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Saints and Citizens Indigenous Histories of Colonial Missions and Mexican California

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Colonial Settlements on Indigenous Land

This chapter examines the processes of colonization in Chumash and Luiseño territories and identifies the relationships that Yokuts villages established with particular missions, even as they remained independent of colonial control. Not withstanding the specific history of each Indigenous territory, a colonial geography emerged that encompassed many independent tribes. Referring to the many who fled the missions, and to the independent native societies that stole and rode the horses, the missionaries spoke of cimarrons and an Apachería. These colonial geographies associated California with the Antilles and elsewhere in northern Mexico, respectively.

The missions formed part of a long-established colonial order. At the same time, they constituted very specific places. Sites where Indigenous people built communities in which deep ancestral ties and shared cultural, geographical, and epistemological understandings still gave relevance to their lives.

The most recent explanation for how colonization developed in California rests on the idea that colonial settlement initiated changes that ultimately affected all aspects of native society and eventually propelled people into the missions nearest their land. That pattern is important to consider because it offers a general idea of the processes behind the fairly rapid settlement of California's coast. In the 1770s alone, the Spanish founded three presidios (forts), eight missions, and one pueblo (town). They placed the presidios at San Diego in 1769, Monterey in 1770, and San Francisco in 1776. Spanish soldiers protected the missionaries who founded eight missions, including the Missions of San Diego in 1769, San Carlos Borromeo and San Antonio in 1770, San Gabriel in 1771, San Luis Obispo in 1772, San Juan Capistrano in 1775 and again in 1776, and Mission Dolores in 1776. In 1777, the Spanish also established the first pueblo of California in San Jose. Nearby, they founded Mission Santa Clara that same year.

The Spanish military carefully strategized the site and pace of settlement according to their understanding of Indigenous populations and their appraisal of the potential for armed resistance. They selected sites with viable water, abundant land for fields, orchards, and pasturage, and other available resources. Sometimes they negotiated with the leaders of the territories on which they settled; at other times, they simply selected the site and built the mission.

For California Indians, the occupation of a single tribal territory by a mission, fort, or town undermined the political order that divided the land into specific areas for the cultivation of seeds, bulbs, nut groves, and other plant life. It disrupted economies governed by indigenous thought, environmental practices, and seasonal change. Seeds, in particular, formed crucial daily sustenance because they could be ground into flour and stored for later use. This required the cultivation of fields through burning, selective weeding, and other practices. The ordering of the landscape sustained economic life and the power and privileges of elites who governed each territory.Indigenous political life rested on this production of wealth through acknowledged possession of land, oak groves, hunting sites, and other resource areas. Wealth in goods to gift and exchange fostered ceremonial activities and trade between tribes.

The Spanish economy undermined this political ordering of native society. When the missions and presidios took possession of even a small portion of an Indigenous territory for buildings, and to create fields and orchards, foreign seeds and weeds easily invaded the habitats and compromised sections of the coastal valleys and western mountain ranges. The livestock they brought grew rapidly into immense herds that threatened to destroy seed fields, streambeds, and local trees. These changes began nearest the mission first, but eventually they consumed village territories at greater and greater distances away. New diseases became endemic and defied traditional means of healing, thus producing tremendous losses in each family and village community.

Tribes divided over what to do: some people joined the missions, others refused to do so for one or more generations, and some found refuge in territories where they had connections through family relations. Children, widowed persons, couples, and families from the areas nearest the missions entered first due to their greater vulnerability. Converts built the aqueducts and irrigation canals that brought water to the missions, fields, and orchards. They helped tend the livestock that found pasturage on the important seed fields that had produced so much of the native diet. The sheep and cattle gnawed at native trees like the oak and threatened the areas where they roamed. To expand and enhance their pasturage, the missionaries prohibited the burning of seed fields, eroding the management of traditional Indigenous crops. Soldiers severely punished Indigenous people caught stealing or eating livestock.

