The Mission

The Story Of The Mission District

The Mission is the fascinating story of one of the oldest and most vibrant neighborhoods in San Francisco. The Mission District was originally home to the Ohlone Indians, nomadic hunters and gatherers. They roamed the lush marshlands and verdant hills of the Bay Area for over 2,000 years, living in harmony with the land and its mysteries. But with the many waves of immigrants who, in a little over 200 years, dramatically transformed the Mission District several times over, such harmony vanished.

The MissionThe first settlers were the Spanish friars, who arrived in 1776 to establish a mission in the area. Their efforts to convert the Ohlone into loyal, docile Christians and use them as a source of slave labor desecrated the Ohlone way and rendered its people extinct. A way of life that had endured for generations was obliterated in just three short decades!

But the Spanish empire was soon to crumble as well. The Spanish missionaries were supplanted by the Californios, Mexican-born traders and retired soldiers. They turned Mexico's newly won independence from Spain to their advantage by taking over the mission lands and turning them into vast ranchos. Their wealth sparked the growth of Yerba Buena, a port city to the north that was later to be renamed San Francisco.

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How Did the Ohlone Indians Live?

No one knows for certain, but the historical and anthropological evidence points to a way of life lived very much in harmony with the land. Every stream and every boulder had great significance to the Ohlone. They lived in tribelets consisting of several small villages. Their territory spanned only a few miles, which meant that a person would probably die a very short distance from his or her place of birth. The land was so abundant with wildlife that they had no need for wars. What battles they did have usually ended with the first casualty.

The Ohlone were not strict parents; they did not physically punish their children or scold them in public. But they did not want their children to grow up to be unique, independent people either. Freedom was a foreign notion to them. Being bound to nature, to the spirit world, to one another was their truth, and they strove to maintain the status quo in every way. Children were encouraged, not to do better than their elders but to copy them, as closely as possible.

The Ohlone lived completely in the present. History - as we know it - meant nothing to them, and even mentioning a dead person's name was an indecency! Their spiritual life was lived moment to moment, and was not separate from their day-to-day life. Every object, from people to plants to baskets to feathers, had life, power and magic in their view. Most aspects of their lives were filled with sacred ceremonies, a fact that completely escaped the Spaniards who had contempt for the Ohlone's apparent lack of religion.

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