California Missions – The Present Condition Of The Mission Indians

THE disastrous effect of the order of secularization upon the Indians, as well as the Missions themselves, has been referred to in a special chapter. Here I wish to give, in brief, a clearer idea of the present condition of the Indians than was there possible. In the years 1833–1837 secularization actually was accomplished. The knowledge that it was coming had already done much injury. The Pious Fund, which then amounted to upwards of a half-million dollars, was confiscated — they called it ” borrowed.” This practically left the Indians to their own resources. A certain amount of land and stock were to be given to each head of a family, and tools were to be provided. Owing to the long distance between California and the City of Mexico, there was much confusion as to how the changes should be brought about. There have been many charges made, alleging that the fathers wilfully allowed the Mission property to go to ruin, when they were deprived of its control. This ruin would better be attributed to the general demoralization of the times than to any definite policy. For it must be remembered that the political conditions of Mexico at that time were most unsettled. None knew what a day or an hour might bring forth. All was confusion, uncertainty, irresponsibility. And in the melee Mission property and Mission Indians suffered.

What was to become of the Indians? Imagine the father of a family — that had no mother — suddenly snatched away, and all the property, garden, granary, min, storehouse, orchards, cattle, placed in other hands. What would the children do?

So now the Indians, like bereft children, knew not what to do, and, naturally, they did what our own children would do. Led by want and hunger, some sought and found work and food, and others, alas, became thieves. The Mission establishment was the organized institution that had cared for them, and had provided the work that supported them. No longer able to go and live ” wildly ” as of old, they were driven to evil methods by necessity unless the new government directed their energies into right channels. Few attempted to do this ; hence the results that were foreseen by the padres followed.

July 7, 1846, saw the Mexican flag in California hauled down, and the Stars and Stripes raised in its place ; but as far as the Indian was concerned, the change was for the worse instead of the better. Indeed, it may truthfully be said that the policies of the three governments, Spanish, Mexican, and American, have shown three distinct phases, and that the last is by far the worst.

Our treatment of these Indians reads like a hideous nightmare. Absolutely no forceful and effective protest seems to have been made against the indescribable wrongs perpetrated. The gold discoveries of 1849 brought into the country a class of adventurers, gamblers, liquor sellers, and camp followers of the vilest description. The Indians became helpless victims in the hands of these infamous wretches, and even the authorities aided to make these Indians ” good.”

Bartlett, who visited the country in 1850 to 1853, tells of meeting with an old Indian at San Luis Rey who spoke glowingly of the good times they had when the padres were there, but ” now, he said, they were scattered about, he knew not where, without a home or protectors, and were in a miserable, starving condition.” Of the San Francisco Indians he says:

” They are a miserable, squalid-looking set, squatting or lying about the corners of the streets, without occupation. They have now no means of obtaining a living, as their lands are all taken from them ; and the Missions for which they labored, and which provided after a sort for many thousands of them, are abolished. No care seems to be taken of them by the Americans; on the contrary, the effort seems to be to exterminate them as soon as possible.”

According to the most conservative estimates there were over thirty thousand Indians under the control of the Missions at the time of secularization in 1833. To-day, how many are there? I have spent long days in the different Mission localities, arduously searching for Indians, but oftentimes only to fail of my purpose. In and about San Francisco, there is not one to be found. At San Carlos Borromeo, in both Monterey and the Carmelo Valley, except for a few half-breeds, no one of Indian blood can be discovered. It is the same at San Miguel, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara. At Pala, that romantic chapel, where once the visiting priest from San Luis Rey found a congregation of several hundreds awaiting his ministrations, the land was recently purchased from white men, by the United States Indian Commission, as a new home for the evicted Palatingwa Indians of Warner’s Ranch. These latter Indians, in recent interviews with me, have pertinently asked : ” Where did the white men get this land, so they could sell it to the Government for us? Indians lived here many centuries before a white man had ever seen the ` land of the sundown sea.’ When the ` long gowns’ first came here, there were many Indians at Pala. Now they are all gone. Where? And how do we know that before long we shall not be driven out, and be gone, as they were driven out and are gone? ”

At San Luis Rey and San Diego, there are a few scattered families, but very few, and most of these have fled far back into the desert, or to the high mountains, as far as possible out of reach of the civilization that demoralizes and exterminates them.

