December 1602, Sebastian Vizcaíno sailed
into the Monterey Bay for repairs and supplies during his long voyage
to the mysterious reaches of California.
Vizcaíno was one of many Europeans who
sailed to California looking for land to
colonize for Spain.
Members of our coastal rancherías met Vizcaíno's ship and provided much needed food.
This encounter was recorded in their diaries:
This land is well
populated with Indians without number, many of whom came on different
occasions to our camp. They seem to be gentle and peaceful people; they say
with signs that there are many villages inland. The sustenance which these
Indians eat most of daily, besides fish and shellfish, is acorns and another
fruit larger than a chestnut, this is what we could understand of them.
The port is all
surrounded with Rancherías of affable
Indians, good natives and well disposed, who like to give what they have, here they brought us skins of bears and lions and deer.
They use the bow and arrow and have their form of government. -Fray Antonia
de la Ascención
For many years after Vizcaíno's voyage, trade ships heading east from
the Philippines or coming
north and south to and from the Vancouver
region anchored in the Monterey
Bay and interacted with
In 1770, the Spanish
built a mission and presidio (military fort) in Monterey. The next year, Mission San Carlos
Borromeo del Rio Carmelo was relocated to its
present location on the north side of the Carmel River.
Colonization by the Spanish Empire and the Catholic Church changed our
people's culture, language, political systems, world view, and lives forever.
Missionaries and soldiers relocated Indians whom missionaries had baptized
from their villages to the missions. The ancestral villages of the Esselen
Nation were emptied as villagers were brought to the Carmel mission. One goal of the Spanish
missionaries in California was to convert
Native Americans to the Catholic religion and transform them into citizens of
the Spanish Empire in order to maintain a permanent presence within this
region of North America. Once brought to a
mission, our ancestors were not allowed to practice their centuries-old
religion, speak their languages, or dress according to custom. As the Spanish
padres and military established a foothold in the northernmost frontier of
the Spanish Empire, local Indians worked building and supporting the mission
and presidio. Many fled the harsh and restrictive treatment of the
missionaries and soldiers to unreachable inland villages. A forced return
policy, instigated by Junípero Serra, was in
effect for the duration of the mission period. Soldiers forcibly returned
anyone who left the mission without permission. Introduced diseases, fostered
by the unsanitary conditions of mission life, caused high mortality and low
life expectancy rates.
After Mexico achieved independence in
1821 the missions were disbanded and secularized in 1834. With
secularization, the exploitative use of Indian labor became an integral part
of economic development in Monterey
as it had previously for the mission/presidio colonial system. Though most
land was to be returned by law to Indian ex-neophytes, the majority of grants
were made to Hispanic Californio men who had served
in the military. Despite the obvious interests non-Indians had against
Esselen Nation ancestors' attempts to recuperate a communal land base,
Mexican officials made one extensive communal grant in the heart of the Carmel Valley which was called La Ranchería
in Spanish by its inhabitants, and referred to as the Lands of the Indians in
English. In addition, many rancherías, or
villages of Indian workers, were established on large Californio-owned
ranchos such as the Sur ranchería located on
Rancho El Sur. Though non-Indians owned the titles to the larger rancho
grants, Mexican administrators included special legal stipulations
guaranteeing ownership of the lands occupied by Indian rancherías
to the native people there and their descendants forever.
In 1846, United States forces claimed formal possession
of California, raising the American flag
Admiral Sloat of the U.S. Navy gave a speech
dealing with legal entitlements to be honored by the U.S., including rights of Native
Americans. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American
War, also guaranteed the protection of Indian rights. Under the Treaty of
Guadalupe Hidalgo, the United
States was obligated to identify lands
deeded to Indians under Spanish and Mexican rule and to prevent the loss of
these lands. This obligation, had it been carried out, would have established
our ancestors as a recognized Indian tribe with an inalienable land base.
After California statehood in 1850, Congress and
President Fillmore authorized three Special Indian Agents to negotiate
treaties with California Indians in 1851 to protect them from the genocidal
violence waged against them in the wake of the Gold Rush of 1849. Eighteen
treaties were negotiated between California
tribes and the United
States. These treaties had two basic
goals: 1) to cede the majority of aboriginal lands of California to the
United States government, and 2) to reserve 8.5 million acres of land in the
interior of the state for the use of California tribes as reservations. These
eighteen treaties were never ratified due to pressure from the California state
legislature and influential private citizens who wanted access to land,
resources (gold), and Indian labor. The eighteen treaties of 1851 were
suppressed with an official injunction of secrecy by the U.S. Congress but
were rediscovered by a clerk in 1905.
The result of such
deliberate neglect on the part of the government was that by the early 1880s,
our ancestors had nearly been displaced from their communal land grant in the
Carmel Valley. In an attempt to publicize the
plight of the California Indians, Indian Agent, reformer, and popular
novelist Helen Hunt Jackson published accounts of her travels among the
Mission Indians of California in 1883. Up the Carmel River not far from the
San Carlos Mission, Jackson was guided to a well-concealed Indian settlement
that she described as the "most picturesque of all the Mission Indians'
hiding-places which we saw." Jackson
witnessed the few remaining residents of the communal land grant, which by
that time was largely expropriated. In her final report she recommended that
the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) secure the ongoing welfare of the San Carlos, or Monterey,
reported the local parish priest's statement that the Indians of Monterey
"have their homes there only by the patience of the thief,"
referring to a neighboring white rancher. This predicted theft of land would
soon prove true.
After U.S. annexation, Indian people
were no longer citizens as they were under Spanish and Mexican law. Among
other restrictive laws, including ones that allowed for indentured servitude,
Indian people were not allowed to own land. Though dispossessed and displaced
from their lands, ranches owned by non-Indian husbands of Indian women provided
places of safety and refuge for many extended families. These ranches
provided a place for the local Indian community to maintain their social
relations and cultural practices. The last multiple-family residential
community of local Indians existed in downtown Monterey until the mid-1950s when it was
displaced through urban renewal.
Influenced by the
mounting concern and activism for the welfare of California Indians, Congress
directed the Bureau of Indian Affairs to send agents to California to identify Indian communities
and purchase suitable lands for homeless Indian bands. Official reports of
Indian Agents during the first three decades of the twentieth century
document and recognize our ancestors as the Monterey or San Carlos Band.
In 1927 agent Lafayette
Dorrington unilaterally ended administrative
contact with over 130 California Indian groups. In a painfully contradictory
statement Dorrington determined that these bands,
though possessing no land, had no need for land.
During the early 1900s,
anthropologist Alfred Kroeber, in his attempt to understand pre-contact
Indian cultures, found that many coastal Indian peoples who had experienced
Spanish missionization could not give him the
information he wanted about life and language before the coming of the
Spanish. Because of this Kroeber stated in his influential Handbook of
California Indians that Esselen- and Costanoan-speaking peoples were
"extinct." His statements have been unquestioned in the
anthropological and popular literature dealing with California Indians and
are the basis for a widespread belief that we are extinct.
notwithstanding, Bureau of American Ethnology linguist and anthropologist
John Peabody Harrington worked with our ancestors during the 1920s and '30s. He
collected over 15,000 pages of field notes that document Esselen/Costanoan
culture, language, history, and ongoing tribal social relations in Monterey.