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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > M > Mission Indians (of California)

Mission Indians (of California)

A name of no real ethnic significance, but used as a convenient popular and official term to designate the modern descendants of those tribes of California, of various stocks and languages, evangelized by the Franciscans in the latter part of the eighteenth and early part of the nineteenth centuries, beginning in 1769. The historic California missions were twenty-one in number, excluding branch foundations, extending along the coast or at a short distance inland from San Diego in the south, to Sonoma, beyond San Francisco Bay, in the north. Besides these, two others, established in 1780 in the extreme south-eastern corner of the present state, had a brief existence of less than a year when they were destroyed by the Indians. As their period was so short, and as they had no connexion with the coast missions, they will be treated in another place (see YUMA INDIANS).

Mission sites

The following are the twenty-one missions in order from south to north, with name of founder, location, and date of founding. In several cases the mission was removed from the original site to another more suitable at no great distance. It will be noticed that the northward advance does not entirely accord with the chronological succession:--

Tribes and languages

Nowhere in North or South America was there a greater diversity of languages and dialects than in California. Of forty-six native linguistic stocks recognized within the limits of the United States by philologists, twenty-two, or practically one-half, were represented in California, of which only six extended beyond its borders. Seven distinct linguistic stocks were found within the territory of actual mission colonization, from San Diego to Sonoma, while in the border territory north and east, from which recruits were later drawn, at least four more were represented. As most of the dialects have perished without record, it is impossible to say how many there may have been originally, or to differentiate or locate them closely. As tribal organization such as existed among the Eastern Indians was almost unknown in California, where the ranchería, or village hamlet, was usually the largest political unit, the names commonly used to designate dialectic or local groups are generally merely arbitrary terms of convenience. For the linguistic classification the principal authorities are Kroeber, Barrett, and other experts of the University of California.

Pomo, or Kulanapan, stock

The Indians of this stock bordered on the northern frontier of the mission area, and although no mission was actually established in their territory in the earlier period, numbers of them were brought into the missions of San Rafael and San Francisco Solano. Broadly speaking, the Pomo territory included the Russian River and adjacent coast region with all but a small portion of the Clear Lake basin. Barrett has classified their numerous local bands and rancherías into seven dialectic divisions, but all probably mutually intelligible. Of their southern bands, some of the Gallinomero (or Kainomero), of lower Russian River, were brought into San Rafael mission and the Gualala also were represented either there or at Sonoma. The so-called "Diggers" of the present mission schools at Ukiah and Kelseyville are chiefly Pomo.

Yukian stock

The Yuki tribes were in four divisions, two of which were north of the Pomo territory and therefore beyond the sphere of mission influence. The two southern bodies, originally one, speaking one language with slight dialectic variations, and commonly known as Wappo (from Spanish guapo), occupied;

They were probably represented at Sonoma mission, as they probably are also under the name of "Diggers" in the present mission school at Kelseyville.

Wintun, or Copehan, stock

This stock held all (excepting the Wappo projection) between the Sacramento River and the main Coast Range from San Pablo (San Francisco) and Suisun Bays northwards to Mount Shasta, including both banks of the river in its upper course. The various dialects are grouped by Kroeber into three main divisions or languages, of which the southern, or Patwin, includes all south from about Stony Creek, and possibly also those of Sonoma Creek on the bay. Indians of these southern bands were brought into the missions of Sonoma, San Rafael, and even San Francisco (Dolores) across the bay. At Sonoma mission, among others, we find recorded the Napa and Suisun bands. According to Kroeber the whole region of Putah Creek was thus left vacant until repopulated after 1843 by Indians who had originally been taken thence to Sonoma mission.

