Converting California: Indians and Franciscans in the Missions

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"This book is a 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 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. Drawing on both primary sources and wide scholarship, he addresses such topics as the singular theology of the missions, the role of music and musicians in bonding Indians to Franciscan enterprises, the diseases caused by contact with the missions, and the Indian resistance - overt and covert - to attempted European social control.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300101003
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 4/10/2004
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

James A. Sandos is Farquhar Professor of the Southwest, University of Redlands.  

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Converting California


Yale University Press

Copyright © 2004 Yale University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-10100-3

Chapter One

California's Missions as Instruments of Social Control

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 Spanish rule in 1820 the white and mixed-blood population, the gente de razón, counted only 3,400, while the Indian people in the missions, declining largely from European diseases inadvertently introduced, numbered less than 22,000. Just prior to secularization under Mexican governance in 1832, the gente de razón were still fewer than 4,000 and the Indians down to 17,000. During the Spanish era the Franciscans founded twenty missions to congregate and convert the Indians. In the process theyoccupied a coastal strip that began at San Diego in the south and extended 700 miles north to San Rafael. Under Mexican rule that sought to limit and ultimately disestablish the enterprise, Franciscans could found only one new mission and extended settlement north of San Rafael just to present-day Sonoma. Wherever possible Franciscans sought flatland with a good water source to allow irrigated farming. Mission influence extended inland in a meandering pattern to the ridge of the coastal range in the north and center and in the south to the base of the mountains, distances varying between 50 and 150 miles.

Seventeenth-century missionaries had led the effort to extend Spain's dominion over new peoples and territories in a policy based largely upon persuasion rather than military conquest. By the last third of the eighteenth century, however, especially under the impress of the Enlightenment-inspired Bourbon Reforms, the military became dominant in the campaign to subjugate Indians. The regulations of 1772 issued by King Carlos III codified military superiority over the clergy in colonial frontier matters and remained in effect throughout the rest of Spanish rule.

Three years earlier in 1769, however, the Crown had resorted to the older, superseded policy when it chose to occupy Alta California. Perceiving a need to thwart Russian advancement down the California coast the king, through his representative in New Spain, took drastic action. Lacking sufficient numbers of soldiers and settlers to effect a military conquest, a combined force of missionaries and soldiers set out from Baja California to take control of Alta California without colonizing it. This was called the Sacred Expedition, to signify the religious purpose that concealed the political and territorial motivation behind it. The king gave the lead hand to Junípero Serra, first father president of the missions, and the Franciscans. The king had unknowingly given power over California to a man with a medieval worldview, the antithesis and enemy of the Enlightenment thinking that simultaneously supported the Crown while unleashing the forces that would ultimately undo it.

Serra, a Mallorcan missionary with twenty years' experience preaching and administrating in New Spain, brought to his task a profound sense of religious determination reinforced by a personal piety that led him to asceticism. Culturally Serra rode the wave of the past, subjecting Indians to strictly enforced religious controls the way peasants had been treated in medieval times. The Crown's abrupt and anomalous backward turn from the path of reform in this instance proved a continuous source of friction between the Sword and the Cross, especially with the military officers who moved from province to province in the northern frontier, enjoyed their power and pride of place, and were reluctant or unwilling to subordinate their authority to the unique situation in Alta California.

Social control at all levels of society merits consideration-social control over soldiers and settlers, men and women, administrators and missionaries along with the Indians they sought to colonize. Social control was achieved not simply by imposing legal constrictions. Social behavior was influenced by moral precepts and by psychological manipulation. Two cases from 1785-an Indian conspiracy to oust the Spanish and a new Spanish code of conduct for soldier treatment of Indians-illustrate the limits of social control. Both instances involved Don Pedro Fages and the Franciscans. Serra had succeeded in removing Fages, a member of the Sacred Expedition, from his earlier post as commander of the presidios (forts) in 1774. Fages' subsequent distinguished military record, however, won him the governorship and he returned to California a decade later with a more gracious demeanor toward the priests while still insisting on military values in determining colonial rule. The Serra-Fages rivalry reflected the ongoing tension between military/civil and religious authority in the colonial enterprise.

If Fages could not get along with the father president of the California missions, he nevertheless cultivated good relations with several of Serra's subordinates. Chief among them stood Francisco Palóu, Serra's second in command, who was also Serra's former student, religious companion, fellow apostolic missionary, confessor, and longtime friend. After Serra's death, Palóu wrote to his superior that Fages "gave a fine example to those neophytes (baptized Indians) and soldiers. With his conduct and presence much was accomplished. May God reward him for it!" Fages and the Catalán troops he commanded caused no scandal with Indian women, a major accomplishment in the friar's eyes.

