On the afternoon of December 4, 1786, the Very Reverend Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuen blessed the land east of Mission Creek, raised a holy cross, recited the Litany of All Saints, and said a prayer in honor of the patron saint. Without further ado, the Mission of Santa Barbara was founded.

On Sunday, December 5, 1886, red and yellow bunting festooned the front of the Mission chapel and an abundance of flowers decorated the altar. A fleet of horse-drawn vehicles lined the fences near the Mission, and hundreds of citizens stood outside the chapel that was filled to bursting. Various priestly dignitaries performed a solemn high mass and delivered a historical sermon. Professor Hall’s orchestra rendered Lambillotte’s eloquent “Mass in D” and led a choir composed of the most beautiful voices in Santa Barbara.

Thus ended the religious observances that comprised the first three days of the Mission Centennial Celebration. Two months earlier at the Arlington Hotel, seven young men had formed the Go-Ahead Club from among the young people of the town. Their purpose was to raise funds for civic improvements, and they chose the Mission Centennial as their first project.

On December 6, the secular celebration for the Centennial began in earnest. State Street merchants rose early to bedeck their buildings with banners, flags and bunting that commingled the American red, white and blue with the Spanish yellow and red. At 11 am, Grand Marshall Thomas More Storke, wearing a genuine Mexican costume, signaled for the Grand Procession to start. The Weekly Independent reported that his aides, “mounted on blooded, spirited horses caparisoned with sillas de montar, machillas, and angueras, . . . formed a brilliant tableaux vivant.” Señor Orena wore the Spanish cadet uniform of his grandfather, Captain de la Guerra, and William W. Burton, “in peacock blue plush chaquetone and calcones cortos with scarlet mascadas and sash, was gorgeous.”

Next came the Spanish division which included 50 men and women riders in the costume of a dozen different provinces of Spain and an ox-driven carreta carrying an old wooden plow used by the first settlers.

To the Weekly Independent’s delight, 12 two-wheeled carts trimmed luxuriantly with flowers and “filled with a fair portion of the feminine loveliness and grace of the city,” trotted by in a Tub Parade. One cart was wreathed entirely in red berries and yellow chrysanthemums. The last in line, a burlesque, was an old farm cart decorated with beets, cabbages and other vegetables, and driven by Frank Stoddard and Alfred Burt dressed as “succulent maidens.”

A trades flotilla followed that included a donkey cart driven by Santa Claus accompanied by two little girls on a burro. Mission Indians, wagons full of waving school children, Professor McCoy’s Military Band, the Grand Army of the Republic, two pack trains and a cavalcade of citizens in carriages and on horseback all started at the Arlington, circled back at Gutierrez, and proceeded under the Grand Arch. This cypress- and palm frond-covered arch, topped by an array of Spanish and American flags, was a 60-foot-by-90-foot replica of the Mission and spanned State Street at Figueroa. The parade then headed to the Mission where an enthusiastic ringing of bells and firing of cannon greeted the participants while the Mission padres addressed the crowd in both Spanish and English.

Grand, Gruesome Rodeo

On December 4, the Daily Press had assured its readers that a fenced plaza was being built in front of the Agricultural Pavilion grandstand for the rodeo so that “timid people may be safe from the fear of accidents among the wild riders and wild cattle.... There is nothing to alarm timid souls concerning cruelty to animals in this display, and no real danger to the riders, as they will be the most expert horsemen in the country.”

On December 8, the same reporter wrote, “The whole affair (the rodeo) was a representation of the sports and pastimes of the early settlers and as such was probably justifiable, but it was needlessly cruel and it is to be hoped that Santa Barbara will not have another such exhibition, at least until the next centennial.”

So what had happened? Things started out well enough. Hundreds of colorfully costumed horsemen and women galloped excitedly outside the ring to get a view of the displays of horsemanship inside. Casas Cota demonstrated breaking a horse to saddle. The writer reported, “The colt was vicious and jumped and plunged, laid down and got up – still his rider stuck to the saddle and finally rode up and down the track in triumph.” The crowd roared its approval. When six unbroken horses were turned loose to be lassoed and thrown, however, disaster struck. One wild-eyed, frantic horse, racing to and fro, was caught by the foot in the lasso. He turned a complete somersault and broke his neck. His dead body was dragged out of the ring.