Moquelumnan, or Miwok, stock

The numerous bands of this stock occupied three distinct areas, viz.,

Costanoan stock

The territory of this linguistic group extended from the coast inland to the San Joaquin River, and from San Francisco and Suisun Bays on the north southwards to about the line of Point Sur, including the seven missions of San Francisco (Dolores), San José, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Juan Bautista, San Carlos, and Soledad. Although there was no true tribal organization, a number of divisional names are recognized, probably corresponding approximately to dialectic distinctions. On the peninsula, and later gathered into San Francisco mission were the Romonan (at present San Francisco), Ahwaste, Altahmo, Tulomo, and Olhone, or Costano proper, all apparently of one language in different dialects. The Saclan, about Oakland, were in the same mission. The Karkin along Carquinez straits and the Polye further south were gathered into San José. Santa Clara had two native dialects, while Santa Cruz apparently had another. About San Juan Bautista was spoken the Mutsun dialect, known through a grammar and phrase book written by the resident missionary, Father Arroyo de la Cuesta, in 1815, and published in Shea's "American Linguistics" in 1861. Eastward were the Ansaima and about the mouth of the Salinas were the Kalindaruk. At San Carlos the principal band was the Runsen, of which a remnant still exists, and at Soledad were Chalone, besides others of Esselen, Salinan, and Yokuts lineage.

Esselen stock

The Esselen, or Ecclemach, constituting a distinct stock in themselves, occupied a small territory on Carmel and Sur rivers, south of Monterey Bay, until gathered into San Carlos, and perhaps into Soledad mission.

Salinan stock

This stock centred upon the waters of the Salinas, chiefly in Monterey and San Luis Obispo Counties, from the seacoast to the Coast Range divide, and from the head streams of the Salinas down (north) nearly to Soledad. San Antonio and San Miguel missions were within their territory. Nothing definite is known of their divisions, excepting that there seem to have been at least three principal dialects or languages, viz., of San Miguel, of San Antonio, and of the Playanos, or coast people. Besides those native to the region, there were also Yokuts from the east and Chumash from the south in the same missions.

Yokuts, or Mariposan, stock

The Indians of this stock had true tribal divisions, numbering about forty tribes, and holding a compact territory from the Coast Range divide to the foothills of the Sierras, including the upper San Joaquin, Kings River, Tulare Lake, and most of Kern River, besides a detached tribe, the Cholovone, about the present Stockton. Together with the Miwok and eastern Costanoan tribes, they were known to the Spaniards under the collective name of Tulareños, from their habitat about Tulare lake and along San Joaquin River, formerly Rio de los Tulares. Their numerous dialects varied but slightly, and may have been all mutually intelligible, the principal difference being between those of the river plains and of the Sierra foothills. Although outside of the mission territory proper, the Yokuts area was a principal recruiting ground for the missions in the later period, hundreds of Indians, and even whole tribes, being carried off, either as neophyte subjects or as military prisoners of war, to San José, San Juan Bautista, Soledad, San Antonio, San Miguel, San Luis Obispo (?), and probably other neighbouring missions. One Spanish expedition, about 1820, carried off three hundred men, women, and children from a single ranchería to San Juan Bautista, where their language was afterwards recorded by Father La Cuesta. The Tachi and Telamni from Tulare lake and eastward were brought into San Antonio. A few are now gathered upon Tule River reservation, while a few others still remain in their old homes.

Chumashan stock

The Indians of this stock held approximately the territory from San Luis Obispo Bay south to Point Mugu, including the Santa Maria, Santa Inés, and Santa Clara Rivers, the adjacent eastern slope of the Coast Range divide and the islands of Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel. The missions San Luis Obispo, Purísima, Santa Inés, Santa Barbara, and San Buenaventura were all within this area. They seem to have been represented also at San Miguel. There were at least seven dialects, viz., at each mission, on Santa Cruz, and on Santa Rosa. That of San Luis Obispo was sufficiently distinct to be considered a language by itself.

