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California Indians and the Mission System

Leticia Rivera

Liberal Studies 375

Professor Kristal Cheek
September 18, 2014

By the late seventeenth century, Spain was attempting to gain more control of the
Northern territories. Spaniards began establishing colonies and settling more permanently
on the California Coast so that it would prevent Russians to seize the land. Although
Spain was able to have possession of California through missions, presidios and pueblos
it was a negative impact for the Native Americans who were residing in California.
Native Americans were forced to adapt to Spanish ways of life and convert into
Christianity. The document states that, The Christianized natives pray twice daily with
the priest in the church. More than 120 of them confess in Spanish and many who have
died used to do it as well. The others confess as best they can.(1) This suggests that
Native Americans had to lose their own native language and learn to speak in Spanish.
They had to leave their religion and modify their beliefs/values so that they could be
baptized into Christianity. Natives had to conform to Spanish rules so that they could
become civilized into society. (2)
The Natives were disciplined and treated with cruelty while being exposed to
horrible unstable conditions in the missions. According to Father Serra and Mathias, For
the slightest things, they receive heavy flogging, are shackled, and put in stocks and
treated with so much cruelty that they are kept whole days without water. (3) Many of
the Natives were whipped and tortured so that they could maintain order. They could not
misbehave or do things that were not part of the norm. Some of the Natives who tried to
escape were severely punished to discourage others from fleeing. They suffered and were
beaten so that they would conduct in the proper way. There was hardly enough to eat in
the missions and making matters worse many soldiers went to Indian villages to sexually
abuse their women. (4)

Native Americans were turned into slaves and forced to stay in the missions. The
Report on Missions state, They work all kinds of mission labor, such as farm hands,
herdsmen, cowboys, shepherdsetc. and everything else that comes along for their
physical and spiritual welfare.(5) The Indians have been exposed to hard labor. While
missions became wealthy, Indians were offered nothing in returned. They toiled everyday
without receiving any credit for what they had all done. They had no freedom and could
not leave or else they were tied on their feet. (6) This also changed their usual way of
hunting and gathering for food. They had to plant and grow their food, which was a new
agricultural way of life for them.
Although Spain gained an advantage by establishing missions, presidios and
pueblos to take over the land, Native Americans experienced a negative change in their
aspect of life. Indians lives were completely taken over by the Spaniards. If they wanted
to stay in their land they had to alter their life style so they could become part of society.
The Indians had nowhere to go and had only two options: either escape into the woods
and die or learn the customs of the Spaniards who had settled into their land. Life in the
missions was very hard for the Indians. All Native Americans could do was adapt into
Spaniards customs if they wanted to remain in what used to be their land.

1. Monterey California, July 1784, Father Junipero Sierra and Father Mathias
Antonio Noriega, Report on the Missions.
2. English visitor Frederick William Beechy
3. 1799, Padre Antonio de la Concepcion Horra of Mission San Miguel reporting to
the New Spain viceroy.
4. Chan, Sucheng, and Spencer C. Olin. Major Problems in California History:
Documents and Essays. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. Print.
5. Ibid
6. 1806, George von Langsdorff, a German visitor describing the outcome of escape