By PVE Trails & Open Space Conservancy
Spanish Mission Era (1769 - 1833)
Despite Cabrillo's discovery, and occasional trading between the Spaniards and the Indians, European settlement in California did not occur until some 200 years later, when the Mission of San Diego was founded in 1769. A couple years thereafter, the Mission San Gabriel (Arcangel) was established (in 1771). It became the fourth mission in California, out of a total of 21 missions, of which all but three were established before 1800. The Spanish Missions were established by Catholic priests know as Franciscans to spread Christianity among the Native Americans. Another Spanish goal was to transform the natives into Spanish Colonial citizens to help bolster Spanish rule. To do this, their objectives were to: convert, educate and "civilize" the indigenous population. Since it was difficult for the Missions to be self sustaining, they required some modest financial upport from mother Spain and the missionaries depended upon labor of the natives. Each Mission was allotted about 400,000 acres. Originally, the Missions were supposed to divide some of this land into tracts of lands to families of the Natives, once they adopted the religion and farming practices of the Franciscans. However, it was difficult for the Natives to adopt to such a different culture and they seldom received any land. Coinciding with the missionary effort, was the construction of presidios and pueblos, which were populated by Hispanic people. Pueblo de Los Angels was the second such pueblo established in 1781; the first was in San Jose in 1777. As the influx of settlers increased and the Mexican republic matured, along with its claims upon what was known as Alta or Upper California, the enormous land holdings of the Missions eventually led to the secularization of those lands.
The missionaries and European settlement involved the introduction of livestock, fruit, and invasive plants, which caused the plants the Indians used for food and medicine, as well as the animals they hunted, to become scarce, or disappear. The Indians were also very susceptible to disease brought by the Europeans, especially measles, smallpox and influenza. As a result, the Native American population in California declined drastically relatively quickly. Within only about 15-years after the Mission San Gabriel was established approximately one-third of the Tongva died, mostly from European diseases. Those natives that survived often learned to speak Spanish, ultimately worked on the ranchos and assimilated with the settlers. By 1900, a little more than a century after the missions were established, the Indian population for the entire state was decimated to only about 15,000 natives.
San Gabriel Mission (1900)
Plague in Palos Verdes Estates.