A few scattered remnants are all that remain.

Let us seek for the real reason why.

The system of the padres was patriarchal, paternal. Certain it is that the Indians were largely treated as if they were children. No one questions or denies this statement. Few question that the Indians were happy under this system, and all will concede that they made wonderful progress in the so-called arts of civilization. From crude savagery they were lifted by the training of the fathers into usefulness and productiveness. They retained their health, vigor, and virility. They were, by necessity perhaps, but still undeniably, chaste, virtuous, temperate, honest, and reasonably truthful. They were good fathers and mothers, obedient sons and daughters, amenable to authority, and respectful to the counsels of old age.

All this and more may unreservedly be said for the Indians while they were under the control of the fathers. That there were occasionally individual cases of harsh treatment is possible. The most loving and indulgent parents are now and again ill-tempered, fretful, or nervous. The fathers were men subject to all the limitations of other men. Granting these limitations and making due allowance for human imperfection, the rule of the fathers must still be admired for its wisdom and commended for its immediate results.

Now comes the order of secularization, and a little later the domination of the Americans. Those opposed to the control of the fathers are to see the Indians free. They are to be ” removed from under the irksome restraint of cold-blooded priests who have held them in bondage not far removed from slavery “!! They are to have unrestrained liberty, the broadest and fullest intercourse with the great American people, the white, Caucasian American, not the dark-skinned Mexican ! ! !

The authority of the priesthood being abolished, this beneficent intercourse begins!! Now see the rapid elevation in morals, honor, chastity, integrity, and all the virtues ! ! Gaze with amazement and delight upon the glorious blessings conferred upon the weak by the strong race!! Thank God, with uplifted eyes and hand, for all the mental and spiritual graces that begin to pour into the minds and souls of those benighted heathen, when they are removed from the benumbing influences of superstitious and ignorant Catholicism. Yes, indeed, let us sing paeans of joyous praises for the good that the aborigines now hold in free and absolute mastery.

Ah ! hypocrites and vile ! How I could wish for the power of Shakspere to show you in your true light. Richard of Gloster was not so vile a murderer, so ruthless a destroyer, so black-hearted a villain, so contemptible a plotter, so mean a layer of snares as the white race has been, whereby to trap, entangle, and exterminate the dusky race whose lands they coveted and determined to possess.

Had they been left in the hands of the Mission fathers, the Indians would slowly but surely have progressed to racial manhood. Given over to our own tender mercies, they have been hurried down an incline smeared by white men with every known form of slippery evil, in order that their destruction might be the more rapid and complete. Until we are able, nationally, to cleanse our own skirts from the blood of these trustful, weak, helpless aborigines, let us not insult the memory of the Mission fathers by asking, parrot-like : ” For what end? ”

The only real ground for criticism of the padres, to my mind, lies here. Their care of the Indians was too great, too fatherly. They treated their wards too much like children, instead of training them for the duties of citizenship. Hence they succumbed easily to the vices of civilization when the restraining influences were removed. I used to think this criticism a just one. It appeared to me that the kindness was a mistaken one ; that greater freedom would have given greater responsibility, — especially had more time and attention been given to teaching them this responsibility. Yet, the more I think of it, the more puerile the criticism becomes. Peoples are not civilized in a day. Even our own sons and daughters, with all our training, now and again succumb to evil and go down as far as did these Indians, though we are constant and persistent in our efforts to save them.