Less than eighteen months into his governorship, Fages dealt with the threat of an Indian uprising that raised again the issues of colonial control over subject people. In October 1785, the corporal of the mission guard discovered a plot by eight Gabrielino villages to overthrow mission San Gabriel and expel the Spanish. A powerful shaman had prophesied that when the war party entered the mission complex it would find the armed guard dead, leaving the unarmed priests vulnerable to the warriors who would only need to deal with them and the confused corporal. Once the warriors had removed the remaining Spaniards, she prophesied, they would free the neophytes, divide the spoils of cattle and goods, and return to the old ways. When the Indians penetrated the mission compound to effect their plan, however, instead of finding the prophecies fulfilled they were seized. Four ringleaders were identified, including Nicolás José, a mission neophyte, and three gentiles (unbaptized Indians). All three came from different villages. Two were men, one of whom Fages later accused of using warlock spells or charms against the neophytes; the other was a woman, Toypurina, known for her wisdom, who had come unarmed to exhort the warriors to action. Toypurina, from Jachivit ranchería where her brother was headman, had been given beads by Nicolás José to invite people from the surrounding rancherías to join the plot. A high-status Gabrielino woman-as indicated by her personal reputation, her brother's position, and the neophyte's willingness to pay her in the currency of gentiles-Toypurina was obviously the shaman who had claimed to be able to kill the guard at a distance. Her contribution would have allowed the Gabrielinos to restore their pre-Spanish world.

At the trial, over which Fages presided, Nicolás José complained about the priestly prohibition against native dances, something particularly disturbing to him, because he wished to perform a mourning dance for his recently deceased son and could not do so. Nicolás José had been at the mission for about ten years and had been involved in an earlier plot against the priests. He had participated in the worlds of the mission and of his Gabrielino culture and found himself in late 1785 forced to choose between them. He chose to try to restore his Indian world by ousting the Spanish.

Toypurina's interrogation revealed that she, a gentile, was offended by the presence of the priests and of all those at the mission because they occupied her tribal land. Toypurina resented not just the Spanish but also those Indians who had entered the mission and adopted its ways. Fages, at the sentencing, expressed disgust and amazement that warriors had allowed themselves to be dominated by this woman. Nicolás José was sentenced to perpetual banishment at the San Diego presidio, the southernmost military outpost; Toypurina was exiled to Monterey, the northernmost presidio. Fages sent a clear message that such Indian conspiracies to return to the pre-Sacred Expedition status quo would be dealt with severely.

Following the trial Toypurina made a series of choices crucial to her future. She accepted baptism, the outward sign of conversion, adopted the Christian name Regina Josefa, and married a presidio soldier, Manuel Montero, a Spaniard from Puebla. She subsequently bore him four children, then died from European-introduced disease ten years after the plot against San Gabriel. Was Toypurina a victim of colonial domination or was she an insurgent resisting as far as she could the imposition of Christian European culture? Did Toypurina lose or gain in this experience, and what does her example, and that of Nicolás José, indicate about the social control of Indians?

Those who view Toypurina as a model of feminist resistance emphasize her behavior before and during her trial; those who view her case as the triumph of civilization over darkness through the vehicle of religion emphasize her life following baptism. But there is at least one other perspective. The aftermath of the trial meant not only that Toypurina's plan and those of the others had failed but also that she had made enemies among the neophytes by her condemnation of them. She had made enemies among the gentiles because her power had failed and her prophecies were unfulfilled. Even if she could do so, which she could not, remaining in her homeland would be personally dangerous. By accepting the outward sign of the Christian religion she could begin her life anew. Removal to a new land without enemies offered survival and a fresh start. Marriage to a presidial soldier gave her some status in the nascent Hispanic community. The mixed-blood marriage she entered, between herself as a native and the soldier as newcomer and eventual settler, was a model highly desired by the priests but rarely replicated. Hers was one of only two such marriages recorded at missions San Carlos, Santa Clara, and San Juan Bautista in the decade following the San Gabriel plot.

