It should not be overlooked, however, that the Spanish government provided skilled laborers from Spain or Mexico, and paid their hire, for the purpose of aiding the settlers in the various pueblos that were established. Master mechanics, carpenters, blacksmiths, and stone masons are mentioned in Governor Neve’s Rules and Regulations, and it is possible that some of the Indians were taught by these skilled artisans. Under the guidance of the padres some of them were taught how to weave. Cotton was both grown and imported, and all the processes of converting it, and wool also, into cloth, were undertaken with skill and knowledge.
At San Juan Capistrano the swing and thud of the loom were constantly heard, there having been at one time as many as forty weavers all engaged at once in this useful occupation.
San Gabriel and San Luis Rey also had many expert weavers.
At all the Missions the girls and women, as well as the men, had their share in the general education. They had always been seed gatherers, grinders, and preparers of the food, and now they were taught the civilized methods of doing these things. Many became tailors as well as weavers; others learned to dye the made fabrics, as in the past they had dyed their basketry splints; and still others—indeed nearly all—became skilled in the delicate art of lace-making and drawn-work. They were natural adepts at fine embroidery, as soon as the use of the needle and colored threads was shown them, and some exquisite work is still preserved that they accomplished in this field. As candy-makers they soon became expert and manifested judicious taste.
To return to the men. Many of them became herders of cattle, horses and sheep, teamsters, and butchers. At San Gabriel alone a hundred cattle were slaughtered every Saturday as food for the Indians themselves. The hides of all slain animals were carefully preserved, and either tanned for home use or shipped East. Dana in Two Years Before the Mast gives interesting pictures of hide-shipping at San Juan Capistrano. A good tanner is a skilled laborer, and these Indians were not only expert makers of dressed leather, but they tanned skins and peltries with the hair or fur on. Indeed I know of many wonderful birds’ skins, dressed with the feathers on, that are still in perfect preservation. As workers in leather they have never been surpassed. Many saddles, bridles, etc., were needed for Mission use, and as the ranches grew in numbers, they created a large market. It must be remembered that horseback riding was the chief method of travel in California for over a hundred years. Their carved leather work is still the wonder of the world. In the striking character of their designs, in the remarkable adaptation of the design, in its general shape and contour, to the peculiar form of the object to be decorated,—a stirrup, a saddle, a belt, etc.,—and in the digital and manual dexterity demanded by its execution, nothing is left to be desired. Equally skilful were they in taking the horn of an ox or mountain sheep, heating it, and then shaping it into a drinking-cup, a spoon, or a ladle, and carving upon it designs that equal those found upon the pottery of the ancient world.