The Chumash Revolt of 1824 was an uprising of the Chumash Indians against the Spanish and Mexican presence in their ancestral lands of California. Starting at Mission Santa Ines and spreading to Mission Santa Barbara, and Mission La Purisima, the revolt was the largest organized resistance movement to occur during the Spanish and Mexican periods in California.
The Chumash were first encountered by the Spanish in 1542, their lands weren’t colonized until 1772 when Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, was established. Over the next several decades, more missions were founded in their lands. Like many other Native American peoples who lived near the missions, some converted to Christianity, some used the missions as a survival tool, and some didn’t accept the Spanish at all. However, the relations between the Indians and the Spanish were mostly peaceful for 50 years.
However, tensions began to increase after 1810, during the Mexican war for independence, when the Spanish stopped sending supplies. As a result, the presidios pressed the missions for more supplies, which, in turn, caused the missionaries to require the Indians to work longer hours and be more productive. This tension increased dramatically when Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1921, bringing social changes and economic depression to the region. The Franciscan priests then increased their efforts to suppress the Chumash culture leading to increased resentment of the missionaries, and rumors of impending violence became common.
The Chumash worked for months planning a coordinated rebellion at three missions and reached out to nearby Yokut villages for help in the insurrection. However, the rebellion started earlier than planned when a young Chumash boy was severely beaten by a Mexican soldier at Mission Santa Inés on February 21, 1824. Reacting, the Indians burned down most of the mission complex and withdrew upon the arrival of military reinforcements. They then attacked Mission La Purisima and forced the soldiers to surrender but allowed them to depart. The next day, the Chumash captured Mission Santa Barbara without bloodshed, repelled a military attack, and then retreated into the hills.
The Chumash continued to occupy Mission La Purisima until a Mexican military unit attacked on March 16 and forced them to surrender. Two military expeditions were sent after the Chumash in the hills but didn’t locate them until June, when they negotiated the Chumash and convinced a majority to return to the missions.
In total, the rebellion involved as many as 300 Mexican soldiers, six Franciscan missionaries, and 2,000 Chumash and Yokut Natives of all ages and genders. None of the Mission friars were ever in danger because the Chumash respected and had a great affection for them. Rather, the revolt was against the soldiers.
Afterward, Mission La Purisima was not restored and most of the Chumash left.
Compiled by Kathy Weiser-Alexander, February 2019.