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  • California Indian Reactions to the Franciscans*
  • Florence C. Shipek

The entrance of the Spanish into California and the founding of the Franciscan mission System has been described in many books both by those sympathetic apologists for the missions and the Spanishas bringing “civilization” to barbarous rude savages lacking any knowledge of God (Englehardt 1912, and others) and by those who disapproved of the mission System but approved of the Spanish conquest of California (Bancroft 1884, 1886, and others). The Indian cultures which were destroyed by the Spanish and later American settlers have also been described many times, first by those who unquestioningly accepted the Spanish view of these people as simply taking what nature produced. This viewpoint gives justification to the conquerors because “they could use the land better.” More recently a number of researchers have been reading the Spanish descriptions of what they actually saw and have ignored the Spanish assumptions, but read the descriptions of the environment with the ecological knowledge necessary to recognize the existence of a man-made environment, not a “natural” environment. They have discovered evidence of complex hierarchical stratified social Systems which were ignored because the Spanish assumed they were not present (Kehoe 1981, Shipek 1981a). Others interviewed surviving Indians and have explored areas of Indian knowledge never explored before simply because it was assumed that they had no such knowledge. For example, it has been discovered that all groups had the knowledge of and worshipped a high creator God whose name was so sacred that it must not be mentioned except in the proper sacred areas and during the sacred ceremonies dedicated to the Creator.

S. F. Cook (1976 reprint ed.) examined the general statistics of the missions for the effects upon the Indian population and has thoroughly covered the general effects of change of work habits and food, restriction on personal freedom and movement by congregation at the missions, disease and depopulation. [End Page 480] This work need not be repeated except to explore variations between missions which Cook noted, and to integrate knowledge of climatic variations with harvest and death rates (Shipek 1977, 1981). It should also be noted that the populations of three southern groups, Kumeyaay, San Luiseño and Cahuilla, increased after the missions were secularized and before the American entered. However, Cook’s work was done from the scientific viewpoint rather than the Indian viewpoint. This paper shall present the Indian viewpoint—what they saw and felt as they watched these new people enter and steal their land.

rational human or subhuman debates

Lewis Hanke (1959) described the debate which raged among leading theologians and secular officials of Spain about the strange creatures discovered in the previously unknown lands of the Americas. Were they subhumans without souls or humans with souls but ignorant of the true religion and therefore to be converted and their souls saved for heaven. These debates led to the Conference of Valladolid in 1550 and also concerned the justness of invading lands, enslaving and killing, or subjugating and baptizing these people. This conference did not end the discussion of the question. Were the Indians capable of being taught “the true religion” and “civilized” or were they incapable of learning and to be held in subjection always? For example in 1786, Pedro Fages, as governor of Alta California had been charged to “preserve the Indians in their simplicity, subordination, and discipline” (Englehardt 1920). But in his 1787 report, Fages wrote of the Indians about San Diego that they were “the most restless, stubborn, haughty, warlike and hostile toward us, absolutely opposed to all rational subjection and full of the spirit of independence.” The Indians were rational in being opposed to subjection, if, at about the same time, the American colonists on the eastern seaboard are considered rational in being opposed to subjection by George III of England.

Comments repeatedly found in Franciscans and military records describe California Indians as dirty, constantly thieving or pilfering, and needing constant supervision. Again and again, throughout the mission period, the Franciscans wrote that the Indians were dissemblers and deceivers (Boscana 1933 and others) which indicates cultural misunderstanding on both sides. A description of the initial Kumeyaay reactions to the...


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pp. 480-492
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