An Expedition to the Guaycura Nation
in the Californias

Chapter 6
: The Last of the Guaycuras

The Expulsion of the Jesuits

On June 24, 1767, while Lamberto Hostell continued to toil at Los Dolores, and Jacobo Baegert at San Luis, an edict of Carlos III, King of Spain, was unsealed in Mexico City. It proclaimed the arrest of all the Jesuits in Mexico including California, the next day, and their expulsion, an expulsion that was being carried out in all the realms of the King. The edict ended: “If after the embarcation there should be found in that district a single Jesuit, even if ill or dying, you shall suffer the penalty of death. Yo el Rey.”1 The following day Virrey Don Francisco Croix continued in the same vein: “for the subjects of the great monarch who occupies the throne of Spain, must henceforth know once for all that they are born to keep silent and to obey, but not to discuss, nor to judge the lofty affairs of government.”2

But it wasn’t until Nov. 30th that Gaspar de Portolá, the new governor of California, arrived at San José del Cabo. As Harry Crosby points out, the time the order of suppression took to reach California is a good indication of just how remote the peninsula was.3 Although Portolá had half-expected the missions to rebel in order to protect their fabled wealth and power, he quickly realized that the missionaries were docile and the wealth non-existent. His trip to Loreto took ten days, and after he had left the mining camp of Santa Ana, he found no shelter until he reached La Pasión. Or as Baegert put it, “Only once on his journey did he find human beings and shelter at a mission; otherwise, his eyes saw nothing but stones and thorns, barren hills, dry rock, and waterless creeks. The daily march was not just four or five hours, as is customary among soldiers, but ten or more.”4 And Baegert leaves us one of his typical portraits, this time of Portolá’s chaplain, now stranded in California, who “wanted to leave the country as soon as he saw that there was no one to speak to all day long and nothing to do but to sit in his hermitage, to gaze at the blue sky and the green sea, or to play a piece on his guitar.”5

The expulsion of the Jesuits in California was orderly and tempered by Portolá’s kindness. Each missionary was to make an inventory of his mission, and then they were to come to Loreto in two groups, one from the north, and one from the south. We can imagine Hostell and Baegert joining the group of missionaries from the south, and heading north, assembling at San Javier,6 leaving the life they had lived for so long behind, and the Indians, no doubt, bewildered. The Indians lamented, and Baegert tells us, “I, too, was moved to tears, and could not restrain myself from weeping all the way to Loreto.”7 At Loreto 15 Jesuits and one lay brother celebrated Mass, and Padre Lamberto held a special service in honor of Nuestra Señora de Los Dolores.8 They all departed on Feb. 3, 1768. With the Jesuits gone, Portolá appointed soldiers styled comisionados to administer each mission, and some of them became notorious for how quickly and prodigally they ran through the missions’ meager wealth.

The Suppression of Los Dolores and San Luis

The Franciscans who were to replace the Jesuits arrived in Loreto April 1, 1768 and set out for their new posts. Fray Francisco Gómez went to Los Dolores, and Andrés de Villaumbrales to San Luis Gonzaga. On July 6, the King’s visitador, José de Gálvez arrived. He had been charged with implementing the expulsion, the reorganization of California, and launching the opening of Alta California. Gálvez proved to be a man who would not let practical considerations stand in the way of his plans. In September, he decided that since the southern missions were depopulated, and therefore their lands underutilized, he would close Los Dolores and San Luis, for they could not feed themselves, and send everyone to Todos Santos, and in this way free up the resources of these missions so they could be used in establishing the missions of Alta California. On the surface it was a logical plan, but it did not take into account the fierce attachment that these Guaycuras had to their own land, and it was to turn out to be a disaster. The unwilling and unwitting sacrifice of the Guaycuras helped found the Alta California missions, and their sacrifice was great.9

The Franciscan Francisco Palóu tells us about its implementation. “For the mission of San Luís he sent Don Juan Gutiérrez, chief adjutant, and for that of La Pasión he sent Don José Lázaro, alférez of dragoons. With them he sent the necessary soldiers, writing to the two missionaries that they were to deliver to the commissioners all the vestments and other articles that were to go to Santa Ana, and charging them at the same time to accompany the Indians until they were placed in Todos Santos.

