Douglas H. Strong, Book Review Editor
The Conflict Between the California Indian and White Civilization: By Sherburne F. Cook. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1976. Charts and Tables. Index. 522 pages. $6.95.
Reviewed by Florence C. Shipek, author of The Autobiography of Delfina Cuero (1968).
This volume, combining six studies originally published between 1940 and 1943 in the University of California Ibero-Americana Series, makes these excellent seminal works readily available for use by the present generation of scholars interpreting California ethnohistory. The author, Sherburne F. Cook, (1896-1974), a biochemical physiologist, interested in the reactions to rapid cultural change and the diseases of human populations, pioneered in the analysis of historical sources for demographic data about Native Americans. His complete bibliography covering the extent of more than forty years research is published in the Journal of California Anthropology (1976:3:1:5-12).
Part One in this volume, The Indian versus the Spanish Mission, details the treatment received by the Indians at the missions. His thorough discussions of diet, diseases, sexual behavior of Spanish soldiers and Indians, labor conditions, severe punishments, Indian revolts, and attempts to flee the missions are unsurpassed and balanced in presentation. Cook has demonstrated that the total mission harvests in relation to population size meant that the Indians at the missions received an inadequate diet. Unfortunately, the editors placed Cook’s analysis of mission population statistics, Population Trends Among the California Mission Indians, near the end of the volume rather than following the discussion of missionization which it illustrates. Cook used the population data from the annual reports of each mission and demonstrated the general trends of an increasing death rate, decreasing birth rate, and changing sex ratio. He also points to differences in the rates at several missions (p. 442). For example, adult death rates range from 26.8 to 128.4 and child death rates from 76.9 to 353.3. The causes for these differences have yet to be determined, but I suggest that they may be revealed by an analysis of the specific interaction of each mission with its local Indian cultural variation.
The Physical and Demographic Reaction of the Nonmission Indians centers on the effects of Spanish exploration, incursions, and raids into the Central Valley and adjoining Sierras. Using reports and diaries, Cook estimates the size of the original populations and describes the population decline due to disease and raiding. Similar data for southern California remains to be studied.
The American Invasion, 1848-1870 documents the brutal treatment received by Indians from most gold miners and settlers in central and northern California. Cook also demonstrates that the Indian provided a major labor source in gold mines, and later in agriculture, stock-raising and transportation of goods. He recognized the California Indians’ ability to freely adapt to new labor forms and a cash economy but suggested that their adaptability was limited since they did not develop capital and progress beyond wage labor for others. He apparently did not recognize that, regardless of ability, lack of political and legal rights and equality prevented any form of secure ownership or capital development by Indians.
The remaining sections, Trends in Marriage and Divorce since 1850, and The Mechanism and Extent of Dietary Adaptation Among Certain Groups of California and Nevada Indians, deal primarily with those aspects of change among central and northern California Indians. Comparable studies among southern California Indians would undoubtedly reveal some differences.
This volume is an excellent preliminary study of Native California demography. However, variations in acculturation and survival rates of Indian groups will not be fully understood until studies correlate the culture of each group with each mission’s actual condition and records of harvests, births, baptisms and deaths. Further, the recent evidence for lengthy, widespread recurrent droughts (H.C. Fritts, “Tree Ring Evidence for Climatic Changes in Western North America,” Monthly Weather Review, 1965, 93:421-443) must be intermeshed with the historic to understand all California demographic data.