Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

Thursday, July 25, 2013

California - A Slave State

The Conquistadores enslaved the Indians upon their arrival, creating an institution called peonage. They worked in the ranchos they established. The Catholic priests who brought Indians to the missions conducted a more benign form, going after those who ran away back but not punishing them as severely as the Rancheros.

After thousands of years of tilling the soil, the Spaniards had no problem teaching their peones to grow the new plants they introduced. The biggest difference was the livestock they brought from Europe entirely new to the peones. However, during the three hundred years of Spanish rule, the peones became outstanding at animal husbandry, the vaqueros famous for their skills at riding.

Things were quite different in California. The Indians there had never tilled the soil and knew nothing of taming animals for their use. The only domesticated animals they had were dogs who also served as food in lean times.

Thus, then the Jesuits first came to California, they had to teach Stone Age hunters and gatherers an entirely new set of skills. And they had to watch over their every move as they had never learned disciplines such as were required for agriculture and animal husbandry.

The Franciscans entering California in 1769 met the same problem – Stone Age peoples who seldom traveled one day away from the place of their birth. They had little organization and no form of discipline. They ate when there was plenty and died when there wasn't.

In 1823, when Mexican Indians and peones beat the Spanish military under the leadership of Criollos – Spaniards born in Mexico. When the war was over, they returned to the ranchos and their peonage, or to the missions. Almost none owned their own land. Not wanting to give up their own landholding, the Criollos came upon an idea called secularization – taking missions lands away from the Catholic Padres and turning it over to the disciples living there. There was no problem as the disciples had generations of toiling under the discipline needed for tilling the soil and caring for domesticated animals.


While independence bloomed in Mexico, California continued basically as it had since 1769. The 21 missions had become cornucopias of food and products to support themselves and the small numbers of soldiers guarding their missions and stationed at the four presidios. Under the careful guidance of the Padres and the mayordomo supervisors, they toiled six hours a day, five days a week, with no need to think for themselves and learn more than the individual tasks to which they were assigned.

Realizing California Indians were simply not ready to fend for themselves, Mexican governors pled to the Mexican congress to delay the Edict of Secularization in California. Thus, secularization was delayed for nearly 10 years. But, it could not last.

Descendents of the soldados de cuera who had come to California with the Portolá Expedition, worked the land their parents had been granted as a reward for their years of service, many becoming soldiers in order to receive similar grants. During the period 1769 to 1822, only twenty-two land grants were ordered by the governors.



During the period 1822 to 1928, another 8 grants were made to soldiers who had served their terms. But, in 1829, things went crazy.

The came about because Governor José Maria de Echeandía arriving from Mexico was ordered to secularize the missions and turn the land over to the disciples. He prepared a Reglamento spelling out exactly who should receive the land and what they were to be given. He issued these regulations as voluntary, giving the Indians a choice of whether to work their own lands or staying at the mission.

The vast majority of disciples had no desire to leave the Padres.