PACOMIO: A Man For All Cultures – by R Lawson Gamble

Jose Pacomio Poqui was a Chumash Indian, first to last. Even after his masonry skills earned him unusual access to European society, he never forgot his heritage, never apologized for his race.

Pacomio was born on La Rancheria de Esniscue around 1794. This small Indian settlement was located near La Purisima Mission, and it was there he was baptized and given the name Jose in 1803.

Ruins of old Mission La Purisima (courtesy Wickimedia)

During his time as a young boy at Mission La Purisima, he proved to be extraordinarily intelligent, which won him the favor of the mission’s Franciscan friars. His fluent understanding of Spanish would become invaluable later in life.

Pacomio trained to become a carpenter and a stonemason, working under the watchful eyes of Salvador Carabantes and master stonemason José Antonio Ramírez. After Mission La Purisima was destroyed by an earthquake in 1812, the craftsmen of the former mission were instructed to build a new version three miles to the north of the original site. Pacomio was among them and his abilities were noticed. He was invited to Monterey to apply his skills to the Presidio. He took a liking to the city, married, and settled down to raise a family there.

When in 1824 Pacomio learned of a revolt by the Chumash at Santa Ines Mission, he left his family and followed his loyalties to Mission La Purisima where he took command of a force of 400 Chumash and trained them in European warfare, including instructions for firing the two swivel guns. They held off a trained force of Mexican soldiers in a final battle for hours until finally overcome. Pacomio was sentenced to ten years of chain gang labor at Monterey prison.

Pacomio served his sentence and was freed to reunite with his family in 1834. He grew to become an influential man in the Monterey community. He was known as a skillful carpenter and cabinet maker. In 1836, he was offered the position of Monterey’s Police Commissioner, which in a moment of supreme irony, he accepted. Despite his successes, he never lost touch with his native heritage.

Pacomio died, along with his wife, in the Monterey Smallpox Epidemic of 1844. Even then, his service to Monterey continued, for it was his house that became the hospital to nurse others who became ill from the smallpox.

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