Soldiers, Scoundrels, Poets & Priests
David J. McLaughlin
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|Soldiers, Scoundrels, Poets & Priests
by David J. McLaughlin
How do you make 30 different biographies interesting when compiled
in a single book? You weave them into and around the 400 year history
of California with an emphasis on the Missions. That's exactly what
author David McLaughlin has done with his latest book: Soldiers,
Scoundrels, Poets & Priests.
McLaughlin divides the modern history of California into three major
periods: the Spanish, the Mexicans, and the Americans. He then picks
ten noted people (or groups) in each era and very skillfully weaves the
stories of these with the events of their period. The choices of individuals
is almost as interesting as the approach.
The Spanish era of course starts out with Juan
Rodriguez Cabrillo then,
because Spain basically ignored California for 200 years quickly skips
to the three initial explorers of Alta California: Gaspar
Blessed Junipero Serra, and Juan Bautista
de Anza. California government
under Philipe de Neve is explored along with the Chumash Chief Pedro
Yanunali's contributions to colonization -- along with many of the results
of this cooperation.
The life of Francisco Hermenegildo Garces, a pathfinder and martyr (the
Daniel Boone of the West) shows the influence the Spanish had on the
local Indian population.
The Spanish era ends with more interesting characters of the time: architect
Manual Ruiz coupled with artist Estevan
Munras, Russian Count Nikolai
Petrovich Rezanov, and French pirate Hipolite
The Mexican era cast of characters is a much more varied group, reflecting
the turbulent nature of the shorter period of Mexican rule in Alta California.
- Filipe Arroyo de la Cuesta, a dedicated missionary,
- Estanislao, an Indian revolutionary,
- Mariano Gudalupe Vallejo, a soldier and statesman,
- William Edward Petty Hartnell, a hide trader and protector of the
- Auguste Duhaut-Cilly, a French sea captain,
- Jedediah Strong Smith, mountain man and explorer,
- Richard Henry Dana, author of Two
Years Before the Mast,
- Narciso Duran, last leader of the Missions before secularization,
- Don Antonio Aguirre, a Mission supporter, and
- Pio Pico, California's most corrupt governor and the last of the
The American period, 1846 to the present, is a similar mixture of people
largely associated with Mission restoration instead of Mission establishment
Men of action like John Charles Fremont, the soldier, and Charles
Fletcher Lummis, the founder of the Landmarks Club start this section. They are
followed by Indian rights activist Helen Hunt Jackson along with chapters
dedicated to Mission Painters and Mission
Photographers. Mrs. A.S.C.
Forbes of El Camino Real bell fame is given a chapter as well as The
Mission Play author John Steven McGoarty. William
Randolph Hearst, a
long-time supporter of Mission restoration is given his due. And, the
book ends with two chapters dedicated to the artisans Joseph
Jacino "Jo" Mora who created the Junipero Serra sarcophagus and Harry
Downie who gave
50 years of his life to the restoration of Mission Carmel.
But, the book doesn't end there. A glossary of terms used in and around
the Missions is included as well as a large foldout which lays California's
history alongside other events of historical significance. An index for
quick location of key terms and names is also included; a nice feature
often overlooked in narrative history books.
The best overall feature of the book is its balanced coverage of what
was basically a European invasion of native territories. He gives several
chapters to important Native Americans of the period and goes on to describe
the treatment of the Indians and the catastrophic effects the invasion
had on the Indian population and, often, the culture. This not a one-sided
presentation for either side; good and bad are presented equally.
In summary: Soldiers, Scoundrels, Poets & Priests is a good biography
for those covered as well as being a good overall history of California
as it relates to the Missions. Plus, it's a good read. Throw in the quotes
from source material scattered throughout and you have an excellent presentation
about an important part of California. I'm happy to have read the book
and recommend it to anyone even slightly interested in how California
came to be what it is today.
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