The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1978, Volume 24, Number 1
Thomas L. Scharf, Managing Editor


ALMOST from its beginning the pattern of settlement and missions in Alta California symbolized the growing tension between the traditional model of mission colonization in America and the reforming Spanish authorities of the late 18th century. The Laws of the Indies regulated the distances between pueblos of Spaniards and reducciones of Indians. In the case of Mission Santa Clara and Pueblo San Jose, and of Mission Santa Cruz and the Villa de Branciforte, these laws were clearly violated. The Laws of the Indies specified that the land and water within the radius of a league from an Indian reduccion belonged to the Indians.1 The code provided further that grazing lands for Spanish cattle should be distant three leagues from Indian reducciones, and grazing lands for Spanish sheep should be distant one league.2 But Pueblo San Jose was only three-fourths of a league from Mission Santa Clara, while the Villa de Branciforte was but a gunshot distant from Mission Santa Cruz.3 In both cases a stream of water separated mission and town but this was a circumstance which did little either to alter or even weaken the terms of the law. In each case the close proximity between mission and town was forbidden by still further clauses of the Laws of the Indies.4

In both instances the Franciscan missionaries, through the Guardian of the College of San Fernando, their major superior in Mexico City, objected to this patent violation of the rights of the Indians and petitioned that the towns be moved to a suitable distance from the missions. From the purely legal point of view, the argument of the friars was unassailable. The law was unquestionably on their side. On the frontier, however, the Spanish government sometimes found it prudent, for various practical reasons, to make exceptions to the Laws of the Indies. In Texas, for example, Mission San Antonio de Valero was only two gunshots away from the neighboring presidio and town.5 And so it was here. In both instances the Viceroy found it wise to hand down a decision that opposed the interests of the missionaries and Indians and favored those of the military and civil authority in Alta California. In both instances, notwithstanding the Laws of the Indies and the objection of the friars, the towns remained where military and civil authority had established them.

The arguments employed in this dispute by the religious authority on the one hand and the military and civil authority on the other have been treated extensively elsewhere6 There is no need to enter upon a discussion of them here. It is worth suggesting in this context, however, that the viceregal government, in reaching a decision in these two cases, was probably influenced by ulterior considerations that are given no explicit treatment in the California documentation of the period. The point to be stressed in this connection is that these two viceregal decisions were made at a time when some of the people, at least, who were in authority in the government of New Spain appear to have begun to change their views on the laws that forbade close proximity between pueblos of Spaniards and reducciones (settlements) of Indians. Although the Laws of the Indies opposed such proximity, some voices in the higher echelons of Spanish government were beginning to speak out in favor of it. Hence it seems plausible that this change of opinion was a contributing factor in the ultimate formulation of these two viceregal decisions. It seems preferable to consider the conclusions of the Viceroys in these two cases, not only from the standpoint of local economic necessity, but also from the perspective of Spanish mission policy on the northern frontier of New Spain. In short, part of the reason why the law was set aside in each case might well have been that the reasons for the law were questioned. The law was there, to be sure, but there is reason to believe, as will shortly be explained, that the law was approaching the status of a dead letter. Hence in the litigation involved in these two cases the legal arguments of the friars were not of great value. Instead arguments based on practical considerations and, probably, on the change in governmental Indian policy, prevailed.

In the latter half of the sixteenth century Spain instituted a policy of segregating the Indians from the non-Indian population of central Mexico—the Spaniards, mestizos, blacks, mulattoes, and mixed breeds. In the beginning of her efforts at colonization she had not done so, gathering the Indians in close association with the Spaniards in the settlements on the island of Hispaniola and leaving them, in New Spain, under the immediate direction of the encomenderos. But complaints reached the Crown that encomenderos abused the Indians, neglected their obligation of having them instructed in religion, and imposed upon them burdens that were unreasonable and unjust. Many of the clergy felt that the Indians could be properly evangelized only if they were kept at a distance from the Spanish colonists and other non-Indians. Ultimately, the Indians of central Mexico were organized in Indian towns under their own civic officials and under the spiritual direction of the friars. Legislation prohibiting the residence of non-Indians in Indian towns began in 1563. The Indians, though forbidden to reside in Spanish municipalities, were allowed to have their own districts there.7 Some Spanish towns had Indian quarters in which the Indians were governed by their own cabildos, e.g., Mexico City, Querétaro, and Zacatecas.8

Racial segregation of Indians in New Spain was neither perfect nor complete. Economic conditions required a great measure of close association between Spaniards and Indians. The major portion of the labor force in central Mexico was made up of Indians, who were far more numerous as laborers in mines, in mills, and on haciendas than mestizos, blacks, mulattoes, or mixed breeds. And in the seventeenth century, primarily for economic reasons, not a few Spanish voices were raised in opposition to the Spanish policy of racial segregation of Indians. But the policy held nevertheless, and Indian towns governed by Indian civic officials continued until the end of the colonial period.9

The same policy of segregation that applied to Indian towns in central Mexico held equally well for Indian reducciones on the frontier. Gente de razón were forbidden to establish permanent residences in Indian missions10 The same argument that required segregation for the Indians of central Mexico was equally valid for the missions. The Indians, it was thought, could not be properly evangelized unless the gente de razón were kept at a suitable distance.

In the missions, too, however, segregation of the Indians from the gente de razón was neither perfect nor complete. In the Franciscan missions of Río Verde, for example, in the late seventeenth century, owners of haciendas encroached on Indian land. The invasion of Indian property by Spanish hacendados spread like floodwaters rolling over flat land. Hacendado ownership spread so far, claimed the missionaries, that Indian villages and even churches were surrounded. Some Indians were left landless. The missionaries complained that some Indians were led away from sound moral and religious practice by the bad example of mestizos and mulattoes employed by hacendados. They even declared that sons and daughters of missionized Indians were taken forcibly by gente de razón to work in Mexico City, Puebla, or Querétaro, where they were reduced to a position of semi-servitude. As a result of all these abuses, said the missionaries, the missionized Indians were on the point of revolt. Therefore the missionaries, with the help of attorneys, had recourse to the royal audiencia for redress of grievances, specifically for the recovery of Indian property.11 Conditions were much the same in the Franciscan missions of Tampico. In some of the missions of Tampico missionized Indians were forcibly compelled by the gente de razón to work as ranch hands for hacendados, even though their own maize fields suffered from neglect in consequence12 Here, too, the missionaries found it necessary to appeal to the royal audiencia for justice. In Sonora and Nueva Vizcaya, in accordance with the law, missionized Indians were sent as tapisques to work on haciendas and in mines. Not infrequently, however, these Indians, in violation of the law, were kept away from their missions for far too long. Sometimes they were absent from their missions for years.13

