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Vineyards and Vaqueros: Indian Labor and the Economic Expansion of Southern California, 1771-1877

Author(s):Phillips, George Harwood
Reviewer(s):Dippel, Christian

Published by EH.NET (December 2010)

George Harwood Phillips, Vineyards and Vaqueros: Indian Labor and the Economic Expansion of Southern California, 1771-1877. Norman, OK: Arthur H. Clark (University of Oklahoma Press), 2010. 387 pp. $45 (cloth), ISBN: 978-0-87062-391-2.?

Reviewed for EH.Net by Christian Dippel, Department of Economics, University of Toronto.

George Harwood Phillips is a retired Professor of History at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who has written many fascinating books on the historical struggle of California Native Americans, both in pre?reservation times and on reservations.? As Phillips states in the preface to Vineyards and Vaqueros, his book is not a labor history, not a history of the Los Angeles region and not a tribal history per se. It is nonetheless true that these are the three main perspectives from which one can read this book. In the end, the book is a history of Native American labor in California from the century that starts with the founding of the first mission in 1769 and ends with the founding ?- by presidential executive order ?- of the Southern California reservations in 1877. The book makes the case that Native Californian labor was essential to the Spanish mission system, then to the early urban labor market in Los Angeles and finally to the big ranchos and vineyards in Eastern California.

The book?s structure is as follows: Chapter 1 begins with a description of the pre?contact social order in Southern California. Chapters 2 to 7 then describe the first phase of Southern California?s economic development from the introduction of missions under the Spanish colonial government to the break?up of the mission system by the Mexican government in 1834. Chapters 8 to 12 describe the rise of Los Angeles as a trading port and urban center, the transition of California to U.S. statehood, the impact of the 1850s gold rush and the new economic importance of stock?raising.? Chapter 13 concludes with the implementation of the reservation system.

Delving a little deeper into the content, chapters 2 to 4 describe the expansion of the mission system, chapters 5 to 7 describe the rise of the pueblo, in particular Los Angeles, as well as the privately?run ?rancho? or ?estancia? as a competing economic institution in this essentially Spanish world. Chapter 8 investigates the role of indigenous population of the pueblo of Los Angeles, which became an economic “boomtown? because this was where inland trappers and fur?traders sold their product for Pacific shipping. Unlike for the mission system, Native labor seems to have been of relatively minor importance to the Los Angeles pueblo. However, in the countryside, on the vineyards and ranchos, Native labor was extensively employed. When the narrative shifts from the missions to the ranchos in chapters 9 to 12, it also shifts the geographic focus more inland, and thereby, to the fate of a different set of Native people. While it was the coastal Diegueno who were most affected by the mission system, it is the inland Cahuilla and Serrano, as well as the Ute and Paiute, that take center stage in the second part of the book; the latter two mostly appearing as stock?raiding bandits. The book is therefore indeed, as stated by the author, not the history of a tribe. Rather, it is the history of a whole region or, more precisely, of two adjacent regions, coastal and inland Southern California.

The backdrop to this book is provided by a range of political coalitions and conflicts between the Church, the Spanish colonial government, the Mexican government, the U.S. government and private ranching interests. All of these powerful interests impacted on the indigenous population at varying points in time. The missions tried to educate and may have often had indigenous interests at heart. But this was always done through the lens of Catholic zeal for conversion, creating a rift between non?converted gentiles and the converted neophytes among Native tribes.
When the newly independent Mexican government broke up the missions, land was supposed to be transferred to their Native residents and pueblos formed out of missions. The book documents how, instead, Natives — both gentile and neophyte — were largely passed over and how mission lands more often than not were transferred into the hands of private ranchos. Many Native American workers consequently ended up being attracted to Los Angeles, where conflict with other residents soon broke out and urban ghettos formed. In contrast to the increasingly urban pueblo, Natives fared best on the more removed ranchos where they could live a life not inconsistent with that they had led prior to the arrival of Europeans.

Overall, this book then provides a documentary record of the Native American experience as laborers in Western institutions in Southern California from the creation of the missions to that of reservations. This is interspersed by highly interesting snapshots of primary records on the each of the three main institutions considered: the mission, the pueblo Los Angeles and the ranchos. However, the book does not provide much information on the historical forces in the background or on the economic motivations of the main institutions such as the mission system and the Spanish Colonial, Mexican or U.S. government. In some sense, this is an advantage because the narrative can be viewed as being told though the eyes of the Native Americans themselves, who would have observed the changes in the economic environment without putting them into the larger context of competition between nations or religious and secular forces.

What makes this book particularly fascinating in that light is that the experience of the Native Southern Californians spans the two quintessential types of colonial experiences in the Americas. From 1769 to 1831, the mission system shares many characteristics with other forms of centralized Spanish colonial labor systems such as ?encomienda? or ?repartimiento.? After the ensuing breakup of missions, the rise of ranchos and U.S. statehood, Southern California became part of the U.S. Wild West, replete with mining rushes, cattle raising, fur trading and Indian wars.

Christian Dippel is a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto in Canada. He is working on issues in economic development, political economy, trade and economic history. The main chapter of his dissertation investigates how the manner in which reservations were formed in the nineteenth century interacts with the historical organizational structures of Native American tribes to shape large income differences across tribes to the present day.

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Subject(s):Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Extractive Industries
Labor and Employment History
Markets and Institutions
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):18th Century
19th Century