Another difficulty in the way of rapid progress was the great distance from supplies and the lack of men. Communication with California was by water or land, and from far distant points. It was not an easy journey from Spain, via Mexico, to California. The overland trip from Mexico, whether by way of San Blas and then up the peninsula on horseback, or by way of Sonora and the deserts of Arizona and California was not a matter to be undertaken lightly. I should much like to start out a caravan of the critics of the padres, over either route, and in a modern air-ship (improved pattern) watch their performances. I am inclined to believe they would make a far worse mess of it than the padres did of educating and christianizing the Indians. It required men — men of stalwart conviction, men of courage, daring, and ability to under-take the journey, let alone the work when they arrived. And when the fact is recalled that, in the earlier days, some of these priests were left alone for months at a time at their respective stations, can we wonder that more than one of them went insane with the pressure of it. Solitariness is often a far harder burden to bear than actual physical pain or suffering; yet these devoted men faced even the dreaded solitariness rather than neglect the call, the voice they had heard.

With such training, therefore, they resented the interference of the politicians with their work. They saw the awful results that were sure to come. And in their resistance to the unjust encroachments of unprincipled men we have the secret of most of the criticism.

I think it can plainly be stated that the whole trouble arose from man’s accursed greed for gold. It is well known that according to the rule of St. Francis every member of the order was pledged to certain things, one of which was perpetual poverty, another obedience. We have seen how, in the early days, those priests who came to California sacrificed all that men ordinarily hold dear. Little by little they built up their Missions in what had been a strange land, and they converted the savages into useful workers. Personally not one of them could own a dime’s worth of property (unless, of course, he were a perjured scoundrel, and it is scarcely worth while to consider the prejudices of those who could regard any of the early padres as such), and if they did now and again enjoy the pleasures of the table, who shall cast a first stone at them for that? Their leaders were wise enough to see that when the influx of population came, as it was almost inevitable it should, the Indians would not be considered as having a first claim, unless they, as their guardians, protected them in their natural rights, — the rights of priority and nativity on the soil. Slowly they were christianizing and civilizing them. Of very necessity it was a slow process. The English, the French, the Germans, — aye, and the boasting Americans, — have been civilized none too rap-idly. It does not need a very deep scratch to reveal the innate savagery of the best of us, and why should we expect these people to be civilized with such great speed.

The padres knew that secularization must come — some-time. They hoped it would not come too soon. In time they could have made their wards more independent, better developed mentally, more able to cope with ” the world.” When Mexico became the battle-field of adventurers, the coyote and vulture politicians began to assert themselves, and in the Missions they saw a good opportunity for the exercise of their peculiar functions. The padres withstood them, bravely, nobly, constantly, until the power brought to bear was too great to be longer resisted. What were they fighting for? Did it mean personal wealth to them? All they could possibly get out of it was their daily bread, as they were required by the law of their order to report constantly to their superiors as to the growth of flocks, herds, etc., and what became of them. The early reports of the padres were models of completeness ; nothing was neglected; everything was accounted for. Who, then, can justly accuse them of selfishness in their stern resistance to the decrees of the politicians. They could have done no other without being recreant to the trust the helplessness of the Indians had imposed upon them. It was as if authorities of a hospital or an orphan asylum battled for the preservation of the institution that was essential to the care-taking of the helpless sick or young. Perhaps their pride in their organization had something to do with it, and I, for one, do not propose to find fault with them for that. It was a good organization for the work to be per-formed, and it did its work well; and it is no credit either to the republic of Mexico or, later, to the United States of America that more strenuous efforts were not made to pre-serve to the padres the right to continue their fatherly oversight over the Indians for a while longer.

An eye-witness, writing of events in the early fifties, thus recounts the Los Angeles method of christianizing the Mission Indians :

” These thousands of Indians had been held in the most rigid discipline by the Mission Fathers, and after their emancipation by the Supreme Government of Mexico, had been reasonably well governed by the local authorities, who found in them indispensable auxiliaries as farmers and harvesters, hewers of wood and drawers of water, and beside the best horse-breakers and herders in the world, necessary to the management of the great herds of the country. These Indians were Christians, docile even to servility, and excellent laborers. Then came the Americans, followed soon after by the discovery of, and the wild rush for, gold, and the relaxation for the time being of a healthy administration of the laws. The ruin of this once happy and useful people commenced. The cultivators of vineyards began to pay their Indian peons with aguardiente, a real ‘ firewater.’ The consequence was that on receiving their wages on Saturday evening, the laborers habitually met in great gatherings and passed the night in gambling, drunkenness, and debauchery. On Sunday the streets were crowded from morning until night with Indians, — males and females of all ages, from the girl of ten or twelve to the old man and woman of seventy or eighty.

