Published on July 19, 2012 by Amy
Pablo Tac (1822–1841) was a Luiseño (Quechnajuichom) Indian who provided a rare contemporary Native American perspective on the institutions and early history of Alta California. Tac was born of Luiseño parents at Mission San Luis Rey de Francia and attended the Mission school. A promising student, he (along with another boy) was singled out by the Franciscan missionary, Father Antonio Peyrí, to accompany Peyrí when he left California in 1832. Tac visited Rome in 1834 and was enrolled in the College of the Propaganda, studying Latin grammar. He went on to study rhetoric, humanities, and philosophy in preparation for missionary work, but he died in 1841.
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As a student, Tac wrote a grammatical sketch and a fragmentary dictionary of the Luiseño language, as well as an essay on the “Conversion of the San Luiseños of Alta California.” The latter includes information on aboriginal lifeways (including dances and games) and the history and organization of the Mission, along with two crude drawings by Tac. Tac authored an early account of life at Mission San Luis Rey entitled Indian Life and Customs at Mission San Luis Rey: A Record of California Mission Life by Pablo Tac, An Indian Neophyte (written circa 1835, edited and translated by Minna Hewes and Gordon Hewes in 1958). In the book, Tac lamented the rapid decline of his people:
In Quechla not long ago there were 5,000 souls, with all their neighboring lands. Through a sickness that came to California 2,000 souls died, and 3,000 were left.”
Tac went on to describe the preferential treatment the padres received:
In the mission of San Luis Rey de Francia the Fernandino father is like a king. He has his pages, alcaldes, majordomos, musicians, soldiers, gardens, ranchos, livestock….”
Tac also noted that his people initially attempted to bar the Spaniards from their southern California homelands. When the foreigners invaders approached, “…the chief stood up…and met them,” demanding, “…what are you looking for? Leave our country!”