Converting California

Converting California: Indians and Franciscans in the Missions

Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 272
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    Converting California
    Book Description:

    This book is a compelling and balanced history of the California missions and their impact on the Indians they tried to convert. Focusing primarily on the religious conflict between the two groups, it sheds new light on the tensions, accomplishments, and limitations of the California mission experience.

    James A. Sandos, an eminent authority on the American West, traces the history of the Franciscan missions from the creation of the first one in 1769 until they were turned over to the public in 1836. Addressing such topics as the singular theology of the missions, the role of music in bonding Indians to Franciscan enterprises, the diseases caused by contact with the missions, and the Indian resistance to missionary activity, Sandos not only describes what happened in the California missions but offers a persuasive explanation for why it happened.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12912-0
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xx)

    ‘‘Why yet another book on the California missions?’’ my colleagues have asked. ‘‘Don’t we already know all that we need to know?’’ My reply has been in two parts. Writing about the California missions over the past century has been dominated by two schools of thought: the pro- and anti-Franciscan. David Weber has called the pro-mission school of writing ‘‘Christophilic Triumphalist’’;¹ self-sacrificing priests of the Christian God selflessly devote themselves to bringing spiritual truth and moral uplift to benighted savages.² Its opposite has emerged over the past fifty years; missionaries are monsters who committed genocide against native peoples in the...

  5. 1 California’s Missions as Instruments of Social Control
    (pp. 1-13)

    Issues of social control affected all levels of the new Spanish society initiated into what proved to be Spain’s last colony in North America, Alta California, in 1769. Both Crown and Cross agreed that Indians as prospective new members of this society would need to be disciplined. But the Crown and the Cross also recognized the need to control Spain’s military and clerical elites as well as Alta California’s soldiers and settlers of mixed blood. Into the coastal area containing perhaps 65,000 Indians at contact in 1769, the Spanish enterprise introduced a new population of 150. By the end of...

  6. 2 Indians at Contact
    (pp. 14-32)

    Although Spanish contact with California Indians began with the voyage of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo in 1542, sustained interaction did not begin until two centuries later with the arrival of the Sacred Expedition in 1769. Given Spanish intentions to incorporate Indians into their society as laboring Christian subjects, as a newpeónclass that would help secure Spanishclaimed territory against foreign interlopers, contact inevitably meant conflict. Through the vehicle of religion these native peoples were to be brought into a new order and common culture not of their making. Missionaries cared not what Indians thought about religion because it seemed self-evident...

  7. 3 Junípero Serra and Franciscan Evangelization
    (pp. 33-54)

    California’s missions cannot be understood apart from their evangelical purpose of bringing Native Americans to Christianity. In that effort Junípero Serra, first father president of the missions from 1769 until 1784, made an imprint that lasted with but little modification through the Spanish era that ended in 1822. During his tenure, nine of what would be twenty-one missions were begun, with Serra personally founding six. At his death more than 4,600 natives had been baptized, and all of the older missions except San Diego had met the problems of survival and were producing surplus foodstuffs. Spanish officials at the time...

  8. 4 The Indians of San Diego Say ‘‘No!’’
    (pp. 55-68)

    The tension among Indians, missionaries, and soldiers is best revealed in the events surrounding the Indian revolt against mission San Diego in 1785.¹ The Spanish occupation of San Diego adversely affected Indians in several ways. Soldiers and missionaries established their presidio and original mission in an Indian village. Spanish soldiers turned cattle, horses, and mules out to graze on what they took to be open land; the land Indians used to cultivate grasses for food. Spanish animals competed directly with Indian people for scarce food supplies. Consequently, Indians began to shoot Spanish animals and soldiers responded with punishments and reprisals,...

  9. 5 Serra Refuses to Turn Back
    (pp. 69-82)

    Governor Felipe de Neve proved to be Serra’s last major challenge. In Neve Serra encountered a most forceful expression of Enlightenment thinking and its criticism of his mission system.¹ Neve saw Indians as victims of Franciscan paternalism—adult children who should be allowed, even encouraged, to become adults. He disapproved of punishments for Indians, preferring instead to offer gifts, which he gave to every Indian he encountered—paid for from his own resources. Only if Indians proved rebellious did he think they needed punishment, and that would be administered by the military. Mindful of his king’s insistence that Indians learn...

