The Old Franciscan Missions Of California eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 227 pages of information about The Old Franciscan Missions Of California.
“When discovered by the padres he was almost naked, half starved, living in filthy little hovels built of tule, speaking a meagre language broken up into as many different and independent dialects as there were tribes, having no laws and few definite customs, cruel, simple, lazy, and—­in one word which best describes such a condition of existence—­wretched.  There are some forms of savage life that we can admire; there are others that can only excite our disgust; of the latter were the California Indians.”

This is the general attitude taken by most writers of this later day, as well as of the padres themselves, yet I think I shall be able to show that in some regards it is a mistaken one.  I do not believe the Indians were the degraded and brutal creatures the padres and others have endeavored to make out.  This is no charge of bad faith against these writers.  It is merely a criticism of their judgment.

The fact that in a few years the Indians became remarkably competent in so many fields of skilled labor is the best answer to the unfounded charges of abject savagery.  Peoples are not civilized nor educated in a day.  Brains cannot be put into a monkey, no matter how well educated his teacher is.  There must have been the mental quality, the ability to learn; or even the miraculous patience, perseverance, and love of the missionaries would not have availed to teach them, in several hundred years, much less, then, in the half-century they had them under their control, the many things we know they learned.

The Indians, prior to the coming of the padres, were skilled in some arts, as the making of pottery, basketry, canoes, stone axes, arrow heads, spear heads, stone knives, and the like.  Holder says of the inhabitants of Santa Catalina that although their implements were of stone, wood, or shell “the skill with which they modelled and made their weapons, mortars, and steatite ollas, their rude mosaics of abalone shells, and their manufacture of pipes, medicine-tubes, and flutes give them high rank among savages.”  The mortars found throughout California, some of which are now to be seen in the museums of Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Diego, etc., are models in shape and finish.  As for their basketry, I have elsewhere[2] shown that it alone stamps them as an artistic, mechanically skilful, and mathematically inclined people, and the study of their designs and their meanings reveal a love of nature, poetry, sentiment, and religion that put them upon a superior plane.

[2] Indian Basketry, especially the chapters on Form, Poetry, and Symbolism.

Cabrillo was the first white man so far as we know who visited the Indians of the coast of California.  He made his memorable journey in 1542-1543.  In 1539, Ulloa sailed up the Gulf of California, and, a year later, Alarcon and Diaz explored the Colorado River, possibly to the point where Yuma now stands.  These three men came in contact with the Cocopahs and the Yumas, and possibly with other tribes.

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The Old Franciscan Missions Of California from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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