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   Chapter 32 THE PRESENT CONDITION OF THE MISSION INDIANS

The Old Franciscan Missions Of California By George Wharton James Characters: 22286

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The disastrous effect of the order of secularization upon the Indians, as well as the Missions themselves, has been referred to in a special chapter. Here I wish to give, in brief, a clearer idea of the present condition of the Indians than was there possible. In the years 1833-1837 secularization actually was accomplished. The knowledge that it was coming had already done much injury. The Pious Fund, which then amounted to upwards of a half-million dollars, was confiscated by the Mexican government. The officials said it was merely "borrowed." This practically left the Indians to their own resources. A certain amount of land and stock were to be given to each head of a family, and tools were to be provided. Owing to the long distance between California and the City of Mexico, there was much confusion as to how the changes should be brought about. There have been many charges made, alleging that the padres wilfully allowed the Mission property to go to ruin, when they were deprived of its control. This ruin would better be attributed to the general demoralization of the times than to any definite policy. For it must be remembered that the political conditions of Mexico at that time were most unsettled. None knew what a day or an hour might bring forth. All was confusion, uncertainty, irresponsibility. And in the mêlée Mission property and Mission Indians suffered.

What was to become of the Indians? Imagine the father of a family--that had no mother--suddenly snatched away, and all the property, garden, granary, mill, storehouse, orchards, cattle, placed in other hands. What would the children do?

So now the Indians, like bereft children, knew not what to do, and, naturally, they did what our own children would do. Led by want and hunger, some sought and found work and food, and others, alas, became thieves. The Mission establishment was the organized institution that had cared for them, and had provided the work that supported them. No longer able to go and live "wildly" as of old, they were driven to evil methods by necessity unless the new government directed their energies into right channels. Few attempted to do this; hence the results that were foreseen by the padres followed.

July 7, 1846, saw the Mexican flag in California hauled down, and the Stars and Stripes raised in its place; but as far as the Indian was concerned, the change was for the worse instead of the better. Indeed, it may truthfully be said that the policies of the three governments, Spanish, Mexican, and American, have shown three distinct phases, and that the last is by far the worst.

Our treatment of these Indians reads like a hideous nightmare. Absolutely no forceful and effective protest seems to have been made against the indescribable wrongs perpetrated. The gold discoveries of 1849 brought into the country a class of adventurers, gamblers, liquor sellers, and camp followers of the vilest description. The Indians became helpless victims in the hands of these infamous wretches, and even the authorities aided to make these Indians "good."

Bartlett, who visited the country in 1850 to 1853, tells of meeting with an old Indian at San Luis Rey who spoke glowingly of the good times they had when the padres were there, but "now," he said, "they were scattered about, he knew not where, without a home or protectors, and were in a miserable, starving condition." Of the San Francisco Indians he says:

"They are a miserable, squalid-looking set, squatting or lying about the corners of the streets, without occupation. They have now no means of obtaining a living, as their lands are all taken from them; and the Missions for which they labored, and which provided after a sort for many thousands of them, are abolished. No care seems to be taken of them by the Americans; on the contrary, the effort seems to be to exterminate them as soon as possible."

According to the most conservative estimates there were over thirty thousand Indians under the control of the Missions at the time of secularization in 1833. To-day, how many are there? I have spent long days in the different Mission localities, arduously searching for Indians, but oftentimes only to fail of my purpose. In and about San Francisco, there is not one to be found. At San Carlos Borromeo, in both Monterey and the Carmelo Valley, except for a few half-breeds, no one of Indian blood can be discovered. It is the same at San Miguel, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara. At Pala, that romantic chapel, where once the visiting priest from San Luis Rey found a congregation of several hundreds awaiting his ministrations, the land was recently purchased from white men, by the United States Indian Commission, as a new home for the evicted Palatingwa Indians of Warner's Ranch. These latter Indians, in recent interviews with me, have pertinently asked: "Where did the white men get this land, so they could sell it to the government for us? Indians lived here many centuries before a white man had ever seen the 'land of the sundown sea.' When the 'long-gowns' first came here, there were many Indians at Pala. Now they are all gone. Where? And how do we know that before long we shall not be driven out, and be gone, as they were driven out and are gone?"

