Children of Coyote, Missionaries of Saint Francis: Indian-Spanish Relations in Colonial California, 1769-1850
|Publisher:||Omohundro Institute and University of North Carolina Press|
|Series:||Published by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the University of North Carolina Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.17(d)|
About the Author
Steven W. Hackel is associate professor of history at the University of California Riverside.
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Children of Coyote, Missionaries of Saint FrancisIndian-Spanish Relations in Colonial California, 1769-1850
By Steven W. Hackel
The University of North Carolina PressCopyright © 2005 University of North Carolina Press
All right reserved.
IntroductionAchasta, Tucutnut, Ichxenta, Socorronda, Echilat-it was by village names such as these that the Children of Coyote knew their respective home ground in the land the Spanish would call Alta California. In 1769, this province was home to a diverse population of several hundred thousand Indians, who lived in a multitude of villages throughout the countryside. Soon that would not be so. For, between 1769 and 1850, the region experienced successive tidal waves of change: Spain incorporated the land and its people into its realm, Spanish rule gave way to Mexican independence, Mexico lost California to the United States, and the territory became the thirty-first state to join the Union. Forever altered by these momentous developments were the rhythms, practices, and beliefs of native Californians. In some ways, the changes were so complete that they defy easy description; in other ways, they were subtle enough to elude easy detection. Clearly, though, Indians died at an alarming rate, and survivors congregated into fewer settlements and gradually adopted new forms of language and belief and different patterns of subsistence, labor, marriage, reproduction, and leadership. In the midst of these great transformations, Indians pursued a variety of survival strategies rooted in their cultures. Yet their own designs, although successful in many ways, often unintentionally reinforced colonists' hold on the region. This book, then, is an attempt to understand how California Indians contrived to weather and at times even manage the great upheavals that began with European colonization as their numbers dwindled and as daily interaction with foreign institutions and peoples challenged nearly every aspect of their lives.
California, like many colonies, was composed of numerous subregions in which the same processes played themselves out again and again, each time with only minor variations, as agents and institutions of European settlement advanced through new areas. Certainly, each subregion, Indian group, and mission had its own chronology and trajectory-and therefore its own story. However, this study's purpose is to explore crucial aspects of Indian-Spanish relations across Alta California. It examines local developments at particular missions, places those events in the context of the California mission system, and draws comparisons between colonial California and other areas of the Spanish Borderlands, New Spain, and, when pertinent, early modern Europe. Local developments common to all California missions-the incorporation of Indian communities, the Indians' demographic decline, and the conflicts between Indian and Spanish notions of marriage and sexuality-are best examined first at the individual or community level and then set within the broader frame of Alta California. To that end, Mission San Carlos Borromeo serves as a case study. Built in the 1770s just to the south of Monterey, the administrative center of Alta California, this mission often served as the residence of the father president, the Franciscan who set the policies governing all the region's missions. Larger patterns and Spanish systems that shaped California, such as Catholic indoctrination, Indian labor, mission-presidio economic relationships, and military justice, are studied at the regional level; when possible, these discussions are rooted in events at Mission San Carlos.
No single model of cultural interaction can encompass the range of Indian-Spanish relations in colonial California. At times, the goals and practices of Indians and Spaniards so resembled one another that Indian actions and Spanish attempts to influence them dovetailed. Furthermore, the paths to Indians' and Spaniards' separate and perhaps even disparate goals frequently converged. At these times, fundamental aspects of the Indians' economic, political, and social structures remained intact, although in a modified form, providing a measure of coherence and continuity for Indian communities. At other points, however, particularly around matters of sexuality, marriage, and religion, Indian and Spanish cultural practices proved deeply antithetical, and the ensuing conflicts created upheaval and threatened to undo the Spanish colonial project. In many ways, Indian autonomy and Spanish coercion warred within an increasingly confining colonial order.
Wherever they might turn, California Indians grappled with challenges introduced by Spanish colonization, most notably a mission system that itself was anachronistic, self-defeating, and contradictory in its expectations. The inconsistencies contained in and generated by Spain's colonization of California not only complicated the Indians' responses but also destabilized, if not outright doomed, the Spanish colonial project. The missions were rooted in apostolic endeavor yet founded in an age when the Spanish Empire became increasingly secular. Large numbers of Indians came to the missions of Alta California, yet this new environment nearly destroyed Indians and their communities. In the missions, Indians entered a distorting world, where, regardless of age, they were treated as juveniles: in the eyes of the Catholic Church, they were "spiritual children"; before the Spanish state and its laws, they were minors. And with that status came both limited protections and extensive discriminations. In the realm of introduced religion, Indians learned a catechism pitched to a child's level of comprehension, yet, when they approached the Catholic sacraments, they found themselves subject to adult standards of comprehension and conduct. In the realm of marriage and sexuality, Indians encountered a Catholic system that insisted upon uncompromising adherence to monogamy and marital fidelity yet contradicted itself in tolerating or pardoning exceptions. In the realm of politics, Indians participated in a system of indirect rule that both missionaries and state officials embraced; this arrangement propped up Spanish control over Indian communities while giving Indians the means to throw off Spanish authority. In the realm of labor and economic exchange, Indians sought labor relationships with soldiers and settlers, but, in so doing, they inadvertently strengthened the colonial order more than they shored up their collapsing communities. And, finally, in the realm of crime and punishment, Indians reacted with violence and disaffection to the corporal punishment padres and soldiers meted out to control them, a response that undermined the stability of the missions and the colonial order upon which it rested.
