The Conquistadores arrived in the Americas in 1492, bringing with them disease and the belief that the natives were sub-human. Their goal was to create an “economy…based on exploitation, both of land and of Indian labor. The first Spanish settlers organized the encomienda system by which Spaniards were given title to American land and ownership of the villages on that land. In return for promises to convert the Indians to Christianity, the Spanish were allowed to use the land and labor any way they saw fit. This system quickly turned into something very close to outright slavery.” (Smoop.com)
Soon small pox, flu, TB, and other diseases killed millions everywhere the Spanish soldiers and priests went. Sometimes 95% of the populations died. Due to the harsh rule and high death rate, the Spanish soon did not have enough workers to work the land and return a percentage to Spain. They began importing African slaves into the Americas. The Spanish government tried hard to rule the Americas from far away Europe, but in the end they created a government style that’s still used in South America today.
“Religion was mixed with politics to create a hybrid system in what would become the American Southwest: Dominican, Franciscan and Jesuit missionaries were often left in charge of large areas in what is now Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and, later, California.” (Smoop.com) The priests brought their diseases, the harsh system of government, and their goal to bring the natives to Jesus with the founding of the Mission San Diego de Alcala by Father Junipero Serra in 1769.
He marched up the California Coastline stopping long enough to build a mission and teach the gospel a day’s length apart. Though Father Serra died in 1784, the Missions continue to be built until 1823. Mexico secularized the Missions in 1833, at which point some were abandoned, some sold, and in 1842 two became the first Catholic parishes ending the harsh cycle of disease and slavery.
In 1946, Maud R. Gunthorp published her book on the Missions. With a Sketchbook Along the Old Mission Trail is remarkably light on text and history, but her sketches and drawings give a unique view of the Missions just as they were returning to public consciousness. In her sketches, Missions are often shown as melting piles of adobe or lines of collapsed walls. In a few cases she was able to report restoration underway. Now in 2015, we have many of these restored Missions available to enjoy as architectural treasures into the next century.
"Religious Orders, The Indian, And The Conquest: Fifty Years of Dispute and Contradiction,” by Maria Paz Haro, Translated by James Dunlap