Increasing Social Stratification in the Southwest
Digital History ID 537
During the period of Mexican rule, expanding commercial opportunities and the secularization of the missions increased social stratification in the Southwest. In New Mexico, the old upper class benefited enormously from trade with the United States. In California, secularization of the missions and the availability of cheap Indian labor produced a wealthy landowning and ranching class. Meanwhile, a number of Mexican soldiers and sons of soldiers acquired lands and herds and profited from sale of hides and tallow. At the same time, exploitation of Indians and poorer Mexicans intensified. After hostile Indians killed or rustled their livestock, many New Mexican sheep herders were forced into debt peonage. In California, merchants and landowners advanced goods and money to Indians who were forced to work as repayment. Farmers and rancheros raided Indian villages to procure involuntary workers. Here, Guadalupe Vallejo, a ranch owner, describes life in California before the conquest by the United States.
In 1806 there were so many horses in the valleys about San José that seven or eight thousand were killed. Nearly as many were driven into the sea at Santa Barbara in 1807, and the same thing was done at Monterey in 1810....
A number of trappers and hunters came into Southern California and settled down in various towns. There was a party of Kentuckians, beaver-trappers, who went along the Gila and Colorado rivers about 1827, and then south into Baja California.... Then they came to San Diego, where the whole country was much excited over their hunter clothes, their rifles, their traps, and the strange stories they told of the deserts, and fierce Indians....
It is necessary, for the truth of the account, to mention the evil behavior of many Americans before, as well as after, the conquest. At the Mission San José there is a small creek.... A squatter named Fallon, who lived near the crossing, cut down the trees for firewood, though there were many trees in the cañon. The Spanish people begged him to leave them, for the shade and beauty, but he did not care for that. This was a little thing, but much that happened was after such pattern, or far worse.
In those times one of the leading American squatters came to my father...and said: "There is a large piece of your land where the cattle run loose, and your vaqueros have gone to the gold mines. I will fence the field for you at my expense if you will give me half." He liked the idea, and assented, when the tract was enclosed the American had it entered as government land in his own name, and kept all of it....
Perhaps the most exasperating feature of the coming-in of the Americans was owing to the mines, which drew away most of the servants, so that our cattle were stole by thousands.
Source: Guadalupe Vallejo, "Ranch and Mission Days in Alta California," Century Magazine, XLI (December 1890), 189-92.
Copyright 2016 Digital History