The first break with this Spanish policy of segregation in the frontier missions occurred with the experience of José de Escandón in the Sierra Gorda. Escandón’s rise to prominence and success in the Sierra Gorda was little short of spectacular. Stationed as a lieutenant at Querétaro in 1721, he became sergeant major in 1727 and, in the next year, distinguished himself in the wars he waged against rebellious and hostile Indians in the rough, mountainous terrain of the Sierra Gorda. In 1734 he put down a revolt of ten thousand Indians. Though ruthless with active rebels, he was kind and generous with the vanquished. He was as thorough in correcting abuses in local Spanish administration as he was in dealing with the recalcitrant natives. He did not tyrannize over the Indians himself nor did he allow others to do so. He won for himself the esteem of the Spanish government, the respect of the Spanish colonists, and the love and gratitude of the Indians. In 1740 he was made Lieutenant General of the Sierra Gorda; in 1741 he became Count of the Sierra Gorda. When the Spanish Crown decided to colonize the region known as Nuevo Santander, Escandón was chosen, in preference to others, to lead the expedition.14

In a letter he wrote to the Viceroy on October 28, 1747, Escandón explained what he had learned from his experience in the Sierra Gorda and outlined briefly a general policy to be followed in the establishment of the new Spanish settlements in Nuevo Santander. He rejected entirely the presidio-mission system he had encountered in the Sierra Gorda. Instead of founding a chain of missions defended by strategically located presidios, Escandón preferred to build a series of Spanish towns whose inhabitants would be taken from frontier settlements—people habituated to the demands of frontier life. Generally speaking, he said, people of this kind, civilians though they were, made good soldiers. If any fighting had to be done with the Indians of Nuevo Santander, these frontier townsmen could be depended upon to give a good account of themselves. Why? Because they would have adequate incentive. With their wives and families dependent upon them, and with land of their own to defend, they would have good reason to stand firm in a crisis. This was what he had learned in the Sierra Gorda. The Villa of Jaumave, refounded by Escandón in 1743, had been a case in point. The townsmen had confronted and overcome dangers and difficulties, the town had flourished, and there was now a growing Indian mission in connection with the town.

On the other hand, said Escandón, presidial soldiers were concerned mainly about their salaries, had no lands or crops to tie them to the soil, had no personal interest in developing the country, and made no effort to attract families of settlers to the frontier for this purpose. Without either settlers or trade to promote a colony, the necessity of maintaining the presidial soldiers became greater and, in consequence, the entire project became more expensive.

Furthermore, the great leader went on, there was an additional advantage in the plan of establishing towns rather than presidios. The townsmen would naturally be inclined to make friends with the Indians, give them gifts, and induce them to help with the work in the fields. The result would be that the Indians would become more easily familiarized with the Spanish way of life-Spanish work, food, and clothing—and would learn to live like Spaniards. In the beginning some soldiers would be necessary but not many.15

Apparently, Escandón was opposed, not only to the presidio aspect of Indian reducciones, but to the mission aspect as well. It seems he wanted the Indians to live in towns with the settlers. The one who insisted on the establishment of missions near the towns, and on Indian dwellings and lands separate from those of the Spanish settlers, was Father Simón del Yerro, one of the Franciscans from the Missionary College of Zacatecas. These were the priests who had been assigned by the government as missionaries for the Escandón project in Nuevo Santander. Escandón did not oppose Father Simón or refuse his demands. Hence it was, according to Father Simón, that missions were established alongside the towns or a short distance away from them.16

From the foregoing it is evident that, if the Indians were to live in close association with the Spanish settlers, as Escandón had planned, then the missions would normally have to be located in close proximity to the towns. On this one point, then, the new method of colonization came into conflict with the Laws of the Indies. With the implementation of Escandón’s method of colonization, the policy of segregation would have to be abandoned and one of integration put in its place. With the approval of the Viceroy, Escandón went ahead with his project. By December 2, 1748, his contingent of soldiers and settlers was ready for the march from Querétaro to Nuevo Santander.17 Later, after the colony had been founded and had begun to develop, the King, in a royal cédula dated March 29, 1763, authorized the distribution of land to both Indians and settlers and granted the relaxation of Spanish law necessary for the success of the venture.18

Nuevo Santander was situated along the eastern coast of New Spain between the Pánuco River and the Bay of Espiritu Santo at the mouth of the San Antonio River, a distance of about 120 leagues. It extended inland for about sixty leagues. Escandón divided his forces into nine contingents, each under a different captain. The great colonizer himself marched from Querétaro, three other expeditions from the south in the neighborhood of Tampico, and the rest from Nuevo León to the west of Nuevo Santander. Each group was destined to establish different settlements. By May, 1749, a dozen settlements had been made. By 1755 there were twenty-four towns in Nuevo Santander with a total population of 1500 families of settlers—8,989 persons. Chosen from frontier communities, the settlers included many mestizos, mulattoes, and mixed breeds. Very many of the settlers were Indians from secularized missions. In close association with the towns were fifteen missions with 3,443 Indians.19

In some instances the missions were established very close to the towns, in others not. In Palmillas the Indians were described as living a short distance from the town.20 In Mier, where there was no mission as yet, the Indians were said to be living on the fringe of town.21 In Camargo the mission was 500 paces distant from the town.22 In Santa Barbara, Horcasitas, and San Fernando the mission was one fourth of a league away.23 In Llera and Hoyos the mission was two gunshots away.24 In Güemes the mission was distant one league; in Aguayo two leagues; in the town of Nuevo Santander, three.25

