On January 7, 1831, California Governor Peter H. Burnett announced, “A war of extermination will continue to be waged between the races, until the Indian race becomes extinct.”’
Before that announcement, there was the coming of the miners and hunters, bringing the epidemics of the nineteenth century.
Even earlier, there was the establishment of twenty-one Spanish missions (between 1769 and 1833). Was this the beginning of the end?
Here, in the Mission Era, was the “first contact” between the native peoples of California and Europeans. Throughout this period, internal conflicts existed between the overly zealous religious authorities (notably Padre Junipero Serra) and the far more cautious civil, military authorities (Captains Fages, Rivera and, finally, Felipe deNeve). Padre Serra’s desire to baptize more and more “heathens” was challenged by the need for safety and caution.
The odor of scorched gunpowder filled the air in the morning, it lay in soft, blue clouds over the earth of my people.
—Darryl Babe Wilson
This was also the time when, with Spanish funds were drying up because of European wars, the Spanish were preparing to leave Alta California (or New Spain as the whole area was called then), retreating south to Mexico and Baja California.
What was to happen to the missions when the Spanish left? What was to happen to the native population (baptized “neophytes,” and non-baptized) living in the missions? They were ill-equipped to face the coming of the white man from the East. Serra and de Neve each had his answer, and those answers differed considerably from each other.