Native exchange and ritual networks began to shift under this duress as particular goods became scarce in some areas or a ritual leader or member of a family key to a particular ceremony became ill or died. These changes sometimes began long before people in a given territory had even affiliated with a mission. Initiated through contact with expeditions, the missions, and villagers who returned home from the missions to visit for the duration of their pass.

As a majority of people from any single village joined a mission, the tribe effectively lost rights over their discrete territories, although technically they retained those rights under the Laws of the Indies, the body of laws that defined imperial policy in the Americas. This political defeat of coastal societies from San Diego northward to Sonoma occurred in fewer than sixty years after the Spanish arrived. It was a period when the densely inhabited and linguistically diverse ancient societies along California's coast experienced devastation.

Randall Millikin identifies this process of multiple changes as one that produced a "time of little choice." His history of the encounter rests on "Spanish actions" and "Tribal actions" through a succession of encounters, mutual accommodation, and the social transformation of tribal life in the San Francisco Bay Area. Steven Hackel identified a similar pattern of environmental destruction that brought Ohlone people into Mission San Carlos. Hackel characterized the process as a "dual revolution" led by the destruction of the environment and the biological devastation of indigenous populations by European diseases. For Hackel these two factors structured the encounter in Monterey, California. Once inside the missions, the prevalence of illness brought the further decline of Indigenous populations. John Johnson found a similar pattern among the Chumash people, whereby the villages nearest to the mission experienced the devastation first and those at greater distances followed suit. His model is important for Chumash history.

Chumash Territory

In 1781 an expedition of settlers and soldiers arrived in California after marching north through the Yuma passing, prepared to found Los Angeles in Tongva territory, and to settle the presidio of Santa Barbara in Chumash territory. After they left the crossing in their movement northward, Quechan and Mojave warriors descended on the town of La Concepción and the remaining soldiers in the encampment of Rivera y Moncada. They killed 105 Spanish settlers and took 76 people, mainly women and children, into captivity. The captives and raided goods substantially enriched the Quechan nation "with slaves, horses, cattle, and firearms."The war closed the overland route to California until after 1821. It meant, in effect, that comparatively few would settle after 1781.

The Spanish perceived Chumash territory to be too well guarded and populous to settle without military reinforcement, and waited for Rivera y Moncada expedition before they founded the Presidio of Santa Barbara in the most populous center, on the mainland off the Channel Islands. Over a decade earlier, in 1772, they had founded Mission San Luis Obispo in northern Chumash territory, but that remained quite distant from the center. With the arrival of the expedition, they began what the Spanish would view as the conquest of Chumash people.

About 15,000 Chumash lived on the mainland and on the Channel Islands off the coast by the time of Spanish settlement, and it seems the population had already experienced illness and loss after first contact began in 1769. Although densely inhabited as a region, the autonomous polities ranged in size from as few as fifty persons to more than five hundred, and sometimes more than a thousand persons. They identified with, and usually called themselves by, the name of their autonomous territories and villages.

By 1782, the Spanish had reached an agreement with Yanonali, the most powerful leader in the vicinity of Santa Barbara. He governed the town of Syuxtun, which held a prime position on the mainland coast to dominate the bead trade that linked the Channel Islands and inland Chumash communities. Syuxtun and Mikiw (Dos Pueblos) formed the two largest Chumash coastal towns, and both played important roles in the interregional trading system.By contracting Chumash workers, the military began to build the Presidio of Santa Barbara in Yanonali's territory. According to the agreement, Yanonali would remain the autonomous leader of his town, and he and his people would not have to become Christians. They would work for the presidio in return for trade items.

