The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1972, Volume 18, Number 1
James E Moss, Editor

Book Review

David J. Weber, Book Review Editor

Franciscan Missionaries in Hispanic California, 1769-1848. A Biographical Dictionary. By Maynard Geiger, O.F.M. (San Marino, Ca., The Huntington Library, 1969). Bibliography. Illustrations. 304 pages. $12.50.

Reviewed by Eleanor Adams, editor of the New Mexico Historical Review and an internationally known authority on colonial Mexico. Among her many published works is A Bio-Bibliography of Franciscan Authors in Colonial Central America

In this fascinating volume Fr. Maynard Geiger, archivist and historian of the Franciscan Province of Santa Barbara, has assembled data from many sources to illuminate the lives and times of 142 Franciscans who served in the California missions from 1769 to 1848. Here they are, from the most famous to those who left few traces of their passing.

Fr. Geiger does not sentimentalize about his predecessors. On the basis of the available facts he presents them as they were, with all their individual human virtues and shortcomings. We see them through the eyes of their brethren, of friendly and unfriendly officials and military men, and of foreign visitors. If these impressions are contradictory, Fr. Geiger is an impartial judge. Sometimes he has been able to clear up long-standing misapprehensions; if not, he provides us with the evidence on both sides. “At the top . . . men of talent, ability and eminent virtue . . . accomplished great things against overwhelming odds . . .”. Most were “men of ordinary ability, zeal, learning, and virtue.”

In 1775 a disgruntled New Mexico Franciscan called Zuni “the end of Christendom in this New World.” This was a century and a half after the beginning of missionary activity there, and the pueblo remained an outpost to the last. The frontier mission history of California, “this last corner of the earth,” spans a comparatively short period. Unlike their brethren on the older frontiers, many of the California friars saw not only the primitive beginnings of Spanish political and missionary enterprise on this last frontier, but the beginnings of a new and very different era.

Franciscan Missionaries in Hispanic California is a gold mine of important detail about all aspects of early California history. It concludes with a useful chart of the missionaries, a glossary, and a general bibliography. An analytical index would have been an invaluable aid to researchers.