The ideas of José de Escandón on colonization of Indian territory seem to have attracted considerable attention in government circles. At any rate, one finds an enthusiastic reference to them in the report of José Rafael Rodriguez Gallardo, Inspector General of Sinaloa and Sonora in 1750. In the long document he wrote to the Viceroy, he strongly recommended that Spaniards be introduced into the missions to improve the reducciones of Indians. He complained about those passages in the Laws of the Indies that required segregation. He pointed out that in the parts of New Spain closest to the higher tribunals themselves Spaniards lived and worked among Indians. In Mexico City itself, notwithstanding the bad example given by so many Spaniards in such a large community, numerous Indians led lives of virtue. There was even a convent of Indian nuns. And many Indians had become priests. A high percentage of the population of Tlaxcala was Spanish, and the Indians, generally speaking, were very close to the Spanish way of life. Rodriguez Gallardo praised the French in Canada, who lived among the Indians and intermarried with them. He underlined the point that where there was close association between the French and Indians there was no discord between the two. This fact contrasted painfully with the readiness of missionized Indians in Sonora to revolt against Spanish rule. And, finally, the Inspector General praised José de Escandón and his new method of colonization, expressing the hope that similar methods would be employed on the Pacific coast. In the missions of Sinaloa and Sonora, he felt, badly behaved Spaniards could be controlled by Spanish justices just as they were in the more populous centers of New Spain. And, finally, he ended his account of the missions by explaining that Jesuit missionaries disagreed with one another on whether or not Spaniards should be allowed to make their homes in or near Indian reducciones. Some, he said, invited Spaniards to do so. But missionaries were changed from mission to mission. Some missionaries opposed the idea because of the old saying that the shadow of the Spaniard meant the death of the Indian. And Spaniards hesitated to accept the invitation of one missionary to stay when they might be ordered by his successor, in due time, to leave.26

In 1772 Luis Antonio Minchaca, commander of the Presidio of San Antonio de Bejar in Texas, recommended very strongly, in a report to Viceroy Bucareli, that towns of Spaniards and gente de razón be established in the immediate environs of the missions. The Spanish would then be an object lesson to the Indians in social, civil, agricultural, and industrial life.27

In 1776 the Commandancy General of the Internal Provinces was established. Shortly thereafter, in an unsigned and undated document entitled Instrucción para el Ministro de la Misión de la Purísima Concepción de la Provincia de Texas, one reads: “Dealing and communications between the Indians and the Spaniards are not only allowed but are commanded by the Commandant General.”28

From these two documents on Texas it is evident that the principle of integration advocated by José de Escandón was looked upon with favor in the higher echelons of frontier government. A few years later one finds it formally approved by the Viceroy Revilla Gigedo. In 1793 Revilla Gigedo wrote to Pedro de Acuña a lengthy report on all the missions of northern New Spain from Alta California to Nuevo Santander. His paragraphs on Nuevo Santander’s missions and the way they had developed were not altogether encouraging. Escandón’s new method of colonization had not been entirely successful in attracting Indians to Christianity and the Spanish way of life. Only eight of the missions had a resident community of Indians. Three had attached to them groups of friendly Indians, but the natives lived dispersed in the mountains, not confined to the missions. Some had Indians who offered to become missionized but did not fulfill their promises and came and went with the seasons. Others had no Indians at all. Four of the Indian nations were described as faithful and had evidently been converted. Many of the pagan Indians in Nuevo Santander still resisted efforts at Hispanization or were even hostile and warlike. Some Indians, when hungry and in need, would stay at the missions for a while or even live with the townspeople in their homes. But, when the help of the Spaniards was no longer required, they would return to the forests and mountains. Altogether, in 1793, there were 3,791 Indians included, in one way or another, among the missions of Nuevo Santander. Generally speaking, Revilla Gigedo described the towns that had been founded by Escandón as sunk in a state of decadence. They had not been successful in developing either agriculture or mineral wealth. The Indians, said the Viceroy, needed a better example from a better class of people.

Notwithstanding the limited success of the mission venture in Nuevo Santander, Revilla Gigedo, at the end of his long report, recommended that, provided they be industrious, honest, and well behaved, families of gente de razón be introduced into every mission to help, by their example and by other means, in the instruction of the Indians.29

Revilla Gigedo was succeeded as Viceroy on July 12, 1794, by the Marqués de Branciforte. On October 14 of the same year Miguel Costansó, a military engineer who had participated in the Sacred Expeditions to Alta California in 1769 and had had wide experience in this province, wrote the Marqués de Branciforte a letter in which he explained the importance of introducing families of gente de razón into the missions of the northern frontier of New Spain. There were missions, he said, that had existed for over a hundred years with no inhabitants other than the missionized Indians themselves. These Indians, he declared, were still tended by missionaries, still watched by a military guard, and still restless and inconstant. In other words, the Indians were not much closer to adopting a European way of life than they had been when the missions began. To solve this problem, to civilize the Indians, and to make them useful vassals of the Crown, the thing to do, said Costansó, was to introduce into the missions, even at the very beginning, some well-behaved and hard-working families of gente de razón to serve as object lessons in Spanish civilization. Costansó emphasized this point very strongly: “This is the plan on which the progress of those vast regions depends. For this the governors, missionaries, and presidial captains of New Spain clamor and have clamored, most especially those of Baja and Alta California.” Colonel Pedro Fages, then resident in Mexico City, was mentioned as one who had promoted this useful project by obtaining families of artisans for San Diego and Monterey.30

When Miguel Costansó spoke of missions that had existed for over a hundred years but had Indians who were still restless and inconstant and, in consequence, ill prepared for absorption into the Spanish way of life, he did not mention any one mission chain. But if one is to accept at face value the reports written in 1772 by the Queretaran Franciscans who had taken over some of the ex-Jesuit missions in Sonora, these missions can be said to indicate some idea of what Costansó meant. Most of these reports are neither impressive nor encouraging. In most of these missions the Indians recited their doctrina faithfully by heart,31 but, as if they were so many parakeets, they had no clear understanding of what it meant. Many of the Indians had a reasonably good command of spoken Spanish, but they never used the language among themselves, had no understanding of the elementary teachings of Catholicism, and in many respects, were still attached to their pagan customs and practices. Many of the Indians farmed, to some extent, in the Spanish fashion, but irrigation was a problem for them and, not infrequently, they had recourse to hunting or to gathering food in the forest. Among these Indians, one must remember, missionization had been going on for well over a hundred years. Father Francisco Roch, in a letter in which he spoke of these missions in general terms, recommended two measures for the spiritual improvement of the Indians: first, a schoolmaster at each mission to teach the Indians Spanish, especially the children; and, secondly, the use of more gente de razón to serve as examples to the Indians. Some gente de razón had already taken up their residence at the missions. More were needed. It must be remembered, of course, that these reports dealt with missions that had not as yet been secularized. One of the principal points made in these reports was that these missions, incapable of supporting a priest, were not yet ready for secularization. Other Jesuit missions in Sonora had been secularized. The reports do not deal with them or refer to them. It must be confessed, however, that these reports could have done nothing to bolster the confidence of the viceregal government in the old presidio-mission system as practised by the Jesuit missionaries.32