At San Luis Rey and San Diego, there are a few scattered families, but very few, and most of these have fled far back into the desert, or to the high mountains, as far as possible out of reach of the civilization that demoralizes and exterminates them.

A few scattered remnants are all that remain.

Let us seek for the real reason why.

The system of the padres was patriarchal, paternal. Certain it is that the Indians were largely treated as if they were children. No one questions or denies this statement. Few question that the Indians were happy under this system, and all will concede that they made wonderful progress in the so-called arts of civilization. From crude savagery they were lifted by the training of the fathers into usefulness and productiveness. They retained their health, vigor, and virility. They were, by necessity perhaps, but still undeniably, chaste, virtuous, temperate, honest, and reasonably truthful. They were good fathers and mothers, obedient sons and daughters, amenable to authority, and respectful to the counsels of old age.

All this and more may unreservedly be said for the Indians while they were under the control of the fathers. That there were occasionally individual cases of harsh treatment is possible. The most loving and indulgent parents are now and again ill-tempered, fretful, or nervous. The fathers were men subject to all the limitations of other men. Granting these limitations and making due allowance for human imperfection, the rule of the fathers must still be admired for its wisdom and commended for its immediate results.

Now comes the order of secularization, and a little later the domination of the Americans. Those opposed to the control of the fathers are to set the Indians free. They are to be "removed from under the irksome restraint of cold-blooded priests who have held them in bondage not far removed from slavery"!! They are to have unrestrained liberty, the broadest and fullest intercourse with the great American people, the white, Caucasian American, not the dark-skinned Mexican!!!

What was the result. Let an eye-witness testify:

"These thousands of Indians had been held in the most rigid discipline by the Mission Fathers, and after their emancipation by the Supreme Government of Mexico, had been reasonably well governed by the local authorities, who found in them indispensable auxiliaries as farmers and harvesters, hewers of wood and drawers of water, and besides, the best horse-breakers and herders in the world, necessary to the management of the great herds of the country. These Indians were Christians, docile even to servility, and excellent laborers. Then came the Americans, followed soon after by the discovery of, and the wild rush for, gold, and the relaxation for the time being of a healthy administration of the laws. The ruin of this once happy and useful people commenced. The cultivators of vineyards began to pay their Indian peons with aguardiente, a real 'firewater.' The consequence was that on receiving their wages on Saturday evening, the laborers habitually met in great gatherings and passed the night in gambling, drunkenness, and debauchery. On Sunday the streets were crowded from morning until night with Indians,--males and females of all ages, from the girl of ten or twelve to the old man and woman of seventy or eighty.

"By four o'clock on Sunday afternoon, Los Angeles Street, from Commercial to Nigger Alley, Aliso Street from Los Angeles to Alameda, and Nigger Alley, were crowded with a mass of drunken Indians, yelling and fighting: men and women, boys and girls using tooth and nail, and frequently knives, but always in a manner to strike the spectator with horror.

"At sundown, the pompous marshal, with his Indian special deputies, who had been confined in jail all day to keep them sober, would drive and drag the combatants to a great corral in the rear of the Downey Block, where they slept away their intoxication. The following 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 slaves at Los Angeles were sold fifty-two times a year, as long as they lived, a period which did not generally exceed one, two, or three years under the new dispensation. They were sold for a week, and bought up by 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 debt, due for well-performed labor, was invariably paid in aguardiente, and the Indian made happy, until the following Monday morning, he 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."

In reference to these statements of the sale of the Indians as slaves, it should be noted that the act was done under the cover of the law. The Indian was "fined" a certain sum for his drunkenness, and was then turned over to the tender mercies of the employer, who paid the fine. Thus "justice" was perverted to the vile ends of the conscienceless scoundrels who posed as "officers of the law."

Charles Warren Stoddard, one of California's sweetest poets, realized to the full the mercenary treatment the Missions and the Indians had received, and one of the latest and also most powerful poems he ever wrote, "The Bells of San Gabriel," deals with this spoliation as a theme. The poem first appeared in Sunset Magazine, the Pacific Monthly, and with the kind consent of the editor I give the last stanza.

"Where are they now, O tower!

The locusts and wild honey?

Where is the sacred dower

That the Bride of Christ was given?

