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Modo de Pelear de los Indios de Californias by Tomas de Suria

Image opposite page 11.
Tomas de Suria

"Modo de pelear de los yndios de Californias," by Tomas de Suria, 1791; reproduced in Cutter, Donald C. Malaspina in California. San Francisco: John Howell-Books, 1960. Original held at the Museo Naval, Madrid.

This drawing comes from a Spanish artist. It is unclear whether he saw this exact scene or whether he drew something based on stories he had heard. Either way, it suggests that Spanish soldiers traveled to Native peoples’ villages carrying weapons, and that California Indians sought to protect themselves.

What does this drawing tell us about the role of the Spanish soldiers in claiming California for the Spanish empire? How did Native people respond?

The colonial records include many reports that indicate that Spanish soldiers abused California Indians in and around the missions. This included sexually violating Native women, and harming and killing Native men and women. Missionaries regularly reported these transgressions to their superiors, but leadership in Alta California was divided between civilian/military leaders and church leadership. Church leaders and military leaders frequently conflicted with one another over access to the land and other resources, as well as proper responses to the abuses of the soldiers. Military leadership inconsistently punished soldiers and, many times, simply moved offenders to different military posts. The continued violence led to revolts and violent Native responses against soldiers and the missions. Native people created ways to protect themselves from soldiers, including digging ditches around village sites to make it more difficult for soldiers to ride their horses into Native communities.

The disconnected structure of the missions and presidios, with each mission operating mostly independently, also contributed to the inconsistent enforcement of punishments against abusers. The missionaries sent soldiers to find and retrieve Native people who fled the missions, and soldiers also enforced prescribed punishments against Native people — both of these contributed to the frequent negative relationship between soldiers and Native Californians.

See p. 17, item 1