Governor Neve established strict guidelines, so that the missionaries would not turn the populations of this densely settled area against the presidio and planned missions. He prohibited soldiers from entering native towns except when offering protection to a missionary. Sergeants and corporals required a special order to go into the towns. Neve also hoped to implement a vision of settlement that avoided the redución of the population into missions. His plan called for native people to remain in their own towns and villages after baptism. He wanted the missions that were being planned for the Chumash people to be religious sites. He wanted to avoid relocation and the building of farms, ranchos, and industries that other missions had developed. He anticipated that Chumash people would both continue to engage in their traditional economy and begin to work for the Spanish centered in and around the presidio.

The agreement with Yanonali gave him access to new sources of wealth in trade goods. Similar agreements with other Chumash leaders began to affect the extensive exchange network that had fostered specialization in the pre-Columbian Chumash economy. Control of the bead trade had given rise to the chieftainship system centuries earlier. The political elite brokered these exchange relations among Chumash towns. They "fortified connections between politically autonomous territories and towns through feasts, ceremonies, and celebrations and the creation of federations during particular periods." Gaining support of their leaders was crucial to Spanish colonization. At the same time, that elite confronted a new economy and set of circumstances that began to shift their regional power.

The ability to augment the wealth of leaders and villages remained key to Spanish policy. Chiefly wealth among the Chumash had involved the possession of beads and of the oceangoing canoes or tomols. The missions became part of the regional economy and technologies with their use of canoes and bead money. As late as the mid-nineteenth century one Chumash chief "supported elderly individuals who made bead money for him." The Mission of San Buenaventura negotiated with Gele, a chief of a Santa Rosa Island village of Qshiwqshiw, to purchase two tomols for the mission. The mission used the canoes to trade with the islands and to fish and hunt sea mammals.

Beads produced on the islands and sent to the mainland remained the source of currency even into the mission era, but European beads also augmented the wealth of towns and individuals who received them as gifts to forge alliances, and for their work at the presidio. During the first decade, the Presidio of Santa Barbara placed orders with their supply ships for an ever-growing number of beads, with increasingly specific requests as to their size and color. They also ordered enormous amounts of needles and pita floss from the maguey plant, which provided new technologies for stringing beads.

Trade goods such as beads, string, and needles entered the local economy during a period when the missionaries and soldiers founded the Missions of Santa Barbara on December 4, 1786, and La Purisima on December 8, 1787. In contrast to the initial decision to settle the area but retain indigenous village structures alongside modified mission sites and the military fort, the government again instituted reducíon to physically remove the Chumash population from their ancestral sites.

It seemed especially difficult to reduce some of the coastal populations to Mission La Purisima, especially because many villages nearby "could still secure their subsistence eating fish," Governor Borica lamented in 1796. He made a survey of Chumash settlements along the coast, named their leaders, and estimated the size of their populations. Emphasizing their strong identity with their towns, he noted that each group named itself after its place of origin. These villagers had resisted being reduced to the mission because of the supply of fish, he argued. Yet he had no doubt about the eventuality. He identified which mission each village would ultimately be reduced to on his 1796 map. Two years later military commander Goycoachea reconfirmed people's identity with their towns and surrounding territory. He suggested that if they could "continue to live in their own towns," they would more easily become Christians." But by 1798, villagers from other parts had begun to affiliate to Missions San Buenaventura, Santa Barbara, and La Purisima. Their populations included 766, 796, and 915 persons, respectively. (See appendix.)

Borica's allusion to the importance of fish for coastal villages suggests the strains on the local economy and populations. By the late 1790s, it had become difficult to live in those towns. Since 1794, in the areas most heavily used by the Presidio and the Mission of Santa Barbara, which included territories well beyond the coast, the seeds that Chumash people processed as a staple element of their diet had become scarce. By 1800, the region did not produce any seeds.

The absence of seeds had been especially pronounced because of a drought during the mid-1790s and the large number of livestock owned by the presidio and by the mission. By 1800, the presidio's ranches had more than 1,000 cattle, sheep, goats, cows, horses, and rams. The Mission of Santa Barbara similarly had 1,807 livestock at pasture by that date. Textile workers in the mission and presidio workshops transformed sheep's wool into blankets for fresadas or blanket-like cloaks. Native workers at the missions also raised 2,885 bushels of wheat, barley, corn, beans, and vegetables.

