Children of Coyote, Missionaries of Saint Francis: Indian-Spanish Relations in Colonial California, 1769-1850

Children of Coyote, Missionaries of Saint Francis: Indian-Spanish Relations in Colonial California, 1769-1850

Children of Coyote, Missionaries of Saint Francis: Indian-Spanish Relations in Colonial California, 1769-1850

Children of Coyote, Missionaries of Saint Francis: Indian-Spanish Relations in Colonial California, 1769-1850


Recovering lost voices and exploring issues intimate and institutional, this sweeping examination of Spanish California illuminates Indian struggles against a confining colonial order and amidst harrowing depopulation. To capture the enormous challenges Indians confronted, Steven W. Hackel integrates textual and quantitative sources and weaves together analyses of disease and depopulation, marriage and sexuality, crime and punishment, and religious, economic, and political change.

As colonization reduced their numbers and remade California, Indians congregated in missions, where they forged communities under Franciscan oversight. Yet missions proved disastrously unhealthful and coercive, as Franciscans sought control over Indians' beliefs and instituted unfamiliar systems of labor and punishment. Even so, remnants of Indian groups still survived when Mexican officials ended Franciscan rule in the 1830s. Many regained land and found strength in ancestral cultures that predated the Spaniards' arrival.

At this study's heart are the dynamic interactions in and around Mission San Carlos Borromeo between Monterey region Indians (the Children of Coyote) and Spanish missionaries, soldiers, and settlers. Hackel places these local developments in the context of the California mission system and draws comparisons between California and other areas of the Spanish Borderlands and colonial America. Concentrating on the experiences of the Costanoan and Esselen peoples during the colonial period, Children of Coyote concludes with an epilogue that carries the story of their survival to the present day.


I did not intend to write a book on Indians and the California missions. Like so many of the people whose lives I examine here, I set out to do one thing, only to come to the realization, years later, that I had accomplished entirely another. Having immersed myself in the highly polemical scholarship on the missions of colonial California, I envisioned a work that would examine Indians who had remained beyond the reach of missions and presidios and thereby had escaped the domination of Franciscans and soldiers. However, as I engaged with archival materials, I had to rethink my understanding of Alta California and shift the focus of my project. in the archives, I began to uncover, not just collisions, but intersections of Indian and Spanish worlds. These convergences were similar in meaning, if not in content, to those discovered by scholars of other areas of colonial America. Furthermore, I found traces of a coexistence of Indian and Spanish cultures where I had least expected: at the Franciscan missions, I encountered Indians living in their own dwellings, electing their own leaders, and practicing elements of their spiritual beliefs and subsistence economies. Equally surprising to me was the wide range of labor systems Indians participated in throughout colonial California. Indians’ economic, political, and cultural systems survived alongside Spaniards and their institutions more than I had believed possible. and I realized, too, that elements of mission life that had proved so destructive to California Indians could sustain a new inquiry. Therefore, what began as an examination of Indians outside the missions and presidios evolved into a reinterpretation of Indian-Spanish relations within those very institutions.

Scholarship on California Indians is vast, diverse, and growing, but I remain convinced of the need for a reinterpretation of Indian-Spanish relations in colonial California, and I am equally committed to rethinking how the people of diverse colonial regions such as the one described here can be brought into our histories of early America. Although this book directly addresses specialists of California’s Indians and missions, I hope also to engage general readers, historians, and students of other colonial regions who might incorporate more fully the Spanish colonial frontier and California’s native peoples into their understanding of our country’s history.

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