Native Americans of San Francisco de Asís

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The Native Americans who became neophytes at San Francisco de Asis, also called Mission Dolores, were from many tribes.

Before the arrival of the Europeans, the language family which anthropologists call the Costanoan 1 occupied the area from Monterey up to the Bay area. The Costanoan people spoke eight languages, and each language designated different tribelet. In San Francisco and San Jose the dominant indian tribelet was Ohlone. This name was also used as a reference to all of the Costanoan people.

TULE RAFTS ON SAN FRANCISCO BAY

Tule Rafts on San Francisco Bay.

Mission Dolores also recruited Indians from other groups, particularly in the later years when the original native population had largely disappeared. Some Coast Miwok (who lived in the area from Sausalito up to Bodega Bay) 2 and Patwin (who lived in the region from the San Francisco Bay to the western parts of the Sacramento valley)3 became neophytes at the mission.

INDIAN STICK GAME AT MISSION DOLORES

Indian Stick Game at Mission Dolores. By Expedition Artist Louis Choris.

As San Francisco became a major port of entry in Alta California, Mission Dolores was an increasingly popular stop. Some of the best images and descriptions we have of the Native Americans come from Europeans who visited San Francisco and visited the mission during the first two decades of 19th century.

NATIVES DANCING AT MISSION DOLORES

Natives Dancing at Mission Dolores. By Louis Choris.

Louis Choris was an exceptionally talented Russian - Ukranian expedition artist who visited California in 1816. Otto von Kotzebue, who was in command of the expedition. described the events depicted by Choris. "On Sunday, when the service is ended, the Indians gather and dance. Half of the men adorn themselves with feathers and girdles ornamented with feathers and with bits of shell, or they paint their bodies with regular lines of black, red and white. The men dance six or eight together, all making the same movements, all armed with spears."

Sadly the number of natives in the Bay area declined steadily after the mission era ended. Most of the neophytes became laborers on area ranches. In the 1840s there were a number of multiethnic Indian communities in the area, composed of the people who had lived at the missions. However, these shrank in size as the young people moved away. The Indian Scholar Richard Levy reports that"the Costanoan languages were probably all extinct by 1935." No official Federal government recognition has ever been given to the this important group of native americans.

  • 1. 'Costanoan' by Richard Levy pp 485-495; Volume 8 CALIFORNIA of Handbook of North American Indians, Smithsonian Institute: Washington D.C., 1978
  • 2. 'Coast Miwok' by Isabel Kelly pp414-425; Volume 8 CALIFORNIA of Handbook of North American Indians, Smithsonian Institute: Washington D.C., 1978
  • 3. 'Patwin' by Patti Johnson pp 350-360; Volume 8 CALIFORNIA of Handbook of North American Indians, Smithsonian Institute: Washington D.C., 1978