Then Dons Manuel Den, Oresimo Covarrubias, and Nicolas Den took to the ring on horseback for the bull baiting. These vaqueros roped and threw the bull repeatedly. Upon being let loose, the enraged animal plunged at the riders who were waving red capes. “Manuel Den taunted him recklessly and his fine horse received a severe gore,” the Daily Press reported. Blood streaming from his flank, the horse exited the ring. The frantic bull now raced along the fence, and spectators clinging there dropped like autumn leaves before a frost. The vaqueros captured the bull again and sawed off his horns. Blood spurting from the “mutilated stumps,” he had enough fight left to fire upon two curious dogs and respond to the waving red serapes. “At this stage,” said the Weekly Independent reporter, “a boy on the fence fainted and fell overboard at the gory spectacle.”

This writer ended by saying, “Thus closed a savage spectacle which has delighted the people of this funny land for a hundred years, and the curtain was wrung down, Gracias a Dios, forever.”

Baile, Baile, Baile!

The carnival and bazaar at the Agricultural Pavilion were less sanguinary. The Daily Press called it “a perfect fairy bower of gay bunting, evergreens, flowers and fancy goods.” The Spanish booth was “decorated with old Spanish shawls and mantillas of exquisite design.” The ice cream booth was trimmed with 3,000 pampas plumes, and two ramada-like booths, the Tortillera and the Tamalera, featured cooking demonstrations and offered food for sale.

That evening the Agricultural Pavilion was “filled to suffocation.” A tableau of statuary was presented, featuring such classical figures as Minerva, played by Miss Leland, and Raphael’s cherubs by the Breslauer children. The main event, however, was a genuine Spanish Fandango. The sons and daughters of the old Spanish population reprised the old dances – Contra Danza, Jarabe, Jota, El Son, Quadillas and Bambo were accompanied by the guitar of Señor Carrillo. The evening ended in a colorful cloud of paper, gold dust and tinsel when cascarones filled the air.

All week long the Agricultural Park had held horse races, but on Wednesday, a special event for the children included games such as climbing a greased pole, sack races, a pigeon shooting match and a greased pig chase. The Weekly Independent reported, “A gaunt and very long legged porker, greased more liberally inside than out, was turned loose in the Park and a multitude of boys ran pell mell in pursuit accompanied by loud laughter, yells and hooting.”

That evening the Grand Centennial Ball at the Lobero Theatre crowned the celebrations. The theatre was decorated with cypress and pepper tree garlands mixed with colorful banners and bunting representing the American and Spanish colors. The Press reported, “Gringo pates of red and brown were haply concealed by silken bandanas and every indication of the Anglo Saxon disappeared beneath Spanish costumes, pure and ornate.” The newspaper devoted a full three columns to describe the eloquent costumes of each lady: “Señorita Delfina de la Guerra was brilliant in crimson satin and white lace with yellow ribbons.” Miss Elizabeth Eaton wore “blue silk with black lace ruffles and drapery and a red rose in her hair.”

The Dance program interspersed modern (1886) dances with the old and included “El Coyote” danced by Chumash dancers in costumes of feathers and paint. El Son and El Jarabe were danced by the Señores Cota, Arrellanes and Mesa and their ladies. A merry jingle of money cascaded to the floor as was the ancient custom. The Anglo population mixed with the Spanish for the Contra Danza.

Overcome by nostalgia, the reporter wrote, “The dancers saluted in Spanish, bowed in Castilian, dressed in Californian. Hidalgo, caballero, señoritas, señoras, the sangre azul ascendant, the dons of acres and antecedents once more triumphed.” Thus ended the first hundred years of the life of the Mission of Santa Barbara. This year, the Mission celebrates its 220th birthday. Feliz cumpleaños, Misión de Santa Barbara. (Sources: Geiger’s Santa Barbara Mission and contemporary news articles)