California Genocide

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The California Genocide is the decrease in the indigenous population of California between 1769 and 1834 due to violence by the Spanish and diseases. The indigenous population of California faced many hardships under Spanish occupation and through acts of violence and disease perpetrated by Spain and other actors, the indigenous population of California dropped from 300,000 prior to 1769, to 16,000 in 1900.[1]

California before the Spanish invasion

Prior to Spanish invasion, California was home to 300,000 indigenous peoples, with the largest group being the Chumash people with a population around 20,000. The diversity of the area was shown through the numerous languages spoken, as at least 20 distinct languages are known of. Even with the great diversity in the area, archeological findings point to little to no intertribal conflicts.[1] Each group was adapted to its particular ecological zone as throughout the region there was an abundance of wildlife, including rabbits, deer, varieties of fish, and acorns. This resulted in a high level of food sovereignty and the lack of a need for traditional western farming.[2]

Spanish invasion

The Missionaries as They Came and Went. Franciscans of the California missions donned gray habits, in contrast to the brown that is typically worn today.[3]

Of the Americas, California was one of the last areas to be colonized. The colonizing force took form in 1769, by way of Spanish missionaries for the Catholic Church. The colonization was led by Franciscan administrator Junipero Serra and military forces under the command of Gaspar de Portola. The goal of this mission was to spread the Christian faith among the region's indigenous peoples. The first mission established was named San Diego de Alcalá in present day San Diego and was the first of 21 coastal missions established by the Spanish. These missions were often built near military outposts in an effort to ensure the safety of the missionaries.

Spanish attacks on California's indigenous population


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The horse and mule trail known as El Camino Real as of 1821 and the locations of the 21 Franciscan missions in Alta California.

The Spanish missions were one of the primary tools used to commit genocide against California's indigenous peoples. Indigenous people were kidnapped by the thousands, given Spanish names, dressed in blue uniforms, and forced to work on the farms surrounding the missions doing intense manual labor.[1] These tasks included caring for livestock, tanning hides, and producing candles, bricks, tiles, shoes, saddles, soap and other necessities. While being forced to complete these tasks the indigenous people were kept malnourished and in extremely unsanitary conditions, which contributed to their lack of an ability to fight off the diseases the Spaniards brought with them.[citation needed]

The missions were also the sites of forced religious indoctrination of the indigenous people. The punishment for any disobedience was severe as they were whipped, branded, mutilated or even executed. Furthermore, indigenous children as young as six were beaten and jailed for misbehaving. By 1818 the death rate of indigenous people within the missions was 81%.[4]


The Spaniards brought with them a new form of land cultivation that resembled the traditional western style of farming. This meant domestic livestock, which grazed on Indigenous tribes’ land, resulting in food insecurity for many tribes not already forced into slavery. In order to survive and remain independent from the Spanish colonizers, many groups resulted to stealing and killing Spanish livestock. The stealing of livestock and the livestock being allowed to graze on Indigenous land was the source of many conflicts.[2]


Disease was the most destructive agent in the genocide of California’s indigenous population. Diseases such as smallpox, syphilis, diphtheria, chickenpox and measles caused untold suffering and death among Indians living on or near Spanish Missions. These diseases also were the cause of many Indigenous parents handing over their children to the missions, in an attempt to save them from these lethal diseases. Violent epidemics broke out beginning in 1777, likely from a water born bacterial infection and devastated the Santa Clara Valley Costanoan area, particularly the children. Children were again the main victims in 1802 when a second epidemic of pneumonia and diphtheria expended from Monterey to Los Angeles. The worst outbreak however came in 1806 at the hands of the measles virus, killing thousands of indigenous children and adults from San Francisco to Santa Barbara, a distance of 277 miles.[2]


The Spanish invasion of indigenous land prompted many acts of resistance in an effort by indigenous people to regain their sovereignty. These attacks of resistance included many acute acts of violence, as well as more deliberate planned attacks.

