Published on February 3, 2013 by Amy
Toypurina (1760-1799) was a Tongva/Gabrieliño Native American medicine woman who opposed the rule of colonization by Spanish missionaries in California, and led an unsuccessful rebellion against them.
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Born in 1760, Toypurina was 9 years old when the Spanish settlers first invaded what is now the Los Angeles Basin of Las Californias. She was 11 when Mission San Gabriel Arcángel was begun. She was 21 when Governor Governor Felipe de Neve founded the Pueblo of Los Angeles in 1781 Alta California. In time, Toypurina rose to be a powerful spiritual leader, respected for her bravery and wisdom. She was considered a great communicator, speaking with and trading with the dozens of villages in the many Tongvan dialects and other indigenous languages of California used from Santa Catalina Island through the eastern foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains to the northwestern San Fernando Valley.
Like other Native leaders, Toypurina regarded the Spanish missionaries as a threat to her traditional status and authority. Using the Japchivit ranchería as her base of operations, she persuaded six other villages to join a rebellion against Mission San Gabriel Arcángel on October 25, 1785, with the intent of killing all of the Spaniard residents. She, along with three other men including the “neophyte” Nicolas José, who was angry that the friars forbade the mission Indians to hold their native dances, spearheaded the attack, but were unable to complete it. A soldier who understood their language heard people talking about the revolt and alerted the missionaries. “On the night of the attack, the Indians came to the mission armed with bows and arrows. Toypurina came to the mission unarmed but with the intent of encouraging the men to have the will to fight.” (Hackel 2003) Toypurina and the other three men leading the attack were captured, tried, and punished.
When questioned about the revolt, Toypurina told the Spanish military judges that she had instructed Chief Tomasajaquichi of Juvit village to tell the mission Indians not to believe the padres. “I commanded him to do so, for I am angry with the padres, and all of those of the mission, for living here on my native soil, for trespassing upon the land of my forefathers and despoiling our tribal domains.” Governor Don Pedro Fages found Nicolas José and Toypurina guilty of being the principal leaders of the attack.
During her trial, Toypurina stated that she wanted to become a Christian. It was decided that through “the event of her baptism in 1787, Padre Miguel Sanchez be allowed to exile her forever to the Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo (present day Carmel, California), the mission most distant then from San Gabriel Arcangel Mission, where she might live in peace, become married, end her days, and be free from the very active danger that threatened her from all sides amidst the Tongva/Gabrieliños. This would have very well been a reason for Toypurina’s change of heart. She knew what was in store for her if she was not banished. Her role in the revolt was probably for the well known historical reasons as to why Indians revolted against their missions: brutality (towards women as well), the destruction of food sources due to the introduction of cattle, and most importantly, her resentment toward the missionaries who were trespassing and living on her land.
Toypurina took a Christian name, given to her by Padre Miguel Sanchez, of Regina (meaning “Queen”) Josepha. Two years after her Baptism, she married a Spaniard and soldier named Mañuel Montero, who had been serving at el Pueblo de Los Angeles, and received a tract of land from the governor. They lived in Monterey and had 3 children together (Cesario, Juana de Dios, and Maria Clementina). On May 22, 1799, Toypurina died at Mission San Juan Bautista in northern Alta California at age 39. Through all of these latter mentioned events, it is clear that Toypurina lived out her days as a Christian as the Padre expected her to at the time of her banishment.
A fictional character sharing her name is the mother of Diego de la Vega in Isabel Allende’s 2005 book, “Zorro (novel).” In the novel, Toypurina is rescued by Alejandro de la Vega and also becomes a Christian, changing her name to Regina. During her lifetime she saw the 5,000 Tongva who lived in the Los Angeles area reduced to 1,500 through imported disease and malnutrition.
On January 13, 2007, the ‘Studio for Southern California History’ included Toypurina as one of the many women who made significant contributions to California history.