Title

The End of the 1824 Chumash Revolt in Alta California: Father Vicente Sarría’s Account

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

10-1996

Publisher

Cambridge University Press

Abstract

The 1824 Chumash uprising against three Franciscan missions in the central section of the California chain—Santa Inés, La Purísima Concepción, and Santa Bárbara—was the largest organized revolt in the history of the Alta California missions. The Chumash burned most of the Santa Inés mission complex. At La Purísima, they drove out the mission guard and one of the two priests in residence. The mission was not forcibly retaken by the Mexican army for almost a month. At Santa Bárbara, the Chumash disarmed the soldiers stationed at the mission and sent them back to the presidio. After an inconclusive battle against troops who were sent out against them from the presidio, most of the rebels retired to the interior, where they set up their own community. The revolt was finally brought to an end when a military expedition led by Pablo de la Portilla negotiated the return of this group to the Santa Bárbara Mission. The role of the Prefect of the Missions, Father Vicente í, in bringing the revolt to an end by persuading this group to return to the Santa Bárbara Mission has long been recognized. Antonio María Osio, most likely relying on what he had been told by his brother-in-law, Governor Luis Argüello, stated in 1851, “They [the Chumash] had decided not to return to the missions and expressed the low regard in which they generally held the inhabitants of California. Yet, at the same time, they revered Reverend Father Vicente í for his many virtues. Only he had the necessary power of persuasion to calm the Indians’ fears.” In 1885, as he described the negotiations between the Mexican military and the Chumash, Theodore S. Hittell wrote, “Communications were opened and a conference held; the two missionaries, Father President Vicente í and Father Antonio Ripoll of Santa Bárbara, acted as negotiators; and the result was that the Indians submitted unconditionally; were pardoned, and the fugitive neophytes marched back to their respective missions.” We offer here a translation of a letter which í wrote to the Bishop of Sonora, Bernardo Martínez Ocejo, a few months after these events. The document provides an excellent first-hand account of the conclusion of the revolt. It also offers a close view of the growing fear and anxiety the missionaries were experiencing in the early years of Mexican independence. As a context for the letter, let us briefly summarize the Chumash revolt.