The Missionaries on the frontiers.—In extending the sway of Spain, as time went on a constantly larger part was played by the missionaries. During the early days of the conquest the natives had been largely in the hands of the encomenderos. But abuses arose and the encomienda system was gradually abolished. Moreover, the wild tribes of the northern frontier, unlike the Mayas and Aztecs, were considered hardly worth exploiting. This left an opening for the missionary, and to him was entrusted not only the work of conversion, but a larger and larger share of responsibility and control. Since they served the State, the missions were largely supported by the royal treasury, which was most liberal when there was some political end to be gained.
The principal missionary orders.—Under these circumstances, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, on the expanding frontiers of Spanish America, missions became well-nigh universal. The work on the northern borders of New Spain was conducted largely by Franciscans, Jesuits, and Dominicans. The northeastern field fell chiefly to the Franciscans, who entered Florida, New Mexico, Nuevo León, Coahuila, Nuevo Santander, and Texas. To the northwest went the Jesuits, who, after withdrawing from Florida, worked especially in Sinaloa, Sonora, Chihuahua, Lower California, and Arizona. After the expulsion of the Jesuits the Dominicans and Franciscans took their places.
The missions as civilizing agencies.—The missionaries were a veritable corps of Indian agents, serving both Church and State. Their first duty was to teach the Gospel. In addition they disciplined the savage in the rudiments of civilized life. The central feature of every successful Spanish mission was the Indian pueblo, or village. If he were to be disciplined, the Indian must be kept in a definite spot where discipline could be impressed upon him. The settled Indians, such as the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico, could be instructed in their native towns, but the wandering or scattered tribes must be assembled and established in pueblos, and kept there by force if necessary. To make the Indians self-supporting as soon as possible, and to afford them the means of discipline, the missions were provided with communal lands for gardens, farms, and ranches, and with workshops in which to practice the crafts.
Defence of the frontier.—The missionaries were highly useful likewise as explorers and as diplomatic agents amongst the tribes. As defenders of the frontier they held the allegiance of the neophytes and secured their aid against savages and foreign intruders. Sometimes the mission plants were veritable fortresses.
Missions designedly temporary.—Like the presidios, or garrisons, missions were intended to be temporary. As soon as his pioneer work was finished on one frontier the missionary was expected to move on to another, his place being taken by the secular clergy and the mission lands distributed among the Indians. The result, almost without fail, was a struggle over secularization.
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