Further testimony on the question concerning racial integration between missionized Indians and gente de razón comes from the Franciscan missionaries of the Province of Santiago de Xalisco, who had ten missions in the Province of Nayarit. According to the report on the condition of these missions in 1807, the central government had repeatedly commanded that gente de razón make their homes in the missions for more effective acculturation of the Indians.33 Quite evidently, the Viceroys were not only interested in the policy of racial integration in these missions but were intent upon carrying it out.

A letter from Fray Antonio de San Miguel, the Bishop of Valladolid in Michoacán, to the Viceroy, in 1805, shows that interest in racial integration between Indians and gente de razón was not confined to the missions on the frontier. Speaking of the Indians of his own diocese, the bishop declared that the policy of isolating Indians in towns of their own under Indian civic officials had harmed rather than helped them. It had harmed them spiritually because the more completely the Indians were separated from Spaniards the more they tended to preserve their heathen customs and practices. It had harmed them culturally and economically because the favors, privileges, and protection provided for them by the Spanish Crown had only deprived them of an opportunity to learn to shift for themselves in the Spanish world, to stand on their own feet in their relationship with the gente de razón, to grow and prosper on the same plane as non-Indians. The bishop favored absolute civil equality for Spaniards and Indians and the abolition of racial segregation.34 The winds of change were blowing not only on the frontier but even in central Mexico itself.

Let us now consider the patterns of colonization in Alta California in the light of the experience, the ideas, and the methods of José de Escandón in Nuevo Santander, treating in order the missions, the presidios, and the towns. The patterns of colonization drawn up by Spanish authorities for Alta California may not have originated in, or even been directly influenced by, the precedents established by Escandón, but a comparison between the two provinces will be illuminating nevertheless.

According to the Echeveste Regulation and the Instruction of Viceroy Bucareli, both issued in 1773, the missions in Alta California were to be based on the principle of racial integration between gente de razón and missionized Indians and were to form mixed nuclei of future centers of urbanization. In the beginning there were to be four to six gente de razón at each mission to serve as object lessons for the Indians in the Spanish way of life. Land was to be distributed both to settlers and to Indians. Ultimately, each mission, as it developed, was to be erected into a formally established Spanish town in accordance with the requirements of the Laws of the Indies.35 In Nuevo Santander the Indians were to be evangelized and urbanized in pueblo-missions; in Alta California the same purpose was to be accomplished in mission-pueblos. In the way they were originally conceived, the missions of Alta California were a project almost as novel as that of Escandón himself. As institutions, they were not planned as a mere extension or prolongation of the older type of mission to the south. But the plan did not succeed. Settlers did not come and establish permanent residence at the missions with the purpose of building nuclei of Spanish towns. Or rather, it would be fair to say that Governor Felipe de Neve did not give the new plan very much of an opportunity to succeed. Intent upon reforming the Echeveste Regulation and in search of some immediate means of securing economic support of the presidios, he had other ideas. Instead of waiting for the Bucareli plan for the missions to develop, he decided upon the establishment of formally erected Spanish towns consisting of gente de razón obtained from the settlements of northwestern New Spain.36

In a letter to Bucareli in 1778, and in another to Teodoro de Croix in the same year, Junípero Serra opposed Neve’s plans to establish towns in Alta California. He wanted to keep to the original plan explained in Bucareli’s Instruction of 1773, and he thought the missions capable of providing the presidios with whatever foodstuffs they needed. Neve prevailed, and the towns of San Jose and Nuestra Señora de los Angeles were established, the former in 1777 (the year in which Neve arrived in Alta California), the latter in 1781.37

With respect to the missions themselves, Neve had in mind a plan quite different from Bucareli’s, a plan equally novel, even equally daring, but in a different way. He wanted no mission temporalities, no reducciones properly so called. The Indians were to be free to come and go as they wished. Except for missions adjacent to presidios, there was to be only one missionary at each mission. In missions next to presidios the second missionary was intended for the spiritual care of the presidial troops and their families.38

As has been mentioned, the missionaries contested the establishment of Pueblo San Jose on legal grounds. During the controversy Serra did not raise the question of racial integration or of moral contamination of missionized Indians by badly behaved townsmen. Yet these considerations were at the basis of the laws that had been made, isolating Indian pueblos from free communication with non-Indians. Later on, Francisco Palóu, writing in 1786, and Fr. Alonso Salazar, writing in 1796, complained about the scandalous conduct of the townsmen in Alta California as a source of spiritual detriment to both pagan and Christian Indians.39

The same objections the missionaries expressed about the townsmen they had voiced earlier about the soldiers. During the administrations of Serra and Lasuén (1769-1803) the missionaries had more than one occasion to complain about the spiritual harm the missionized Indians suffered from the presidial troops.40 When the California settlements were first established, the missionaries were willing enough to have gente de razón settle at the missions to form nuclei for future towns. As soon as social contacts began to develop between the missionized Indians and the gente de razón at the towns and presidios, however, the missionaries tried to shield the Indians from fraternization with the non-Indian population. In other words, they followed the same policy as had their Franciscan predecessors of the sixteenth century, and for much the same reasons. Meanwhile the central government evidently wished to change the old presidio-mission system and to lead the Indians into the Spanish way of life as quickly and efficiently as possible by means of integration with the gente de razón. In a sense, there was a measure of conflict inherent in the twofold purposes of christianizing and civilizing the Indians, the missionaries stressing the former, the government more intent upon the latter.

