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Mision Santa Catarina Virgen y Martir
Mission Santa Catarina was founded on November 12, 1797 in the present-day Valle of El Alamo in the municipio of Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico, by the Dominican missionary Jose Loriente. The site chosen for the mission lay on a plateau over 1,000 m above sea level, surrounded by an irrigable valley, some 62 km west of Mission Santo Tomas. The location was previously known to the native Paipai as Ha'ketepohol, meaning "water that falls loudly". Following the precedent of Mission San Pedro Martir, it was the second and last of the Baja California missions to be situated in such mountainous terrain. Today, Santa Catarina is a village of Paipai and Kumeyaay Indians, but virtually nothing remains of the original structures. Archaeological investigations of the mission's traces are in progress.
Mission Santa Catarina History
The potential mission site was identified in 1794 by a military party led by Sergeant Jose Manuel Ruiz and accompanied by missionary Tomas Valdellon. In 1796 lieutenant Jose Joaquin de Arrillaga, a former governor of the Californias, confirmed the suitability of the site. A key factor in the selection of this location was its proximity to the pass of Portezuelo, on a route that led east to the desert and to the Colorado River. The mission was intended as a defensive fort against eastern intruders as well as a center for converting the local Indians to Christianity. Physical construction of the Mission complex began on August 6, 1797. By 1812, the administration of the mission had been turned over to the authorities at Mission San Vicente. Yet in 1824, the mission was home to 600 neophytes, making it the most populous of the Dominican missions in Baja California at that time. From the onset, the missionaries had to deal with the theft of cattle and attacks by the locals. In 1840, hostile raiders struck, killing 16 neophytes and burning the mission. Mexican soldiers launched a punitive expedition, but the mission was not rebuilt.
Mission Santa Catarina Demise
An account of the destruction of the mission was given by a Santa Catarina Indian: A year or two after Fray Felix left for Guadalupe, one September, when most of the people were away from Santa Catalina getting pinon to the northward along the eastern slope of the Sierra Juarez, the Keliwa came and burned the mission. The sacristan and a few old women were there, but they escaped. Nicuarr, with 500 of his people, pursued the Keliwa into the San Pedro Martir Sierra and killed most of them. Still other accounts maintain that the uprising that destroyed the mission included not only the Kiliwa but also the Paipai, Kumeyaay from La Huerta, and Colorado River groups such as the Quechan and Cocopa as well. They were without a leader in the attack; all fought like animals. They all hated the frailes: the Indians died when the frailes came. They hated the missionaries. Thereafter, the Kiliwa renamed Santa Catarina Wa'iú-ichíu, a combination of the words wa (house), iu (empty), and ichiu (burned).
Mission Santa Catarina Compound
As a defensive measure, the 77 x 53 m mission proper was enclosed by a substantial wall. A watchtower was constructed at the northeast corner, and the only access to the compound was a via a single door located at the south corner. Valdellon reported in 1797 that the Santa Catarina capilla (chapel) was constructed of adobe bricks and measured 10 x 5 m, and featured a flat roof; it housed a 150 cm tall statue of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. The missionary living quarters measured little more than 25 m², as did the granary. There were also ancillary structures housing three workshops and a women's dormitory, each measuring 5 m square. Additional support buildings were constructed in 1798 and 1799. As agriculture was fundamental for the subsistence of the site, mission industries consisted mainly of the cultivation of wheat and maize, and the raising and trading of cattle, donkeys, goats, horses, mules, and sheep. The nearby rancherias of Agua Caliente, Agua Caliente del Portezuelo, Cerro Colorado, El Portezuelo, El Rincon, La Cienega, La Huerta, Los Bateques, Poza de Gonzalez, San Pablo, and Sangre de Cristo were integrated into the Mission holdings.
Mason, William M. 1978. "A Strategic Mission: Santa Catarina". Journal of California Anthropology 5:277-287.
Meigs, Peveril, III. 1935. The Dominican Mission Frontier of Lower California. University of California Publications in Geography No. 7. Berkeley.
Vernon, Edward W. 2002. Las Misiones Antiguas: The Spanish Missions of Baja California, 1683-1855. Viejo Press, Santa Barbara, California.