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The PaiPai Indians of northwest Baja California belong to the Yuman linguistic family, whose territory once stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of California. A handful of PaiPai still live today in Baja towns such as Santa Caterina and San Isidro, and are well-known for their fine pottery. It is difficult for the modern traveler to appreciate though how greatly the status of the PaiPai has altered in the past two hundred years. The tribe was flourishing in August 1780 when their territory near Arroyo San Vicente was first claimed by Dominican missionaries for the site of Misión San Vicente Ferrer. Today, a scant 200 – 300 PaiPai remain in all of Baja California.
Arriving on the tail of the Jesuits and Franciscans, Dominican missionaries Miguel Hidalgo and Joaquin Valero claimed the PaiPai territory around Arroyo San Vicente for many strategic and practical reasons. The Spanish crown required a military presence between San Fernando Rey de España de Velicatá and San Diego, to protect their territory and new Misións. The site of San Vicente was located appropriately on the Misión Camino Real. In addition, this patch of land was very fertile by comparison to its surroundings, and boasted a good water supply. Agriculture in the area proved quite successful, and the Dominicans were able to grow a variety of crops including barley, wheat, beans, corn, vegetables and fruits. There was also good grazing land for their flocks. The location itself was beautiful, featuring the red volcanic rocks of the Llano Colorado.
Once settled at this spot, the Dominicans erected stone foundations and built thick adobe walls to form their Misión. They divided their construction into two distinct sections: religious and military, and protected their creations with a wall and surveillance towers. These towers and protections proved effective in subsequent skirmishes with other local tribal nations and Misión San Vicente Ferrer developed a reputation as an excellent military headquarters.
At its peak, the Dominican priests of Misión San Vicente Ferrer served several hundred converted PaiPai neophytes. This number may sound small, however it makes sense when placed in context to the massive decline in native populations throughout all of Baja California after the arrival of Jesuit missionaries more than 80 years prior. The rapid demise of the PaiPai stemmed directly from the introduction of European diseases such as smallpox, plague and venereal disease to which native Baja Californians had no immunity.
After the extinction of most PaiPai and later success of the Mexican Revolution in 1821, the Misión system itself faded away. Misión San Vicente Ferrer was abandoned by 1833 and today only ruins remain to hint of its former religious and military glory. Thanks to the efforts of the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History, however, recent attempts have been undertaken to excavate, preserve and restore the original Misión site. The historical ruins which remain today are definitely worth a visit if you find yourself journeying south on Highway 1 from Ensenada to San Quintín.
Wikipedia.Org, Misión San Vicente Ferrer, Author Unknown, Cited on March 22, 2007.