A Cross of Thorns

A Cross of Thorns
The Spanish missions of California have long been misrepresented as places of benign and peaceful coexistence between Franciscan friars and California Indians. In fact, the mission friars enslaved the California Indians and treated them with deliberate cruelty. “A Cross of Thorns” describes the dark and violent reality of Mission life. Beginning in 1769, California Indians were enticed into the missions, where they and their descendents were imprisoned for 60 years of forced labor and daily beatings.The chilling depictions of colonial cruelty in “A Cross of Thorns” are based on little known church and Spanish government archives and letters written by the founder of California’s mission, Friar Juniperro Serra (who advocated the whipping of Mission Indians as a standard policy), and published first-hand accounts of 18th and 19th century travelers.
Junipero Sierra
Tracing the history of Spanish colonization in California from its origins in Spain’s 18th century economic crisis to the legacy of racism and brutality that continues today, “A Cross of Thorns” is one of the most thought-provoking books ever written on California history.

Editorial Reviews


Elias Castillo’s “Cross of Thorns” throws the light of truth on a shamefully dark chapter in American history — the brutal treatment of Native Americans subjugated and forced into slave labor conditions for the prosperity of the California missions. –Ron Miller, former television critic for the San Jose Mercury News, author of “Mystery! A Celebration,” and co-author of “Masterpiece Theatre”When one gazes upon the beautiful, Spanish-style, red-tiled roofs of the Missions of California, they are unaware, as I once was, of what can be found on the underside of those tiles. Many years ago, I saw the imprints from the skin of Indian slaves, who bent and shaped those tiles over their own thighs in the hot California sun. Mr. Castillo tells a story of which far too many people are simply not aware, the enslavement of California Indians under the mission system. While many Americans know of the Trail of Tears and other Indian atrocities, most do not know of the atrocities perpetrated on Indian people in California. “A Cross of Thorns” sheds light on this period in history. –Ben Nighthorse-Campbell, U.S. Senator, retired

The missions and their treatment of Indians in early California deserves the critical eye that “A Cross of Thorns” brings in its exploration of the reality of a romanticized subject. –Dan Bauer, Ph.D., Professor of Anthropology Emeritus, Lafayette College

“A Cross of Thorns” pulls back the veil of lies, deceit, and cover-ups that has been perpetuated for nearly two hundred years. –Valentin Lopez, chair of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band of the Costanoan/Ohlone Indians

“A Cross of Thorns” is a substantial and needed contribution to California historical journalism revealing the backstory of the California Mission Indians and their suffering. –William Briggs, Ed.D., Fullerton State University

A scholarly magnum opus … a highly readable historical work, filled with battle stories and previously unchronicled narrative. –Dan Pulcrano, Metro Silicon Valley

Veteran journalist Elias Castillo has written a searing examination of the brutality and exploitation of the California mission system. “A Cross of Thorns” is brave, unsparing and ambitious, a tour de force that is one of the most significant contributions to this important topic. –Jon Talton, author of the David Mapstone Mysteries, the Cincinnati Casebooks and the thriller “Deadline Man”

 About the Author

Elias Castillo

Elias Castillo is a three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee and the winner of thirteen journalism awards. Born in Mexicali, Baja California, Castillo holds two degrees from San Jose State University and is a former reporter for the San Jose Mercury News and the Associated Press.
Elias Castillo has been interviewed by Native Voice TV and can be seen on Native Voice TV’s Youtube Channel (Click Here).