Life Story: Toypurina (1760–1799)

Rebelling Against the Mission System

The story of a Tongva wise woman who led a rebellion against a Spanish mission in Alta California.

Toypurina mural in Pacoima created by HOODsisters, an all womyn crew of artists and public art advocates, 2014.

Chantal Jung, photographer, 2019.

Toypurina mural in Pacoima created by HOODsisters, an all womyn crew of artists and public art advocates, 2014.

Chantal Jung, photographer, 2019.

Toypurina mural in Pacoima created by HOODsisters, an all womyn crew of artists and public art advocates, 2014.

Chantal Jung, photographer, 2019.

This video was created by the New-York Historical Society Teen Leaders in collaboration with the Untold project.

Toypurina lived in a world undergoing major changes. She was born in 1760 in Japchivit, a Tongva community located in what is today known as the San Gabriel Valley in California. At the time of her birth, around 5,000 Tongva people lived in the valley and surrounding area. They lived in small, independent communities that competed with one another for the limited resources the valley offered.

When Toypurina was 11 years old, Spanish Franciscan monks arrived to colonize the valley for Spain. When they entered a new territory, they would establish a mission, baptize the local Native people into the Catholic Church, and then force them to adopt the Spanish way of life. The Franciscans who came to Toypurina’s area built the San Gabriel mission, the fourth mission in the area the Spanish called Alta California.

Between 1772 and 1785 the Franciscans baptized about 1,200 Native people from area around San Gabriel. They called the baptized Tongva “Gabrielinos.” 843 Gabrielinos moved into the mission, which caused huge changes to life in the San Gabriel Valley. The mission’s farms took over land the Tongva used to hunt, and the mission’s sheep destroyed the local ecosystem. Tongva communities that did not join the Franciscans were left with fewer resources.

By 1785 Japchivit was struggling to survive. Toypurina’s brother was the leader of Japchivit, so she was well-informed about the problems the mission had created for her people. She herself was well respected by other Tongva communities for her widsom. Together, Toypurina and her brother looked for a way to help their community stand up to the mission.

Meanwhile, Nicholás José, a Gabrielino who lived at San Gabriel, was also frustrated with the mission. Nicholás had lost two wives, a child, and one third of his home village of Silbapet to the European diseases the Franciscans brought to the valley. He wanted to perform the traditional Tongva dance that would help the spirits of the dead transition to the afterlife, but the Spanish would not let Gabrielinos practice any of their old traditions. Nicholás tried to rebel against this rule in the early 1780s, but he was caught and punished. He knew if he wanted to be successful, he would need the support of the Native people who lived outside the mission.

In the summer of 1785, Nicholás sent Toypurina beads as an offering and asked her to support his plot to rebel against the mission. Toypurina agreed to help. She brought eight villages into the plot. One village leader, Alihivit of Jajamovit, later confessed that he joined because he wanted to see if everyone would actually do it. Another leader, Temejasaquichí of Juvit, was more of a true believer. Temejasaquichí snuck into the mission San Gabriel to speak with the Gabrielinos. He told them they should follow Toypurina instead of the Franciscan priests. This secret meeting might have been the rebellion’s undoing. Someone informed the mission leadership that an uprising was being planned, and gave them all the information they needed to capture the plotters.

On October 25, 1785, warriors from the eight allied Tongva villages set out to kill the mission leaders. Toypurina went with them. She had no intention of fighting, but she believed her presence would inspire the warriors. Unaware that someone had given away their plan, the attack party walked right into a trap set by the mission guards. At least twenty-one people were captured, including Toypurina.

When the governor of Alta California heard of the failed rebellion, he went to the mission to personally oversee the investigation. Seventeen captives were brutally whipped in public and sent back to their villages to serve as a warning to other would-be rebels. Toypurina, Nicholás, Temejasaquichí, and Alihivit were identified as the leaders of the plot, and held for further questioning.

During her interrogation, Toypurina told the governor that she participated in the rebellion because “she was angry with the Padres and with all of those of this Mission because we are living here in her land.” Her wording reveals that it was not just the Spanish she viewed as her enemies. She was also angry at the Gabrielinos who lived in the mission and disrupted her community’s way of life.

Toypurina’s banishment cut her off from her entire community and culture, and left her dependent on the Spanish for her survival.

In January 1786 the governor sent his trial records to the commandant general of New Spain so he could send back his recommendations for punishment. During the two years it took to receive an answer, Toypurina was held prisoner at the Mission San Gabriel. In March of 1787, Toypurina was baptized. In the trial records there is a note from the governor explaining that some Tongva wanted to kill Toypurina for her part in the failed rebellion. It is possible she got baptized so the mission leaders and Spanish government would protect her, but we’ll never know for sure.

In June 1788, the orders of the commandant general arrived. Temejasaquichí an