Rebellion: Toypurina and Mission San Gabriel, c. 1785
This account comes from Toypurina, a respected young Gabrielino-Tongva woman who lived in a village named Japchivit that was near Mission San Gabriel (founded in 1771). People considered Toypurina to be a wise medicine woman, and her brother was the village leader. Toypurina helped plan an attack against the mission in 1785. The attack was originally organized by a Gabrielino-Tongva man named Nicolás José who had been a leader (alcalde) at the Mission. They encouraged neophytes from the mission and people from outside Gabrielino-Tongva villages to join the rebellion. Spanish soldiers stopped the revolt before it fully began and arrested the participants. A Spanish soldier transcribed Toypurina’s responses to interrogators who interviewed her and the others who participated in the attempted rebellion.
Her testimony explains why she joined the attack. What reasons does she provide? Based on what you already know about Native peoples’ experiences with the missions, what could have influenced her participation in planning the rebellion?
Toypurina’s account suggests that she was upset at the Spanish missionaries, soldiers, and the Native people who lived at Mission San Gabriel. She may have been angered by the arrival of hundreds of Gabrielino-Tongva people whom the Spanish recruited from outside areas, especially from villages along the coast and in inland valleys. Some Gabrielino-Tongva communities competed with each other and had long-standing conflicts that became worse with Spanish settlement on their lands. For example, Spanish livestock ate the food that Native people relied on in villages near the missions — this intensified competition between Native communities.
Nicolás José, one of the main leaders of the attack, indicated that he was angry at the Spanish for attempting to stop Native people at the mission from conducting dances and ceremonies, such as the mourning ceremony that releases the spirits of the dead from the earth. People such as Nicolás José and Toypurina based their responses to the Spanish on their Gabrielino-Tongva worldviews. After being captured by Spanish soldiers, the Spanish imprisoned the leaders and interrogated them. Nicolás José and Toypurina were not alone in trying to lead revolts against the Spanish. There are recorded rebellions by Native people at many of the other California missions. During some of the rebellions, such as the 1775 Kumeyaay revolt against Mission San Diego, Native people destroyed mission buildings and killed Spanish missionaries.
Consider talking with students about the reasons why Native people would choose to revolt against the Spanish, including destruction of Native food sources, soldiers’ violence toward Native people, forced assimilation, harsh punishments, strict labor regimens, and high death rates. In particular, consider talking with students about the ways the high death rate at the missions might influence the perceived importance of Native dances and ceremonies, such as the mourning ceremony, that would help the dead leave the earth and pass over to the spirit world