Many argue that migration into the missions enabled people to survive as traditional foods became more difficult to find and disease proliferated. In 1797, Yanonali received baptism with the stipulation that his people would remain in their village of Syuxtun after their conversions. But within a few years, his village had relocated to Mission Santa Barbara. Indeed, during the decade after 1797, waves of Chumash people entered the missions. The Chumash missions would grow to have their largest populations in the first decade of the nineteenth century.

Autonomous Regions in the Chumash Interior

The continuous movement of people back and forth between the missions and their villages of origin spread the influence of the mission well beyond the areas in the immediate vicinity. This created another way that themissions' diseases, goods, and ideas spread to autonomous territories. The missionaries at Santa Barbara reported in 1800 that one-fifth of their total population would commonly be away from the mission with a one-week or two-week pass, depending on how far away their territories remained. Every Sunday after mass at the door of the presidio, the missionaries or an Indian official read the names of the neophytes allowed to leave, putting their names in a book. No one got a pass during the wheat harvest, but at its conclusion, the missionaries gave all of those who worked in the harvest a two-week pass. If people did not return to the mission when their passes expired, other Indians were sent after them to bring them back. Runaways or delinquents were whipped, although the missionaries offered certain indulgences depending on the circumstances. The possibility of violent reprisal always existed.

This reducíon had affected the town of Soxtonokmu', a day's walk from Santa Barbara. By 1798, nearly a fifth of the village had already affiliated to either Mission La Purisima or Santa Barbara. Only 168 people remained in the village at that point. Soxtonokmu' constituted one of the largest villages in the northern interior of Chumash territory, and it had extensive trade and marriage ties to coastal and island villages. Some people may have followed their relatives from other villages into the missions. Soxtonokmu' was located at the foot of the mountains, near where Mission La Purisima obtained pine wood. The town had integrated glass trade beads, metal objects, and mission pottery into its life ways during this extended period (1772-98) of contact and exchange with the missions. Earlier, in 1794, Indigenous Christians and non-Christians were invited to plan a war against Mission San Luis Obispo to the north, and four of the people from Soxtonokmu' had been incarcerated for "training to fight with soldiers."

On a visit to the village in 1798, Sergeant Cota asked the leader if he and his people would become Christians. The chief remained noncommittal and said he would speak to the commander of the presidio. This exploratory expedition to the interior took place on October 17 to 20, 1798, to further define the interior village territories with the intention of forging a new mission therein. Fray Tapis of Mission Santa Barbara, and a group of soldiers identified thirteen independent territories. He took a count of the houses. The largest towns of Soxtonokmu' and Kalawasak (Calahuasa in Spanish) had fifty and thirty houses, respectively. The majority of territories had villages with around twenty houses. When the missionaries passed by Kalawasak they found a number of the inhabitants to be gone, some attending the Fiesta de Saspili and others in the mountains picking yslay (wild cherry). The political and economic life of these villages persisted together with the new material culture that villages like Soxtonokmu' engaged in. Just as the population of Soxtonokmu' already had relatives in the missions, some people from all of the villages in this region had left to join coastal missions.

The missionaries located a spot for the mission near the town of Alaxulapu (also Lajulapu and Alajulapu). Alaxulapu had land to grow sufficient quantities of wheat and corn; trees for wood; excellent access to water; good stones for building; brown clay for tiles; and ample pastureland for livestock. Though Fray Tápis decided where to place the mission in 1798, the Spanish did not begin to build it until 1804. In the intervening six years, the three coastal missions grew to their largest sizes.