An illustration depicts the death of the Rev. Luís Jayme by angry natives at Mission San Diego de Alcalá, November 4, 1775.[5] The independence uprising was the first of a dozen similar incidents that took place in Alta California during the Mission Period; however, most rebellions tended to be localized and short-lived due to the Spaniards' superior weaponry (native resistance more often took the form of non-cooperation (in forced labor), return to their homelands (desertion of forced relocation), and raids on mission livestock).[6][7][notes 1][8][notes 2]

Kumeyaay Rebellion

The Kumeyaay Rebellion occurred before dawn of November 5, 1775. It was the first of a string of indigenous rebellions that lasted until 1824. The rebellion was a result of both secular and non-secular reasons. As a result of the rebellion, Mission San Diego de Alcalá was burned down and Father Luis Jayme, along with two other Spaniards, were killed.[9]


Rape of indigenous women by members of the Spanish military was a key cause of the rebellion. Indigenous women were raped at the Rancherias of El Corral and in the San Luis Valley region of present day El Cajon and Rinconada (Jamo). In at least one of these instances the rapist murdered his victim.[citation needed] Spanish soldiers would often let their cattle graze on indigenous land, resulting in a food shortage in the region and prompted cattle thefts and armed skirmishes between Spaniards and Indigenous groups. Other attacks on Indigenous food supplies came from outright theft and from trades turned bad.[citation needed] Diseases also played a role in the rebellion as the Indigenous population within the San Diego area was declining rapidly due to the illness spread by the Spaniards. The rapid decline in population caused instability within the region and furthered Indigenous animosity towards the Spanish. Lastly, the driving cause of this rebellion came from the fear of the remaining Indigenous population that they would be kidnapped and forced to work on the missions like many others. Many Indigenous people had seen the conditions present within the Missions and subsequently, feared for their freedom and their lives.[9]


Religion is not believed to have played a large role in causing the rebellion but in 1775 there was a concerted effort by Father Luis Jayme and Vicente Fuster to gain more converts. After less than one hundred converts in 1774, Mission San Diego de Alcalá sent more missionaries deeper into indigenous territory, ultimately reaching fairly remote villages. Between July and late September of 1775 over 400 baptisms occurred. Many indigenous groups believed that to be an attack on their sovereignty; some of the Kumeyaay also believed that the priests were powerful and dangerous shaman.[9]


The rebellion took place in the early morning and consisted of around 800 indigenous people, burning down the predominately wood building of Mission San Diego de Alcalá. There were believed to be at least fifteen tribes involved including the so-called Christian villages of San Luis, Matamo, Jamacha, Meti, La Punta, Janat, Abusquel, and Mactate took part in the revolt as well as the gentile villages of Chiap, Melejo, Utay, Cojuat, Tapin and Cullamac. The leaders of the attack consisted of, Oroche of Macate, Francisco of Cullamac, Rafael of Janat, and Ysquitil of Abusquel. The mission was ill equipped to handle the rebellion and word of the attack did not reach the closest military outpost in time for forces to arrive. After burning the mission down, groups of Ipai and Tipai beat Father Luis Jayme to death and killed two other Spaniards.[9]


The Kumeyaay rebellion caused Spanish military forces to increase their presence and systematic approach to the conversion of indigenous groups. A through investigation took place after the attacks to learn whom it was conducted by. As a result military groups were sent into Indigenous lands, with orders to interrogate possible informants and bring any suspects back to the military base.[9]

Yuma Rebellion

The Yuma Rebellion occurred in the summer of 1781 in response to Captain Fernando Rivera y Moncada and his group of more than one hundred settlers over-staying their welcome at a nearby mission.[10]


The Yuma Rebellion lasted from July 18 to 25, and consisted of the The Quechans, along with their Mojave allies, completely destroying the Spanish settlement at the Yuma Crossing. Killing the indigenous alliance killed 105 Spanish settlers in the process. The Quechan and Mojave also took 257 livestock, fifteen muskets, and a half-case of pistols from the settlers, along with every item that represent Catholicism, put it in a book and threw it in the Colorado River.[10]


The key result of the Yuma Rebellion was the closing of the Yuma Crossing, making the Anza trail essentially useless, which made California for all intents and purposes an island, as the only way to reach it was by a 40–60-day trip by boat. Without consistent access to California, Spain lost further hold of its northern territories in the U.S.[10]

