CV’s First Inhabitants – Further Resistance Against the Missions
Last week we covered the initial conflicts of the first few weeks of Mission San Gabriel’s existence. After a handful of armed clashes with the soldiers of the Mission, the natives pulled back from the area around the Mission and shunned the rude compound the Spanish had constructed. However, after a couple of years, curious natives returned. In 1773, the priests were able to baptize 73 adults and children.
The villages were probably in a state of decay at this point, assaulted by waves of disease. Their shamans seemed powerless to heal as they once had, and it seemed the Tongva God had deserted them. And yet, as some villagers gave up and drifted to the seemingly more powerful God the Mission priests preached of, others in the villages grew militant. Their anger was fueled in part by the sexual violence perpetrated by Mission soldiers. The priests seemed unable to control them. If the soldiers couldn’t convince or coerce the native women to satisfy them, they raped. In 1773, Father Junipero Serra recorded his disgust with the soldiers of Mission San Gabriel, who rode out in groups to lasso and rape native women. Threats and punishment didn’t deter them.
These assaults resulted in small revolts in 1773 and 1779, which were easily put down. A native woman named Toypurina led an elaborate uprising in 1785, which I’ll document in an upcoming column. But in the period from 1785 to 1810, relations seemed to improve. More natives joined the Mission, even as continued sexual assaults and the poor health of the natives (brought on in part by the inadequate nutrition provided by the Mission, coupled with disease) continued to keep things tense. As well, the corporal punishment (floggings) doled out by the Mission was an ongoing problem as the natives found that treatment completely offensive.
In 1810, a very large force of 800 natives marched against Mission San Gabriel. The force was made up of both village natives and Mission Indians gathered from as far as 80 miles from San Gabriel. By this time, we can assume the battle tactics and warrior leadership of the Tongva people had become ineffective. On top of that, the soldiers of the Mission had been reinforced. The large army of natives was sent into retreat before they got within five miles of the Mission.
The Mission soldiers took great pains to repress any further rebellion, and they came down hard on the natives. They marched to several villages in the area they suspected rebels had come from. There they tied up all the villagers and whipped them – men, women and children ¬– and drove a large part of them back to the Mission.
Up until the secularization of San Gabriel Mission in 1834 there were other small revolts, none of which came to anything. But other Missions endured dramatic rebellions in that period just before secularization, notably the Missions at Santa Barbara, Santa Inez, and La Purisma in 1824. The Chumash tribes, northern neighbors of the Tongva, staged a coordinated attack on those three Missions. They burned Mission Santa Inez to the ground and at the same time overran Mission Santa Barbara. They held Santa Barbara through one attack by soldiers then retreated into the hills. At Mission La Purisma, the resistance was even more dramatic. About 1.200 Chumash took and held the Mission for an entire month while the soldiers gathered for a major assault. They attacked in force with infantry, cavalry and artillery. A 2½-hour pitched battle went on until a priest who had remained with the occupying natives at the Mission negotiated a truce.
For many of my readers, it’s new information that the romantic view of the Mission period was much rockier than we learned about in school. It was news to me as well. But the victors write the history and it’s only by reading through the lines that we get glimpses of what really happened. There’s no doubt that this was a very dark time for the villagers of Wiqangna, and the Tongva people as a whole.