  10. 6 Fermín Francisco Lasuén and Evangelization
    (pp. 83-98)

    Fermín Francisco Lasuén, twenty-three years Serra’s junior, had been tested and proven himself over a decade in California. Serra groomed the younger man as his replacement, and the College of San Fernando elected Lasuén the second father president of the missions. That early period in California, however, had been hard on him as he observed to a friend before he assumed his new post. Although only forty-six, Lasuén wrote, ‘‘I am already an old man and completely gray; although it is the toll of years, the price has been accelerated by the heavy burden of [my] office . . ....

  11. 7 Evangelization in Serra’s Shadow
    (pp. 99-110)

    Missionaries concentrated on enforced behavioral modification over instruction for women neophytes probably because they thought women less capable than men of grasping religious thought. Certainly that was Padre Mariano Payeras’s thinking in writing to his superior that after years of working with interpreters he had finally written ‘‘a long catechism which [in addition to the standard materials] included the Acts of Faith, Hope, and Charity; [and] another concerning matters necessary for our salvation.’’ Payeras observed or imposed gender difference. ‘‘By great patience, we have succeeded in having nearly all the men learn both catechisms,’’ he continued; however, ‘‘with the women,...

  12. 8 “The Only Heritage Their Parents Gave Them”: Syphilis, Gonorrhea, and Other Diseases
    (pp. 111-127)

    Indians died in the missions in numbers that appalled Franciscans. Many of the priests, however, thought they knew why. As Ramón Olbés wrote from mission Santa Bárbara late in 1813, twenty-seven years after its founding, “The most pernicious [disease] and the one that has afflicted them most here for some years is syphilis. All are infected with it.” Olbés described its effect succinctly by noting, “As a result births are few and deaths are many.”¹

    How could syphilis contribute significantly to, if not be responsible for, the high death rates? When Spaniards in various stages of exploration and expansion entered...

  13. 9 Music and Conversion
    (pp. 128-153)

    Materialist interpretations of the California missions have rightly directed attention to the contributions Indians made and the price they paid in building and maintaining these institutions. In their exclusive focus on the exploitation of Indian labor, however, these interpretations overlook the spiri tual dimension of Spanish colonization and the Franciscan attempt to transform Indian hearts and minds as well as Indian behavior. Franciscan-oriented considerations of California mission history, alternatively, have accepted the priestly calculus that receipt of the sacrament of Baptism equaled conversion and so have spent little time considering exactly how conversion occurred.

    If, however, conversion generally was a...

  14. 10 Indian Resistance to Missionization
    (pp. 154-173)

    Resistance to authority, unless expressed in a bloody uprising, is often subtle. In a colonial encounter the need for the colonizer to impose order, usually in a new language, further obscures detection of opposition by the colonized. Accounts of colonization from the perspective of native peoples are frequently revealing. California Indians had no written language, yet Indian views of their mission experiences have been preserved. One of these is the only known example of a Native American’s written history of the missionization of his people in California. Pablo Tac, born at mission San Luis Rey and educated there in Spanish...

  15. 11 Assessing California’s Missions
    (pp. 174-184)

    Were the California missions a success? Such a question, characteristic of the twentieth century, prompted a ready answer from the founder of the Borderlands school of historical scholarship, Herbert Eugene Bolton. In 1917 he framed the answer for his students and for most of those who followed him. Bolton argued that the mission as pioneering institution had expanded the Spanish frontier in the Americas as had the conquistador with his retinue and the presidio. The mission, with the California example cited prominently as a success, testified to Spain’s frontier ‘‘genius.’’¹ Bolton counted only physical success—size—of resident neophyte populations,...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 185-218)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 219-240)
  18. Index
    (pp. 241-251)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 252-252)