Find out what happened to the Natives, What the hell the Europeans were doing in California and what they were eating in this next installment of our series.
by Alexander Quebec
1542 would mark the end of the life the Indigenous Californians lived as they knew it. A Portuguese (or Spanish, no one is really sure) explorer by the name of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo made his way with his galleons up the coast of California and explored what is now the city of San Diego.
While to the Europeans they may have lacked the accoutrements that made life easier or more comfortable even amongst their contemporaries in the continent like agriculture, there was plentiful food and wonderful weather. While the rest of the world was engaged in warfare and plagues, the natives in California were living the same life their ancestors have lived for over a millenia.
Compared to what the natives were eating, the food on the galleons that sailed the ocean in the name of the king was anything but palatable.
For the Galleon crew, the diet depended on the length of the voyage and which stage of the voyage they
were in. For example, Cabrillo’s crew might have subsisted on meat and fish that was either dried, salted, smoked, or pickled. Sometimes, livestock would be carried aboard and killed when need be. Biscuits, or hardtack were also a staple, but often times ended up being infested with weevils and maggots, if that wasn’t bad enough, they were often times
hard to eat without being moistened by water or wine first. Scurvy was an issue on these ships due to vitamin C deficiencies, so the crews kept supplies of vitamin C rich foods onboard whenever possible. Fresh water was also a rationed good and when available, the crews often resupplied fresh water when the opportunity presented itself.
Cabrillo would continue to cruise up and down California, sailing by the mouth of the San Francisco Bay Area without sailing in(so close) and Monterey Bay. On a stop on what is now Catalina Islands on his return trip home, his men were attacked by the indigenous tribes there. I know you’re probably see where this is going, but here’s what actually happened; he splintered his shin trying to protect his men, which became gangrenous, and he died on January 3, 1543. To this day, his remains are likely buried there on the islands.
Others would come and explore the coast; Sir Francis Drake discovered and claimed what is now Drake’s Bay for England. Sebastian Vizcaino sailed into Monterey Bay and wrote the Age of Discovery equivalent of a glowing Yelp review of the area, with its natural harbor and fertile farmland, it would be the perfect place for Spain to establish it’s presence. In spite of these discoveries by the Europeans of this land unknown to them and due to the fact that the land didn’t offer the mountains of gold and silver Central and South America were offering, Spain wouldn’t make any serious efforts to colonize the lands for another century.
At the conclusion of The Seven Years War in Europe and Northern America which resulted in France getting kicked out of North America, the Spanish and the British were the only two European powers left on the continent. Spain was eager to ramp up its plans to expand to California in a bid to prevent Britain and Russia from claiming a foothold on the Pacific side of North America.
That’s where the Missions come into play here. The First one,San Diego de Alcala, was established in 1769. The early Missions struggled for a bit, with food shortages and disease (again with the scurvy) and were almost abandoned, but a stroke of luck kept the Missions going.
The plan for the Missions was pretty simple; let the soldiers do the soldering and the friars do the friar-ing (sacraments, baptisms, that kind of stuff). The natives were expected to do the rest. So how would the natives come to the Missions? Good old-fashioned conversion.
At first, the friars were pretty chill about the whole thing; after all, baptism is supposed to be voluntary.
The pace of the action, however, wasn’t moving fast enough for the Spanish, who then started to speed things up with the conversions to get the natives on to the Missions.
Life at the Missions was pretty great…if you weren’t a Native American.
If you were, it sucked (mostly).
For one, you’d be converted to Christianity. This in of itself isn’t bad, but without the understanding of all the baggage it comes with when you converted, combined with the Spaniards’ need for human capital to do all of the work around there, it got downright brutal for the “Mission Indians” (We’re going to use this term for the sake of simplicity). According to an account from an American visiting California, they witnessed “Christianizing padres…converted the Indians by sending the gauchos…into the field to catch them with the lasso, and mark them with the cross!”.
Once you were on the Mission, you were there for life. The freedoms the natives enjoyed in their old lives was diminished, you lived your life according to your job, the bell that was rung to inform you of what activity was to take place and the whims of the guys in charge.
Many natives died in the Missions; disease and starvation took many lives. The fact that the Mission Indians switched from a diet rich in animal protein and plants to a diet high in carbohydrates more than likely exacerbated the overall health of the natives.
Even if you weren’t living in the Missions, you were still affected. Severe weather patterns of extreme drought and rain made the food supply unreliable in some years, the livestock would no doubt have a negative effect on the local plants you were used to eating.
So what did the Spaniards eat? The food eaten at the Mission was mostly stuff they were able to bring from other parts of their empire: Chillis, Corn, Peppers, Beans and Tortillas. Some dishes that were popular among the Spaniards was called puchero, a broiled pot of beef and veal, mixed with corn, potatoes, beans, onions, peppers, string beans, squash with either an apple or a pear; relleno de carne, which was chopped beef mixed with onions, raisins, black olives and an egg.
If it was something sweet they were craving, there was dulce de calabaz (candied pumpkin), a custard
called jiricalla or champurrado, a thick drinking chocolate which is still quite popular in Latin America today.
So where did the Spaniards get all this food from? If you guessed the missions, you’re correct. The Missions were intended to be a self sufficient community of sorts; everything the mission needed it was expected to grow or make it themselves. Seeds and livestock were brought in to support the mission on its…mission. As you might recall, the natives were expected to do all of the manual labor like harvesting and tilling the soil. Crops that have never been grown in California; like citrus fruits, olives, pears, apples, corn, grains, walnuts and even a pepper tree were all introduced to California at this time, which in many ways signals the start of California’s dominance as an agricultural powerhouse of America.
At its peak, the missions were producing over 123 bushels of grain per year. That’s in addition to the Missions owning over 296,000 heads of cattle, 312,000 hogs and thousands of sheep and horses. Impressive numbers considering the difficulties of only 60 years prior.
It would only be a matter of time before the people of New Spain took down the flag of Spain only to replace it with the flag of a newly formed nation, Mexico, in 1821. Once again, the history of California would be changed forever.