Ohlone People

ANTHRO 6 - An Introduction to
California's Native People


In 1810 Mexico rebelled against Spain, achieved independence in 1821, and created a republic in 1824. During this time, and for several decades afterwards, Mexico suffered through period of strife with supporters of a centralized government clashing repeatedly with those favoring a federal system. In Mexican California this instability & unrest deeply affected the neophyte population at the missions, contributing to the decline of the missions. It was during this time that the most serious mission uprisings occurred.

The most serious uprisings occurred among the most heavily colonized Indian people - the Chumash - who between 1772 and 1804 were forced to accept the establishment of a fort and five missions in their territories. During the Mexican war for independence and immediately after, the Chumash received brutal treatment from local soldiers. In February 1824 a corporal of the Mission Santa Inés guard flogged and Indian, sparking an uprising that quickly spread to other Chumash missions. The neophytes at Mission Santa Inés drove the guards and missionaries into a building at the church's rear and set fire to several buildings. The next day soldiers retook the mission, but many of the neophytes fled to Mission La Purísima Concepción, joining the neophytes there who were also rebelling. The mission was held for three weeks before cavalry & artillery from Monterey arrived and, after a two and a half hour battle, retook the mission.

A similar rebellion was taking place at Mission Santa Bárbara, under the leadership of the Chumash alcalde Andrés. After a brief skirmish with Mexican troops, the Indians sacked the mission, fled into the nearby foothills, then crossed the mountains to the east, settling in the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley, intermarrying with local Yokuts, and forming a new society.

Similar uprisings also occurred in northern California. In 1827, Narciso, an Indian alcalde from Mission San José fled into the interior with 400 followers. The next year, another Indian alcalde from Mission San José, Estanislao left the mission and recruited neophytes from missions Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and San Juan Bautista to join in the revolt. From bases in the interior, the Indians attacked inland mission estates, making off with large numbers of horses.

Contributing to the decline of the missions were the thousands of neophytes who simply fled when conditions became intolerable, as well as the thousands of Indians who died from disease. In 1821 the number of neophytes at the various missions peaked at 21,000, but by 1834 less than 16,000 remained.

In 1833 the Mexican government passed a law secularizing the missions. The law required the missions to relinquish secular control over the neophytes, the missions were to be converted into pueblos with their lands distributed among the resident neophytes. According to the law, the head of each neophyte family or adult male over 20 years of wage was to receive 33 acres of land. In addition, half the livestock, equipment, and seeds of each mission was to be divided among the resident Indians with the remaining mission property to be administered by civil administrators who would oversee the missions until secularization was completed.

Most of the land & property designated for the ex-neophytes fell into the hands of the gente de razón and were turned into private estates called ranchos, and the Indians driven off. Many drifted into Mexican towns in search of employment, others sought work on the ranchos, some withdrew into the interior hoping to join kin already there or establish new sociopolitical units, and a few attempted to petition the government for land grants.

The largest concentration of Indians lived in the vicinity of the pueblo of Los Angeles where, almost from its beginnings, they provided the bulk of the labor force. In 1784 a Spanish military officer noted the dependency of Los Angeles on their labor:

I feel that only with the aid of the gentiles have the settlers been able to plant the crops, but as these Indians are at present harvesting their abundant wild seeds, they justly refuse with this good reason to lend a hand in digging and weeding.

By the mid-1830s Los Angeles had become an important agricultural center, and as the the grape and other agricultural undertakings expanded, the demand for cheap labor increased. And it was the ex-neophytes who flocked to the town after secularization who filled this demand. In 1836 there were 223 ex-neophytes living at Los Angeles; by 1844 the number had increased to 650 with more than 400 coming from the missions of San Luis Rey, San Juan Capistrano, & San Diego.

So essential were Indian laborers that when California fell under American rule Los Angeles' municipal government issued an ordinance:

When the city has no work in which to employ the chain gang, the Recorder shall notify the public that such a number of prisoners will be auctioned off to the highest bidder for private service.

Throughout the 1850s and 1860s, local ranchers and growers assembled at the beginning of the work week to bid on the Indian prisoners. Horace Bell, an early Anglo resident of Los Angeles, described how the system worked:

The cultivators of the vineyards commenced paying the Indian peons with aguardiente [brandy]. The consequence was that on being paid off on Saturday evening, they would meet in great gatherings and pass the night in gambling, drunkenness and debauchery. On Sunday the streets would be crowded from morn till night with Indians.

About sundown the pompous marshal, with his Indian special deputies, who had been kept in jail all day to keep them sober, would drive and drag the herd [of Indians] to a big corral where they would sleep away their intoxication, and in the 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 slave at Los Angeles was sold 52 time a year as long as he lived, which did not generally exceed one, two, or three years. They would be sold for a week, and bought up by the 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 devt, due for well performed labor, would invariably be paid in aguardiente, and the Indian would be made happy until the following Monday morning, 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.

