Conventional wisdom has it that, in the eighteenth century, California’s mission Indians labored without recompense to support the Spanish military and other costs of imperial administration. This article challenges this conventional wisdom, arguing that it was not until the Spanish empire unraveled in the nineteenth century that Indians labored at missions with little compensation. Spain stopped subsidizing California in 1810, at which point the systematic non-payment of Christian Indians for goods supplied to the California military was implemented as an emergency measure. In 1825, independent Mexico finally sent a new governor to California, but military payroll was never reinstated in its entirety. Not surprisingly, most accounts of military confrontation between California Indians and combined mission/military forces date from the 1810 to 1824 period. By investigating an underutilized source—account books of exports and imports for four missions—the article explores two issues: first, the processes of cooptation inside missions up to 1809, and secondly, the way that Spain’s cessation of financing in 1810 affected the relationship with Indians.

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