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6. The Mission Period
200 years after the superpowers of Spain and England first began to fight over California, Spain decided to send priests in significant numbers in order to start missions. Spain wanted the missions to serve as supply and trading posts for her galleons in addition to the purpose of converting the Indians.
Spain knew she needed settlers to keep her tenuous hold on to these new lands. England had ceased to become a real threat since the American Colonists had driven England from much of the New World. England had left something just as dangerous in her stead; English culture. Though the United States was a hodgepodge of different nationalities, English culture was the overriding tie that bound these people together.
Spain couldn't find enough Spaniards willing to leave Spain for the New World, and her attempts to convert the Indians into Spaniards was failing. The settlers in New Spain, which would soon become Mexico, were beginning to pose a problem to the Spanish as well.
Spain had made some of the same errors that the English had made with the Colonies. Spain forbade New Spain from trading with any other nation besides Spain, and Spanish settlers who were born in Spain were considered to be a higher class than pure Spanish born in New Spain. Even though New Spain had adopted the culture of Spain, the Spanish restrictions would soon drive Spain from the New World just as the English had been driven out.
The effect that the missions had on the native population was enormous. Many traditions were abandoned or forbidden. As attempts to convert the natives were unsuccessful, tensions between the Indians and the Spanish heightened. Eventually, the missions were used as a means to control the Native American population and the Indians were kept in virtual slavery at some of the missions depending on the disposition of the head priest. There were Indian uprisings and one of the missions was burned to the ground and all priests were killed.Despite the negative effect that the missions eventually had on the Indians, they did learn to excel at Western crafts. They were taught European painting and music, among other things. Since the Indians were already excellent craftspeople, they learned these new skills quickly. The mission period lasted only about 60 years. The missions were left to decay and were eventually taken over by the new state. The earthquake of 1812 destroyed many of the missions in Southern California. The missions have since been reclaimed and rebuilt and have become important historical sites.
The 1971 Sylmar quake destroyed the San Fernando Mission for the second time. Even though the San Fernando Mission was destroyed by an earthquake twice, one original building remains intact. This is unusual, because after the missions were abandoned the roof tiles were taken. This left the adobe, which is only mud and straw, open to the elements. The only reason that this building remained intact was because it was used for other purposes after the mission period ended. It has only recently been open to tourists because it had to be reinforced to meet California earthquake standards. The inside of this building contains many historical treasures including a painting from fourteenth century Spain.
7. The Rancho Period
In addition to starting the missions to gain settlers, the Spanish King, and later the Mexican government, gave people land grants to start ranchos and encourage settlers. Eventually, ranchos were given to Anglo settlers to encourage loyalty to Spain and to discourage alliance with the United States. The Spanish policy of purchasing loyalty remains to the present time as can be seen by the attempt of Argentina to offer the Falkland citizens a large amount of money to ally themselves with Argentina rather than England. The Anglo settlers tended to accept the land but remain loyal to the United States.
Some of the ranchos lasted even beyond statehood. Descanso Gardens, in the city of La Canada, was donated to the state by descendants of the original grant holder. Even though Mexicans had positions of political power at the beginning of California's statehood, most of the California Mexicans, or Californios, lost their land soon after. Even so, the Californios played a large part in early California politics.
8. Early American Settlers
By the mid nineteenth century, California had come from obscurity to statehood because of the Gold Rush which started in earnest in 1849. Even though California was now part of the United States, coming to California was no small feat. If settlers on wagon trains made it over the Rockies safely, they were often stopped by the hostile Sierra Nevada. Winter comes early and savagely and many settlers lost
their lives like the Donner party.
The most common method of travel for those that could afford the passage was by ship. Settlers would leave the East Coast and have to travel South all the way around the tip of South America. Since it is so close to the South Pole at that point, ships would have to skirt ice bergs. The only short cut was through the Straits of Magellan near the tip of the South American continent. This was often perilous since the straights were rocky and often stormy. The only other way to get to California was to get off the ship in Panama, cross the isthmus by land, and pick
up a ship on the West coast of Panama that was headed North. Many travelers died of disease crossing the tropical isthmus.
9. The Gold Rush
Prior to the Gold Rush, settlers very slowly filtered into California until 1848 when gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill. Suddenly, people from all over the world looking to strike it rich flooded through San Francisco. They traveled up the Sacramento Rive to the gold fields. The Gold Rush was devastating to the Native Americans in the area and depleted many natural resources. What is now San Francisco was once a redwood forest. Whole native tribes were scattered or destroyed. In some areas there were bounties on Indians. The California tribes still have a rich culture and heritage, but the nineteenth century was a period of great loss for all native tribes in the area.It was this discovery of gold that hastened California's statehood. On September 9, 1850, President Fillmore officially made California the thirty-first state.