La Purisima Mission's Haunted History
Video: Recap: La PurisimaWatch a recap of the crew's investigation of the La Purisima Mission.
Recap: La Purisma 05:03
The Spanish priest, Father Presidente Fermin de Lasuen, founded La Purisima Mission on December 8, 1787; the mission was the 11th of 21 Franciscan Missions founded in California. During the mission's early years, several thousand Chumash were baptized into the Catholic Church, over 100 adobe buildings built, a water system developed and crops and livestock grown. Quite a prosperous time for Spain and Catholicism, this colonization nearly destroyed the tribe of Chumash Indians. In addition to the new religious ideals, technology and customs brought to California, the Spanish also carried a bevy of diseases that indigenous Chumash Indians were not immune to.
During the rapid expansion of the mission, thousands of Chumash died from afflictions brought by the Spaniards. During a 30-day period, over 120 died from measles alone; chicken pox also claimed hundreds. Other native peoples were executed under penalty of the new and starkly different European law, and many lost their lives in failed uprisings against the Spanish occupation. The livestock grazing the Mission's fields ate the meadows bare, vastly changing the surrounding landscape and lands where the Chumash hunted and gathered food. These conditions forced the Chumash to decide between the lesser of two evils: converting to Catholicism and joining the mission, or leaving the region and striking out for a new life.
In 1812, a large earthquake struck La Purisima and the surrounding region. The quake, aftershocks and ensuing rains damaged La Purisima beyond repair. At this time, the Mission's leader, Father Mariano Payeras, decided to rebuild the mission in its current location, four miles northwest in the Canyon of the Watercress.
The new location served as the home to 1,000 Chumash converts in addition to the Spanish settlers. It was an entire Catholic community with the church at its center. While Father Payeras was well-loved by his community, things started to unravel for La Purisima. A rebellion in Mexico was straining Spain's ability to control the California region; supply ships were no longer able to reach the missions and people turned to black markets for food and supplies. In addition, the Spanish forced the Chumash to perform hard labor for very little pay. In 1822 Mexico won its independence from Spain, and the mission system began to crumble.
In 1823, Father Payeras died, and the Spanish lost an important liaison with the Chumash. A year later, the Chumash rose against the Spanish and gained control of the mission for about a month. Their freedom ended when 109 Spanish soldiers marched on the Chumash, killing 16 and wounding many. After this instance, the Chumash people knew they must flee or continue to live under harsh and unfair European rule.
Some Chumash survived these harsh conditions and continued on at La Purisima. By the 1840s, La Purisima disbanded completely and drifted into ruin until 1934, when the site became a project for the State of California Division of Beaches and Parks. The 507-acre area was reborn into a living museum.
Not long after the reconstruction of La Purisima, ghostly legends were born. Accounts from park rangers, tour guides, locals and tourists all describe eerie whispers, indistinct shapes and cold drafts. Most believe these paranormal occurrences are due to the restless spirits of so many Chumash people who perished at La Purisima. Some even claim to hear flutes playing -- an instrument considered sacred to the Chumash people.
Though the site is beautiful, there is a heavy feeling surrounding the grounds; it's both historic and deeply emotional. Today, volunteers dress in period costumes reviving the life and times of the mid to late 18th century. Guests of La Purisima are free to take self-guided tours between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. seven days a week. Guided tours are also available each day at 1 p.m., beginning at the Visitor's Center.