Hi, I’m Anne Schroeder and I’m here to tell you that God works in mysterious ways. Never truer than the journey I took in writing about Maria Inés, a Salinan (Mission) Indian who lived though the Spanish, Mexican and Yanqui conquest of her beloved California. No petticoats or pistols in her life. Her grandmother, a pre-Christianized Salinan, wore only a smile in the summer and a deerskin loincloth in the winter. (Central Coast winters tend to be mild.)
In severe weather she added a coating of mud from the sulphur springs that later made Paso Robles a world-class health spa. She soaked sore muscles in the steaming ooze—as long as a grizzly wasn’t doing the same thing. The tribe posted lookouts to warn when one approached because the osos liked mud baths, too.
When the Salinans heard the roar of a Spanish blunderbuss, they invited Fr. Serra to build a Mission on their lands, in part for the protection that the pistols and long-guns offered against the bears. But protection came at a price.
Maria Inés is a composite of the Christianized Indians who came willingly to Christ, only to find that their freedom to return to their rancherios was compromised once they were under the providence of the padres who saw them as “children of God” and their responsibility.
The padres wrote the native Salinan language in books, their “talking leaves,” in an attempt to learn the nuances, but the young people preferred the lyrical languages that the Spanish brought: Castilian Spanish with its endless variety of words for love, and Latin for praising God. Gradually, whether from force or from choice, the old ways died out. Too bad for Maria Inés.
Music entered the Missions with violins, guitars and cymbals. Dancing followed, with the padres’ rule of “no touching.” Quadrilles, jotas and zambras danced by the high-born Spanish families were mimicked in segregated dance pavilions by the Indians. The gente de razon, highborn, Spanish women wore three petticoats under their full gathered skirts so that no hint of limb might be seen. Their dresses were often black, their hair styles severe, the better to avoid carnal sins of vanity or inciting lust.
Maria Inés wore a skirt and blouse of coarsely woven hemp to hide her nakedness, but she listened to her grandmother’s tales of T’e Lxo, the thunder that shouted from the sky.
The padres taught her to pray on rosary beads, but she was a child torn between two worlds. Petticoats and pistols, romance and hard labor– extremes that defined Maria Inés life.
I wrote Maria Inés’ story because the truth of the Mission era is complex, and the death of the Indians, not just the Catholics’ fault. A complex love story published by Five Star Publishing and sold to libraries and on Kindle. If you’re intrigued, ask your library to order a copy or two. I include glossaries of Salinan and Spanish Mission terms to sort out the players. It’s a book your grandma would love, too.
Anne will be giving away a print copy of her book Maria Ines to one lucky reader who leaves a comment on this post.