A history of California’s missions

Spanish explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo sails into San Pedro Bay and claims the California coast for the king of Spain.

Spanish Catholic missionaries from the Jesuit order begin colonizing Baja California, beginning with Loreto. Sixteen more missions will follow in the next 70 years.

About 300,000 Indians live in Alta California, organized into about 80 autonomous groups, sustaining themselves mostly through hunting, gathering and fishing.

Spain expels the Jesuits from Baja California and gives control to another Catholic order, the Franciscans.

Spanish soldiers and Franciscan friars, led by 55-year-old Father Junípero Serra, found the first Alta California mission in San Diego. Spain’s king is eager to strengthen his hold on the region before Russian fur-traders can move south from Alaska. Once baptized, Indian converts (known as “neophytes”) are typically forced to remain and are taught farming, weaving, carpentry and leather-working.

As the missionaries advance up the coast, European diseases spread among Indians, killing thousands. A native group attacks the Mission San Diego, killing Father Luís Jayme.

Serra dies at age 70 in Carmel, having established nine missions. Father Fermín Lasuén takes over the chain. Friars and soldiers expand the network of farms and ranches, using Indian converts as captive laborers.

Together, the mission ranching operations now control more than 100,000 head of cattle.

An earthquake severely damages missions at San Juan Capistrano, Santa Barbara and La Purisima in Lompoc.

Mission records put the statewide neophyte population at its highest point, 21,061.

After 11 years of war, Mexico wins independence from Spain and assumes control of Alta and Baja California.

An adobe church is completed in the pueblo of Los Angeles (founded in 1781), but it’s not designated as a mission.

The 21st, final and northernmost Alta California mission is founded, San Francisco Solano in Sonoma.

The Chumash revolt at missions Santa Inés in Solvang, La Purisima and Santa Barbara. Unlike previous attacks on missions launched by Indians living elsewhere, this attack comes from neophytes within the mission. The Chumash capture La Purisima and hold it for four weeks until Spanish reinforcements from Monterey retake the mission. About 20 Chumash, four innocent travelers and one soldier die in the fighting. Afterward, the Spanish execute seven Chumash.

A measles epidemic sweeps the missions, killing 951 adults and 751 children.

Mexico begins secularizing the missions. By plan, half of the missions’ property is supposed to go to support the Indians, half to priests and others. Instead, well-connected ranchers, farmers and soldiers with Spanish bloodlines make a land grab as some 10 million acres pass to private ownership.

The last mission is secularized. Since 1769, statewide mission records show 87,787 baptisms, 24,529 marriages and 63,789 burials. As mission churches and other buildings are neglected or put to new uses, they rapidly deteriorate. Many neophytes stay on at the ranchos.

Smallpox epidemic at Mission Dolores in San Francisco.

Smallpox epidemic at La Purisima.

In May, the U.S. declares war on Mexico. In June, Americans in Sonoma and Sacramento launch the Bear Flat Revolt and proclaim California independent.

The U.S. defeats Mexico, claims Alta California and New Mexico, pays Mexico $15 million and assumes $3 million more in debts. Gold is discovered at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, sparking a gold rush that brings a flood of Americans to the state. Indians are shouldered out of mining jobs, denied the right to vote. Thousands more have died from smallpox and scarlet fever.

California becomes a state.

Many mission lands are returned to the Catholic Church by U.S. presidential executive orders.

American artist Henry Miller tours the state, sketching most of the missions.

Earthquake destroys church at Mission Santa Cruz.

Earthquake nearly destroys Mission San Jose.

Artists Edward Vischer, Henry Chapman Ford, Jules Tavernier and Edwin Deakin draw and paint the missions. Carleton Watkins photographs them.

Social reformer and author Helen Hunt Jackson, eager to emulate Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” publishes the novel “Ramona” (1884), hoping to spark reforms in the treatment of Indians. Instead, it sets off a wave of romantic myth-making about the rancho era.

Railroad tracks reach San Juan Capistrano, boosting mission access for artists and tourists.

Landmarks Club is founded by Los Angeles newsman and missions booster Charles Fletcher Lummis. It raises money to rebuild missions.

Riverside’s Glenwood Hotel, founded in the 1870s, changes its name to the Mission Inn and begins a series of renovations to add Spanish colonial atmosphere. California Historical Landmarks League is founded.

State of California buys remains of Mission San Francisco Solano.

“The Mission Play,” a romantic pageant by erstwhile journalist John S. McGroarty, premieres across the street from the San Gabriel Mission and becomes an annual attraction, sparking the construction of the Mission Playhouse in 1927.

First “Zorro” story by Johnston McCulley is published in the pulp magazine All-Story Weekly. The plot is set at Mission San Juan Capistrano, “when romance and rapiers ruled in Old California.”

The first “Ramona Pageant” premieres in Hemet and becomes an annual event, except for lapses during the Depression of the 1930s and World War II. The 2014 “Ramona Pageant” performances were staged in April and May.

The book “Capistrano Nights: Tales of a California Mission Town,” by Charles Francis Saunders, is published, featuring the story of the swallows’ annual return to the mission.

The Mission Play” closes after 3,198 performances.

Earthquake destroys church at Mission San Fernando Rey in Mission Hills.

Serra is declared “venerable” by Pope John Paul II, the first step to sainthood.

John Paul II beatifies Serra, second step to sainthood.

At the Sonoma Mission, state parks officials dedicate a black granite commemorative wall on the west side of the church that lists baptismal names for all 896 neophytes buried at the mission. The wall makes Sonoma the first mission to display all the names of neophytes in its cemetery. Donors to the Sonoma Mission Indian Memorial Fund include the Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa. The fund’s president, Edward Castillo, has said he came up with the idea after his daughter returned from a school trip that included little mention of the Indians’ contribution.

Mission Dolores in San Francisco hires as its curator Andrew A. Galvan, a descendant of Ohlone Indians who were neophytes at the mission in the 1790s.

Marking the 300th anniversary of Junípero Serra’s birth, San Marino’s Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens unveils the exhibition “Junípero Serra and the Legacies of the California Missions,” co-curated by UC Riverside associate history professors Steven Hackel and Catherine Gudis. The show runs Aug. 17 through Jan. 6, 2014.