Shoshonean stock

This is the first stock within the mission area which extended beyond the limits of California, the cognate tribes within the state being an outpost of the same great linguistic group which includes the Piute, Ute, Comanche, and Pima of the United States, the Yaqui, Tarumari, and famous Aztec of Mexico. The five missions of San Fernando, San Gabriel, San Juan Capistrano, San Luis Rey, and its branch mission of San Antonio de Pala, were all in Shoshonean territory, and the great majority of the Mission Indians of today are of this stock. Those within the mission sphere were of five languages, each with minor dialectic differences, nearly equivalent to as many tribes, as follows:-

Yuman stock

This stock also has its main home beyond the eastern boundaries of the state, and includes the Mohave, Walapai, and others. San Diego mission was within its territory, as also the two short-lived missions on the Colorado. Nearly all the present Mission Indians not of Shoshonean stock are Yuman. Those within the mission sphere were of two languages, viz., Yuma in the east, about the junction of the Gila and Colorado rivers; and Diegueño in the west, in two main dialect groups:

Very Little is in print concerning the languages of the mission territory. For vocabularies and grammatic analysis the reader may consult Bancroft's volume on "Myths and Languages", Power's "Tribes of California", Gatschet in "Wheeler's Rept.", and above all, Barrett and Kroeber in the University of California publications (see bibliography), with other works and collections therein noted. Among the important single studies are a "Grammar of the Mutsun Language" by Fr. Arroyo de la Cuesta, published in Shea's "American Linguistics", IV (1861); a Chumashan (?) catechism and prayer manual by Fr. Mariano Payeras of Purísima, about 1810, noted by Bancroft; and a Manuscript grammar and dictionary of the Luiseño language, by Sparkman, now awaiting publication by the University of California. The missionaries were more than once urged in prefectual letters to acquire the native languages in order better to reach the Indians, and in 1815 the official report states that religious instruction was given both in Indian and Spanish.

Arts, custom, and ritual

The Indians of California constituted a culture body essentially distinct from all the tribes east of the Sierras. The most obvious characteristic of this culture was its negative quality, the absence of those features which dominated tribal life elsewhere. There was practically no tribal organization and in most cases not even a tribal name, the ranchería, or village settlement, usually merely a larger family group, being the ordinary social and governmental unit, whose people had no common designation for themselves, and none for their neighbours excepting directional names having no reference to linguistic or other affiliation. Chiefs were almost without authority, except as messengers of the will of the priests or secret society leaders. The clan system is held by most investigators to have been entirely wanting, although Merriam claims to have found evidence of it among the Miwok and Yokuts. Excepting basketry, all their arts were of the crudest development, pottery being found only in the extreme south, while agriculture was entirely unknown. Both mentally and physically they represented one of the lowest types on the continent. The ordinary house structure throughout the mission area was a conical framework of poles thatched with rushes and covered with earth, built over a circular excavation of about two feet deep. The fire was built in the centre, and the occupants sat or lay about it, upon skins or sage hushes, without beds or other furniture. The Gallinomero, north of San Francisco Bay, built a communal house of L shape, with a row of fires down the centre, one for each family. The "sweat-house", for hot baths and winter ceremonies, was like the circular lodge, but much larger. The dance place or medicine lodge was a simple circular inclosure of brushwood open to the sky, with the sacrifice poles and other ceremonial objects.

Agriculture being unknown, the food supply was obtained in part by hunting and fishing, but mostly by the gathering of wild seeds, nuts, and berries. The islanders lived almost entirely by sea-fishing, while about San Francisco they depended mainly on the salmon. The Chumashan coast tribes fished from large dugout canoes. Hunting was usually confined to small game, particularly rabbits and jack rabbits, the larger animals being generally protected by some religious taboo. On account of a prevalent ritual idea which forbade the hunter to eat game of his own killing, men generally hunted in pairs and exchanged the result. Grasshoppers were driven into pits and roasted as a dainty. Among vegetable foods the acorn was first in importance, being gathered and stored in large quantities, pounded into meal in stone mortars or ground on metates, leached with water to remove the bitterness, and cooked as mush (porridge) or bread. Wild rice was also a staple in places, while in the blossom season whole communities lived for weeks upon raw clover tops. The men went nearly or entirely naked, excepting for a skin robe over the shoulders in cold weather. Women usually wore a short skirt with fringes of woven or twisted bark fibre. Both sexes commonly kept their hair at full length, but bunched up behind. Some bands shaved one side of the head. Tattooing was practised by both sexes to some extent. Shell beads were used for necklace purposes, and eagle and other feathers for head adornments. Dance-leaders and priests at ceremonial functions wore feather crowns and short skirts trimmed with feathers. Light sandals were sometimes worn. Musical instruments were the rattle, flute, and bone whistle. The drum was unknown. Weapons were the bow and arrow, wooden club, stone knife, and a curved throwing stick for hunting rabbits. Cremation was universal, excepting in the Chumashan. Marriage and divorce were simple, and polygamy was frequent.

