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For thousands of years, the land containing present day La Purisima Mission State Historic Park served as home to the Chumash people, who spoke one of the Central Chumashan languages which became known as Purísimeño.
The Purísimeño Chumash lived in an area of narrow coastal terraces with rocky exposed shores, sand dunes, and small valleys. The interface of warm and cold waters, and coastal and inland plant communities created a rich resource environment. The Chumash lived in villages with domed dwellings called ‘ap. They hunted game and fished—using different fishing innovations for hook and line catches of larger fish. Important trade networks were developed with the Yokuts in the southern San Joaquin Valley along the Santa Maria and Cuyama rivers.
On December 8, 1787, Father Fermin Lasuén, the Franciscan successor to Father Junípero Serra, founded Misión la Purísima Concepción de María Santísima in the present-day city of Lompoc. By 1804 more than 1,500 Chumash who’d been removed from their land were laboring at the mission—constructing adobe dwellings, practicing agriculture, and raising livestock. La Purísima prospered under Father Mariano Payeras, who arrived in 1804. The mission began producing leading commodities to trade such as soap, candles, and leather.
At the height of its industry, however, La Purísima faced a series of setbacks. Between 1804 and 1807, smallpox and measles struck and several hundred Chumash died. Then, in 1812, violent earthquakes, followed by torrential rains, destroyed the mission’s original buildings. La Purísima was then moved four miles northeast across the Santa Ynez River to a place known to the Chumash people as Amúu and adjacent to El Camino Real, the “Royal Highway” that connected all the missions.
Using local Chumash labor, Father Payeras directed the rebuilding of La Purísima with four-and-a-half-foot-thick walls of adobe to resist the threat of future earthquakes. In addition to the church, padre’s residence, and Indian Apartments, the new mission also contained a blacksmith shop, tanning vats, and a garden that provided edible plants and medicinal herbs. An intricate three mile-long water system that included an aqueduct and underground piping was also added, along with abundant farming and grazing lands. In time, more than 20,000 cattle and sheep roamed the hills, along with hundreds of horses, mules, and other livestock. This remote but active outpost became the seat of mission government for all California missions from 1815 to 1823.
After Mexico took over California, promises of citizenship to indigenous people were slow to take effect, creating underlying frustrations. In February 1824, the severe whipping of a Chumash worker at Mission Santa Inés set off a revolt that spread to other missions. While many Chumash fled north, several hundred occupied La Purísima until soldiers recaptured the mission on March 17.
With the secularization of missions in 1834, the Franciscans lost control and many of the Chumash moved into pueblo communities to work at nearby ranchos. Subsequent smallpox epidemics decimated the Purísimeño population. A portion of the former mission lands were granted to Chumash workers Elceario and Pastor Choyama in 1845. The remainder of the mission lands, including the mission buildings, were purchased by Jonathan (Juan) Temple and later sold to Ramón Malo, who had been granted adjacent Rancho Santa Rita. After Malo’s death the property passed from owner to owner and the buildings eventually fell into ruin. The Federal government returned some of the decrepit mission property to the Catholic Church in 1874. The Union Oil Company bought portions of the land in 1903 and subsequently deeded parcels in 1933 to Santa Barbara County, which in turn deeded the land to the State of California.
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