From Savages to Subjects: Missions in the History of the American Southwest

By Norris, Jim | The Catholic Historical Review, July 2001 | Go to article overview

From Savages to Subjects: Missions in the History of the American Southwest


Norris, Jim, The Catholic Historical Review


From Savages to Subjects: Missions in the History of the American Southwest. By Robert H.Jackson. (New York: M. E. Sharpe. 2000. Pp. xvii, 151. $48.95.)

In From Savages to Subjects, Robert Jackson gives voice to the indigenous people who inhabited Spain's frontier in North America. This volume, part of the "Latin American Realities" series edited by Robert M. Levine, integrates Jackson's previous scholarship with the work of other Borderland historians into a revisionist history of the Spanish missions. To Jackson, the history of the Spanish mission program "is far more complex than the older image of pious missionaries sacrificing their lives to save the souls of savage natives . . ." (p. xi). Mission history must be understood, according to Jackson, from the perspective of what it did to Indian people.

Those familiar with Jackson's previous works will find considerable similarity here. Eschewing any semblance of a narrative, the volume is topically arranged. The chapters that form the core of the book focus on subjects Jackson has written on before: economic aspects of missions, mission construction, social and cultural changes, Indian resistance, and the demographic collapse of indigenous people. Within each topical chapter, he compares various mission regions, especially Texas, Pimeria Alta, Baja and Alta Californian. Jackson includes numerous illustrations and graphs to bolster his points.

Jackson's primary contention is that the missions failed to achieve their primary goal of transforming Indian people into a reasonable resemblance of hispanicized Catholics, but in the process significantly degraded Indian cultures and destroyed vast numbers of native people. He offers many reasons why the mission system failed. Mission economic concerns were counter-productive to native well being; mission dormitories were unhealthy environments; mission policy of segregating males and females contributed to declining fertility rates. …

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