Elias Castillo

His heavily-footnoted text is fascinating in its detailed accessibility, and 14 pages of bibliographic sources, 8 pages of color plates, a 5-page index and various appendices solidify the documentation

 Jim Van Buskirk

San Francisco Examiner

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The author (right) has taken part in dozens of book store and classroom events discussing A Cross of Thorns.

"As to those Indians I sent you, they are troublemakers and keep trying to run away from the missions . . . . Whip them three or four times to teach them a lesson and to serve as an example to the others . . . and . . . if you don't have shackles I can, with your permission, send you some."

Father Junîpero Serra

in a 1775 letter to

the Spanish governor 

About the Book 

I was first prompted to consider writing this book 2004 when I wrote an op-ed piece for the San Francisco Chronicle criticizing a proposed U.S. Senate bill to provide $10 million in matching federal funds to help restore the Missions. The Senate version of the bill mistakenly described the Missions as places where the
Indian and Spanish cultures lovingly melded to create California’s early lifestyle.

In that op-ed, I described the Missions as little more than death camps run by Franciscan friars where thousands of California’s Indians perished. My goal was not to oppose the restorations but rather to advocate that, if the bill was approved, the truth regarding the treatment of the Indians—including the great numbers who died—be
clearly described at each of the Mission sites.

The reaction to the article astounded me as numerous readers overwhelmingly supported what I had written. One elementary school teacher told me she had refused to teach her pupils anything about the Missions because she knew how the Indians had suffered within them. Others praised my piece saying: “It’s about time the

truth was told about the Missions.”

Shortly after the publication of the op-ed, I learned it had been read in its entirety into the United States Congressional Record  by then-Congressman Jim Gibbons of Nevada (later Governor Gibbons of Nevada) who cautioned that, in the wake of my op-ed, care should be taken in the wording of the bill in view of the suffering endured by the Indians. All language praising the Missions was removed when the House passed the bill that was subsequently signed by President George W. Bush.

Having my article read into the Congressional Record was the final factor that solidified my resolve to write this book.


About the Author

Elias Castillo is a three time Pulitzer Prize nominee and winner of 13 journalism awards, working for the San Jose Mercury News and Associated Press. 

Under a grant from National Geographic, he led the first scientific exploration of Mexico's vast Copper Canyon. The expedition gathered the first geological survey and environmental data of an area that rivals the dimensions of the Grand Canyon. 

Castillo, who holds two degrees from San Jose State University, was born in Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico, where his stepgrandfather, Jose Severo Castillo, was publisher of an influential reformist newspaper.