In accepting the Spanish system she saved herself to live a life different from the one she had known. Superficially, she would seem to have been conquered by colonial ideas of social control. For the Franciscans in California, the acceptance of baptism by a pagan Indian represented another body counted in the "spiritual conquest" of the province. The priests wanted baptism to signify conversion, meaning that the preexisting religious belief system of the Indians had been expelled from their hearts and minds in favor of the one truth taught by the missionary. Yet everywhere they saw instances where this had not been the case-as in the example of Nicolás José, who had been Christianized for a decade but still practiced his native religion. The priests saw in his behavior not the failure of baptism to convert but rather the failure of the Indian to live up to his newly adopted standards. Indians were guilty of backsliding, and they fell into behavior that priests identified as sin. The priestly desire that baptism equal conversion was an error as evidenced by their own cradle-to-grave care for their Indian charges. Conversion was a process of some indeterminate length initiated, rather than completed, by baptism.

For Toypurina, then, accepting baptism was a way to begin the process that a social psychologist describes as "protective ingratiation." It is a strategy by which a subordinate assumes the behavior the superior wants in order to minimize or avoid further interference in the subordinate's life. If she converted at all-and Spanish language acquisition among a host of other variables influenced that outcome-Toypurina doubtlessly had not done so at the time of baptism. As a shaman she was a student of power and a seeker of it. In the new order Toypurina seems to have decided that by going along she could get along within the system. Certainly the priests taught California Indians patriarchy, and her husband had been reared under its influence, but in the intimacy of her marriage patriarchy's impact upon Toypurina's life is hard to know. Since she had resisted as a gentile in her Christian life she may well have continued a less visible resistance. Despite the appearances of acceptance of Christian life there is no reason to think that the boundaries of social control as applied to Indians and to Indian women had defeated her. She had negotiated another course of action. Such behavior by California Indians, and by Indians elsewhere, whether shaman or layperson, is often difficult to comprehend. As defined, Indians must defend Indianness, usually some cultural essentialism, against the onslaught of externally induced cultural change; Indian failure to do so then becomes the secular equivalent of backsliding. Yet instances abound of Indians seemingly changing patterns in their lives in order to continue them, a pragmatic survival option that permitted them to closet the behavior of yesterday in favor of living tomorrow. Toypurina's case illustrates the ambiguities inherent in social control. To some degree behavior can be modified, but securing the assent of mind and heart is difficult to determine.

After sentencing the plotters against mission San Gabriel, Fages turned his attention to prescribing a new code of conduct toward Indians. He addressed the new issue of gentile presence in mission communities, while simultaneously reinforcing existing standards of behavior toward native peoples. Fages had been among those admonished by Governor Gaspar de Portolá in the founding of the colony in 1769, and Portolá's instructions were those of Inspector General José de Gálvez. In unequivocal terms Gálvez told the governor to ensure that "the soldiers and muleteers of his company observe a most exact discipline." The governor must make them understand "as an inviolable regulation the need for treating the Indians well and he shall punish them as for an irremissible crime any molestations or violence toward the native women for, besides being offenses against God which they would commit by such excesses, they could also endanger the success of the expedition." Fages and his Catalonian Volunteers took these admonitions to heart as Palóu's description of them confirms. But the Catalonians, numbering about twenty-five, constituted only a small portion of the soldiers in California, a number that exceeded 200 only late in the colonial era. The remaining soldiers were recruited from the lowest class, and their behavior proved very difficult to control. Sexual abuse of Indian women, including rape, became a serious problem. Priests and officers protested it, but disciplining soldiers with public floggings, banishment, or death became a serious problem for the military. Officers feared that such actions would make Spanish rule appear weak and encourage Indian resistance. Even incarceration, the customary punishment, could leave military posts more lightly staffed. In the 1790 enumeration, for example, two of the six soldiers assigned to mission San Gabriel were in prison for sexual crimes against or with Indian women. The social control of soldiers, especially with women Indians, proved a difficult challenge for Spanish authority. But it would be incorrect to assert, as one historian has done, that the Spanish condoned an informal policy of allowing the rape of Indian women in order to control Indian society. As Gálvez had noted from the beginning of Spanish settlement, instead of conquering native society, Spanish rape of indigenous women would provoke native resistance and thwart imperial goals of social control.


Excerpted from Converting California by JAMES A. SANDOS Copyright © 2004 by Yale University. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

1 California's missions as instruments of social control 1
2 Indians at contact 14
3 Junipero Serra and Franciscan evangelization 33
4 The Indians of San Diego say "no!" 55
5 Serra refuses to turn back 69
6 Fermin Francisco Lasuen and evangelization 83
7 Evangelization in Serra's shadow 99
8 The only heritage their parents gave them : syphilis, gonorrhea, and other diseases 111
9 Music and conversion 128
10 Indian resistance to missionization 154
11 Assessing California's missions 174
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