Lesson Plan

Mission Era


Lesson Preparation


Teacher Reading

You'll definitely want to use Sunshine, Citrus and Science. Be aware, though, that the commonly-accepted story of Father Dumetz coming to San Bernardino to conduct the Mass in 1810 is probably incorrect. The historians of the San Bernardino Diocese seem convinced that Father Dumetz was probably too sick and too old to have made the journey.

Does this destroy the history? No -- it just makes it a little bit more hazy. What is known is that sometime before 1819, someone came here and saw an Indian village, went back to San Gabriel, and told about it. Were they under Father Dumetz' direction? Probably.

The exact site of the naming of San Bernardino is also under a cloud of haziness. Loma Linda would like to claim the spot along Mission Road. There are other sites in Colton and elsewhere that also seem possible. The exact spot isn't essential. We do know, though, that the first estancia was constructed along Mission Road, and then the operation was moved to higher ground a few years later (the site of the Asistencia). All of this proves that history is more interesting and a lot less cut and dried than we learned in grammer school!





Materials Needed

Red Clay soil from somewhere in Redlands if you want to make adobe bricks

Grapes if you want to crush some grapes into juice. A winepress if you want to do it right!





  • See the Links
  • San Bernardino County Museum, especially the Asistencia 


  • Don't expect any help here from anything I've seen so far. You may want to excerpt passages from Sunshine, Citrus and Science , Lyman's San Bernardino, or Beatties' Heritage of the Valley: San Bernardino's First Century. Bibliography




1. Habitat: The first action of the Catholic missionaries was to put the Indians to work building a zanja or canal to bring water from Mill Creek. Notice that the Natives were able to live quite happily with the water that came naturally from the ground in springs or seasonal creeks. The desire to control and conquer nature was introduced by the Europeans immediately.

The second habitat-changing action was to introduce cattle, sheep and grapevines. An unintentional act was the introduction of the Spanish wild oat, probably in animal hooves and attached to crates and barrels. These oat seeds spread rapidly, changing forever the plants that could grow in California. Wildflowers and many other plants were quickly displaced.

2. Food: The fathers made little effort to see how the Indians lived. Rather than adapting to the food supply, the Spanish missionaries set about changing the land to accomodate their taste. Their grapes and other fruits required lots of water and could not survive without the zanja.

3. Housing: The Spanish introduced permanent housing with the construction of the adob estancia. The adobe was made of local red clay soil, was not difficult to make, and produced a place that was superbly insulated. Adobe buildings are cool in the summer, and not too hard to heat in the winter.

The downside to adobe is that it is made of dirt, and melts easily. It is a material that works very well in arid deserts, but the San Bernardino is a semi-arid desert, meaning that we don't get a lot of consistent rain, but when we do it can be very hard and sustained. The adobe walls of the first mission melted away quickly. The second asistencia was almost completely melted when it was rebuilt in 1938.

The Indian kish or Wickiup was easy to build, bent with moderate winds, kept out rain and provided shelter. It could be replaced easily and burnt to the ground if a disease made it "unclean." The adobe buildings were another attempt to exist in opposition to nature rather than in cooperation.

4. Social Structure: The Spanish viewed the Natives as primitive savages, and took little notice of their advanced social structure. The Natives became virtual slaves of the Spanish. How much you want to dwell on the savage brutality of the Spanish toward the Indians is your professional judgment. Hopefully in Fourth Grade students will receive some facts of Mission life that will balance the idyllic view that was often taught in the past. Native American social structure was nearly destroyed under Spanish conquest.

5. Art and Tools: The Spanish introduced their religion, the (perhaps) primary reason for being here. Their art was primarily religious, showing reverence to the Virgin Mary, Jesus and various saints. Church art was the highest possible form of respect, in contrast to the Native art, which glorified animals and the powers of nature.

Spanish tools made some work easier. The Indians might argue that the work of the Spanish would be unnecessary if they only cooperated with Nature a little more. The introduction of guns put the Natives at a real disadvantage, and allowed over-hunting of local game. A man with a gun could kill many rabbits or other game animals in a few hours, while all the hunters of a village could not do that much hunting in a day.

6. Footprints: The Spanish wild oats made a huge change in local flora. The attitude of the Spanish, conquering nature for our purposes, has had the most lasting change. We are only now beginning to realise the damage that attitude has caused.

7. Demise: The Spanish lost California to Mexico. Colonization over long distances has never worked for very long. It's impossible to control people from across the sea, unless you destroy them. With Mexican rule, the Missions and their estancias and asistencias would be under private ownership and basically left to become ruins. The Spanish had not made a lot of friends in California!

Projects and Activities

1. Students can make adobe bricks from red clay soil. There are often building sites in Redlands where you can ask for a few buckets of red soil. Pound it well with stones or wooden blocks before adding water. Mixing can be done in a plastic cement trough available from Home Depot or other stores. Use bare feet or hands to mix until properly gooey. No clumps allowed! Pack the mud into milk carton forms or wooden forms. Dry in sun.

You can even build a small wall or building if you use student-sized milk cartons cut in half for the forms, and then use more mud for mortar when the bricks are dry.

2. Grape juice can be squeezed from grapes. If you can get your hands on a small winepress, it can be lots of fun, and delicious, too. Fresh grape juice tastes like nothing that has ever been bottled or canned.

3. Have students made a map, showing the location of the Cahuilla village (Guachama) by Mission Road, the first estancia, and the location of the final Asistencia.


Worksheet - Mission Era


The worksheets may be used as either a lesson guide and written in as you go along, or as a test. Feel free to make up your own to fit your approach to the curriculum.



 Definitely schedule a trip to the Asistencia.. The Asistencia on Barton Road in Redlands has nice displays of Indian life as it was after the Europeans came along. That makes a nice addition to a County Museum trip. Plan ahead and make arrangements for a guided tour.