“This was done in the month of September, (1768) and the people of the two towns, Los Dolores and San Luís, who comprised about eight hundred souls, were enrolled as residents in Todos Santos.”10

The treasure of Church ornaments and vestments that the Jesuit missionaries of San Luis and Los Dolores had accumulated bit by bit over the years was to be carried off to serve the new missions being founded in Alta California except for a chalice and vestments and other things necessary for celebrating Mass which are to stay in San Luis. Palóu leaves us a detailed list of the items taken from each mission, no doubt to avoid, in part, any future accusations that the Franciscans had somehow squandered the wealth of the Jesuit missions. “From the mission of Dolores: thirteen complete vestments of all colors, three albs, two altar cloths, a new vestment with gold and silver braid and with tassels; a palio, four choir soutanes, a silver chalice, with a paten and a little spoon, a large silver cup, silver oilstocks, a silver monstrance, a silver baptismal shell, a silver thurible, with boat and spoon of the same metal, three cassocks with their rochets, two surplices, another white vestment with alb and amice, a gold-lined silver chalice with a paten and a little spoon, a pair of silver cruets for wine and water, with a little place and a bell of the same metal, some silver oilstocks, some silver cruets with a little plate, a silver cross with its pedestal, a carpet, two covers for the same, a large image of Nuestra Señora de los Dolores on linen, a copper-plate print of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, a small crib with the infant Jesus, the Virgin and Saint Joseph with several silk and gauze garments, a copper-plated stand for the baptismal font, three tower bells, and a bake-iron for making altar breads.

“From the mission of San Luís: six complete vestments of all colors, five palia with their cloths, two new chasubles, three albs, three amices, three cinctures, two pairs of corporals, five alter cloths, four purificators, two rochets, three cassocks, a new carpet, some curtains for canopies, three veils for the Virgin, a black tomb cloth, six yards of lace a third of a yard wide, a small silver jar, a gold-lined silver chalice with its little spoon, a silver monstrance, two pairs of silver cruets for wine and water, a silver thurible with a boat, a silver halo with twelve stars, six bronze candlesticks a yard high, six others three-quarters of a yard high, three others half a yard high, a small candlestick, a small altar bell, twelve silver coins and some rings for weddings, a bake-iron to make altar breads, a statue of Christ a yard high with a gilt pedestal, a copper baptismal font, and a silver shell for baptism.”11

Palóu goes on to say that all of these items, as well as those from other missions, reached San Diego with the exception of the statue of the “holy Christ with the gilded pedestal.”12 They had been loaded on the ship San José to be sent north, but after three months the boat limped back, and all the items were sent overland except for the statue, some prints from Loreto, and the bells. The San José set out again, but was never heard from.13

Padre Andrés Villaumbrales, when he set out from San Luis with his Indians to go to Todos Santos, went via La Paz and brought with him a vestment and other items in order to say Mass along the way. When he arrived at La Paz he was redirected to Loreto along with the vestment which was sent on to the frontier mission of Santa María and went with Padre Juan Crespi to Alta California. Palóu does not fail to set down this collection of Church furnishings, as well: “a silver plated chalice (which serves also as a base for the monstrance) with its paten and small spoon; some silver cruets with their little plates of the same metal and a little brass bell; a chasuble of red and white damask, with frontal piece of the same, trimmed with gold galloon; two chalice cloths, one white and the other red, with pockets of the two colors; corporals, and a frontal of the same cloth; a fine alb with amice and cincture; some altar cloths a palia, with their coverings; a purificator and an altar sconce, a carpet already used, and a copper baptismal font with its cover.”14

Palóu says that these Church items, as well as the ones mentioned before, went to the missions of San Diego, San Carlos and San Buenaventura, and so it can be wondered whether any of the original furnishings of San Luis and Los Dolores still exist in the Alta California missions. With the early destruction of the furnishings of the mission of San Diego and the generic nature of most of these items, it would take some rather extraordinary detective work to recognize them even if they do exist.

In Exile at Todos Santos

In addition to this meticulous enumeration of church materials, we learn something about the Guaycura Indians transported to Todos Santos, and none of it is edifying. Palóu paints a depressing picture of their new life at Todos Santos. The Guaycuras, he tells us, had never wanted to give up their nomadic ways and go to Todos Santos. Therefore they were “always discontented, and destroyed everything the mission had.”15 And when Gálvez, himself, went to correct them, they stole the food that had been prepared for him, and the night before he was to leave, “they stole everything that had been prepared for his journey. His Lordship was so angered by all this that it was necessary for the fathers who were there to restrain him in order to prevent him from hanging some of them, whom he had already ordered confessed. He shouted that such a race of people deserved to be put to the knife, so that they might not corrupt the others.”16 But even after this the behavior of the Indians did not improve.

Gálvez left California on May 1, 1769, and during that month a scientific delegation from Spain and France set up their instruments in San José del Cabo to observe the transit of Venus across the sun in order to determine more exactly the distance from the earth to the sun.17 But the mission was in the midst of a plague which carried off part of the scientific party, as well. Padre José Murguía went to the mission to help the afflicted, but he, too, was stricken, and feeling his own death was imminent, went on to Todos Santos. “The havoc was greatest at Todos Santos,” Palóu tells us, “for in the first epidemic at that mission more than 300 died, including adults and children. Since many of them ran away and died in the woods, the exact number could not be ascertained.”18 Palóu suggests that around 800 Guaycuras came from the two missions to the north, and Lassépas leaves us the figures of 450 from Los Dolores and 310 from San Luis. Therefore, the loss of 300 or more represented a good 40% of the total population. We can only imagine the impact of this loss on the Guaycuras who were already confused and demoralized by the move to Todos Santos.