With respect to integration between Indians and gente de razón, the missionaries of the College of San Fernando, the Fernandinos, as they were called, differed from their fellow friars in Nuevo Santander. There the Franciscans of the Colleges of Zacatecas and Pachuca and the Provinces of the Holy Gospel and Michoacán, whatever their personal misgivings may have been, allowed the Indians, both pagan and Christian, to associate freely with the gente de razón in accordance with the precedents established by José de Escandón.41 There seems also to have been a relatively close association between the Indians and gente de razón in the Franciscan missions of Río Verde and Tampico.42 In Nayarit such intercommunication was required by the government. The Fernandinos, instead of being typical of Franciscan missionaries elsewhere in New Spain, were, in this respect at least, exceptional.

It is noteworthy that, except for the ever-present presidial guard, very few gente de razón resided at the missions of Alta California. In the census for 1805-1806, for example, San Luis Rey is listed as having eleven Spaniards, San Juan Capistrano as having five, and San Gabriel twenty-seven. But none of the other missions is mentioned as having any at all.43 One wonders why the viceregal government gave repeated commands that more gente de razón live in the missions of Nayarit but did not issue the same orders for the missions of Alta California. There is no documentation that gives a direct answer to this question; one can only speculate. It must be remembered, first of all, that the Spanish population in Alta California was numerically weak, so there was a strong emphasis on the practical need for building up the towns. This would do something to explain the absence of gente de razón at so many of the missions. Secondly, it was notorious that the friars opposed social contacts between the Indians and the gente de razón. Since they had been so difficult over the bitterly disputed question of whether or not there should be only one missionary at each mission instead of two (1784-1797), they might prove even more so over the possibility of badly behaved gente de razón living at the missions. Thirdly, Revilla Gigedo’s report on the missions of New Spain in 1793, already cited, shows that the government was well pleased with the economic progress of the missions of Alta California.44 Perhaps the viceregal government thought it prudent to leave well enough alone. It is clear from Costansó’s letter to the Marqués de Branciforte, however, that one reason for the presence of the artisans at the California missions was to bring about a closer relationship between missionized Indians and gente de razón. When it became evident that the artisans would have to reside at the presidios instead of the missions, Governor Diego de Borica insisted not only that Indian apprentices be sent to the presidios to learn their trades but also that the artisans have Indians as servants in their homes. Lasuén’s objections were overriden.45 It is significant that the artisans were obtained, in the first place, at the request of Pedro Fages, not at that of Lasuén. It is also significant that, on his arrival in California, Governor Diego de Borica received complaints about the loose and immoral conduct of the artisans.46

Mission of San Gabriel
The Mission of San Gabriel
From a contemporary woodcut

The Fernandinos differed from their Franciscan colleagues in one other important respect. Originally, when planning his expedition into Nuevo Santander in 1748, Escandón had invited the Franciscans of the College of San Fernando to participate as missionaries, but the Fernandinos declined his offer. Their principal reason for doing so was that, in Nuevo Santander, each town was to have only one missionary to take care of the Indians, whereas the Fernandinos wanted two. The reasons they gave for insisting on two missionaries at each mission were much the same as those that Fr. Francisco Palóu, speaking for the College of San Fernando, presented later when Governor Neve, in Alta California, wrote the Regulation of 1781, which provided for only one friar at each mission except where a second would be needed to care for the troops in a neighboring presidio.47 Actually, a list of the Franciscan missions in the Internal Provinces for 1753 shows that in New Mexico, Tampico, Nueva Vizcaya, Nuevo León, Coahuila, and Nuevo Santander the great majority of the missions were attended by only one religious. Most of the missions in Río Verde also had only one friar in charge. In Nayarit half the missions had only one missionary, the other half two. In Texas most of the missions had two missionaries.48 In this respect, too, then, the Fernandinos were not typical of the Franciscan missionaries in northern New Spain. One wonders what the policies of the Franciscans in Alta California might have been if another college had been assigned to the province. In that case the history of the missions in Alta California might well have been different in more than one way, particularly if Neve’s plan of missionization, so similar to Escandón’s original plan in Nuevo Santander, had been implemented by the friars instead of opposed. It will be remembered that Neve wanted no mission temporalities, no reduccion properly so called, and he wanted the Indians left to come and go as they wished. He was not the first Spaniard to conceive such an idea. Fr. Joseph Soler at Mission San Francisco del Ati in Sonora, in 1772, wrote that it would be preferable to let the Indians roam in the wilderness than to compel them to live in a mission.49 As a matter of fact, Neve, in his Regulation of 1781, was probably not asking for anything in the way of mission organization that had not already been developed on the Spanish frontier. In three towns of Nuevo Santander—Reynosa, Camargo, and Mier—the Indians attached to the local missions are described, in one source, as dispersed in the mountains, and, in another, as working on near-by ranchos and estancias. Mission Concepción at Mier had 160 such Indians; Mission Santa Ana at Camargo, 349; and Mission San Joaquín at Reynosa, 820. At Mier, thirty of the Indians were baptized; at Camargo, 179; at Reynosa, 128. In Revilla Gigedo’s report these three missions are singled out as different from the other missions of the province in one important respect: the Indians were dispersed throughout the surrounding area. It would seem, then, that these Indians were free to come and go as they wished, and there was only one missionary at each mission.50 In Alta California, however, the Fernandinos were horrified at Neve’s concept of what the missions should be like. In comparison with some of the other Franciscan missionaries, then the Fernandinos seem to have been somewhat cautious and conservative. They tended to be traditionalists, to follow what they regarded as the beaten track, to keep to what they considered the safer path, to shy away from novelty and experimentation. It is worth noting that the great majority of the Fernandinos were peninsular Spaniards, whereas in the College of Zacatecas, the friars who first went to Nuevo Santander, a high percentage were from within New Spain.51 The great majority of the friars of the Province of the Holy Gospel were also from within New Spain.52 The same was probably true of the Provinces of Jalisco and Michoacán. It seems likely that the friars from within New Spain might well have had a better understanding of the gente de razón, a better rapport with them, more confidence in them, more patience with their shortcomings. It also seems reasonable to assume that they would have been more open to new methods of colonization.

