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Home Page Button   Beginnings of the Mission
Teacher Information Button   Mission Santa Cruz was founded on August 28, 1791 by Father Lasuen. Several members of the local Ohlone tribe attended the ceremony. Another date, September 25, 1791 is also found in historical references, but Father Lasuen wasn’t able to attend the September dedication.
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Mission History Button   Location and Geography
Sources Button   The site chosen for Mission Santa Cruz was near the San Lorenzo River with good pasture land and forests around it. The Mission was within a few miles of the coast.
Bibliography History Button   The Native Americans
    The main tribes in the area around Mission Santa Cruz were the Ohlone and Yokut. Like most of the other tribes in California, the Chumash were nomadic. That means that they lived in one area for a time and would move their entire community to follow herds for food or when too much garbage piled up they would burn down the old ones and find another site to build their homes. Men hunted and fished to provide food while the women gathered acorns, wild herbs, roots, and berries to help feed their families.

Within the first three months 87 neophytes were living at the mission and by 1796 records show almost 500.

Top of Page Button   Architecture and Layout
    Life at the Mission was difficult for both the Fathers and the Natives. During the early years most Missions had trouble supporting themselves and depended on deliveries of supplies and food from New Spain and other Missions. Often the ships were unable to make the trip and the Mission’s members went hungry. It normally took several years before a Mission was able to plant enough food and raise enough cattle and other animals to be able to feed everyone who lived at the Mission.

Those that lived at the Mission went by a strict schedule. The Fathers were used to this type of lifestyle, but the neophytes were not. The structure of Mission life was one of the reasons many Native Californians tried to leave. A French explorer, Jean François de La Pérouse, visited Mission San Carlos is 1786 and wrote a detailed account of what he observed. Events at the Mission were signaled by the ringing of the Mission bells. Each day started around sunrise (about 6am). The Mission bells would ring to wake everyone and summon them to Mass and morning prayers. Prayer lasted for about an hour and then everyone would go to breakfast. Atole, a type of soup made from barley and other grains, would be served. Breakfast took about 45 minutes and then it was time for everyone to go to work.

The Fathers were responsible for running the Mission and instructing the new converts and children in the Catholic faith. Most of the men went to the fields to tend to the crops or to help with the animals while women stayed at the Mission and worked on domestic chores such as weaving cloth and making clothes, boiling down fat to make soap and candles, and tending to the vegetable gardens. Children often helped at these chores around the Mission once their religious instruction was over. Depending on the particular industry at the Mission there also might be neophytes leatherworking, metalworking, wine making, and pressing olives for olive oil.

At noon the bells would ring again for everyone to gather for dinner, what we would call lunch. Lunch was normally pozole, another thick soup with beans and peas. After an afternoon break everyone returned to their work for another two to four hours depending on how much work there was to be done. A last bell would be rung to end the work day. Another serving of Atole would be served and the neophytes would be able to rest until it was time for bed (Margolin, Pg. 85). Women were usually expected to go to bed by 8pm and men by 9pm. Most of the Fathers allowed their neophytes to continue to hunt and gather additional foods and to cook some of their traditional dishes.

Living at the Mission was often difficult for new converts. They were used to working when work needed to be done and resting when they were tired. The Mission lifestyle was different. The Neophytes were the main source of labor for the Missions. It was their hard work along with the soldiers’ and Fathers’ that built the Missions and their outbuildings. Agriculture and ranching required constant tending to the crops and animals. Without this labor the Missions would not have been able to survive. Many neophytes missed the freedom of their tribal life and would try to leave the Mission. The Fathers wouldn’t allow neophytes to leave and would send soldiers to search for them and bring them back. Runaways were usually punished for breaking the rules.

Neophytes from Mission Santa Clara traveled to the site for Mission Santa Cruz in September 1791. They helped create temporary shelters. The two Friars that were going to live at the Mission, Father Isidro Alonzo Salazar and Fray Baldomero Lopez held another founding ceremony. The Ohlone chief from a nearby village, Chief Sugert, attended as well as his daughters and other tribe members. The Ohlone helped build more temporary shelters in return for blankets and food. A few months after the second founding ceremony the River flooded and the buildings were damaged. The fathers didn’t rebuild, but moved the site to higher ground. A church and most of the quadrangle were finished by 1795. The Mission also had its own grain mill and granary. This meant that the church could make its own flour and store it. Although one of the smaller Missions, Mission Santa Cruz did well enough to share some of their crops with other Missions.

Top of Page Button   Life at the Mission
    Life at the Mission did have problems. The Spanish built a town just across the river. The men in the town tried to entice workers at the Mission away to help them with work that needed to be done in the town. The men in the town drank and gambled. The fathers did not think the townspeople were a good influence on the neophytes.

A 1797 storm destroyed many of the buildings and flooded the fields. Rather than helping, many neophytes took the opportunity to escape from the Mission. They were tired of being mistreated by the soldiers and having to work for the fathers. By 1798 only 35 neophytes were left at the mission. Problems at the mission continued including a murder accusation against several neophytes. One of the Fathers, Father Quintana, had been known to beat neophytes and was not liked by those that had to work with him. Nine neophytes were sentenced in the murder of Father Quintana. Their punishment continued the bad feelings between the neophytes and the Missionaries.

The Mission’s problems continued and in 1818 there was a threat of being invaded by the Pirate Hippolyte de Bouchard. The Missionaries asked the people of the nearby town if they would help remove the Mission’s valuables and artifacts while the neophytes and fathers left for the safety of another Mission. Instead of providing a safe place for the valuables, townsmen looted the Mission and burned the buildings. The Missionaries returned reluctant to start over, but did. Diseases continued to kill many of the neophytes and eventually the Fathers went out to search for another tribe to live at the Mission. They found the Yokut tribe in the hills around Mission Santa Cruz and they forced them to live and work at the mission. All of Mission Santa Cruz’s problems lead to it being one of the smallest Missions in the 21 Mission chain.

Top of Page Button   The End of the Mission Period
    Mission Santa Cruz was one of the first Missions to be secularized. Neophytes living at the Mission were given some of the livestock, but none of the land. The land was given back to the Catholic church in 1859 but most of what was left of the Mission was destroyed in a January 1857 earthquake.

Top of Page Button   Reconstruction and The Mission Today
    A small wood church was built in 1858 and remained on the Mission site until 1889 when another Church was built there. In 1931 a copy of the Mission was built about 200 feet away from the original site. The Mission is a scaled-down replica and is historically accurate but smaller than the original Mission.

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