Away from the towns, the vast majority of Indians worked for the Mexicans on ranchos, institutions of retreat & readjustment. Although the ranchos were organized to sell products & turn a profit, in reality they produced little marketable goods. Instead, they were basically subsistence institutions producing only enough to support their Mexican and Indian residents. However, unlike the missions, where the social, religious, and economic lives of the neophytes were strictly regulated, the rancheros were not concerned with the noneconomic activities of their Indian workers and allowed families and kin groups to remain intact & community life to continue relatively undisturbed. Nevertheless, the rancheros relegated their Indian workers to a dependency position since the Indians were paid in kind and the land upon which they build their villages and raised their crops and animals were controlled by the rancheros.

Just how economically important the Indians were to the rancheros is reflected in a statement made by a promient ranchero:

Many of the rich men of the country had from twenty to sixty Indian servants whom they dressed and fed. Indians tilled our soil, pastured our cattle, sheared our sheep, cut our lumber, built our houses, paddled our boats, made tiles for our homes, ground our grain, slaughtered our cattle, dressed their hides for market, and made oour unburnt bricks; while the Indian women made excellent servants, took care of our children, made very one of our meals.

Not all Indians worked in the towns or on the rancheros. Independent Indians from the interior frequently raided coastal ranchos, not to destroy lives and/or property or to achieve status or express courage, but to capture horses. The enormous herds of horses were easy and tempting targets, the Indians preferring them to cattle as a food source (since they were easier to drive off), as well as fulfilling transportation and trade needs. From ranchos in the vicinity of Monterey, south to Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and San Diego, and eastward into the San Bernardino Valley, Indians continually raided the ranchos horse herds, a practice that continued well into the 1870s, long after the Americans took over California. By substituting new food sources for those depleted by the establishment of European settlements, many Indians became heavy consumers of meat, a dietary adjustment that saved entire villages from starvation.

In addition to social and economic adaptations, Indians also adapted politically to the post-secularization period. Throughout central and southern California, Indians were reorganizing their lives and strong, self-made political leaders emerged and established what in some cases amounted to new societies. They organized mission refugees, individuals from scattered and/or broken lineages, and remnants of their own kin into well-governed political units. Unlike their forebearers, who had governed by consensus, the post-secularization leaders ruled by power, adjudicating disputes among villages under their control, negotiating with white and Indian leaders, and summarily punishing lawbreakers.

As Mexican settlements expanded into the Sacramento Valley and the Mexican military, responding to the demands of the expanding rancho economy for new laborers, began raiding interior groups for laborers, native resistance began to stiffen. Formerly peaceful, sedentary, localized groups changed to semiwarlike, semi-nomadic groups and began to take the offensive. Adopting guerilla warfare tactics, interior people underwent considerable physical and military adaptation. In the central valley the Indian offensive reached a peak in 1845; in fact, so successful were Indian raids on coastal settlements that the Mexican government resolved to establish a military border police and erect a fort at Pacheco Pass to prevent further raids.

Mexican authorities and land barons also responded to such raids with punitive expeditions against the interior people, resulting in enslavement of many Indians and acts against them of almost unheard of barbarity. For example, in 1837 José Marí Amador, a wealthy rancher, led a party of civilians, soldiers, and Indian auxiliaries on an expedition into the San Joaquin Valley, where they encountered a group of about 200 suspected wrongdoers, including 100 or so ex-neophytes. Amador wrote that he " invited the wild Indians and their Christian companions to come and have a feast of pinole and dried meat." When the Indians came into the Mexican's camp, armed members of the expedition who had been in hiding surrounded the Indians, quickly subdued them. Amador then separated out the Christian Indians and, as he wrote,

At every half-mile or mile, we put six of them on their knees, making them understand that they were about to die. Each one was shot wirh four arrows, two in front and two in the back. Those who refused to die immediately were killed with spears. On the road were killed in this manner the 100 Christians.
. Later Amador decided to execute the unconverted prisoners - after he first baptized them.
I ordered Nazario Galindo to take a bottle of water and I took another. He began at one part of the crowd and I at another. We baptized all the Indians and afterwards they were shot in the back. At the first volley, 70 fell dead. I doubled the charge for the 30 who remained, and they all fell.

Even more devastating to Indians in the Central Valley than such murderous expeditions were the whites' diseases. In the early 1830s, trappers for the Hudson's Bay Company passed through the Great Valley, introducing malaria into the marshy interior lowlands. The disease killed an estimated 20,000 Indians and remained endemic thereafter. By the end of the Mexican occupation the total native population of California had been reduced to about 100,000 persons.

more to come

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