The catastrophe of Spanish colonization for California's indigenous populations has made it easy for historians to overlook the skills that some Indians learned in the missions and the ways in which those who survived the missions used these hard-won skills to resist colonial rule and advance their own interests. One such skill was alphabetic literacy, which a select few California Indians in the missions acquired and used in their own distinctive ways. Focusing on the experiences of a few heretofore obscure yet important individuals, this article briefly compares the experiences with alphabetic literacy of Indian men and women over the first few generations of contact and explores the degree to which literacy provided Indians with the means to serve their communities, reinvent themselves, and challenge missionaries’ expectations.

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