- Children of Coyote, Missionaries of Saint Francis: Indian-Spanish Relations in Colonial California, 1769-1850
In the 1930s, Indians from the Monterey Bay region still came every year on the feast day of San Carlos to the ruins of Mission San Carlos Borromeo. Standing amidst the rubble, they celebrated mass, chanted in Latin, and elected one of their own to serve as captain of the celebration. [End Page 489] Mission San Carlos was the place where Franciscan priests shackled and whipped these people's ancestors. When Mexican officials ended the mission system in the 1820s, they viewed mission Indians as slaves who needed emancipating. How, then, do we explain their descendants' commemoration and devotion? Steven Hackel explores the complexities of power and religion at Mission San Carlos. His extensive research on that mission and on the larger history of Alta California and his use of the methods of ethnohistory and the new Indian history provide insights far beyond one community.
Hackel begins before the missions when more than 2,500 people lived in small communities in the Monterey region. They belonged to two linguistic groups, Costanoan and Esselen. Unlike almost all Native North Americans, California Indians were not agricultural at the time of European arrival, not because they were "backward," as most Europeans viewed them, but because they had found other means of supporting a fairly dense population, including trading with neighbors and manipulating their environment through irrigating and pruning the berry bushes and nut trees from which they gathered.
The Spanish had claimed Alta California since the sixteenth century, but proving their claim became urgent in the late 1760s, as the British expanded west after winning the Seven Years' War and as Russian trade grew in the north Pacific. The Enlightenment-influenced Spanish crown wanted to decrease the role of priests, but the empire was spread too thinly across the hemisphere to deny the Franciscan request to establish a string of missions along the coast of Alta California. In 1769, university professor Junípero Serra began with Mission San Diego, and, by the time of the Mexican War of Independence, his priests had baptized more than 70,000 of Alta California's Indians.
To explain why Indians came to missions, Hackel identifies the "dual revolutions" of European diseases and European plants and animals. A devastating loss of life combined with ecological changes to undercut the region's economy. In large part, Costanoans and Esselens moved to missions because they were hungry, and the missions efficiently organized Indian labor into agricultural production.
Franciscans facilitated Indians' decision to settle in missions by focusing on practice more than belief. Elsewhere, revolts at some missions and disappointingly incomplete conversions at most had taught Europeans that missionizing was a long-term process, and their assumption of California Indians' primitiveness made them think converting them would [End Page 490] take even longer. As Hackel vividly demonstrates, religious art, priests' vestments, music, and elaborate processions on holy days bound mission Indians and Franciscans in a shared sense of the sacred, whether or not they agreed on the meanings. But when the Franciscans drew the line, they drew it hard. As Hackel shows, in matters of sexuality, they were strict and often vicious.
Hackel balances Indian subjection and Indian power with the compelling argument that "Indians pursued a variety of survival strategies rooted in their cultures" but, in so doing, they "often unintentionally reinforced colonists' hold on the region" (1). Because Spaniards did not have complete power over Indians, Indians influenced the missions, but their involvement helped the mission system to succeed and gradually become a dominant institution in their homeland and an instrument of cultural change. In discussing the painting of the archangel Raphael at Santa Inés Mission, reproduced on the book's cover, Hackel illustrates this tension. The Chumash Indian artist painted wings on the archangel that look like the California condor...