Gone to the wielders of power,

The misers and minters of money;

Gone for the greed that is th

eir creed--

And these in the land have thriven.

What then wert thou, and what art now,

And wherefore hast thou striven?

REFRAIN

And every note of every bell

Sang Gabriel! rang Gabriel!

In the tower that is left the tale to tell

Of Gabriel, the Archangel."

To-day, the total Indian population of Southern California is reported as between two and three thousand. It is not increasing, and it is good for the race that it is not. Until the incumbency by W.A. Jones of the Indian Commissionership in Washington, there seems to have been little or no attempt at effective protection of the Indians against the land and other thefts of the whites. The facts are succinctly and powerfully stated by Helen Hunt Jackson in her report to the government, and in her Glimpses of California and the Missions. The indictment of churches, citizens, and the general government, for their crime of supineness in allowing our acknowledged wards to be seduced, cheated, and corrupted, should be read by every honest American; even though it make his blood seethe with indignation and his nerves quiver with shame.

In my larger work on this subject I published a table from the report of the agent for the "Mission-Tule" Consolidated Agency, which is dated September 25, 1903.

This is the official report of an agent whom not even his best friends acknowledge as being over fond of his Indian charges, or likely to be sentimental in his dealings with them. What does this report state? Of twenty-eight "reservations"--and some of these include several Indian villages--it announces that the lands of eight are yet "not patented." In other words, that the Indians are living upon them "on sufferance." Therefore, if any citizen of the United States, possessed of sufficient political power, so desired, the lands could be restored to the public domain. Then, not even the United States Supreme Court could hold them for the future use and benefit of the Indians.

On five of these reservations the land is "desert," and in two cases, "subject to intense heat" (it might be said, to 150 degrees, and even higher in the middle of summer); in one case there is "little water for irrigation."

In four cases it is "poor land," with "no water," and in another instance there are "worthless, dry hills;" in still another the soil is "almost worthless for lack of water!"

In one of the desert cases, where there are five villages, the government has supplied "water in abundance for irrigation and domestic use, from artesian wells." Yet the land is not patented, and the Indians are helpless, if evicted by resolute men.

At Cahuilla, with a population of one hundred fifty-five, the report says, "mountain valley; stock land and little water. Not patented."

At Santa Isabel, including Volcan, with a population of two hundred eighty-four, the reservation of twenty-nine thousand eight hundred forty-four acres is patented, but the report says it is "mountainous; stock land; no water."

At San Jacinto, with a population of one hundred forty-three, the two thousand nine hundred sixty acres are "mostly poor; very little water, and not patented."

San Manuel, with thirty-eight persons, has a patent for six hundred forty acres of "worthless, dry hills."

Temecula, with one hundred eighty-one persons, has had allotted to its members three thousand three hundred sixty acres, which area, however, is "almost worthless for lack of water."

Let us reflect upon these things! The poor Indian is exiled and expelled from the lands of his ancestors to worthless hills, sandy desert, grazing lands, mostly poor and mountainous land, while our powerful government stands by and professes its helplessness to prevent the evil. These discouraging facts are enough to make the just and good men who once guided the republic rise from their graves. Is there a remnant of honor, justice, or integrity, left among our politicians?

There is one thing this government should have done, could have done, and might have done, and it is to its discredit and disgrace that it did not do it; that is, when the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo transferred the Indians from the domination of Mexico to that of the United States, this government "of, for, and by" the people, should have recognized the helplessness of its wards and not passed a law of which they could not by any possibility know, requiring them to file on their lands, but it should have appointed a competent guardian of their moral and legal rights, taking it for granted that occupancy of the lands of their forefathers would give them a legal title which would hold forever against all comers.

In all the Spanish occupation of California it is doubtful whether one case ever occurred where an Indian was driven off his land.

In rendering a decision on the Warner's Ranch Case the United States Supreme Court had an opportunity offered it, once for all to settle the status of all American Indians. Had it familiarized itself with the laws of Spain, under which all Spanish grants were made, it would have found that the Indian was always considered first and foremost in all grants of lands made. He must be protected in his right; it was inalienable. He was helpless, and therefore the officers of the Crown were made responsible for his protection. If subordinate officers failed, then the more urgent the duty of superior officers. Therefore, even had a grant been made of Warner's Ranch in which the grantor purposely left out the recognition of the rights of the Indians, the highest Spanish courts would not have tolerated any such abuse of power. This was an axiom of Spanish rule, shown by a hundred, a thousand precedents. Hence it should have been recognized by the United States Supreme Court. It is good law, but better, it is good sense and common justice, and this is especially good when it protects the helpless and weak from the powerful and strong.