Their resistance to life at the mission continued, and the mission staff responded in kind. Palóu tells us that two bands of Indian men and boys went to Loreto to complain to the new governor Felipe Barry that they were being maltreated by the mission mayordomo, or foreman. The governor sent word to the Lieutenant of Santa Ana to send him the mayordomo as a prisoner in order to be punished. Palóu tried to defend the mayordomo to the governor by recounting the evil deeds of the Guaycuras in the times of the Jesuits, and how under the previous governor one of the Indians had wounded himself so that he could accuse the mayordomo of beating him. Palóu and the former governor had gone to Todos Santos where the Indian women and some of the men, had accused the present missionary Juan Ramos of starving them and keeping them naked. They wanted a secular priest, instead. But the governor, influenced by the trickery of the Guaycura wounding himself, and the fact that he had previously seen how well-dressed the Indians were and what good food they received, didn’t believe them. Palóu even tells us that the mission had to hire a servant at 6 pesos a month to bring wood in for the Indians’ kitchen because if the Indians, themselves, went they would run away. Two trouble-makers were singled out and punished.

But these stories make little impression on the new governor. Palóu suggests to Barry that he have Padre Juan Ramos write a report of what is going on, but the governor is not interested. But Palóu has Padre Juan write the report anyway. No sooner had the Guaycuras arrived at Todos Santos than they attempted to run away. Gálvez’s response to this was not to question the wisdom of his original plan, but “to place a larger guard at the mission and to appoint some soldiers to do nothing else but recover the fugitives.”19 Leandro, a Guaycura captain, was particularly renowned for going out and retrieving these runaways. In this capacity he spent most of the year away from the mission, and he was handsomely compensated by clothes, mules, and a special corn patch planted for him, whose harvest he sold because he and his family received the usual mission rations. But Leandro, as it turned out, was playing both sides of the street. He brought back those he wanted to, and kept the women he wanted for himself in the hills. When he was finally confronted by the missionary, he was rude to him until threatened, and then went off to Santa Ana and told the Lieutenant there that the whole mission had rebelled. “He said that the cause of the uprising was the cruelty of the steward, who maltreated them with whipping; that he had already killed one, whom he called by name; and that he was reporting as a duty.”20

Leandro returned to the mission and then went off to Loreto with other Indians by way of the hills of La Pasión and San Luis, and gathered the runaways, and all of them appeared before the governor, claiming that the Indian who had died had not received confession. Leandro also claimed that the missionary had told him that the governor had no authority in the mission, “nor any power to remove the steward, for I alone rule here, and nobody else.”21 Clearly, Leandro had learned to play the game well. Not only does he push the button of the missionary’s supreme imperative to try to confess all dying Indians, but nothing could have been more incendiary than to bring up the delicate issue of the Jesuits who had had both temporal and spiritual power in California. Palóu tells us that the governor believed all this like the Gospel, and charges were preferred against the mayordomo, the ex-soldier Juan Crisóstomo de Castro,22 who had been the comisionado of the mission and had served without reproach. The Lieutenant in Santa Ana who investigated the charges set him free, Palóu tells us, “no doubt because he found him innocent.”23

The whole matter, however, continued to drag on with the Governor still wanting to prosecute Juan Crisóstomo, and Palóu appealing to Gálvez, and going so far as offering to renounce the mission of Todos Santos and divide up the remaining Guaycuras and send them to other missions where there would be a better chance to save their souls.24

This, at least, was Palóu’s story. But we have another account of this same incident in the form of a transcript of a hearings held by the Lieutenant of Santa Ana, Bernardo Moreno y Castro, on Nov. 5, 1771, in which he investigated the charges against the mayordomos of Todos Santos, Juan Crisóstomo de Castro and José Dominguez.25 The first witness was 25-year-old José Romero, a blacksmith at the mission, who had been in California three years, and Todos Santos a year and a half, and was described as a single man and a pardo, i.e., a dark-skinned person of mixed blood. He testified that the Indian Mateo died in jail without confession because he had eaten a dog that he had decapitated on the orders of Mayordomo Castro in order to use the blood to repair the cauldron of the sugar cane mill. In an equally unsavory case, the Indian Antonio was lashed on his buttocks which then became infected because he had eaten an old mule whose carcass he had found on the seashore, and had stolen some sugar cane. 