Having treated the missions, let us now discuss the presidios. In his criticism of the old presidio-mission system as he had found it in the Sierra Gorda, Escandón complained that the presidial soldiers were concerned primarily about their salaries, had no lands or crops to tie them to the soil, had no personal interest in developing the country, and made no effort to attract families of settlers to the frontier for this purpose. It will be observed at once that, right from the beginning, efforts were made in Alta California to obviate the difficulties mentioned by Escandón as faults in the organization of presidios. First, Bucareli required that in each presidio in Alta California settlers be established to till the soil and produce foodstuffs for the troops. Retired soldiers would be likely candidates for such a task. Secondly, he provided that the active soldiers themselves should engage, in some measure, in farming. The presidios, like the missions, were planned from the beginning to be nuclei of future urban centers.53 In his study of Governor Felipe de Neve, however, Edwin A. Beilharz points out that the presidio sites were not well suited for agricultural purposes. They were deficient both in good soil and in water for irrigation.54 In 1797 Governor Borica, anxious to develop municipal life in Alta California, required that retired soldiers reside, not in presidios, but in towns. If they remained at their presidio, they were to take their turn at guard duty along with the active soldiers. This measure was calculated to induce the soldiers to do more than make a purely military contribution to the development of the country.55

A second defect in the old presidio-mission system that Escandón had complained about was the enormous expense involved in maintaining the military establishments. In Alta California this problem was compounded by the cost of transporting freight and food from New Spain to San Diego, Monterey, and San Francisco. To solve this problem, Governor Neve promoted the establishment of towns, the primary purpose of which was to provide foodstuffs for the presidial troops more cheaply than they could be shipped from San Blas. As has been amply demonstrated, the towns made a significant contribution to the economic support of the presidios.56

Let us now proceed to a brief consideration of the towns. In Alta California the townsmen contributed to the development of the country in other ways than by farming, filling granaries with the staples of the Spanish diet, and providing homes and economic opportunities for retired soldiers. First of all, they produced youthful recruits for the presidial companies. These recruits were of great importance when, in 1803, the Catalonian Volunteers returned to New Spain and left numerous gaps to be filled in the ranks of the presidial forces. Furthermore, the towns were capable of putting into the field contingents of auxiliary troops in the event of an emergency. As a general rule, the emergencies consisted of punitive expeditions into the interior or a gathering of forces to repel Indian attacks.57 Secondly, the towns engaged the services of pagan Indians for farm labor and domestic work. According to Fr. José Señán, the Indians performed a major share of the work in the towns, plowing, sowing, reaping, and grinding.58 By the first decade of the nineteenth century, however, the number of pagan Indian workers, because of conversion to Christianity, had greatly diminished.59 Notwithstanding the complaints of the missionaries that the townsmen were an obstacle to the conversion of pagan Indians, the aborigines in question entered the Church eventually. Relationships between townsmen and Indian workers, hiring, laboring, payment, lodging, encampment of workers, etc., were carefully regulated by the comisionado of the town—that is to say, the sergeant or corporal appointed by the governor to supervise municipal administration for the townsmen.60

When the Villa de Branciforte was first planned, the citizens were originally supposed to consist of retired soldiers from among the Catalonian Volunteers together with headmen from neighboring Indian villages. Alternating with the houses of the soldiers were to be places for the Indians to make their dwellings?61 This concept, like that of the mission—pueblos originally planned by Bucareli for the evangelization of the Indians of Alta California, suggests the influence of the precedents established by Escandón in Nuevo Santander.

In conclusion, a number of observations on the patterns of colonization in Alta California seem justified:

First, one would be well advised to employ the well-worn term “mission system” with a certain measure of caution. The term implies that missions in New Spain were everywhere the same. Quite evidently, however, not all the missions in colonial Mexico conformed rigidly to the alleged model, particularly those of the Franciscans in Nuevo Santander. Quite possibly, further research into the history of the Franciscan missions in northeastern New Spain might well reveal additional departures from what has hitherto been assumed to be the general rule.

Secondly, with respect to the proximity between Mission Santa Clara and Pueblo San Jose, and Mission Santa Cruz and the Villa de Branciforte, one must observe that the law forbidding such proximity had not infrequently been dispensed with in the past. In Nuevo Santander the proximity between mission and town was not only not forbidden, it was positively encouraged. In view of the principles and precedents established in Nuevo Santander, and in view of the policy of the viceregal government with respect to racial integration between Indians and gente de razón, the legal arguments advocated by the Fernandinos in their opposition to Pueblo San Jose and the Villa de Branciforte seem relatively unimportant.

Thirdly, in the plans made for the settlements of Alta California, the Spanish government did not intend merely to prolong or extend the old presidio-mission system so strongly criticized by José de Escandón and others. The blueprint for Alta California provided for a system of settlements significantly different from those in Baja California and Sonora. In their original design, both presidios and missions were different from their predecessors to the south. The plan to make the presidios agriculturally productive did not succeed. Neither did the plan for the mission-pueblos as racially integrated nuclei of urban centers, but the ideal of a closer association between missionized Indians and gente de razón, notwithstanding the opposition of the friars, was partially realized. The Spanish government, in its approach to the problem of colonizing Alta California, did not blindly tread the beaten track of past practices and traditions. Willing to correct the mistakes of the past, prepared to experiment with new ideas, ready to change, to modify, to adjust, the civil and military authorities of New Spain and of Alta California were open-minded, flexible, resourceful, and inventive.

There were two factors, however, which blunted the Spanish effort to bring missionized Indians and gente de razón into closer association, the one with the other, in Alta California: first, the caution of the Fernandinos, and secondly, the misconduct of so many soldiers and civilians. These two limitations seriously hampered Spanish efforts to apply the principle of racial integration on the basis of which Bucareli had originally constructed his concept of the missions. In extenuation of the cautious and mistrustful attitude of the Fernandinos, it must be admitted that the friars were not the only ones who complained about the misconduct of the gente de razón. Fages himself warned his successor, Governor José Antonio Romeu, of the importance of disciplining sailors and other Spaniards guilty of excesses.62 There were several complaints, some quite caustic, about the criminal element among the citizens of the Villa de Branciforte.63 Governor José Joaquín de Arrillaga explained quite clearly the reasons for friction between presidios and missions, one of them being the misconduct of soldiers, another the lenience of the friars in dealing with Indians. And yet, at the end of the Spanish Period, Father Mariano Payeras still hoped that the missions might become nuclei of Spanish towns.64

In their actual operation and performance, the missions of Alta California probably did not differ, in any really significant way, from the earlier missions to the south. Notwithstanding the ideals and probable influence of Escandón, notwithstanding the wide acceptance of the principle of integration, the Fernandinos kept social contacts between missionized Indians and gente de razón to a minimum.

