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Mission Indians of California


MISSION INDIANS OF CALIFORNIA. Beginning in 1769, the first of twenty-one Franciscan missions was established in California. The missions ranged from San Diego north to San Francisco and were a means for the Spanish to control the Indians. Soldiers rounded up Indians who, once taken inside the missions, became slaves. Those who tried to escape were severely punished; some were killed. Indians' tribal names were usually forgotten, and instead they became known by the names of the missions they served. During the sixty-five years of the missions, Indians were inflicted with disease and despair, and their numbers were depleted by over 80 percent.

Previously these Indians had lived a nomadic life, hunting with bows and arrows and unearthing roots with digging sticks. Under mission control, they were taught Catholicism, ranching, agriculture, and trades such as weaving, blacksmithing, hide tanning, and candle making.

In 1834, thirteen years after Mexican independence from Spain, the missions were dissolved and their lands were turned into huge ranches by settlers. The Indians were technically free, but in fact, only their masters changed, as they were dependent on local ranchers for employment. Today descendants of the Mission Indians live on twenty-eight tiny reservations in southern California.


Jackson, Robert H., and Edward Castillo. Indians, Franciscans, and Spanish Colonization: The Impact of the Mission System on California Indians. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995.

Veda BoydJones

See alsoIndian Missions ; Tribes: California .

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