Of the mythology and ceremonial of the coast tribes of the mission area northwards from Los Angeles we know almost nothing, as the Indians have perished without investigation, but the indications are that they resembled those of the known interior and southern tribes. For these our best authorities are the missionary Boscana, Powers, Merriam, and especially the ethnologists of the University of California. The southern tribes — Juaneño, Luiseño, Diegueño, etc. — base their ritual and ceremonial upon a creation myth in which Ouiot, or Wiyot, figures as the culture hero of an earlier creation in which mankind is not yet entirely differentiated from the animals, while Chungichnish (Chinigchinich of Boscana) appears as the lord and ruler of the second and perfected creation, which, however, is a direct evolution from the first. The original creators are Heaven and Earth, personified as brother and sister. The rattlesnake, the tarantula, and more particularly the lightning and the eagle, are the messengers and avengers of Chungichnish. In the Diegueño myth the whole living creation issues from the body of a great serpent.

The principal ceremonies, still enacted within recent memory, were the girls' puberty ceremony, the boys' initiation, and the annual mourning rite. In the puberty ceremony the several girls of the village who had attained the menstrual age at about the same time were stretched upon a bed of fresh and fragrant herbs in a pit previously heated by means of a large fire, and, after being covered with blankets and other herbs, were subjected to a sweating and starving process for several days and nights while the elders of the band danced around the pit singing the songs for the occasion. The ordeal ended with a procession, or a race, to a prominent cliff, where each girl inscribed symbolic painted designs upon the rock. The boys' initiation ceremony was a preliminary to admission to a privileged secret society, the officers of which constituted the priesthood. A principal feature was the drinking of a decoction of the root of the poisonous toloache, or jimson-weed (datura meteloides), to produce unconsciousness, in which the initiate was supposed to have communication with his future protecting spirit. Rigid food taboos were prescribed for a long period, and a common ordeal test was the lowering of the naked initiate into a pit of vicious stinging ants. A symbolic "sand painting", with figures in vari-coloured sand, was a part of the ritual.

The corpse was burned upon a funeral pile immediately after death, together with the personal property, by a man specially appointed to that duty, the bones being afterwards gathered up and buried or otherwise preserved. Once a year a great tribal mourning ceremony was held, to which the people of all the neighbouring rancherías were invited. On this occasion large quantities of property were burned as sacrifice to the spirits of the dead, or given away to the visitors, an effigy of the deceased was burned upon the pyre, and the performance, which lasted through several days and nights, concluded with a weird night dance around the blazing pile, during which an eagle or other great bird, passed from one to another of the circling dance priests, was slowly pressed to death in their arms, while in songs they implored its spirit to carry their messages to their friends in the other world. The souls of priests and chiefs were supposed to ascend to the sky as stars, while those of the common people went to an underworld, where there was continual feasting and dancing, the idea of future punishment or reward being foreign to the Indian mind. The dead were never named, and the sum of insult to another was to say "Your father is dead."

