Elias Castillo

Media Contact: Jaguar Bennett
Craven Street Books / Quill Driver Books
(800) 345-4447

“California’s Spanish missions were 

death camps for Indians,” 

Charges author scheduled to speak at

California State Indian Museumin Sacramento Oct. 4

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Sept. 18 — The Roman Catholic Franciscan missions that were the spearheads of Spanish power in California from 1769 to 1834 were death camps for Indians, charges journalist Elias Castillo, author of the upcoming book “A Cross of Thorns.” Castillo will present a talk refuting the popular image of the missions as idyllic, benevolent institutions at the California State Indian Museum in downtown Sacramento on Saturday, Oct. 4.

“For California Indians, the conditions in the Spanish missions were comparable to a 20th century death camp. During the mission era, more than 62,000 Native Californians died in the missions of disease, malnutrition, beatings, whippings, stress, and injury,” said Castillo.


Native Californians today are still suffering from the effects of Spanish colonialism, Castillo added.


“Many native tribes utterly lost their tribal identity when all the tribes’ members were enslaved by the missions. Even today, these tribes are struggling to reunite their scattered members and achieve recognition from the federal government,” said Castillo.


Castillo’s upcoming book, “A Cross of Thorns: The Enslavement of California’s Indians by the Spanish Missions,” to be released by Craven Street Books in late January 2015, documents how cruelty toward Indians was a deliberate policy of the mission founders, including Junipero Serra, the founder of Spain’s missions in California.


“Serra was a twisted religious zealot responsible for the needless and terrible deaths of the Indians that were lured to the missions. His letters provide irrefutable evidence of that,” said Castillo.


Citing mission records and eyewitness reports, “A Cross of Thorns” reveals that Serra advocated recapturing and whipping tribal members who attempted to flee the missions. In one letter Serra declared using “blows” as the only way to “civilize” Indians.


“A Cross of Thorns” will be released on Jan. 28, 2015, at a special launch event and demonstration by California Indian groups on the west steps of the California state capitol in Sacramento.


Castillo’s talk at the California State Indian Museum on Oct. 4 is part of a debate titled “Rethinking California’s Missions: A Native Perspective.” Andrew Galvan, the curator of Mission Dolores in San Francisco, will present a positive view of the mission era at 11 a.m., and Castillo will present the case against the missions at 12:30 p.m. Attendance at the debate is free with museum admission. More information is available on the museum website at www.parks.ca.gov/indianmuseum.


Who: Elias Castillo, author of “A Cross of Thorns: The
Enslavement of California’s Indians by the Spanish Missions


What: Debate on Native Californian perspectives on
California’s Spanish Missions


When: Saturday, Oct. 4, at 11:00 a.m. (talk by Andrew
Galvan, curator of Mission Dolores) and 12:30 p.m. (talk by Elias Castillo).


Where: California State Indian Museum, 2618 K Street,
Sacramento, CA 95816, (916) 324-0971


More about Elias Castillo: Elias Castillo is a three-time
Pulitzer Prize nominee and the winner of thirteen journalism awards. Born in
Mexicali, Baja California, Castillo holds two degrees from San Jose State
University and is a former reporter for the San Jose Mercury News and the
Associated Press. More information is available at Castillo’s website,