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HISTORY: Mission San Jose

Old Mission San Jose 1797 - 1997
Watercolor painting by Nancy Pratt

Commissioned by the Committee for the
Restoration of Mission San Jose

The Spanish brought the culture of their European traditions to California’s East Bay when Padre Lasuen and Sergeant Amador established Mission San Jose in the middle of the Ohlone village, Oroysom, on June 11, 1797.

The Ohlone Indians flourished in their culture and this bountiful area for thousands of years. They lived in tule reed thatch houses, called ruway, and they ate acorns, sunflower seeds, nuts, berries, grapes, honey, salmon, abalone, duck, and geese. Note the boy in the right column holding a duck decoy he made. Also note the woman in the left corner making acorn mush in large woven baskets for a festival. Other festival activities include the boys playing the stick and hoop game and the men dancing with painted bodies using white chalk, red cinnabar, and charcoal. Yellow ochre was another commonly used color. This is a scene of Ohlone Village life at the point of European contact.

The girls in front play with the beads the Padres gave them. Padres gave gifts of beads, ribbons, blankets and tools to befriend the Indians. Little did anyone realize the resulting inflation to the Indian economy and the beginning of the decline of the Indian culture. Indians were very interested in the technologies of the Europeans although their own were serving them well.

Sergeant Amador, a well known Indian fighter, and his soldiers built the wooden church and a wooden stockade roofed with tule rushes. Within three years several hundred Ohlones were baptized and came to live at the mission. Thousands of cattle roamed the ranges and ate or destroyed much of the traditional sources of Indian food. The mission Indians planted acres of wheat, vineyards and other crops. The outlying Indians were much attracted to the provisions the mission could offer them.

A flood washed away the stockade and the adobe mission was erected in a safer and permanent location in 1809. The Indian men engaged in the building while only the stronger girls would carry adobe bricks (weighing 55 lb. each) to the men. Women were mostly assigned to weaving, dress making, laundry, and cooking; while the men did a variety of jobs such as leather tanning, rope, soap and candle-making, shearing sheep, and weaving rugs and clothing from wool.

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