“By four o’clock on Sunday afternoon, Los Angeles Street, from Commercial to Nigger Alley, Aliso Street from Los Angeles to Alameda, and Nigger Alley, were crowded with a mass of drunken Indians, yelling and fighting : men and women, boys and girls using tooth and nail, and frequently knives, but always in a manner to strike the spectator with horror.

” At sundown, the pompous marshal, with his Indian special deputies, who had been confined in jail all day to keep them sober, would drive and drag the combatants to a great corral in the rear of the Downey Block, where they slept away their intoxication. The following morning they would be exposed for sale, as slaves for the week. Los Angeles had its slave-mart as well as New Orleans and Constantinople, — only the slaves at Los Angeles were sold fifty-two times a year, as long as they, lived, a period which did not generally exceed one, two, or three years under the new dispensation. They were sold for a week, and bought up by vineyard men and others at prices ranging from one to three dollars, one-third of which was to be paid to the peon at the end of the week, which debt, due for well-performed labor, was invariably paid in aguardiente, and the Indian made happy, until the following Monday morning, he having passed through another Saturday night and Sunday’s saturnalia of debauchery and bestiality. Those thousands of honest, useful people were absolutely destroyed in this way.”

In reference to these statements of the sale of the Indians as slaves, it should be noted that the act was done under the cover of the law. The Indian was ” fined ” in a certain sum for his drunkenness, and was then turned over to the tender mercies of the employer who paid the fine. Thus ” justice ” was perverted to the vile ends of the conscience-less scoundrels who posed as ” officers of the law.”

To-day, the total Indian population of Southern California is reported by the agent as two thousand eight hundred fifty-five. It is not increasing, and it is good for the race that it is not. Until the incumbency by W. A. Jones of the Indian Commissionership in Washington, there seems to have been little or no attempt at effective protection of the Indians against the land and other thefts of the whites. The facts are succinctly and powerfully stated by Helen Hunt Jackson in her report to the government, and in her ” Glimpses of California and the Missions.” The indictment of churches, citizens, and the general government, for their crime of supineness in allowing our acknowledged wards to be seduced, cheated, and corrupted, should be read by every honest American ; even though it make his blood seethe with indignation and his nerves quiver with shame.

Anno Domini 1903, the Indians of Warner’s Ranch, by a decree of the United States Supreme Court, affirming the decisions of the highest State courts, were evicted from the homes which they had occupied from time immemorial, and which had been pledged to them and their successors by General Kearney and others in authority, on behalf of the United States government.

At this time, the Indian Department, under W. A. Jones, then the commissioner, made the first honest and practical attempt to come to the rescue of its wards. A hundred thousand dollars was appropriated to find them a new home, but some of this has been wasted by the incompetency of self-constituted advisers and minor official stupidity and incapacity. Let it suffice to say that today these Indians are upon land where they cannot make a living, unless large sums of money shall be expended in an irrigation- scheme to convey water to their lands ; they are ” converted ” from a self-sustaining, brave, and independent people to so many paupers looking to the government for rations ; they regard every white man as a liar ; one man who has especially posed as their friend they view with a hatred approaching a murderous sentiment, and, were they as warlike and strong numerically as the Sioux, the War Department would be confronted with another Indian war.

In other villages and tribes the same demoralization is apparent.

A short time ago I had a long, confidential interview with Marcos, once a chief of the Indian village at Palm Springs. Among other things, we discussed the morality of the women of his people. With a dejection in which there seemed to be no hope, the poor fellow stated that the burden of life was so hard for his people that he had long ceased to regard with anger the immorality of the women, young or old, married or single. ” So long as they can get something to eat thereby, why should we care? ” he sadly asked. ” It is not easy to be good when the hunger is in the stomach and when one offers you a dollar to do that which is easy, though evil ! ”

This is one of the saddest proofs of the demoralization of this people. When the leaders have ceased to care ; when the struggle has become so hard as to seem to be hopeless, then, indeed, are they in bad case.