In connexion with childbirth most of the tribes practised the couvade, the father keeping his bed for some days, subjected to rigid diet and other taboos, until released by a ceremonial exorcism. Besides the great ceremonies already noted, they had numerous other dances, including some of dramatic or sleight-of-hand character, and, among the southern tribes, a grossly obscene dance which gave the missionaries much trouble to suppress. Among the Gallinomero, and perhaps others, aged parents were sometimes choked to death by their own children by crushing the neck with a stick. Ordinary morality could hardly be said to exist even in theory. Infanticide and abortion were so prevalent that even the most strenuous efforts of the missionaries hardly succeeded in checking the evil. In this and certain other detestable customs the coast tribes were like the California Indians generally, whom Powers characterizes, in their heathen condition, as perhaps the most licentious race existent. Even before the arrival of the missionaries, their blood, like that of all the coast tribes as far north as Alaska, had been so poisoned by direct or transmitted contact with dissolute sealing and trading crews, that the race was already in swift decline. The confiscation of the missions and the subsequent influx of the gold-hunters doomed the race to extinction.

Vital statistics

By the confiscation of the missions (1834-38) the Indians lost their protectors together with their stock and other movable property, and by the transfer of California to the United States in 1848 they were left without legal title to their lands, and sank into a condition of homeless misery under which they died by thousands and were fast approaching extinction. With the exception of occasional ministrations by secular priests or some of the few remaining missionaries, they were also left entirely without spiritual or educational attention, notwithstanding which the Christian Indians continued to keep the Faith and transmitted the tradition to their children. At last, as the result of a governmental investigation in 1873, a number of village reservations were assigned by executive proclamation in 1875 to the southern remnant, the northern bands being already extinct. By subsequent legislation there are now established some thirty small "Mission Indian" reservations, all in western and central San Diego and Riverside Counties, California, with a total population, in 1909, of 2775 souls, representing five tribes and languages, viz., Luiseño, Serrano, Cahuilla, Agua Caliente, and Diegueño. The largest groupings are at Monongo adjoining Banning (chiefly Cahuilla) 238; Pala (Luiseño and Agua Caliente) 226; Pechanga (Luiseño) 170; and Santa Ysabel No. 3 (Diegueño) 165. They are practically all Catholics and besides twelve government day-schools with a total enrolment of 286 there are 17 Catholic schools served by secular priests under the diocese of Los Angeles, with a total enrolment in 1909 of 1894 pupils. Of these the largest are at Pala (260), La Jolla (195), Pauma (180), Soboba, or San Jacinto (163), Campo (125), and Martinez (125). All are day-schools, excepting St. Boniface boarding-school at Banning with 100 pupils. About the same time Catholic mission work was begun among the remnant tribes on the northern border of the original mission territory. In 1870 the mission of St. Turibius was founded by Father Luciano Osuna, north of Kelseyville in Lake County. In 1889 Saint Mary's mission was established near Ukiah in Mendocino County. The Indians of both stations are locally called "Diggers", but are properly Pomo and Yukai and some of the older ones still have recollection of the early mission fathers. They are in charge of the Friars Minor and Capuchins. All these northern missions are in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

According to a careful estimate made by Merriam, the original Indian population of the mission territory, eastwards to the San Joaquin and lower Sacramento rivers, was approximately 50,000 souls. About 30,000 were domiciled in the missions at the time of confiscation. Following the ruin of the missions and the invasion of the Americans, they died in such thousands that of all those north of the present Los Angeles, comprising perhaps four-fifths of the whole, not 300 are believed to survive today. The southern tribes, being of manlier stock and in some degree protected by their desert environment, have held themselves better, and number today on the "Mission Indian" reservations, as already stated, 2,775 souls, a decrease, however, of 152 in nine years. The Mission Indians of California have dwindled to fewer than one-sixteenth of their original number, and indications point to their extinction. (See CALIFORNIA.)

