The First Attempts to Christianize the Natives

In 1767 King Charles III of Spain organized an expedition to sail to Mexico, to proceed thence to the Californias and take possession of them, to build Missions for the conversion of the Indians there, and to protect and defend the country from the Russians. Before this time hordes of these semibarbarians had come down from Siberia and Alaska, and occupied northern California down to the Bay of San Francisco; had established forts, churches, and settlements along the coast and inland; opened the fur trade with the natives; begun cultivation of the lands, and engaged in those industries incident to development and permanent occupancy. Here appears not only a vital collision between two European powers to gratify their lust of conquest, but the first germ of antagonism between the Catholic and the Greek Church in the wilds of north America.

About one hundred and ninety years earlier than this time, and long before the Russian occupancy, Sir Francis Drake anchored near the bay and planted the English flag upon the coast, claiming the country for the crown of England. The chaplain of the expedition read the services of the Anglican Church, and invoked the blessing of Providence on the claim then made for the lands discovered; but it does not appear that England ever perfected her claim by permanent possession, or ever attempted to renew the same until 1847, at the Bay of Monterey, when she most signally failed.

It is a most significant fact that these are the only instances, except an attempt made by the Jesuits in 1688, where the light of Christianity, in even a single ray, ever penetrated the moral darkness of innumerable tribes of savages, who roamed, lived, and died in and among the forests, mountains, and valleys, along the rivers, creeks, and sea coast, from the Bering Strait to the Gulf of California.

The Order of the Jesuits, with their usual zeal, energy, and daring, in 1683 explored Lower California from Cape St. Lucas to the mouth of the Colorado River, and commenced missionary work among the natives; they likewise in 154o penetrated the hot and forbidding wilds of Arizona and New Mexico, among the ruthless Apaches and kindred savage tribes, seeking to win heathen to the Church, and a harvest of gold in the fabled regions of the seven cities of Cebola, along the Gila River. Fathers Kukus and John Maria Salvo Tierra traveled more than one thousand miles on foot in the heart of the deserts, mountains, and scorching plains, until, worn out with hardships, they died prematurely, leaving behind them no monuments of their enthusiasm, of the saving grace of the Church.

Return to: The Missions of California and the Old Southwest

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