To show the actual state of land matters among the Indians of Southern California, I present the subjoined table from the report of the agent for the ” Mission-Tule ” Consolidated Agency, which is dated September 25, 1903.

This is the official report of an agent whom not even his best friends acknowledge as being over fond of his Indian charges, or likely to be sentimental in his dealings with them. What does this report state? Of twenty-eight ” reservations ” — and some of these include several Indian villages — it announces that the lands of eight are yet ” not patented.” In other words, that the Indians are living upon them ” on sufferance.” Therefore, if any citizen of the United States, possessed of sufficient political power, so desired, the lands could be restored to the public domain. Then, not even the United States Supreme Court could hold them for the future use and benefit of the Indians.

On five of these reservations the land is ” desert,” and in two cases, ” subject to intense heat ” (it might be said, to 150 degrees, and even higher in the middle of summer) ; in one case there is ” little water for irrigation.”

In four cases it is ” poor land,” with ” no water,” and in another instance there are ” worthless, dry hills; ” in still another the soil is ” almost worthless for lack of water ! ”

In one of the desert cases, where there are five villages, the government has supplied ” water in abundance for irrigation and domestic use, from artesian wells.” Yet the land is not patented, and the Indians are helpless, if evicted by resolute men.

At Cahuilla, with a population of one hundred fifty-five, the report says, ” mountain valley ; stock land and little water. Not patented.”

At Santa Isabel, including Volcan, with a population of two hundred eighty-four, the reservation of twenty-nine thousand eight hundred forty-four acres is patented, but the report says it is ” mountainous ; stock land ; no water.”

At San Jacinto, with a population of one hundred forty-three, the two thousand nine hundred sixty acres are ” mostly poor ; very little water, and not patented.”

San Manuel, with thirty-eight persons, has a patent for six hundred forty acres of ” worthless, dry hills.”

Temecula, with one hundred eighty-one persons, has had allotted to its members three thousand three hundred sixty acres, which area, however, is ” almost worthless for lack of water.”

Let us reflect upon these things ! The poor Indian is exiled and expelled from the lands of his ancestors to worthless hills, sandy desert, grazing lands, mostly poor and mountainous land, while our powerful government stands by and professes its helplessness to prevent the evil. These discouraging facts are enough to make the just and good men who once guided the republic rise from their graves. Is there a remnant of honor, justice, or integrity, left among our politicians?

There is one thing this government should have done, could have done, and might have done, and it is to its discredit and disgrace that it did not do it ; that is, when the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo transferred the Indians from the domination of Mexico to that of the United States, this government ” of, for, and by ” the people, should have recognized the helplessness of its wards and not passed a law of which they could not by any possibility know, requiring them to file on their lands, but it should have appointed a competent guardian of their moral and legal rights taking it for granted that occupancy of the lands of their fore-fathers would give them a legal title which would hold forever against all comers.

In all the Spanish occupation of California it is doubtful whether one case ever occurred where an Indian was driven off his land.

In rendering a decision on the Warner’s Ranch Case the United States Supreme Court had an opportunity offered it, once for all to settle the status of all American Indians. Had it familiarized itself with the laws of Spain, under which all Spanish grants were made, it would have found that the Indian was always considered first and fore-most in all grants of lands made. He must be protected in his right; it was inalienable. He was helpless, and therefore the officers of the Crown were made responsible for his protection. If subordinate officers failed, then the more urgent the duty of superior officers. Therefore, even had a grant been made of Warner’s Ranch in which the grantor purposely left out the recognition of the rights of the Indians, the higher Spanish courts would not have tolerated any such abuse of power. This was an axiom of Spanish rule, shown by a hundred, a thousand precedents. Hence it should have been recognized by the United States Supreme Court. It is good law, but better, it is good sense and common justice, and this is especially good when it protects the helpless and weak from the powerful and strong.

