The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1997, Volume 43, Number 1
Richard W. Crawford, Editor

Book Reviews

Indians, Franciscans, and Spanish Colonization: The Impact of the Mission System on California Indians. By Robert H. Jackson and Edward Castillo. Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 1995, viii + 214 pages.

Reviewed by Sue A. Wade, Department of History, San Diego State University.

Robert H. Jackson and Edward Castillo present four arguments related to the “California Mission-Impact on California Indians” historical debate in Indians, Franciscans, and Spanish Colonization: the Impact of the Mission System on California Indians (1995). In the volume Jackson and Castillo expand on themes initiated in earlier journal publications. Their arguments are four: First, the Franciscan mission effort attempted to subsidize the cost of Spanish colonization of Alta California focusing on Indians more as laborers than as converts. Second, despite strong Franciscan acculturation efforts, the California Indians retained significant cultural integrity. Third, the California Indians exhibited resistance to missionization in passive and largely invisible ways, which enabled later Church historians to argue the benefits of missionization. Fourth, the massive exodus of California Indians from the missions after secularization proves the lack of transformation of California Indians into the Spanish-Mexican colonial citizens. Although these argument are largely independent, they are essentially chronological and are presented as elements in the history of the California mission program.

Jackson and Castillo support their arguments with mission annual reports, account books, and population records; early Franciscan church historian Zephryn Engelhardt’s manuscripts; oral histories and reports of neophyte memoirs; William Hartnell’s 1839 and 1840 inspection reports; missionary responses to the 1913-1915 Spanish questionnaire; and previous summary studies of demographic and economic patterns in the mission period (particularly those of Sherburne F. Cook and of the authors). A major contribution of the book is the inclusion of many of these statistics and synthetic data tables in fifty-five pages of appendices. To their credit, the authors appear to have availed themselves of much of the existing secondary research and incorporated primary mission sources. Their main strength, and what contributes to the historiography of the Spanish mission efforts in California, is that they look at the data in innovative ways. For instance, while the records indicated that agricultural production declined after 1800, Jackson and Castillo look further than the extant explanation that the missions were shifting focus from grain production to the hide and tallow trade. They look at planting records in an effort to uncover the padres’ intentions, concluding that planting reflects the same level of agricultural production intention and that perhaps adverse climate and soil depletion were the cause of the decline. In a similar way, they look at the issue of supposed neophyte cooperation and acceptance of missionization. They take a new approach to interpretation of these accounts, suggesting that in fact the submissiveness and slow-witted behavior did not indicate acceptance but rather reflected passive resistance as well as psychological dislocation.

One stated goal of the authors is that these new interpretations are additionally valuable in comparison with other Spanish borderland regions. Very true; however, it is this goal that the authors leave only lightly touched, primarily using other Borderlands studies to suggest innovative interpretations to California data. There is little assessment of their conclusions in a Spanish Borderlands context. Perhaps they left that door open for a sequel.

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