History of San Gabriel Arcangel Mission

The fourth Franciscan mission established in California. It was founded Sept. 8, 1771, at a place called by the natives Sibagna 1 , a fertile and well-wooded spot on a stream afterward known as San Gabriel River, in Los Angeles County. The party with supplies had been sent up from San Diego, and included 10 soldiers for the protection of the new mission.

The natives were at first friendly, and assisted in bringing timber and in helping to construct the buildings and stockade. Friction soon arose with the Indians, however, probably due to the outrages of the soldiers, and one native chieftain was shot. Owing to these troubles with the natives the number of soldiers was increased. These seem to have been an unruly lot, and their actions appear to have hindered the early growth of the mission, the whole number baptized during the first two years being only 73.

In Fr. Junípero Serra’s first annual report of 1773 he declared the native population in that region was larger than elsewhere, but that the various villages were hostile to one another, so that those near the mission, for example, could not go to the sea for fish. Situated as it was in a fertile region, the agricultural returns seem to have been very successful after the first year, so that later San Gabriel frequently furnished the other missions with supplies. Occupying also a position where the overland route from Sonora and the Colorado met that from Lower California, it soon became one of the most important of the missions. The natives seem to have been soon conciliated. The number of neophytes was 638 in 1783, and 1,040 in 1790.

An uprising of the natives, including the neophytes, was threatened in 1785, but the scheme was frustrated without bloodshed, and the leaders were imprisoned. During the following years San Gabriel continued to flourish, despite the largo number of deaths among the neophytes, nearly as many as the number of baptisms. There were numerous reports of threatened hostilities, but nothing serious occurred. The harsh treatment of the neophytes led many of them to escape, and some of these doubtless plotted revenge. The greatest number of neophytes, 1,701, was reached in 1817, after which there was a somewhat irregular but gradual decrease. The largest crop, amounting to 29,400 bushels, was raised in 1821. Among industrial experiments tried was a grist mill (the building for which is still standing), which, however, did not prove an entire success, as after about two years its use seems to have been abandoned. Later another mill was built.

There were four chapels attached to this mission; that of the pueblo of Los Angeles was dedicated in 1822, though begun many years before. The others were Puente, San Antonio de Santa Ana, and San Bernardino (Guachama). This last seems to have been established about 1822 at the special request of the natives, and flourished till about 1834, when it was destroyed by hostile Indians. In the latter year there were 1,320 neophytes. Up to that time 6,814 natives had been baptized, of whom 2,459 were children. After secularization the wealth of the mission rapidly decreased, thousands of cattle being destroyed merely for their hides and tallow, so that by 1840 the livestock had practically disappeared. Most of the neophytes left the mission, though in 1844, 300 were reported as helping to attend the vineyards, all that was left of the productive property. In 1846 Gov. Pico sold the mission for debt, but the title was finally declared invalid. Since 1850 the church has been a regular parish church.

The Indians in the neighborhood of this mission belong to the Shoshonean linguistic family, and have been given the collective name of Gabrieleños; included among these are those at San Fernando mission. There were also many neophytes from the Serrano villages farther east, and probably representatives of other groups also.

The names of the rancherias associated with San Gabriel mission were: Acuragna, Alyeupkigna, Awigna, Azucsagna, Cahuenga, Chokishgna, Chowigna, Cucomogna, Hahaulogna, Harasgna, Houtgna, Hutucgna, Isanthcogna, Maugna, Nacaugna, Pascegna, Pasinogna, Pimocagna, Pubugna, Sibagna, Sisitcanogna, Sonagna, Suangna, Tibahagna, Toviscanga, Toybipet, Yangna.


  1. or Tobiscagna, according to Taylor, Cal. Farmer, Feb. 22, 1860[]

History, Missions,

Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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