In our dealings with the Indians in our school system, we are making the mistake of being in too great a hurry. A race of aborigines is not raised into civilization in a night. It will be well if it is done in two or three generations.

Contrast our method with that followed by the padres. Is there any comparison? Yes! to our shame and disgrace. The padres kept fathers and mothers and children together, at least to a reasonable degree. Where there were families they lived — as a rule — in their own homes near the Missions. Thus there was no division of families. On the other hand, we have wilfully and deliberately, though perhaps without malice aforethought (although the effect has been exactly the same as if we had had malice), separated children from their parents and sent them a hundred, several hundred, often two or three thousand miles away from home, there to receive an education often entirely inappropriate and incompetent to meet their needs. And even this sending has not always been honorably done. Vide the U. S. Indian Commissioner’s report for 1900. He says:

“These pupils are gathered from the cabin, the wickiup, and the tepee. Partly by cajolery and partly by threats; partly by bribery and partly by fraud ; partly by persuasion and partly by force, they are induced to leave their homes and their kindred to enter these schools and take upon themselves the outward semblance of civilized life. They are chosen not on account of any particular merit of their own, not by reason of mental fitness, but solely because they have Indian blood in their veins. With-out regard to their worldly condition ; without any previous training ; without any preparation whatever, they are transported to the schools — sometimes thousands of miles away — without the slightest expense or trouble to themselves or their people.

The Indian youth finds himself at once, as if by magic, translated from a state of poverty to one of affluence. He is well fed and clothed and lodged. Books and all the accessories of learn-. ing are given him and teachers provided to instruct him. He is educated in the industrial arts on the one hand, and not only in the rudiments but in the liberal arts on the other. Beyond the three is he is instructed in geography, grammar, and history ; he is taught drawing, algebra and geometry, music and astronomy and receives lessons in physiology, botany, and entomology. Matrons wait on him while he is well, and physicians and nurses attend him when he is sick. A steam laundry does his washing, and the latest modern appliances do his cooking. A library affords him relaxation for his leisure hours, athletic sports and the gymnasium furnish him exercise and recreation, while music entertains him in the evening. He has hot and cold baths, and steam heat and electric light, and all the modern conveniences. All the necessities of life are given him, and many of the luxuries. All of this without money and without price, or the contribution of a single effort of his own or of his people. His wants are all supplied almost for the wish. The child of the wigwam becomes a modern Aladdin, who has only to rub the government lamp to gratify his desires.

Here he remains until his education is finished, when he is returned to his home — which by contrast must seem squalid indeed — to the parents whom his education must make it difficult to honor, and left to make his way against the ignorance and bigotry of his tribe. Is it any wonder he fails ? Is it surprising if he lapses into barbarism ? Not having earned his education, it is not appreciated ; having made no sacrifice to obtain it, it is not valued. It is looked upon as a right and not as a privilege ; it is accepted as a favor to the government and not to the recipient, and the almost inevitable tendency is to encourage dependency, foster pride, and create a spirit of arrogance and selfishness.

The testimony on this point of those closely connected with the Indian employees of the service would, it is believed, be interesting.”

So there the matter stands. Nothing of any great importance was really done to help the Indians except the conferences at Mohonk, N. Y., until, in 1902, the Sequoya League was organized, composed of many men and women of national prominence, with the avowed purpose ” to make better Indians.” In its first pronunciamento it declared:

” The first struggle will be not to arouse sympathy but to inform with slow patience and long wisdom the wide-spread sympathy which already exists. We cannot take the Indians out of the hands of the National Government ; we cannot take the National Government into our own hands. Therefore we must work with the National Government in any large plan for the betterment of Indian conditions.

” The League means, in absolute good faith, not to fight, but to assist the Indian Bureau. It means to give the money of many and the time and brains and experience of more than a few to honest assistance to the Bureau in doing the work for which it has never had either enough money or enough disinterested and expert assistance to do in the best way the thing it and every American would like to see done.”