The Spanish were well aware of the defects of the missions as institutions, but rather than abandon them, they sought to modify and improve them. As Governor José Joaquín de Arrillaga pointed out, when one asked what might be put in their place as a substitute, no one had an answer. So the Spanish persevered, seeking to remedy defects, to build new types of missions, to try new ways to solve the thorny problem of transforming the aborigines into Spanish Catholics, into useful vassals of the Spanish Crown.


1. Recopilación de leyes de los reinos de las Indias, ley 8, título 3, libro 6.

2. Recopilación, ley 20, título 3, libro 6.

3. Florian F. Guest, “Municipal Institutions in Spanish California, 1769-1821” (unpublished doctoral dissertation in the Library of the University of Southern California, 1961), pp. 298-299. Florian F. Guest, “The Establishment of the Villa de Branciforte,” California Historical Society Quarterly, XLI (March, 1962), 41.

4. Guest, Municipal Institutions, pp. 301-304, 314-15.

5. The missionaries of the Texas missions on the San Antonio River to Fr. Francisco Xavier Ortiz, written at the above-mentioned missions, March 6, 1762, Biblioteca Nacional, Mexico, Archivo Franciscano (10/145).

6. Maynard J. Geiger, O.F.M., The Life and Times of Fray Junípero Serra, O.F.M. (2 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1959), II, 191-201. Guest, “Villa de Branciforte,” pp. 41-43.

7. Richard Konetzke, América Latina: La época colonial [Historia Universal Siglo Veintiuno, Volumen 22] (Madrid: Siglo Veintiuno de España, 1965), pp.194-204.

8. J.I. Israel, Race, Class and Politics in Colonial Mexico, 1610-1680 (London: Oxford University Press, 1975), p. 46.

9. Ibid., pp. 25-59, passim.

10. The term gente de razón, as employed in this context, means people who followed a European way of life whatever their race or nationality may have been.

11. Los naturales de los pueblos de Santa Catarina Río Verde, San José de Alaquines, Valle del Maíz, San Antonio de las Lagunillas, Piniguán y San Antonio de Tula, sobre que se les enteren cinco mil varas de tierra. Contradicción de Pedro Andrade Moctezuma y otros por los sitios nombrados El Carrizal, Llano del Perro, Puerto del Hambre, La Rinconada, Charcos y Salitrillo. Año de 1714. Archivo General de la Nación, Mexico, Tierras 339, Expediente 2. This archive will be cited hereinafter as AGN.

12. Auto y pedimento de el Padre Frai Jacobo de Castro de la regular observancia de nuestro padre señor San Francisco y Custodio de la de el Salvador de Tampico sobre que a los yndios de aquellas missiones se le reparten varias tierras. Año de 1749. AGN, Tierras 1595, Expediente 7.

13. Diego Gonzalez to the Viceroy, Collexio Maximo [Mexico], August 9, 1737, AGN, Provincias Internas 87, ff. 126-141. Tapisques were Indian laborers sent from the missions to work in mines or on haciendas.

14. Lawrence Francis Hill, José de Escandón and the Founding of Nuevo Santander: a Study in Spanish Colonization (Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1926), pp. 21-22. Carlos E. Castañeda, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas, 1519-1936 (6 vols.; Austin, Texas: Von Boekmann-Jones, 1936-1950), III, 137-138. Publicaciones del Archivo General de la Nación, Tomos XIV and XV. Estado general de las fundaciones hechas por D. José de Escandón en la Colonia del Nuevo Santander, costa del Seno Mexicano (2 vols.; Mexico, 1929-1930), II, 303-311.

15. Joseph de Escandón to Viceroy Juan Francisco de Güemez y Orcasitas, Querétaro, October 28, 1747, AGN, Provincias Internas 179, Expediente 2, pp. 101-103, transcript in the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

16. Diario que hizo el P. Fray Simón del Yerro en el Seno Mexicano, Año de 1749, AGN, Historia 29, p. 272, transcript in the Bancroft Library.

17. Hill, op. cit., p. 70.

18. Superior Govierno año de 1775. Testimonio de los Autos sobre la real cédula expedida, en veinte y nueve de henero de mil, setecientos setenta y tres, a cerca de la causa formada en la colonia del Nuevo Santander a el Coronel Don Josef Escandon. AGN, Provincias Internas 138, ff. 14-181. For relevant material, refer ff. 27-33. A cédula was a royal decree.

19. Hill, op. cit., pp. 2-8. Dictamen del Señor Auditor General de la Guerra, Mexico, March 22, 1749, AGN, Californias 60. Relación Instructiva de todas las Misiones establecidas en el Virreynato de Nueva España. . . Conde de Revilla Gigedo to Pedro de Acuña, Mexico, December 30, 1793. Miscelánea de Ayala, Tomo LXX, No. 2883, ff. 72-210, Biblioteca de Palacio, Madrid. Cited hereinafter as Revilla Gigedo, Relación Instructiva. For relevant material in this context, refer ff. 159-160.

20. Escandón, Estado General, I, 500.

21. Ibid., 407-418.

22. Ibid., 398.

23. Ibid., 18-19,206, 347.

24. Ibid., 99, 158.

25. Ibid., 74, 133,23-25.

26. Informe que el Visitador General de la Sinaloa y Sonora hase en cumplimiento de su obligación y superior orden de Su Excellencia comprehensivo del actual estado de aquellas tierras, yndios, simeria, comersio, modo, y forma de govierno con las particularidades mas notables. Mexico, August 12, 1950, Joseph Raphael Rodriguez Gallardo. AGN, Provincias Internas 29, ff. 396-440. Refer especially ff. 410-416.