By1802, more than 60 percent of the coastal and interior Chumash had abandoned their traditional villages and lived in the missions. In 1803 alone, more than 1,000 people joined one of the three coastal missions, abandoning still more villages. By1803, Mission Santa Barbara reached its largest size with 1,792 people. One year later, in 1804, La Purisima reached its population height of 1,520 people. The pattern identified previously-whereby the villages closest to the missions tended to be the first to be abandoned-could be found in Chumash territory. When two missionaries and a few hundred native people returned to the site to build Santa Ines, many of those Christian Chumash had recently entered a mission in the wave of affiliations that took place in preceding three years.

Mission Santa Ines

The founding of the Mission Santa Ines on September 17, 1804, relied on 112 Chumash people born in villages in the vicinity of the mission site who had earlier affiliated to Santa Barbara and 113 affiliated to Mission La Purisima. This large core of 225 people acted as interpreters, laborers, and godparents. They had placed the act of faith and the prayer for receiving the Viaticum, a ritual that often accompanied the Eucharist at death, in the Indian language of Santa Ines by its founding. The very formation of the mission at Santa Ines offers an example of how traditional leaders and others gave meaning to a translated Christianity, and offered, through many means, sustenance to their tribal and mission communities.

Fray Tapis initially called it "the Mission of Alaajulapu," acknowledging the native territory on which it settled. He accepted three chiefs of the nearby villages of Kalawasak, Soctonokmu', and Hawamiw (Ahuama) as the first to join. They "clothed themselves and were enlisted for catechetical instruction." Five children from Hawamiw also received baptism, as did three from Kalawasak and four from three other villages. Raymundo Carrillo, from the Presidio of Santa Barbara, served as their godparent.

The first girl to receive the name of Ines, the patron saint of the mission, was baptized at the age of six. Born at Soxtonokmu', her father was one of the Chumash who came back to the region from Mission La Purisima to help establish the mission. Her mother had not yet affiliated with the missions. Francisca, wife of the retired Sergeant José Maria Ortega of Rancho del Refugio, one of the few ranches then granted to retired military personnel in the region, acted as the madrina or godmother of these first fifteen girls. In the ensuing weeks and months, parents brought their children in from the surrounding villages. Baptized and renamed, they returned to the villages until their parents also affiliated. At the age of nine, considered adulthood, the missionaries removed them from their families to live in dormitories thereafter until their marriages.

The godparents assumed responsibility for the Catholic education and the spiritual and physical well-being of these new Christians, and almost immediately, the vast majority of godparents came from the Chumash population. These relationships created a strong bond in the new context that was often built on former relationships. They created a Christianity conveyed through indigenous sponsors, commonly relatives of those baptized. The selection of Chumash godparents began within weeks of the founding. On September 24, 1804, a three-year-old girl would be baptized by her godmother Ana Victoria, who was married to Clemente, who had returned to the region from La Purisima. For the next nine children baptized that day, Alhanasco, described as married to Catalina, assumed the position of godfather to the boys, and Catalina acted as the godmother of the girls. On October 4, 1804, a recently born baby received the name Miguel at baptism. He was the son of Cesario Sulucumairet and Cristina; both had initially affiliated to Mission Santa Barbara. A man named Maria Momoguis, previously from Santa Barbara, acted as their child's godparent.

Similarly, on November 22, 1804, Alonso Huasuucahuayol and Benita, who had returned to the region from Santa Barbara, baptized their child María Gertrudis. The godmother was Ana, wife of Augustín Matiamahuilaus, both of whom had also returned to this region from Mission Santa Barbara. Of the thirty-two adults baptized in early to mid-December, Alonso, "married to Benita," served as godfather to the men, and Ana, "wife of Augustín," as godmother to the women. Both had relocated to Santa Ines from Mission Santa Barbara.

By December 16, 1804, adult relatives of Chumash people who had returned from Santa Barbara and La Purisima were receiving Catholic instruction as wives, mothers, daughters, and fathers joined their relatives at the mission. Two relatives of Antonio de Padua, from Santa Barbara, joined the mission from the village of Kalawasak. On December 28, 1804, the thirty-five-year-old captain of Silihuasiol, father of Luisa, was baptized as Nicolas.

