|The Chumash and the Presidio of Santa Barbara: Evolution of a Relationship, 1782-1823
Marie Christine Duggan, Ph.D.
What happened at the California missions? Marie Christine Duggan provides a peek under the hood, at
one place, over one period of time.
There were the numerous groups of Indians, who were living out their lives at home on their land when a
foreign presence entered the area.
There were the priests, zealous enough to have emigrated from Europe to Mexico City, and then again
to California. Most of them would never return. Most never intended to, and knew they would never see
their European families again. Many would not even try to maintain their former friendships. They set out
for a completely different life in what was, to them, an incredibly remote hinterland of which they knew
next to nothing. Who does such a thing? I think is reasonable to say that the padres were not ordinary
Many of the military men who accompanied the padres in and manned the New Spanish forts known as
presidios would also devote their entire careers and lives in service to distant powers in Spain and
Mexico City, but in the secular realm. Priests took vows of poverty and celibacy and preoccupied
themselves with heaven and the afterlife, but soldiers were encouraged to have families and put down
roots in California, and many of them did.
The military governor and the head of the Church missions shared responsibility for projecting Spanish
influence in California, on behalf of the king and the king's viceroy – i.e., "vice king" – in Mexico City.
With the padres and the soldiers came the same tension between church and state as existed in Spain
and Mexico City. Duggan describes how Indians played the priests and soldiers off against one another
to secure the best outcomes for themselves in increasingly dangerous and difficult times.
The soldiers came because the king asked them to. Then after they were here for a while, they began to
suffer the effects of imperial over-extension and fatigue. Salaries declined. They were paid late or not at
all. Officers entrusted with the pot dipped their hands in first, then distributed shares to the rank and file,
or even just gambled it away. Land grants were rare and went to the well connected. In Mexico City
there was growing resentment of just how much land had fallen into the hands of the Church. The
padres never meant to linger in this land, but many New Spanish Californian families, including those of
early soldiers and their descendants, were in it for the long haul. As royal support for the missions waned
and soldiers increasingly fended for themselves, the writing was on the wall for what was going to
happen after Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821. This would not be the first place in the
world or the first time when secular authorities would rein in a powerful Church, and seize Church assets.
The missions would be "secularized," and many of the mission lands--which the Church ostensibly held
in trust for the Indians to whom they belonged--would fall into the hands of those Californio families well
enough connected to secure grants.
As Duggan explains, there was sometimes cooperation early on, such as when a particular Indian
community contributed labor in return for units of glass, which was a new and rare material in California
at the time, and which was therefore valuable to those Indians who possessed it. She describes struggles
between priests who asserted that they had a monopoly over Indian labor, and soldiers who were willing
to pay much higher wages. As the book's cover depicts, the Indians were frequently caught in the middle
as they tried to go about their own lives.
Duggan makes it clear that there is no one way to explain what it was like to live in or near a California
mission of the Spanish Empire. The circumstances varied from one mission to the next, and from person
to person, but she reveals some of the dynamics that must have impacted all those who lived in the area
of the Santa Barbara Mission in the decades around the turn of the nineteenth century.
- Glenn Anaiscourt
I'd love to hear your thoughts.
|by Glenn Anaiscourt