by John Steven McGroarty
Frederick V. Carpenter
[1929, no renewal]
The author of this book, John Steven McGroarty (1862-1944) was poet laureate of California, an author, journalist, dramatist, and unabashed booster for the preservation and celebration of the California Missions. He also served in Congress from 1935 to 1938. His drama, The Mission Play, a three hour pageant spanning the entire history of the California Missions, ran for twenty years at mission San Gabriel.
The real strength of this book is the illustrations. There is one major drawing for each of the twenty one missions, plus a map showing their locations. I'm not so thrilled about the introduction, which trivializes the native people and presents Mission life as utopian. My policy is to leave these texts intact as a witness to the historical context in which they were written. That said, it should be noted that when McGoarty got to Congress, he sponsored legislation to abolish the Bureau of Indian Affairs, angered over the treatment of Native Americans. So he wasn't exactly blind to the realities of the situation, nor unsympathetic.
The Missions had a dark side, none of which is hinted at in this book. The native Californians had lived a sustainable, rich life for thousands of years. They were herded into the Missions, stripped of their cultures and languages, and worked into exhaustion. The Missions, European diseases, and eventually the arrival of the Americans decimated the Native Californian population.