In the Garden, Before the Fall
In 1533, a Spanish expedition sent north from Mexico had discovered what its members assumed was a large island. They named it California, after a mythical land of Amazons they had read about in a popular novel. But the cost of colonizing the Southwest had proved so high that Spain made no effort to settle the new territory.
For the next two and a half centuries, California remained essentially untouched by Europeans, home to more than 300,000 Indians, living in hundreds of small bands. Then, in 1767, rumors reached the Spanish that Russian traders were building outposts along the Pacific coast. To protect Spanish interests, Mexico City decided to establish a chain of forts and missions in California, and sent a column of soldiers north.
With them went a missionary, Father Junipero Serra. He was a former teacher of philosophy, badly handicapped by an ulcerated leg, and further weakened by his habit of scourging his own flesh in atonement for the sins of others. But nothing could quell his missionary zeal. By May of 1769, Serra had arrived in California, and met his first potential converts.
found myself in front of twelve of them, [and]... I saw something I could
not believe.... It was this: They were entirely naked as Adam in the garden,
before sin.... We spoke a long time with them, and not for one moment,
while they saw us clothed, could you notice the least sign of shame in
Father Serra and his followers helped establish twenty-one missions in all -- San Diego, San Gabriel, San Antonio de Padua, San Josť -- and, on a magnificent bay in Northern California, San Francisco, established in 1776.
Near the mission at San Gabriel in Southern California, a town sprang up in 1781, settled by people whom the missionary fathers considered lazy and corrupt, interested mainly in drinking, gambling, and pursuing woman.
It was Los Angeles.
The friars believed themselves engaged in holy work. They thought it their duty to round up the Indians, to teach them to weave, make bricks, tend crops, herd cattle and to give up their old ways.
Just imagine if... a Lakota medicine person suddenly arrived in Paris,
told everybody that Catholicism was Devil worship and that they must burn
every trapping that they had of Catholicism and completely change their
world view. I don't think the French would have been as polite, but in
fact most missionaries did pretty well. People treated them with respect.
People gave them a place to live often times. People went to their services,
sometimes they even believed what they said.
The mission Indians -- called neophytes by the friars --were crowded into barracks. Hand-picked Indian overseers drove them from task to task, even to and from Mass. And when they tried to escape, soldiers were sent to hunt them down. During the mission period, from San Francisco to San Diego, three out of four of the coastal Indians perished. "They live well free," a puzzled friar said, "but as soon as we reduce them to a Christian and community life... they fatten, sicken and die."
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