esselen to the core.  This affiliation indicates that this Baja family felt most at home with other missionized Indians, rather than Mexicans whose cultural and/or genealogical connections were had European roots.  Here are my mother’s notes about Cruz:

“Cruz Miranda born c 1820 Baja Calif … Cruz Miranda married Maria Crispina Beltran in San Jose del Cabo Baja Cal, June 18, 1813.

The next place I find Cruz is in Monterey from the 1860 US Census. He is now 40 years old and [has a new] wife Gertrudes Duarte [who] is 42 years old. They have 6 children. Carbola b 1844, Enriquez b 1850, Tranquilino 1846, Ygnacio 1855, Cruz Jr. 1856, and Josefa 1859.

…When son Tranquilino married 28 Aug 1871 Severiana Ramirez, Tranquilino's mother [was] given as Crispina … Tranquilino is identified by the BIA as Lower Mexican/Californian Indian full-blood.”

Tranquilino Miranda (third child listed on the 1860 census) was one of the children who made the long trip up the Pacific coast on either The Lexington or The Ohio; he was probably under the age of two at that time.  He grew up to marry an Esselen woman from the Carmel Mission, my great-great grandmother Serveriana Ramirez, daughter of Josefa Real (married to Ventura Cantua).

So this historical research find seems to answer the mystery of how the Mirandas traveled from San Jose del Cabo to Monterey; they were refugees of the Mexican-American War, perhaps having had the bad luck to back (by choice or by force) the Americans, but being somewhat rewarded for their “loyalty” with transportation out of the war zone, possibly sponsored by Govenor Miranda or other Spanish connections through Mission San Jose del Cabo.  What a journey for them!  What sheer chance!   

(There are some holes in this story: for example, this 1860 census lists “Cruz Jr.” as four years old, and the first child born in California, with Ygnacio as five years old and born in Mexico around 1855.  Wouldn’t that mean Cruz wasn’t in Alta California until 1855, six years after the refugees were brought to Monterey?   Not necessarily.  For one thing, Mexicans often didn’t distinguish between Alta and Baja California – California was California, borders meant nothing -  and confusion might easily have prevailed for either parent or even one of the older children when speaking to an Anglo census-taker.  For another, the long gap in children between Tranquilino, fourteen, and Ygnacio, five, may indicate that Cruz was widowed for quite some time – since his arrival around 1849, in fact - before taking a second wife and starting the second half of his family.  Perhaps Crispina was lost in the violence of the war, or didn’t survive the long sea journey?  Perhaps losing her was one of the reasons Cruz decided to leave his homeland?  At any rate, I don’t see any other way Cruz and the older children could have gotten from San Juan del Cabo to Monterey after the U.S. lost Baja; it makes much more sense that he was on one of those U.S. ships sent to retrieve refugees in 1849, that he remarried in 1854 or 55, and that the census taker simply got the information wrong about the birthplace of Ygnacio.  But if you haven’t figured it out by now, genealogy depends on records made by human beings and thus is not an exact science!)

And now I have even more questions.

For example, were the indigenous Mirandas members of the Pericu Indian peoples?  How long had they been missionized – one generation, or several? Supposedly, founding priest Father Tamaral and the Indians got along famously – he reportedly baptized over 1000 of them - until he cracked down on the polygamous family units the Pericu persisted in forming.  The Pericu rebelled several times, eventually killing Tamaral and burning down the mission.  



One online source says, “By 1767, virtually all the Indians in the area had died either of European diseases or in skirmishes with the Spanish. Surviving mission Indians were moved to missions farther north, but San Jose del Cabo remained an important Spanish military outpost until the mid-19th century when the presidio was turned over to Mexican nationals,” - but as we Esselen know all too well, rumors of indigenous extinction are often greatly exaggerated.  “Virtually all” might mean that cultural ties and visual markers had been severed or gone underground, that clans and other band differences has melted away within the Mission walls and religious instruction, or that the Indians had simply adapted so well that no one recognized them as “wild” Indians anymore.  Isn’t it strange how survival can look so much like extinction to colonizers who insist on having their Indians savage and uncivilized?



Of course, once things settled down at Mission San Juan del Cabo after the rebellions, the Church sent another priest, and it was monogamy as usual, although iterations of that poor mission were destroyed by hurricane, flood, pirates, and general disrepair over the years (you’d almost think the land didn’t want that mission there, wouldn’t you?).  David Kier notes that the native population at Mission San Juan del Cabo underwent multiple shifts, with natives being removed to other missions or the natives from other missions being brought in, so it may well be that Cruz and Crispina Miranda were the descendants of several surviving Southern Baja tribes.  The last of the last, perhaps – which also means, the first of the next.

Cruz and his wife (Crispina or Gertrudis) Miranda left their homeland – or what remained of it – in search of something better.  The couldn’t know that they were sailing into the teeth of a chaotic, bloody historical event known as The California Gold Rush, something Commander Jones noted:


Cruz and his wife also couldn’t know that abandoning one mission for another would land their children and future descendants in another post-apocalyptic community with, perhaps, even more problems than those that they fled.  If they had known the state of Carmel’s Indians, would the Mirandas have come anyway?  Did they have much choice, given war, complex political machinations, starvation? 

What a journey that must have been for those Mirandas – leaving their homeland, a long ocean voyage on a cramped boat with strangers, landing in a cooler climate full of still more gold-crazed strangers.  No wonder the Carmel mission Indians looked, if not like family, at least like relatives.  Outsiders, the Miranda children seem to have married into some of the more prominent (in terms of influence within the missions and in post-mission life) Indigenous families who survived Missionization; certainly, Tranquilino and his children after him did, becoming more Esselen as the generations went by.  I wonder what they retained of their own culture.  I wonder if everything had to be reinvented or repurposed in order for life to go on. 

All I know for sure: each time I dive into these stories, I learn again that I come from a long, long line of passionate survivors: Indians rebels, priest-killers, nation-jumpers.  Despite the pain of being human, we do love life.  That sentiment seems encoded into my DNA: flexibility, adaptability, an abhorrence of anything rigid or cage-like.   In a poem I once wrote, “We grow into/what comes next.”  

Yes, we do.  And that is our miracle.

This essay is dedicated to my father, Alfred Edward Miranda Sr.  Happy Father's Day.


Deborah A. Miranda
on board the Coast Starlight
near Klamath Falls, Oregon

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