Other notable acts of resistance

Many other acts of resistance took place including, In 1811, Nazario, a Mission Indian cook at the San Diego Mission, was subject to 124 lashes. He then poisoned one of the priests. In 1812, a group of Indian converts at the Santa Cruz mission murdered a Franciscan missionary because of his plans to punish Indians with a cat-o’-nine-tails with barbed metal on the ends of the leather straps. In 1824 the Chumash at the La Purísima Mission revolted against the ill treatment and forced labor imposed by the priests and soldiers. The revolt was sparked by the routine beating of an Indian at the Santa Ynez mission[11]

After Spanish occupation

The violent acts against the indigenous people did not end once the Spanish lost their control of Mexico and subsequently, California. After Spanish occupation, the land was secularized and given to Mexicans who had fought in the revolution. The indigenous people were still kept as slaves by many in the region with one of the more famous cases being at Sutter’s Mill.[citation needed] Mexican rule didn't last long either as after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, the U.S. took control of California and used many of the same policies of violence against the indigenous population that it did throughout its territory.[citation needed] Franciscan friar Junípero Serra was also canonized on September 23, 2015, by Pope Francis, an action that has caused protest from indigenous communities.[12]

See also


  1. Chapman: "Latter-day historians have been altogether too prone to regard the hostility to the Spaniards on the part of the California Indians as a matter of small consequence, since no disaster in fact ever happened...On the other hand the San Diego plot involved untold thousands of Indians, being virtually a national uprising, and owing to the distance from New Spain to and the extreme difficulty of maintaining communications a victory for the Indians would have ended Spanish settlement in Alta California." As it turned out, "...the position of the Spaniards was strengthened by the San Diego outbreak, for the Indians felt from that time forth that it was impossible to throw out their conquerors." See also Mission Puerto de Purísima Concepción and Mission San Pedro y San Pablo de Bicuñer regarding the Yuma 'massacres' of 1781.
  2. Engelhardt: Not all of the native cultures responded with hostility to the Spaniards' presence; Engelhardt portrayed the natives at Mission San Juan Capistrano (dubbed the "Juaneño" by the missionaries), where there was never any instance of unrest, as being "uncommonly friendly and docile." The Rev. Juan Crespí, who accompanied the 1769 expedition, described the first encounter with the area's inhabitants: "They came unarmed and with a gentleness which has no name they brought their poor seeds to us as gifts...The locality itself and the docility of the Indians invited the establishment of a Mission for them."


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "California Genocide". PBS. Retrieved December 14, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Castillo, Edward. "A Short Overview of California Indian History". Native American Caucus of the California Democratic Party. Retrieved December 14, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Kelsey, p. 18
  4. "Gold and Genocide". RevCom. Retrieved December 24, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Ruscin, p. 12
  6. Paddison, p. 48
  7. Chapman, pp. 310–311
  8. Engelhardt 1922, p. 12
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 L. Carrico, Richard (Summer 1997). "Sociopolitical aspects of the 775 revolt at Mission San Diego de Alcalá". The Journal of San Diego History. 43 (3). Retrieved December 14, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Zappia, Natale. ""The One Who Wheezes": Salvador Palma, the Colorado River, and the Emerging World Economy" (PDF). University of Santa Cruz, California, Center for World History. Retrieved December 14, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Indian Rebellions at the California Missions". Native American Netroots. Retrieved December 14, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Native groups protest Pope Francis' canonization of Junípero Serra over role in California Genocide". Democracy Now. Retrieved December 14, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Chapman, Charles E., Ph.D. (1921). A History of California; The Spanish Period. The MacMillan Company, New York. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Engelhardt, Zephyrin, O.F.M. (1922). San Juan Capistrano Mission. Standard Printing Co., Los Angeles, California. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Kelsey, H. (1993). Mission San Juan Capistrano: A Pocket History. Interdisciplinary Research, Inc., Altadena, California. ISBN 0-9785881-0-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Ruscin, Terry (1999). Mission Memoirs. Sunbelt Publications, San Diego, California. ISBN 0-932653-30-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Paddison, Joshua (ed.) (1999). A World Transformed: Firsthand Accounts of California Before the Gold Rush. Heyday Books, Berkeley, California. ISBN 1-890771-13-9. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>