The next witness was Simon Tadeo García, a 30-year-old mestizo who was a carpenter at the mission and married to María Antonio. He had resided in California 4 years, and the picture that emerges from his testimony, which was partially hearsay, is not an edifying one. The Indians run afoul of the mission rules at every turn, are imprisoned and go hungry, and sometimes die. He had, himself, intervened when a servant, Juan Antonio Espinoza, wanted to beat a sick prisoner who had fallen to the ground during a work detail. The prisoner died three days later. Espinoza, himself, described as a 42-year-old mestizo widower, who had been in California seven years, confirmed the story, but put the blame on the mayordomo and the padre. The last witness was Miguel Moreno Sastre, 53, three years in California, a single mestizo who had seen a 10-year-old with beaten buttocks which were subsequently infected with worms.26 

  Fray Rafael Verger, reporting on the state of California missions in 1772, puts the number of people at Todos Santos at 170, of which 30 “have fled and are living in the woods.”27

An inventory in the Mandeville Collection of the University of California at San Diego, compiled by Melchor de Peramas, shows the state of the missions which are in the care of the Dominicans at the end of June, 1775. Todos Santos has 138 men, 93 women, 760 cows, 267 horses, 135 mules, 74 pigs, but virtually no land under cultivation, perhaps illustrating the reluctance of the Guaycuras to work. 

In 1777, Vicente Mora, the president of the Dominican missions, writes to Virrey Bucareli explaining why he cannot fulfill the orders left by José de Gálvez to move some other Indians in order to consolidate them in the missions to the south. One of his chief arguments is the disaster that had been caused by moving the Guaycura from Los Dolores and San Luis Gonzaga. He says that up until today they have not been able to live at Todos Santos in a stable way. “Their flights to the islands and the sierras of their mission have been and are from then so repeated and continuous” that up until today most of them are isolated and in the mountains.28 500 died in the epidemic, and no more than 6 can be found in Todos Santos who are not infected. If the natives had been left in La Pasión and San Luis, Todos Santos would have gone forward, or at least avoided this disaster. It is not, according to Mora’s mind, that the Indians are rejecting the idea of living in pueblos, in itself. In fact, the majority of the fugitives come once a year to confess and receive Communion despite their fear of having to live at the missions. Their resistance stems from the love of their own land, and having seen so many of their relatives die in Todos Santos. In the mountains they are strong and healthy, while in Todos Santos they become sick and flee to save their lives. “The mission of La Pasión, founded with such effort and sweat, remains in sad dereliction and in total abandonment. That of San Luis has been taken over by a stranger and his family”29 who has not earned it by his own efforts. Its new owner hasn’t done more than work the land that was already cultivated, and if it is enough to feed him, it is not enough to clothe him.

The Guaycura nation had come to an unhappy end. We have no idea how long there continued to be a few Guaycuras left at Todos Santos, nor do we know what happened to the runaways, but I would like to believe that some of them wandered around the hills of Chiyá for many years.

The Last of the Guaycuras

The quest for the origins of the ancient inhabitants of Baja California go back to the very beginning of archaeology on the peninsula. The Dutch anthropologist, Herman ten Kate, did field work in Baja

California in 1883. There he met two people who were supposedly full-blooded Guaycuras. One was a woman who was the ranch owner of San Jacinto and was from Todos Santos, and was described as “…large and of robust stature, a finely chiseled profile, a slightly curved nose, thin lips, a slightly backward-sloping forehead, small eyes, protruding jugal bones, large ears, dark yellow facial skin color.”30

The other Guaycura was Juan Villanueva of Todos Santos who was characterized “as small and having thin but muscular extremities, crooked legs, a backward-slanting forehead, strong eyebrow ridges, a large crooked nose and large mouth, big ears with very long earlobes, a dark yellow facial skin color, and a dolichocephalic skull.”31

He had also excavated seven skeletons on Espiritú Santo Island, and from south of La Paz, and found them similar to the two Guaycuras. All had dolichocephalic skulls, i.e., long, narrow skulls, which he felt were similar to Melanesian skulls, and to those of the Lagoa-Santa people of Brasil. Later, in 1909 Paul Rivet, a colleague of ten Kate, did a more extensive analysis of skeletal remains that included material from ten Kate, L. Belding, E. Palmer and Leon Diguet, and confirmed ten Kate’s conclusions.

Clearly it would be premature, to say the least, that the Guaycuras had dolichocephalic skulls, or even that Juan Villanueva was an authentic representative of the Guaycuras in general, still less of the people of Los Dolores and San Luis Gonzaga. Yet, it is a point to keep in mind when we look at archaeological considerations later. 32

In August, 1892 León Diguet took a photograph of María Ignacia Melina from Loreto who was said to be 85 years old and one of the last four Guaycuras.Her father had been half Guaycura, and her mother Guaycura. See Plate 4: 1e. 33


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