The chronology, geography, and teleology that have come to define what scholars term early American history have served to exclude colonial California from national historical narratives and larger fields of inquiry. Spain initiated European settlement of Alta California less than a decade before the colonies of British North America declared independence; thus the opening act of California's colonial history coincided with the denouement in orthodox histories of colonial America. California's geographic distance from the English and French colonies of North America compounds this chronological problem. Most important, historians have traditionally read United States history backward; in their desire to explain the origins of the United States' political system, they focused on the colonies and individuals that played major roles in the American Revolution. Other regions, such as the Spanish Borderlands and New France, and other peoples, namely Indians and African Americans, have only newly begun to receive the attention they deserve.
Generations ago, Herbert Eugene Bolton, the founder of the field of Spanish Borderlands history, envisioned an inclusive and comparative history of the Americas, but his work and that of his many students situated regions like colonial California outside the fields of American colonial history and western American history. To Bolton and his followers, the Spanish Borderlands lacked what seemed to distinguish American history: economic opportunity, which created rugged individualism, and the seeds of political independence, which led to the creation of the United States' political system. In the borderlands, they argued, Spanish absolutism stifled economic opportunity, individual liberty, and self-government. The implicitly negative comparison with archetypal British American frontiers and colonies diminished the history of the Spanish Borderlands and blocked its meaningful incorporation into the main narratives and larger fields of United States history. In accounts devoted to the birth and expansion of what many historians have taken to be a Protestant democracy, Catholic missionaries and Spanish explorers, settlers, and soldiers could have little place, except as cruel or romantic foils. Colonial Latin Americanists have contributed to the historiographical isolation of regions like Alta California by generally ignoring the Spanish Borderlands as a serious field of study, considering it a peripheral region of marginal interest, a "subfield within United States history." Historians of early California in particular and those of the Spanish Borderlands in general have inadvertently reinforced this tendency by failing to establish connections between their work and the historiography of colonial Mexico or Latin America.
Through a rich mixture of sources-official correspondence, sacramental registers, and Indian testimony-the main contours and intimate details of Alta California can be brought into full relief and understood as relevant to the larger colonial histories of the United States and Latin America. Doing so strengthens our understanding of Spanish California, draws California more centrally into the study of a broadly conceived American colonial history, and helps to break down the boundaries separating the fields of Latin American history and early American history. Further, the experiences of Indians in Alta California-their struggles with disease and death, community formation and collapse, and religious, political, and economic accommodation-shed light on Indian-European relations along other frontiers.
What at first glance seems to set Alta California apart from the well-known regions of colonial North America actually renders the region illustrative of the ways in which Indians experienced colonialism in early America. The absence of a system of treaties and diplomatic relationships between Indians and colonists, the lack of a formalized pattern of trade between Indians and Europeans, and the inability of natives to play one European power off another all establish Alta California as akin to much of colonial America at one time or another. Many Indian peoples were not courted as brothers-in-arms by competing European powers; the multitude of natives did not produce commodities of great value to Europeans. Few were led by men who have captured the attention of historians as did Powhatan, Metacom, Pontiac, and Tecumseh. Ultimately, the greatest number of Indians, like those in Alta California, struggled against the colonial onslaught in relative obscurity and largely alone, bereft of powerful Indian or European allies, unable to find shelter in the interstices of European rivalries, and without the benefits of a European trade that in some regions brought arms and other valued goods.
If Indian-European relations in Alta California seem exceptional given the absence of systems and relationships commonly associated with eastern North America, colonial California may also seem unusual given the presence of Spanish institutions and characters, namely Catholic missions and Franciscans. Yet the Catholic mission, the defining colonial institution of Spanish California, was for a very long while central to many of the border and frontier regions of early America and, of course, to much of the Spanish Borderlands and Latin America. Countless Indians, hundreds of thousands if not millions, first experienced European expansion and colonization through Catholic missions, many of which were administered by Spanish Franciscans. A study of life in and around the missions of Alta California, therefore, can illuminate the experiences of legions of other Indians and the challenges they confronted elsewhere in colonial America. Moreover, the very circumstances of the California mission environment-its close quarters, the intensity of its program, and the type of documents it generated-make colonial California an important and fruitful site for the examination of how natives experienced and managed the disease, population decline, and religious, political, and economic changes that followed encounters with Europeans throughout the New World.