27. Luis Antonio Minchaca to Viceroy Bucareli, Presidio de San Antonio de Bejar, November 20,1772, AGN, Provincias Internas 152, ff. 109-120.

28. Fr. Benedict Leutenegger (trans.), Guidelines for a Texas Mission: Instructions for the Missionary of Mission Concepción in San Antonio (ca. 1760) (San Antonio, Texas: Old Spanish Missions Historical Research Library at San José Mission, 1976), p. 48.

29. Revilla Gigedo, Relación Instructiva, ff. 163-171, 206.

30. Miguel Costansó to the Marqués de Branciforte, Mexico, October 17, 1794, Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid, Papeles varios referentes a Mexico, No. 19266.

31. Doctrina was the term employed by the Spaniards for the catechism used by the missionaries in teaching the Indians their Christian doctrine. It consisted of the sign of the cross, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Apostle’s Creed, the Hail Holy Queen, the articles of faith, the commandments of God and the Church, the Sacraments, the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, the theological virtues, the cardinal virtues, the seven capital sins, the enemies of the soul, and the four last things. Refer New Catholic Encydopedia, Vol. 5, p. 331.

32.Reports on the ex-Jesuit missions of Sonora, AGN, Provincias Internas 81, ff. 159-179. See also Matheo Sastre to Bucareli, San Miguel de Horcasitas, January 8, 1772, AGN, Provincias Internas 152, ff. 143-161.

33. Estado de las Misiones del Nayarit, que ocupan los religiosos de la Provincia de Santiago de Xalisco. Fr. Vsidro Cerezo, Mision de la Santísima Trinidad de la Mesa, February 19, 1807. AGN. Misiones 2, ff. 194-195.

34. Informe de Don Fray Antonio de San Miguel, Obispo de Valladolid de Mechoacán, sobre reformes que debían introducirse en América. February 8, 1805. Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid, No. 18739–35.

35. Guest, Municipal Institutions, pp. 73-76.

36. Ibid.,pp. 81-88, 94.

37. Ibid., pp. 95-96.

38. Francis F. Guest, Fermím Francisco de Lasuén: a Biography (Washington, D.C., 1973), p. 126.

39. Guest, Municipal Institutions, pp. 305-306.

40. Geiger, Life of Serra, I, 307-308, 434-435; II, 60-61. Guest, Lasuén: a Biography, pp. 242-243, 285.

41. Revilla Gigedo, Relación Instructiva.

42. Fray Andres Picazo to the Father Custodio of the Missions of Río Verde, San Miguel el Grande, January 26, 1758, AGN, Historia 30, ff. 119-120. Fray Miguel de Santiestevan to Fray Andres Picazo, Mission Santa Catarina del Río Verde, March 20, 1758, AGN, Historia 30, ff. 120-134. Noticias de las Misiones de Tampico, sacadas de papeles originales existentes en el Archivo del Convento grande de Nuestro Padre San Francisco de Mexico. AGN, Historia 30, ff. 5-24.

43. Noticia de las misiones que ocupan los religiosos de S. Francisco del Colegio de San Fernando de Mexico en dicha Provincia sus progresos en los años de 1805 y 1806 numero de ministros que las sirvan: sinodos que gozan y total de almas con distinción de clases y sexos. Monterrey, June 15, 1807, José Joaquín de Arrillaga. AGN, Misiones2, ff. 222-223.

44. Revilla Gigedo, Relación Instructiva, ff. 85-86.

45. Guest, Lasuén: a Biography, pp. 305-306.

46. Ibid., p. 302.

47. Representación a S.M. que hizo el Colegio de S. Fernando de Mexico, 1749. AGN, Historia 29, ff. 255-288.

48. En la propria conformidad y en virtud del Citado Superior Decreto de Su Excelencia en que se sirve mandar que asimismo formemos certificación de todas las misiones internas de este virreinato, numero de religiosos de cada una, respectivos anuales sinodos, y religiones a que tocan, y en que governaciones y provincias se hallan cada una de dichas misiones: en su vista procedimos a formar dicha certificación con la individualidad y circonstancias que constan en nuestros oficios y es como se sigue. AGN, Provincias Internas 14, ff. 225-242.

49. Fr. Joseph Soler to the Father President, Mission San Francisco del Ati, November 4, 1772, AGN, Provincias Internas 81, ff. 173-174.

50. Revilla Gigedo, Relación Instructiva, ff. 163-170. Also refer statistics at the end of the document. Fr. Francisco Nepomuceno Barragan to Doctor Don Andres de Llanos y Valdez, San Luis, January 19,1793, AGN, Provincias Internas 40, ff. 39-42.

51. Sobre providencias para cubrir los huecos que resulten en las misiones de la alta California a consecuencia de la ley de expulsión de 20 de diciembre de este año. AGN, Clero Regular y Secular 36, Expediente 2, ff. 97-187. Refer f. 98, where it is stated that the Missionary College of Zacatecas, at this time, had 87 native Mexican members. A high percentage of native Mexican members in the year 1827 indicates an earlier development of native Mexican vocations.

52. Francisco Morales, O.F.M., Ethnic and Social Background of the Franciscan Friars in Seventeenth Century Mexico (Washington, D.C., 1973), p. 74.

53. Guest, Municipal Institutions, pp. 88-90.

54. Edwin A. Beilharz, Felipe de Neve: First Covernor of California (San Francisco, California: California Historical Society, 1971), pp. 42-43.

55. Guest, Municipal Institutions, pp. 231-232.

56. Ibid., pp. 247-248, 276-277.

57. Ibid., pp. 368-369.

58. Ibid., p. 344.

59. Ibid., p. 349.

60. Ibid., pp. 340-345.

6l. Ibid., p. 148.

62. Guest, Lasuén: A Biography, p. 285.

63. Guest, “Villa de Branciforte,” p. 40.

64. Guest, Municipal Institutions, p. 79.

*The writing of this paper was made possible by a grant from the American Association of Theological Schools for a trip to Mexico City and a grant from the Del Amo Foundation of Los Angeles, California, for a journey to Madrid. All use of materials from the Biblioteca de Palacio, Madrid, has been expressly authorized by the Patrimonio Nacional of the Spanish Government. The author wishes to express his gratitude to all three institutions for their generosity.