Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The California Indians


Who were they?

There are many records of the natives living in California at the time of the arrival of the Spanish. But, it should be pointed out that their view was based upon prejudices of the 18th Century and the fact that their contacts were limited to the coastal areas.

[Please forgive me but I do not know enough about graphics to make this map fit the page so it doesn't obscure what's to the right on the blog.]



The famous British explorer, Captain George Vancouver, of his visits to California ports in the 1790s indicated his observation that the natives, except some in the Santa Barbara Channel, (Chumash) seemed to be a race of the most miserable beings ever seen possessing the faculty of human reason, and little if any advantages had attended their conversion. Yet he testified to their affectionate attachment to their missionary benefactors, whose aims and methods, without attempting a discussion of the mission system, he approves, looking for gradual success in laying foundations for civil society. For the friars personally he had nothing but enthusiastic praise.


In 1813, at Mission San Juan Capistrano after a devastating outbreak of measles and an earthquake that destroyed many missions buildings. Fray Gerónimo Boscana, recently arriving from the Apostolic College of San Fernando, wrote that he felt the San Juan Capistrano's neophytes--as well as the surrounding non-Christian population--as being unmotivated, selfish, untrustworthy, and lazy. Yet, these same Acagchemem, or Juaneños as they were known locally, had toiled to build most impressive structures, creating industries that made the mission self-sufficient, and tended to huge herds of
livestock. They lived in scattered villages of anywhere from 30 to 300 inhabitants, politically isolated from others. They wore scant clothing and used stone age implements, living off the plenty of the land.

The Chumash

A traditional Chumash dwelling

At one time there were tens of thousands of Chumash Indians living along the California coasts. They had large fleets of boats they called tomols. The Chumash ingeniously used tar found washed up ashore to caulk the seams of the wood held together by plant fiber strings. [Thus the name Pismo Beach, as pismo is the Chumash word for tar.] They even had small settlements on the Channel Islands.


Like all California Indians, the Chumash were outstanding basket weavers. Some where so tightly woven they were used to hold water. To cook, heated rocks were dropped into them.

The Chumash welcomed the Spanish and readily gathered at the missions. Many were born, baptized, married, and died there, showing love to the padres who looked over them as children. They only violence from the Chumash came from a couple of families living hear Mission San Luis Obispo who raided the herds and set fire to the thatch roofs of the buildings. One of the friars put a stop to that by coming up with tiles to replace the thatch that spread to all the other missions. 

The Costanoan