In our dealings with the Indians in our school system, we are making the mistake of being in too great a hurry. A race of aborigines is not raised into civilization in a night. It will be well if it is done in two or three generations.

Contrast our method with that followed by the padres. Is there any comparison? Yes! To our shame and disgrace. The padres kept fathers and mothers and children together, at least to a reasonable degree. Where there were families they lived--as a rule--in their own homes near the Missions. Thus there was no division of families. On the other hand, we have wilfully and deliberately, though perhaps without malice aforethought (although the effect has been exactly the same as if we had had malice), separated children from their parents and sent them a hundred, several hundred, often two or three thousand miles away from home, there to receive an education often entirely inappropriate and incompetent to meet their needs. And even this sending has not always been honorably done. Vide the United States Indian Commissioner's report for 1900. He says:

"These pupils are gathered from the cabin, the wickiup, and the tepee. Partly by cajolery and partly by threats; partly by bribery and partly by fraud; partly by persuasion and partly by force, they are induced to leave their homes and their kindred to enter these schools and take upon themselves the outward semblance of civilized life. They are chosen not on account of any particular merit of their own, not by reason of mental fitness, but solely because they have Indian blood in their veins. Without regard to their worldly condition; without any previous training; without any preparation whatever, they are transported to the schools--sometimes thousands of miles away--without the slightest expense or trouble to themselves or their people.

"The Indian youth finds himself at once, as if by magic, translated from a state of poverty to one of affluence. He is well fed and clothed and lodged. Books and all the accessories of learning are given him and teachers provided to instruct him. He is educated in the industrial arts on the one hand, and not only in the rudiments but in the liberal arts on the other. Beyond the three r's he is instructed in geography, grammar, and history; he is taught drawing, algebra and geometry, music and astronomy and receives lessons in physiology, botany, and entomology. Matrons wait on him while he is well, and physicians and nurses attend him when he is sick. A steam laundry does his washing, and the latest modern appliances do his cooking. A library affords him relaxation for his leisure hours, athletic sports and the gymnasium furnish him exercise and recreation, while music entertains him in the evening. He has hot and cold baths, and steam heat and electric light, and all the modern conveniences. All the necessities of life are given him, and many of the luxuries. All of this without money and without price, or the contribution of a single effort of his own or of his people. His wants are all supplied almost for the wish. The child of the wigwam becomes a modern Aladdin, who has only to rub the government lamp to gratify his desires.

"Here he remains until his education is finished, when he is returned to his home--which by contrast must seem squalid indeed--to the parents whom his education must make it difficult to honor, and left to make his way against the ignorance and bigotry of his tribe. Is it any wonder he fails? Is it surprising if he lapses into barbarism? Not having earned his education, it is not appreciated; having made no sacrifice to obtain it, it is not valued. It is looked upon as a right and not as a privilege; It is accepted as a favor to the government and not to the recipient, and the almost inevitable tendency is to encourage dependency, foster pride, and create a spirit of arrogance and selfishness. The testimony on this point of those closely connected with the Indian employees of the service would, it is believe, be interesting."

So there the matter stands. Nothing of any great importance was really done to help the Indians except the conferences at Mohonk, N.Y., until, in 1902, the Sequoya League was organized, composed of many men and women of national prominence, with the avowed purpose "to make better Indians." In its first pronunciamento it declared:

"The first struggle will be not to arouse sympathy but to inform with slow patience and long wisdom the wide-spread sympathy which already exists. We cannot take the Indians out of the hands of the National Government; we cannot take the National Government into our own hands. Therefore we must work with the National Government in any large plan for the betterment of Indian conditions.

"The League means, in absolute good faith, not to fight, but to assist the Indian Bureau. It means to give the money of many and the time and brains and experience of more than a few to honest assistance to the Bureau in doing the work for which it has never had either enough money or enough disinterested and expert assistance to do in the best way the thing it and every American would like to see done."

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