Native Americans of La Purísima Concepción

La Purisima was the fourth mission located in the land of the Chumash people, who occupied the land from Malibu Canyon to San Luis Obispo (over 150 miles). The pre-European Chumash population is estimated to have been as high as 15,000.

The majority of the Chumash willingly became neophytes, and "by the early 1800s, the entire Chumash population, with the exception of those who had fled into the mountains and inland valleys, had come into the mission system, which ended their way of life" according to Indian Scholar Campbell Grant.

The Chumash who joined the La Purisima Mission were called Purismeño.

The Chumash were an exceptional group of Native Americans who the Spanish found ”of good disposition, affable, liberal, and friendly" and "extremely intelligent and skillful." The Chumash lived in well organized villages whose hemispherical houses were a marvel.

This was an artistic, creative people. Chumash basketry, particularly their coiled baskets, was exceptional. Their rock paintings, mostly found in the interior of the Chumash land, are considered "the most interesting and spectacular in the United States." The Chumash also had advanced woodworking skills, evident in their planked seagoing canoes, called a tomol.

SEAGOING TOMOL

Seagoing Tomol. Created in 1992 by a team of artists in Lompoc. Photograph by David J. McLaughlin © 2005 Pentacle Press. 1

The Indians primary food sources were acorns and pine nuts; shell fish; sharks, sea bass, halibut and other fish caught in nets or harpooned; game birds and small animals hunted with bows and arrows.

INDIAN WOMAN CARRYING ACORNS IN MOUNTAINS

Indian Woman Carrying Acorns in Mountains. Hutchings California Magazine - 1859 Artist Unknown. 2

Given the positive early relations between the Spanish and the Chumash it is fascinating that the most significant Indian revolt in California occurred in the Chumash Missions. After Mexico took over California the soldiers were often not paid and many became abusive to the neophytes. In February 1824, the severe whipping of a neophyte at Mission Santa Ines set off an already planned revolt that quickly spread to Santa Barbara.

SOLDIERS FIGHTING REVOLT AT MISSION SANTA BARBARA

Soldiers Fighting Revolt at Mission Santa Barbara. Drawing by Alexander Harmer. 3

Hundreds of Indians attacked and occupied La Purisima. The missionaries were freed but several travelers were killed. The mission was not recaptured until March 16 when 400 defenders were ultimately overcome. Seven neophytes were executed, and four leaders sentenced to ten years imprisonment.

  • 1. "Chumash: Introduction" pp 505 - 508 by Campbell Grant and "Obispeño and Purisimeño" " pp. 520-519 by Roberta S. Greenwood in Volume 8 CALIFORNIA in Handbook of North American Indians, Smithsonian Institute: Washington D.C., 1978
  • 2. The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History has an informative presentation on the Chumash, available at: http://www.sbnature.org/research/anthro/chumash/daily.htm
  • 3. Brian Fagan has an extensive discussion of the Chumash on pp. 75-92 in his book Time Detectives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. Available online at http://cogweb.ucla.edu/Chumash/Fagan_95.html