California also offers a compelling model for the study of the dynamics of colonialism. Alta California was, after all, like many regions, a colony of a colony, one that was envisioned and overseen by men who knew much about what they wanted to do but little about those whom they sought to dominate. Spanish officials, therefore, were forced to adapt their plans to Indian initiatives and practices just as California Indians modified their lifeways in response to the Spanish intrusion. Clearly, the Indians' task was the more urgent, but Indians and Spaniards alike played a hand in the evolution of the colonial region and its political, cultural, and economic relations.
The nature of colonization-its systems and key players-dictates the sources available to historians, and in this regard the records of Alta California are unfortunately spotty. The absence of formal treaties or agreements between Indians and Europeans, the lack of an institutionalized pattern of trade between Indians and settlers, the infrequency with which Spanish soldiers recruited Indian auxiliaries, the paucity of literate settlers in the region, the want of vibrant urban settlements, and the nonexistence of a system of Indian land tenure recognized by Spanish law-all of these characteristics mean that historians have not inherited the evidentiary sources that have proved so vital to investigations of other areas of colonial America. Territorial conflicts, reorganizations of colonial documents brought about by changes in national sovereignty, and the disastrous loss of California's principal Spanish archive in the fire following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake have further reduced the historical record.
However, Franciscan missionaries, the region's most active and literate colonial agents, penned a rich, if biased, record in their correspondence. Of greater import, the missionaries left a more even-handed trove of documentation in the missions' birth, marriage, and burial records. (Appendix A discusses these registers and the technique of family reconstitution underlying their analysis.) As will be evident, the interpretation that follows at times relies heavily on these registers and computer manipulation to determine vital rates and population change at Mission San Carlos and to answer a whole range of questions about the religious, sexual, marital, and political lives of Indians in colonial California. Furthermore, these sources, which, after all, capture discrete moments of individual lives, have proved invaluable in writing a book, not about generalized and anonymous mission Indians, but, rather, about individuals, families, and communities.
Spaniards precipitated a rapid acceleration of cultural change among California Indians. The chief indicators of this transformation can be found in the religious beliefs, marital practices, reproductive patterns, and economic, political, and legal institutions that ordered Indians' daily life and defined their very existence. Unfortunately, there are few detailed descriptions of the California Indians' core values or cultural practices before or during the colonial period, and thus historians of colonial California cannot measure historical change to the same degree as historians of other regions. Nevertheless, the rough outlines of these values and practices and their modification under colonization can be deduced from mission sacramental registers, correspondence of military leaders and Franciscan missionaries, and-most tellingly-impressions of Indians recorded in judicial proceedings. Indian testimony is especially important. Granted, these statements do not begin to approach the detailed narratives embedded in the inquisition records so masterfully exploited by the "microhistorians" who have studied early modern Europe. Nor are they as extensive or varied as those found for other areas of New Spain. Nevertheless, Indian testimony, despite its sparseness, pointedly describes how California Indians grappled with many of the effects of colonization.
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What People are Saying About This
[Hackel's] extensive research . . . provide[s] insights far beyond one community.Journal of the Early Republic
Steve Hackel's Children of Coyote, Missionaries of Saint Francis surpasses expectation. . . . Lucidly written and extensively researched. . . . The book's length may be demanding, but it is rewarding for its depth of research.Western Historical Quarterly
Hackel's impressive research, clear prose, broad contextualization, and effective organization make this book the most comprehensive and satisfying study of Alta California to date and a hard act to follow.William and Mary Quarterly
A significant contribution to the varied and controversial literature on the evangelization of the native populations in California.Missiology
By first establishing the communities, economies and political structures of Indians of California and then explaining the history and motives of the Spanish, Hackel presents a balanced study of how the Spanish incursion into California impacted the Indians who lived there. Perhaps more importantly, it also looks at how the Indians exacted their own changes and made decisions about what they would accept and reject about Spanish institutions.Journal of the West
A rich and rewarding contribution to the scholarship on missions of colonial California. . . . [Hackel's] study is a tour de force of methods and research.Journal of American History
The best recent study on the California missions . . . well worth reading.Journal of American Ethnic History
Steven Hackel reminds us that the colonial history of North America did not begin in 1607 or end in 1776, nor was it limited to the Atlantic seaboard. This richly detailed study addresses major themes in the American experience, including religion, historical demography, and sexuality, and forcefully inserts the history of Spanish colonial America into the larger historical world of early America.Sylvia Frey, Tulane University
A bold and compelling account of the effect of Spanish rule on native peoples in Alta California. . . . Makes an important contribution to borderland and California histories as well as to the larger field of Native American History. . . . A new standard for California mission history.Catholic Southwest
A significant reinterpretation of North American colonial history. . . . [Hackel's] findings . . . are poignant.Muse