Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Lost Souls at San Miguel Mission

San Miguel located north of San Luis Obispo in California was one of the oldest missions secularized when Mexico won their independence from Spain. In the early 1840s the Mission system began to collapse at which point San Miguel was left to crumble. In July of 1846 Petronilo Rios and his business partner William Reed bought the Mission for a few hundred dollars. 

Reed then opened the Mission as a lodging and trading post. Reed demanded all his trade be done in gold and that all his guests pay him in gold. The reason for this was California was not yet apart of the U.S. so currencies from Mexico and the U.S were considered worthless. Besides, gold was plentiful because this was at the beginning of California’s Gold Rush.

As his business grew Reed who lived at Mission San Miguel with his family unfortunately bragged openly that he had amassed a small fortune from this new enterprise. He foolishly told many that he had his gold hidden within the mission walls. On the afternoon of December 4, 1848 six nefarious men arrived at the Mission. 

These men were Joseph Lynch who was a deserter from the US Army. Pete Raymond who had killed a man and escaped from jail. Another two, Pete Remer and Peter Quin were both deserters from the warship Warren. * And a man named Sam Bernard who was accompanied by an Indian named John from Soledad.

Lynch and Raymond had murdered two other travel companions on their way from the gold fields to Soledad. Once at the Mission the men sold 30 ounces of gold to Reed for $30 per ounce. They left the mission the next morning and headed south for San Marcos Creek. But knowing the stories about Reed’s hidden gold their greed got the best of them and they then returned to the Mission.

During the evening of December 5th they brutally killed everyone at San Miguel. Bernard returning from fetching firewood hid an axe among the wood. He hacked at Reed several times with this axe then the Indian John finished him off by stabbing him with a knife. Bernard and the others then proceeded to Reed’s rooms and killed most of the women and children. The group then stalked the rest.

Besides Reed ten other people were murdered including Reed’s wife Maria Vallejos Reed who was pregnant and their four-year old son. Reed’s brother-in-law Jose Vallejos, Maria’s midwife Josefa Olivera and the midwife's fifteen- year old-daughter were victims as well. Martin Olivera’s grandson was killed along with a Negro cook, an Indian sheepherder and his young grandchild. Four of the victims were young children--including Maria’s unborn child. 

The murderers piled all the bodies in the Carpenter’s shop and then sat down and drank some of Reed’s good wine. They spend time looking for Reed's gold but didn’t find it. The few valuables they did find were not worth much. **

The killers left the Mission that night, a posse caught up with them two days later near Santa Barbara at Rancho Ortega. Unbeknownst to the group the same night they committed the murders a mail carrier, James Beckworth had found the bodies. Shocked, he quickly rode to Monterey to inform the military governor. 

A posse was immediately gathered to track them. One item that helped them was an earring known to belong to Maria Reed which was found near San Luis Obispo, the first place these men had camped for the night after the murders. When the posse caught up to them a fight ensued. 

Sam Bernard was shot and killed. Pete Raymond jumped into the surf in an effort to escape and drowned. Peter Quin was wounded and captured after killing a member of the posse. Joseph Lynch and Peter Remer were also captured and later they confessed to their roles in the murders. The Indian, John had parted ways with the group before they reached Santa Barbara--he was never found.

The three men that were captured were executed by a nine-man firing squad that was sent from Monterey on December 28, 1848. Reed’s partner Petronilo Rios helped bury the murdered victims at the Mission. They were all placed in a mass grave. The sight of the dead children disturbed him for years to come. 

This grave is located near the rear door of the Mission’s sacristy. Since, many people have seen the ghost of William Reed at the Mission wearing his winter pea coat--this was one of the items the murderers stole. Another ghost that is seen is felt to be Maria Reed she is seen wandering the Mission grounds wearing a white dress. Other witnesses have heard muffled screams coming from the chapel. While some have seen the apparitions of two young boys at the Mission.

Recently, the young granddaughter of a woman who has worked in the Mission gift shop for 35 years was alarmed when she told her grandma, “I saw an Indian boy and he couldn’t talk. He has an owie on his neck.” Another recent witness saw a man step out of the wall on the south side of the Mission church. He was described wearing a navy blue pea coat.

*  It was not uncommon for men during the Gold Rush to jump ship and head for the gold fields.

** William Reed's hidden gold has never been found.

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