Native Americans of San Luis Rey de Francia

The Takic speaking people associated with Mission San Luis Rey have been called Luiseño since the Spanish occupation. While there were some language differences with the natives to their north at San Juan Capistrano, who were called Juaneño, and the neophytes at San Gabriel, who were called Gabrielino in the mission era, researchers have concluded that "all of these people were ethnologically and linguistically one ethnic nationality." The estimated pre-contact population was 10,000. 1

These Native Americans lived in autonomous village groups, each of which had specific hunting, collection (nuts, particularly acorns) and fishing rights.

CALIFORNIA INDIANS CATCHING SALMON

CALIFORNIA INDIANS CATCHING SALMON
by J.R. Bartlett, c.1854

The neophytes at San Luis Rey included members of other Takic speaking tribes, particularly the Serrano (which means highlander in Spanish) and Cahuilla (who occupied the hills and valleys to the east of San Luis Rey.

Relations with the neophytes at San Luis Rey were among the best in the mission chain. The mission had over twice the population of the other Southern California missions and it remained a vibrant community even after the Mexican takeover. However, relations deteriorated after the revered senior missionary, Fr. Antonio Peyri, left in 1832.

INDIANS REFUSING TO WORK AT SAN LUIS REY

INDIANS REFUSING TO WORK AT SAN LUIS REY in 1833 by A. Harmer.

In 1833 Captain Pablo de la Portilla of San Diego was appointed comisionado (administrator) of the mission. His heavy-handed administration caused considerable unrest.

Neophytes remained at San Luis Rey under the leadership of a Mexican Franciscan, Fr. José Maria de Zalvidea, until his death in 1846.

There was a large population of Indians living some twenty-five miles to the east of San Luis Rey, where a "rancho" was established. In 1815-16 this outpost was made an asistencia, or sub-mission, and its population grew to over 1,000, many of whom were Cahuilla. 2

San Antonio de Pala is the only surviving asistencia that still serves its original native population. It is located on the grounds of the Pala Indian Reservation. These Native Americans, a federally recognized tribe, now refer to themselves as the Pala Band of Mission Indians.

INTERIOR OF SAN ANTONIO DE PALA CHURCH

INTERIOR OF SAN ANTONIO DE PALA CHURCH
by David J. McLaughlin © 2005 Pentacle Press

The interior of the church looks much as it did over a century and a half ago.

  • 1. "Luiseño" by Lowell John Bean and Florence C. Shipek pp. 550-563; "Serrano" by Lowell John Bean and Charles R. Smith, pp. 570-574; "Cahuilla" by Lowell John Bean pp. 575-587 in Volume 8 CALIFORNIA in the Handbook of North American Indians, Smithsonian Institution: Washington, 1978
  • 2. "Native Americans and the California Missions" by David J. McLaughlin, in Native Peoples Magazine, March 2009