Within the first four months, 112 people from this region became baptized, and most of their godparents were from their villages, even family members, and recent affiliates themselves. During 1805 and 1806, fifty-two more people returned to live at Mission Santa Ines from Missions Santa Barbara and La Purisima and reinforced this pattern. They too had come from the region. They returned at a time of mass baptism, when another 259 people joined from the surrounding territories. An 1806 measles epidemic that spread throughout California cut into those numbers. Between 1806 and 1808, the number of people baptized at Santa Ines nearly equaled the number who died: the missionary baptized seventy-two and buried sixty-eight people.

Within a few years of the mission's founding, people recently baptized at Santa Ines started acting as the godparents of new affiliates. They passed on a religion that their Indigenous godparents from the older missions had taught them. By 1810, the mission experienced its peak year of growth, when one hundred people affiliated from the surrounding towns and villages. Santa Ines reached its largest size of 628 people.

After 1810, older people who had refused to join the mission started affiliating. They seem to have come only when they could no longer sustain themselves in villages that most of the young had left. Between 1810 and 1811 those baptized tended to be between forty and eighty years of age, and some came to the mission in their nineties. Sometimes their own children acted as their godparents, as in the case of a man from Kalawasak whose son had been baptized much earlier at Mission Santa Barbara. Until around 1814, a handful of younger adults who had remained in their villages, or came in from more distant villages in the mountains to the east, continued to be baptized each year.

Until 1815, the mission population at Santa Ines came from the region around the mission and included older and newer Christians who sponsored their relatives and tribal members. Thereafter, the mission experienced an important migration from island communities that had survived more than thirty years, as the mainland Chumash with whom they had strong and steady economic relations became incorporated into the missions. The missions began expeditions to the islands in 1815, and people, primarily from Wima or Santa Rose Island, began to affiliate to Mission Santa Ines. The majority of the islanders migrated to Santa Ines in 1815 and 1816, which increased Santa Ines's population to its largest size of 768 people in 1816. This diversifying of the origins of the mission population took place during a time marked by a tragically high number of deaths. Between 1816 and 1818, 154 persons died, including young children, new affiliates, and the longer resident adult population. Despite the influx of people, the population declined to 681 people by the end of 1818.

Just two decades prior to this, the Spanish envisioned their founding of Santa Ines as part of the completion of a chain of coastal missions. It would "end the conquest of all the inhabitants from San Diego to San Francisco, between the mountains and the ocean." During the 1790s the conquest had involved building a third town-the Villa de Branciforte, founded in 1791-and seven missions: Missions Soledad and Santa Cruz in 1791; San Miguel, San José, San Fernando, and San Juan Bautista in 1797; and, in 1798, Mission San Luis Rey. In l804, Mission Santa Ines was the last mission in what is a tier of establishments influenced by the Indigenous people active as translators, interpreters, and godparents at their founding.

Luiseño Territory

Without fear of being mistaken ... none of the others have equaled these in grasping the purpose of our efforts.

-Fray Fermín Francisco de Lasuén, 1797

In 1798, as the Spanish began to explore for a site to establish Mission Santa Ines in Chumash territory, they also searched for a site to establish Mission San Luis Rey in Luiseño territory to the south. The Spanish had traveled through Luiseño territory for nearly a quarter of a century to reach all points north from the Presidio and the Mission of San Diego. Yet their records neither commented on the society they passed through nor the interactions and changes they witnessed due to the growth of colonial society to the north and south of Luiseño borders. The increase in disease in Luiseño territory, and the slow shift in power relations regionally, led some chiefs of Luiseño territories to welcome the establishment of a mission there by 1795, when the explorations for a mission site resumed after the first exploration in 1769.

