The Journal of San Diego History
Spring 1976, Volume 22, Number 2
James E. Moss, Editor


David J. Weber, Book Review Editor

Guidebook to the Missions of California. By Marjorie V. Camphouse, Los Angeles: Ward Ritchie Press, 1974. Bibliography. Illustrations. 126 pages. $2.95.

Reviewed by Walt Wheelock, publisher of La Siesta Press, Glendale. Mr. Wheelock has written on the mountains of California and on Baja California. His most recent guide books are Southern California Peaks (1973) and Baja California Guidebook, with Howard Gulick.

Marjorie Camphouse has produced an excellent small guide to the twenty-one missions of Alta California. Her introduction is quite peerceptive in the treatment of the rise and fall of the mission system. While most popular guides to the California missions follow the old church argument that the Mexican government and then the Americans raped the missions of their “rightful title” to their lands, Camphouse points out that the padres had been allotted but ten years at each missions to convert and educate their Indians and were then to turn the lands over to their converts and the churches to parish priests. The terms were extended time and time again. During this time the church continued to expand its holdings, while at the same time the number of Indians were decimated, so that at the end, the holdings of a mission would cover thousands of acres of prime land, while the Indians could be numbered in dozens.

Each of the missions is allotted a chapter, beginning with the first, San Diego, founded in 1769, and extending northward to the last (and the most northerly), San Francisco Solano, founded in Sonoma in 1823. These vignettes open with instructions on how to reach the mission, (or its replica), complete with the visiting hours and even telephone numbers. Camphouse provides brief description of each mission’s founding, its peak period of activity, and its decline brought about by the massive number of Indian deaths and the secularization of the properties. One is then taken through that period, following the coming of the argonauts, when the missions literally melted away to almost indistinguishable rubble heaps. Then, with the turn of the century, an interest in our heritage brought about attempts to restore the churches or to reconstruct replicas of the original buildings where nothing remained of the original.

Camphouse could have included a brief story of the few assistencias (sub-missions) which would have been particularly interesting to San Diego residents and visitors, since two that still remain, Pala and Santa Ysabel, are located in San Diego County. It is interesting to note that both of these still serve as parish churches for the neighboring Indian reservations and are the only part of the vast mission project that continues to carry on its original duty of serving California’s first people.

A few minor comments may be made, which should perhaps be attributed to the publisher and/or editor, rather than the author. There is no index, nor map (even a sketch map showing the mission locations would be helpful). Likewise a chronological listing of the dates of the missions’ foundings would have been useful. A more serious complaint is that many of the sources quoted in the text are not identified and do not even appear in the bibliography. Nevertheless, the average visitor to the missions of California will find this small book both useful and entertaining.