The Mojave tragedy at Mission San Buenaventura.

by Richard Senate

On the afternoon of May 31st, 1819, a group of Native Americans of the Mojave Tribe came to the mission and asked to meet with Fr. Jose Senan. they were armed with a number of weapons and the soldiers of the Mission Guard informed them the visit was okay but they would have to give up their arms before being admitted into the Mission. They refused to give up their weapons and a violent confrontation took place. A Chumash convert grabbed one of the Mojave’s weapons and he was killed.

Two Spanish soldiers tried to stop them and they too were killed The other three soldiers opened fire with their muskets and killed the ten Mojave tribesmen. The gunfire brought the padre who saw the bloody outcome of the confrontation. The angry soldiers wanted to decapitate the bodies and display the heads on stakes but Fr. Senan overruled that barbaric idea. The bodies were buried in unconsecrated ground as they were not members of the church. Some say other Mojave tribesmen came and dug up the bodies to return them to their ancestral lands. But they may well still rest in what is today Ventura.

How did the Spanish soldiers slay so many? In looking at Church records, they were armed with smooth bore flintlock weapons, mostly copies of the English “Brown Bess” a 75 caliber Musket like the ones used in the American Revolution. The Spanish preferred the carbine version, shorter barreled, to be used on horseback. These were loaded with a large lead ball (75 caliber) and several smaller balls, all tapped in with a wad, making the piece a huge shotgun, devastating at close range, with enough force to bring down a charging Grizzly Bear. A volley of such shot would have been enough to bring down the ten-armed warriors.

A sad confrontation caused by a misunderstanding. Fr. Senan called it “a tragedy” in his records. The Spanish soldiers and the single Chumash convert rest under the Holy Cross school today. Perhaps their names should be recorded on a plaque for their brave defense of the Mission Settlement.

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