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Native Testimony about Fugitivism, 1797

Passages that describe the reasons that Indians provided for fleeing the mission.
Beebe, Rose Marie and Robert M. Senkewicz.

Beebe, Rose Marie and Robert M. Senkewicz. Lands of Promise and Despair: Chronicles of Early California 1535-1846. University of Oklahoma Press, 2015.

Baptized Native people, possibly Ohlone or Miwok, who decided to leave Mission San Francisco de Asís (Mission Dolores) provided these reasons for fleeing in 1797. Soldiers probably forced them to return to the mission, and the missionaries requested that the neophytes explain their actions to Spanish authorities. Each person provided a different reason for leaving the mission. While these testimonies are from a single mission, they are good examples of the reasons that people fled many of the other missions as well.

What do these testimonies have in common? What do these different testimonies tell us about how California Indians experienced life in the missions?

Native people living in the missions sometimes left the missions to return to their home villages or to harvest, hunt, or fish nearby. Some missionaries at less prosperous missions allowed or even encouraged this so that Native people could harvest enough food for themselves. In some cases, Native people chose not to return to the missions, and sometimes they intentionally left without permission (known as fugitivism). Missionaries kept close records of the home villages that Native people came from before they became part of the mission community. The missionaries used this information to send soldiers to capture Native people who left the missions. Physical punishment, such as whippings or sentences in stockades, sometimes followed if these people were caught. These brief testimonies document the experiences of specific Ohlone and/or Miwok people in the San Francisco area who interacted with Mission San Francisco de Asís (commonly known as Mission Dolores), founded in 1776.

"Tiburcio: He testified that after his wife and daughter died, on five separate occasions Father Dantí ordered him whipped because he was crying. For these reasons he fled.

Macario: He testified that he fled because his wife and one child had died, no other reason than that.

Magín: He testified that he left due to his hunger and because they had put him in the stocks when he was sick, on orders from the alcalde.

Tarazón: He declared that he had no motive. Having been granted license to go on paseo to his land, he had felt inclined to stay.”