Father Quintana’s Grisly Death at Mission Santa Cruz

Mission Santa Cruz. Edwin Deakin circa 1889. Santa Barbara Mission Archive-Library via The Athenaeum
Mission Santa Cruz. Edwin Deakin circa 1889. Santa Barbara Mission Archive-Library. File courtesy of the Athenaeum.

In traditional accounts, ghosts are said to be souls of the deceased who seek vengeance, or are imprisoned in this world for their evil deeds. By this measure, Father Andrés Quintana, murdered outside the Mission Santa Cruz in 1812, fits both criteria.

Like other missions in California, Mission Santa Cruz depended on the coerced labor of the local indigenous people. Just before his murder, Father Quintana disciplined two Indians by beating them nearly to death, including one who worked inside the plaza of the mission, named Donato. Another, named Lino, was the Father’s personal page and the recipient of frequent punishment from him. Father Quintana was known to have a new horse whip, with a tip that he had specially equipped with iron wire. Indians working at the mission feared this whip, and the man who wielded it. In order to prevent further whippings, Donato gathered together a group of 14 Indians to plot the Padre’s murder, among them Lino, the gardener Julián, and his wife Fausta.

During the night of October 12, Fausta lured Father Quintana out of the mission to visit Julián who was faking severe illness, so he could receive last rites. Clear of the military guards at the mission, the group attacked him, and he was strangled then castrated.

The group then brought the body back to the mission, returning him to bed to make it appear he passed away in his sleep. The assassins then unlocked the dormitories where the unmarried men and women lived, and a party started. This provided cover for the conspirators. Father Quintana was buried the next day, and his death was claimed to be the result of a lingering illness. Questions lingered over the death, and a coroner from Monterey came and exhumed the body to perform an autopsy. Strangely, the coroner’s report supported death by natural causes, perhaps because he did not find evidence of poison.

Lino’s wife Humiliana accidentally spilled the beans about the plot a year later, when a conversation about the murder was overheard by soldiers. The plotters were arrested and taken to the Presidio of San Francisco where they faced trial. Punishment included 200 lashes, and prison sentences ranging from two to ten years, though seven of those arrested never faced punishment at all.

Father Quintana’s grisly death highlights the strained relations between the missions and the indigenous peoples of California 21 years after Mission Santa Cruz was established in 1791. While the Catholic church held a Mass of Reconciliation at Mission San Juan Bautista for the descendants of Mission Indians in 2012, no absolution was forthcoming for Father Quintana. It is easy to imagine that his ghost still roams Mission Hill in Santa Cruz to this day.


Despite having roles such as gardener and page, the participants in the plot were all significant members of the mission community. Martin Rizzo, a PhD candidate in History at the University of California, Santa Cruz, provides a wealth of detail on the conspirators and their relationships in his article, “Dios no manda eso”: Indigenous Community and Leadership in the Assassination of Padre Quintana in Santa Cruz, 1812 (see sources below). The following comes from this article.

In addition to his role as gardener, Julián Apodaca was also one of the first two elected alcaldes at the mission, 15 years prior. An alcalde acted as the voice of the padres, relaying their instructions back to other Indians, and hence was a trusted role. While it’s unclear whether Julián was still an alcalde at the time of the murder, it indicates he still held an important position in the community.

Fausta arrived at Mission Santa Cruz as part of a second wave of Ohlone recruitment in 1807 consisting of members of the Sumu and Tomoi tribes. Fausta was the eldest Sumu female baptized in this group, and hence likely held a position of influence. She apparently led a group of female fugitives within a few years of her baptism, only to return to the mission after a short time. According to one account, the plotters were unable to bring themselves to murder Father Quintana the first time he visited Julián … or the second. Fausta threatened to reveal the plot if they didn’t follow the plan. If true, she provided needed spine for the conspirators. It also gives an insight into the character of the group, showing them wrestling with enormity of what they had planned.

In 1812, Lino was the oldest surviving child who had been born in Mission Santa Cruz. Such children were important to the mission, since they grew up equally at home in the culture of the mission and the culture of the Indians, and could act as a bridge between the cultures. Due to high infant mortality, they were also precious. Three other children had been born at the mission prior to Lino, and all had died by 1807.

Humiliana was unmarried at the time of the murder, and married Lino six months later. She, too, was a child of the mission, born just three months after Lino. It is easy to imagine Lino and Humiliana sharing a bond from being the two oldest children growing up amidst the death and struggle of mission life, straddling two very different cultures. She and Lino had a child, Petra Nicanor, while Lino was in jail (he died there in 1817). She likely never saw her father. One wonders how Humiliana lived with the knowledge that she accidentally betrayed her husband, and the father of her daughter. Growing up in the mission she had certainly seen her fair share of death and sorrow, then learned to carry on. Perhaps this pragmatism is what allowed her to remarry six months after Lino’s death, and continue on to have five more children, surviving until 1829.

  1. Sources Used

    • “Dios no manda eso”: Indigenous Community and Leadership in the Assassination of Padre Quintana in Santa Cruz, 1812
      Martin Rizzo, in Evangelization and Cultural Conflict in Colonial Mexico, ed. by Robert Jackson, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, June 2014.

    • Healing Historical Wounds. Good Times, Wednesday, January 9, 2013. http://www.gtweekly.com/index.php/santa-cruz-news/santa-cruz-local-news/4472-healing-historical-wounds.html
    • Father Quintana. Marissa Lopez, November 13, 2012 Latino Cultures Network Website. http://lcn.cdh.ucla.edu/father-quintana/
    • History of Santa Cruz County, California. Edward Sanford Harrison, Pacific Press Publishing Company, San Francisco, CA, 1892.

About The Author

I enjoy the challenge of bringing Mobile Ranger’s stories to to people for mobile or desk-top use. Every place has its unique story. My experience of visiting in a location is dramatically improved if I have high quality information about the landscape, history, and buildings.

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  2. majrog

    What drove priests to run missions in Alta California, other than assignment?

    While picturesque and of great value in Westernizing Alta California (and denying it to the Russians), the mission system here mostly failed its ultimate goals of self-sufficiency and the seeding of the area with natives converted, by sword or cross, into “good Spainiards”.


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