During Governor Portillo's exploratory expedition in 1769, the population did not express a willingness to be settled. Instead, a group of about forty painted and heavily armed Luiseño warriors appeared to accompany the Spanish as they traveled uninvited through the territory. Juan Crespí, the missionary who recorded the journey and located potential mission sites, described the valley as "vastly large, handsome, all very green valley, seemingly all cultivated because it is so green everywhere." He noted lush grasses and tall plants in a valley that measured about two leagues from northeast to southwest, with a varying width from a half to a full league.It had large, deep, spring-fed pools that watered the soil, but dry streambeds. The expedition camped on a level area, where two large villages, too distant to see from the camp, occupied each end of the plane.

Again, a group of about forty heavily armed and painted men from one of the villages approached the camp as they settled. The expedition went out to meet them as they approached. Their leader made a long speech to the expedition, which the translators claimed they could not understand. The translators presumably came from San Diego, and although many people in Luiseño villages might have understood their language, Luiseños' - pronunciation and speech depended on deep traditions associated with their status and village. Afterward the Spaniards and villagers sat down and placed their weapons on the ground. The governor brought out beads and asked the missionaries Juan Crespí and Francisco Gómez to distribute them. The Indigenous leader made Governor Portolá a present of four very good-sized nets used for hunting and fishing and made a "long speech to him inviting us, or so we understood, to visit their village." Afterward, the fifty-two women and children who followed the men approached the gathering, and the women similarly accepted gifts of beads.

The next morning the people from the other village near their camp arrived and went through a similar ritual. Crespí named that site on the plane San Juan Capistrano. He identified it as a promising place for a large mission. The next day the expedition moved forward through a wide canyon that ran due north, finding again a cultivated environment where the population had burnt grasses "here and there" among the knolls and hills of sheer soil and dry grass. Luiseño cultivation of these lands produced seed fields and bulbs and various greens and herbs that sustained their settled populations on semi-arid land. They entered another rich valley where again people from villages, painted for war, met them with diplomacy and gifting. They stayed near one of the largest Luiseño villages, called Topome, that had substantial territory and subsidiary villages. Crespí considered how this area would fit into his plan for a mission in Luiseño territory.

When the Spanish returned to survey the area in 1795, twenty-six years after the Portillo expedition, no armed opposition or curiosity greeted them. It is unclear whether the road on which they traveled remained cultivated and green after the heavy traffic that had passed through, but by their return in 1795, some individual Luiseños had already received baptism and affiliated to other missions, suggesting that dramatic change had begun. Father Juan Mariner wrote in 1795 that in the valley that the Portolá expedition had named San Juan Capistrano "the Indians say that, if a mission is established, they would become Christians." Before settling in that valley, Fray Mariner recommended the territory of Pala be explored, in one of the many interior valleys within Luiseño territory, with a river running through it, and about seven leagues from the Camino Real. The village population of Pala also "said the same, with much pleasure."

The political discussions that took place within and between people in different Luiseño territories remain unknown, but the populations near the Camino Real again welcomed the Spanish in 1797, when Fray Fermín Francisco de Lasuén returned to find a site closer to the Camino Real than the territory of Pala. During his visit, a "numerous and amiable" population greeted them. He wrote of their "bravery and spirit of sacrifice to work and accommodate [the expedition] in the most courteous way." The population wanted the missionaries to establish a mission among them, "and we should attend them" he wrote to Governor Diego de Borica. Having determined the valley along the coast sufficiently large to "reduce" the villages on the lower San Luis Rey into the mission, he placed a cross at the site "to be a signal" of their intent. His account suggests he had reached an accord with the population.But it also suggested he recognized a certain risk. He didn't bless the cross because he feared that it wouldn't be protected but instead defiled.

Lasuén returned once more and, having baptized "some of their sick," he again emphasized their willingness and abilities. He wrote, "Without fear of being mistaken ... none of the others have equaled these in grasping the purpose of our efforts." On this trip he examined the interior and coastal territories a final time, still in search of the best mission site. In the luscious valley near the Camino R