California Indian Missions

As in other parts of Spanish America, the Catholics were the sole mission workers in California until within a very recent period. The most noted of all the Spanish missions were the Franciscan missions of California, whose story is so closely interwoven with the history and romance of the Pacific coast, and whose ruins still stand as the most picturesque landmarks of the region. Their story has been told so often that we need not here go into details. The first one was established in 1769 at San Diego, near the south boundary, by Father Junípero Serra (to whose memory a monument was erected at Monterey in 1891), who advanced slowly along the coast and passed the work on to his successors, until in 1828 there was a chain of 21 prosperous missions extending northward to beyond San Francisco bay. The full list, in the order of their establishment, with the names of the founders or superiors in charge of the California mission district at the time, is as follows:

1. San Diego de Alcalá (Serra, 1769)
2. San Carlos Borromeo de Monterey, alias Carmel (Serra, 1770)
3. San Antonio de Pádua (Serra, 1771, July)
4. San Gabriel Arcangel (Serra, 1771, Sept.)
5. San Luis Obispo de Tolosa (Serra, 1772)
6. San Francisco de Asis, alias Dolores (Serra, 1776, Oct.)
7. San Juan Capistrano (Serra, 1776, Nov.)
8. Santa Clara (Serra, 1777)
9. San Buenaventura ( Serra, 1782)
10. Santa Barbara (Palou, 1786)
11. La Purísima Concepcion (Palou, 1787)
12. Santa Cruz (Palou, 1791, Sept.)
13. Nuestra Señora de la Soledad ( Palou, 1791, Oct. )
14. San José (Lasuen, 1797, June 11)
15. San Juan Bautista ( Lasuen, 1797, June 24)
16. San Miguel (Lasuen, 1797, July)
17. San Fernando Rey (Lasuen, 1797, Sept.)
18. San Luis Rey de Francia (Peyri, 1798)
19. Santa Inés (Tapis, 1804)
20. San Rafael (Payeras, 1817)
21. San Francisco Solano, alias San Solano or Sonoma (Sonoma, 1823)
22. La Purísima Concepcion, on lower Colorado River (Garcés, 1780)
23. San Pedro y San Pablo de Bicuñer, on lower Colorado River, possibly in Lower California (Garcés, 1780).

Among the many devoted workers connected with the California missions during the 65 years of their existence the most prominent, after Serra, are Fathers Crespi, Palou, and Peyri, the last named being the founder, and for a number of years the superior, of San Luis Rey, which shared with San Diego the honor of being the largest and most important of the series. In 1810 the neophyte population of San Diego was 1,611, while that of San Luis Rey was 1,519.

The mission buildings, constructed entirely by Indian labor under supervision of the fathers, were imposing structures of brick and stone, some of which even in their rootless condition have defied the decay of 70 years. Around each mission, except in the extreme north, were groves of patens, bananas, oranges, olives, and figs, together with extensive vineyards, while more than 400,000 cattle ranged the pastures. Workshops. schoolrooms, store-rooms, chapels, dormitories, and hospitals were all provided for, and in addition to religious instruction and ordinary school studies, weaving, pottery making, carpentry, and every other most useful trade and occupation were taught to the neophytes, besides the violin and other instruments to those who displayed aptitude in music. There were fixed hours for prayers and work, with three hours of rest at noon, and dancing and other amusements after supper and the angelus, which was one hour before sunset. The diet consisted of an abundance of fresh beef, mutton, wheat and corn bread, and beans, from their own herds and plantations. From the sale of the surplus were bought clothing, tobacco, and trinkets for the Indians, and the necessary church supplies. At seasonable intervals there were outing excursions to allow the neophytes to visit their wilder relatives in the hills. The missionaries taught by practical example at the plow, the brick-kiln, and in the vineyard. Duflot de Mofras, who made an official tour of the missions on behalf of the French government shortly before their utter ruin, says: “Necessity makes the missionaries industrious. One is struck with astonishment at seeing that with such small resources, generally without any European work-men, and with the ‘aid of savage populations whose intelligence was of the lowest order and who were often hostile, besides the vast agricultural culture, they have been able to execute such extensive works of architecture and mechanical structures, such as mills, machinery, and workshops, besides bridges, roads, and canals for irrigation. The construction of almost all these missions required that timber, often cut upon steep mountains, should he brought 25 to 30 miles, and that the Indians should he taught how to make lime, cut stone, and mould bricks. This fact can not be mistaken—it was not merely by proselytism that the old missionaries succeeded in attracting the Indians. In the work of their conversion, if religion was the end, material comfort was the means. The missionaries had resolved the great problem of making labor attractive.

The Indians themselves, of many tribes and dialects, were for the most part un-warlike and tractable; but without native energy, and probably, in their original condition, lower in the scale of civilization and morality than any others within the limits of the United States. Infanticide prevailed to such a degree that even the most earnest efforts of the missionaries were unable to stamp it out, the fact showing how little the new teaching really affected the deeper instinct of the savage. Although there were frequent raids by the wild tribes, there was little serious opposition to mission discipline, which was supported when necessary by military assistance from the nearest garrison. Despite regular life, abundance of food, and proper clothing according to the season, the Indian withered away under the restrictions of civilization supplemented by epidemic diseases introduced by the military garrisons or the seal hunters along the coast. The death rate was so enormous in spite of apparent material advancement that it is probable that the former factor alone would have brought about the extinction of the missions with in a few generations.

But all this prosperity at last excited the cupidity of the recently established revolutionary government of Mexico, and in 1833—34 decrees were passed to “secularize” the missions and to expel the missionaries, who, as Spaniards, were hated by the revolutionists. The mission funds and vast herds were confiscated, the lands were distributed to eager political adventurers, and minor vandals completed the work of destruction by taking even the tiles from the roofs and digging up the vines and fruit trees in the gardens. Some abortive provision was made for the Indians, of which in their helplessness they were unable to avail themselves, and in a few years, left without their protectors, they had again scattered to the mountains and swamps or sunk into the lowest degradation in the new mining towns. In 1834, when the blow came, the California missions had 30,650 Indians, with 424,000 cattle, 62,500 horses and mules; 321,900 sheep, goats, and hogs; and produced 122,500 bushels of wheat and corn. In 1842 there remained only 4,450 Indians, 28,220 cattle, and the rest in proportion. Today, according to official report, there remain of the old Mission Indians only 2,855, whose condition is a subject of constant serious concern to philanthropists.

Two other California missions have a briefer history. In 1780 the military commander of the Sonora district determined to establish among the warlike Yuma two garrison posts with colony and mission attachments, despite the protests of the missionaries concerned, who foresaw that the combination would he disastrous to their own part of the work. Two sites were selected, however, in the fall of the year on the west bank of the Colorado—the one, La Purísmia Concepcion, occupying the site of old Ft Yuma, the other, San Pedroy Pablo de Bicuñer, being 8 or 10 miles lower down, possibly just across the present Mexican border. Purísima mission was placed in charge of Father Francisco Garcés, the explorer, with Father Juan Barreneche as his assistant, while the other was given over to Fathers Diaz and Moreno. The event was as predicted. Within a year the Yuma were roused to hostility by the methods and broken promises of the military commander. In July, 1781, both settlements were attacked almost simultaneously, the buildings plundered and burned, the commander and every man of the small garrison killed after a desperate resistance, the four missionaries and nearly all the men of the colonies also butchered, and the women and several others carried off as captives. A subsequent expedition rescued the captives and buried the dead, but the Yuma remained unsubdued and the colony undertaking was not renewed. (See California IndiansMission Indians of California.)

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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