When Father Junipero Serra and his followers came as Franciscan missionaries and established the chain of missions at San Diego, Los Angeles, San Gabriel, Monterey, Santa Clara, San Buenaventura, San Juan Caspistrano and San Francisco (Dolores), and San Louis Obispo, between 1767 and 1783, they estimated that there were over eighty thousand Indians in Alta California. At the mission of San Gabriel there were about seven thousand. The priests wrote that they had never found anywhere such tractable and energetic savages as those in California.

After a few years the missionaries were never afraid to trust their lives and property among the Indians. The Fathers taught the Indians at the several missions to sow wheat, grind corn, till the soil, to raise herds of cattle, to dress hides, and to make their clothing. The priests brought grape-vines, olives, fruits and nuts from their old homes in Spain and Castile, and taught the Indians how to cultivate them in California soil. In time the missionaries had induced all the Indian families to come and dwell in pueblo communities about the missions, where the Spanish padres were monitors, socially, industrially and religiously. When the missions were legally disestablished by order of the Mexican government, and the lands were partitioned to Mexican families, the herds and flocks sold, and the missionaries told to seek other walks of life, the Indian pueblos soon went to ruin. The Indians themselves wandered aimlessly away, settling in one place until driven to another by the white man. No one attempted to preserve their moral condition, and to the natural savage inclination for licentiousness was added the bad example of the low whites of the frontier of those days.

Henry M. Goodell, “The Influence of the Monks in Agriculture and Christian Civilization” (Sacred Heart Review, 3 December 1910)


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