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A Mission Record of the California Indians, by A.L. Kroeber, [1908], at

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From a Manuscript in the Bancroft Library.


A. L. Kroeber.


In 1811 the Spanish viceregal government of Mexico sent to Alta California a list of questions regarding the Indians at the missions, their customs and disposition in their native state, and their condition under missionary influence. This "interrogatorio" was answered at the various missions, the replies collected, and prefaced by the president of the missions with a short general statement or abstract of the answers received to each question. The compilation was presumably forwarded to Mexico, and a copy retained in the Archives of the mission Santa Barbara. There a copy was made in 1877 by E. F. Murray for Mr. H. H. Bancroft. On the acquisition of the Bancroft Library by the University of California, this copy became available for study. Through the courtesy of Professor Henry Morse Stephens, and the Commission on the Bancroft Library, the writer is enabled to present the following translation of extracts from this document. 1

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In the original, the various statements are not arranged primarily according to missions, but under the questions of the interrogatorio to which they are replies. A geographical order is however more convenient for ethnological uses and is here followed. The replies vary much in length, spirit, and value. Some of the missionaries evidently regarded compliance with the instructions of the questionnaire as an official requirement which was perfunctorily performed. In many cases no answers were given various questions at certain of the missions. Other fathers wrote more fully, but were more interested in the condition of the converted Indians than in their wild brethren or the customs of their fathers. Some, in answering those questions of the list that an ethnologist would be specially interested in, display lack of knowledge, for the replies are brief or vague and general; but others, notably the fathers at San Luis Rey, San Fernando, and San Carlos, show an exactness of knowledge that argues not only a long acquaintance but an interest in the Indian as such. It is of such replies that the extracts here given largely consist. They are only a minor part of the entire document. Other passages, dealing with the converted Indians, belong more properly to the realm of the historian of the missions than of the ethnologist; and the remainder would be of no great interest to either. In regard to what is presented, it must be admitted that many of the replies from different missions are practical duplications, and that but few are answered as a modern ethnologist would answer them; but all are truthful, some discriminating, and few prejudiced; and above all we have here, put down by observers on the spot more than eighty years ago, what the best ethnologist of today could not obtain more than fragments or traces of. Back of San Diego and San Luis Rey there are still Indians who preserve memory of the past; but in the remainder of the mission region, from San Juan Capistrano to San Francisco, the Indians are gone, nearly gone, or civilized and Christianized into a state of oblivion of ancient customs and beliefs. How little that is specific do we know of the Chumash and Costanoan and Esselen Indians! How much less of those of Salinan stock, whose former life has vanished with scarcely a trace! It is for this reason that these replies of the Franciscan fathers, however unconnected, and however incomplete, are of value.

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The Spanish of some of the missionaries was not always above reproach. They used provincialisms and terms now obsolete. Their spelling was at times more phonetic than orthographic, and hasty punctuation has made some interminable sentences. One and all they wrote as they thought, simply, truthfully, and without regard to style. The copyist, or several, through whose hands their unvarnished statements are at present preserved at the University, have evidently at times added to the difficulties of the manuscript and contributed their share toward an occasional sentence that it is hard to make much sense of. Thanks are due Professor J. T. Clark for assistance in unravelling some of the more difficult passages.

The Bancroft Library is without a systematic catalogue, and it has not yet been possible to provide any arrangement by which a given work or volume can be readily found at will. This condition renders it difficult to use the many valuable books in the Library, and almost impossible to carry on extended work with the still more valuable manuscripts. There is little doubt that the Library contains among its buried treasures a number of unpublished manuscripts that will prove to be of importance to the ethnology of California and the Pacific Coast. It is hoped that the present contribution may stimulate interest in this important collection, and may call attention to the larger opportunities for the increase of knowledge that will be furnished when it shall be possible to equip the Library with that indispensable key to its usefulness that at present it lacks—a complete catalogue.


1:1 The copy at the University of California is in the Archives of the Mission Santa Barbara, Miscellaneous Papers, volume VII, beginning at page 112, as this series of documents is at present bound and paged, and is entitled: Contestation al Interrogatorio del año de 1811 por el Presidente de las Misiones de esta Alta California, y los Padres de la Misiones de San Miguel, San Antonio, Soledad, etc. The heading of the document itself is: Interrogatorio dirigido al Ilmo Sor Obispo de Sonora, a 6 de Octubre del año 1811, por el Exmo Sor Dn Ciriaco Gonzales Carvajal, Srio intero de la gobernacion del Reyno de Ultramar, y circulado por mi, de orn del Sor Bn Dn José Joaquin Calvo, Gobernador de la expresada sagrada Mitra, y de los padres ministros de las misiones de San Miguel, etc.

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