Sources

AMES, Report in regard to condition of Mission Inds. in Rept. Comsner. Ind. Aff. for 1873 (Washington, 1874); H. H. BANCROFT, Hist. California, I and II (San Francisco, 1886); IDEM, Native Races, I: Wild Tribes (San Francisco, 1886); IDEM, Native Races, III: Myths and Languages (San Francisco, 1886); BARRETT, Ethno-Geography of the Pomo and Neighboring Indians in Univ. of California Pubs. in Am. Arch. and Ethnology, VI, no. 1 (Berkeley, 1908); IDEM, Geography and Dialects of the Miwok Indians, ibid., no.2 (Berkeley, 1908); BARROWS, Ethno-Botany of the Coahuilla Inds. (Chicago, 1900); BARTLETT, Personal Narrative of Explorations (New York, 1854); BOSCANA, Chinigchinich (San Juan Capistrano Inds.), translation published in ROBINSON, Life in California (New York, 1846); Bureau of Am. Ethnology Seventh ann. rept. (Indian linguistic families)(Washington, 1891); Bur. Cath. Ind. Miss., ann. repts. of Director (Washington); COUES (ed.), On the Trail of a Spanish Pioneer (Fr. Garces) (New York, 1900); Comsnr. of Ind. Affairs, ann. repts. of (Washington); DUBOIS, Religion of the Luiseño Inds. in Univ. of Cal. Ethn. pubs., VIII, no. 3 (Berkeley, 1908); DUFLOT DE MOFRAS, Exploration du territoire de l'Oregon, des Californies, etc. (Paris, 1844); ENGELHARDT, Franciscans in California (Harbor Springs, 1897); FORBES, California (London, 1839); HODGE (ed.), Handbook of Am. Inds. (Bull. 30, Bur. Am. Ethn.) (Washington, 1907-11); HRDLICKA, Physical Anthropology of California in Univ. of Cal. Hrdlicka pubs, in Am. Arch. and Ethn., IV (Berkeley, 1906); JACKSON, Ramona (Boston, 1885); KAPPLER, Ind. Affairs; Laws and treaties. (Washington, 1903); KROEBER, papers in Univ. of Cal. pubs. in Am. Arch. and Ethn. (Berkeley), viz., Languages of the (South) Coast of California; — Types of Ind. Culture in California (II, 1904); Yokuts Language — Shoshonean Dialects of California; — Ind. Myths of South Central Cal. — Religion of the Ind. of California (IV, 1907); Ethnography of the Cahuilla Inds.; — A Mission Record of the Cal. Inds. — Evidences of . . . Miwok Ind. (VI, 1908); Shoshonean Dialects of Southern California (VIII, 1909); MERRIAM, papers in Am. Anthropologist, new series (Lancaster), viz., Indian Population of California (VII, 1905); Mewan Stock of California (IX, 1907); Totemism in California (X, 1908); E. B. POWERS, Missions of California (San Francisco, 1897); S. POWERS, Tribes of California in Cont. to N. Am. Ethn., III (Washington, 1877); ROBINSON (anon.), Life in California (contains also BOSCANA'S account) (New York, 1846); RUST, Puberty Ceremony of the Mission Inds. in Am. Anthropologist, new series, VIII (Lancaster, 1906); SHEA, Catholic (Indian) Missions (New York, 1854); SMITH, In re Cal. Missions Inds. to date (Scquoya League Bull. 5 in Out West, separate), (Los Angeles, 1909); SPARKMAN, Culture of the Luiseño Inds. in Univ. of Cal. Pubs., Am. Arch. and Ethn., VII (Berkeley, 1910); TAYLOR, Indians of California; articles in Cal. Farmer (San Francisco, 1860-1); WATERMAN, Mission Indian Creation Story in Am. Anthropologist, new series, XI (Lancaster, 1909); IDEM, Religious Practices of the Diegueño Inds., Univ. of Cal. pubs. in Am. and Ethn., VIII (Berkeley, 1910); WHEELER (in charge), Rept. upon U. S. Geographical Surveys etc., VII, Archæology [California Indian papers by GATSCHET (languages), HENSHAW (Voyage of Cabrillo) and YARROW], (Washington, 1879); ROYCE AND THOMAS, Indian Land Cessions in Eighteenth Rept. (part 2) But. Am. Ethnology (Washington, 1899).

About this page

APA citation. Mooney, J. (1911). Mission Indians (of California). In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10369a.htm

MLA citation. Mooney, James. "Mission Indians (of California)." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10369a.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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